Blackhawks possibilities at No. 21

By Bill Placzek

The draft must be treated for what it is: a help three or four years down the road. One cannot necessarily draft based on the parent club’s present needs, as much as the sum total of what the present club strengths and weaknesses are, plus the minor pro affilliate possible prospects, plus the present projection of the prospects still not in the system who have shown they may be the clubs future.

Certainly the present Blackhawk team craves more physical all around defensemen. Drafting at No. 21 presents a problem for any team looking for defensemen as the ones who already look the pro part are scooped very early, usually gone by the picks in teens.

After the top 15, this 2002 draft crop (an elite four plus 11 solid prospect types), seems to be followed by a 50 player group which appears fairly close when trying to weigh one player against the other. The players all have positives and negatives in their game. The teams that make the correct choices with the selections into the early third round will be the ones bolstering their line-ups.

Can the Blackhawks be short-sighted enough to lock their sights on the defense position and ignore the chance to add goaltender and forward prospects? No, simply based on the fact that you can see more if a forward may be able to become an NHL over whether a defenseman making the transition to NHLer.

If Mike Smith was going to lock his sights on the position of defenseman with his first pick, here are the players most likely he will have to choose from:
Russians Kirill Koltsov (Omsk), Denis Gregbeshkov (Yaroslav), and Denis Grot (Lokomotiv).

Everyone had Koltsov drafted last year but due to his agents error, his paperwork was not in place and his year was downhill from there. Koltsov was set to play at Avangard Omsk along with last year draftees Alexander Svitov (Tampa) and Stanislav Chistov (Anaheim). They met the wraith of the Omsk owner,who was so incensed at them being drafted by the NHL,and that they apparently were making in-roads with the “proper” channels to buy their way out of military service to leave. These channels (which other Russian prospects have been able to use) where there if the right hands were greased. The Omsk owner was able to go above them and get the decisions on their status reversed and actually had them sent to service in Army to teach them a lesson. The two drafted players later were returned to serve him as hockey players.

Teams will think about the Omsk owner before they call Koltsov’s name. Koltsov then was not included on the Russian roster for St. Petersburg 19 team. This was due to past disagreements with that teams coach.

Last year in a much better graduating class, Koltsov would probably have been gone before No. 21. This year there is an excellent chance he will be there. What may be to his advantage is the fact that this under six footer can play forward as well.

Denis Gregbeshkov on the other hand may be gone by #21, based on his ability to play all phases of the game, and having an almost 6’1 190 lb frame.

Denis Grot at this time would be a dark horse first rounder, but as already mentioned, teams that think they see NHL caliber are going be reaching this year. He had an excellent showing at the Four Nations Tourney, where he moved well and made contact with the opposition.

Euros Ondrej Nemec (Vsetin) and Daniel Fernholn (Djurgarden) both have qualities that could be boons to the Hawk defense. Whereas Czech Ondrej displays a mix of puck control and good defensive abilities, Fernholn projects to be a big banger with abilities to play power point. Unfortunately for him, his kneecap problems have marked him as a risk, despite his 6’5 frame and glimpses of being an all around d-man, with him behind much of his draft year class due to inactivity.

Back in North America: Although Ryan Whitney is dropping there is no hope the big defensemen lasts until No. 21. Calgary’s Johnny Boychuk certainly will be there for the plucking. He showed some juice at the prospects game but whether he can translate it to the next level remains the question.

At pick 21, there seems to far too many forwards to look towards, unless one of the above defensemen really stands out as a gem. It is difficult for me to think the Hawks feel like their future is solid at the forward position as Vorobiev’s knee, and Ruutu’s style of play might shorten their shelf life, and despite having superbly drafts at every point of the last two drafts, there are no sure things in the Hawk farm except the large amount of guys taken there who “might” make it.

The Hawks can’t pass on a promising forward at #21 if he is heads above the defensemen still there.