Central Scouting rated Russian forward Denis Istomin as the fourth best European skater in the 2005 draft class. General manager Dale Tallon and the Blackhawks scouting team also had Istomin rated high on their sheet, but decided to gamble that they could steal him in one of the middle rounds.
The gamble paid off as the Hawks selected Istomin with the 113th overall pick in round 4.
"We're extremely happy to get Istomin that late," said Tallon. "We had him rated quite high. He's a highly creative guy. There weren't as many Europeans taken because of the rule changes -- now you only have two years to sign them -- and sometimes it even takes two years to get them over here."
The independent scouting service Red Line Report ranked Istomin at #39, projecting him as a "2nd line playmaking centre" along the lines of Tampa Bay's Vaclav Prospal. Istomin was a key member of Russia's under-18 team and "has good balance, is a creative, cool playmaker with soft hands and good hockey sense," according to Central Scouting.
Five picks ahead of Istomin, the Hawks selected Niklas Hjalmarsson, a 6-3, 194-pound defenseman who was Sweden's best defender at the World Under-18 tournament.
"He's a big mobile guy who can skate," Tallon said. "He has good passing ability and sees the ice well."
With their third and final pick in round 4, the Hawks took Miami-Ohio's Nathan Davis, a forward who has "great speed," according to scout Ron Anderson. "He's strong on his skates and has a great all-out burst -- a lot like [1st round pick] Jack Skille.
"He came out of the U.S. National program like Skille, a year earlier," Anderson added. "He's solid on his skates, plays hard, and has decent finishing ability. Certainly speed and good character is what we were looking for and he's got both."
Davis was the first of four straight players the Blackhawks selected who were already in college or heading there, joining earlier picks Skille (University of Wisconsin) and Dan Bertram (Boston College). Defenseman Brennan Turner (Rd. 5, 134th) will attend Yale this fall; goalie Joe Fallon (Rd. 6, 167th) will be a sophomore at the University of Vermont; and defenseman Joe Charlebois (Rd. 6, 188th) will attend the University of New Hampshire.
The Hawks went in with an eye on strong college talent following last year's draft in which they had 17 picks, 10 of which came out of Candian junior hockey.
"We have so many junior prospects and we can only retain their rights for two years," Tallon said. "College guys we can keep for three or four years."
"I think the guys you don't have to do anything with does factor in as opposed to the guys you have to do something with in two years," said Anderson. "But you can't take them if they're not good players, and these are good players."
Fallon, a 6-3, 190-pound goaltender, had a breakout year for Vermont last season, going 17-10-4 with a 1.96 goals against average. Among other accolades, Fallon was named the New England Division I Rookie of the Year.
"He kind of split time in the USHL and I think it suppressed his development a bit," Anderson said. "He really helped turn Vermont's program around and had great numbers. They're switching leagues to Hockey East this year and he's going to play a ton in the next three years."
Charlebois, a 6-1, 210-pound defenseman, skated for Sioux City (USHL) last season, scoring 25 points in 59 games en route to the Clark Cup finals. Like Skille and Davis, he was also part of the U.S. National program before heading to the USHL.
"He's playing in a good program at New Hampshire," Anderson said. "They always go late into the season so he'll get a chance to play a lot and get playoff experience. The nice thing is that every guy we got is in a good program."
The Hawks closed out the draft by selecting forwards David Kuchejda (Rd. 7, #202) and Adam Hobson (Rd. 7, #203).
A left wing out of the Czech Republic, Kuchejda tallied 12 goals and 28 assists in 42 games last season for Budejovice in the Czech junior league.
"Kuchejda is a very tricky, skilled forward," Tallon said. "He has a lot of good moves and good hands."
In his second full season with Spokane (WHL), Hobson, a center, scored 10 goals and 27 assists in 72 games and played on Canada's under-18 team.
"He skates really well," said scout Bruce Franklin. "That was the biggest thing we were looking at."
"Hobson is a character kid who pounds people," added Tallon. "He's one of those kids who knows his role and does it quite well."