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Amateur Scouting Director Mark Kelley discusses the team's depth, draft philosophy and the combine

by Adam Kempenaar and Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Mark Kelley at the Blackhawks' pre-draft meetings in 2011 (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean).

There are just three days before the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL select their next generation of potential NHL players at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.

To prepare for the annual event, talked to Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley about the Blackhawks' draft philosophy, the organization's wealth of prospects and more.

Part one of the conversation with Kelley, where he broke down the 2012 draft's talent pool, can be found here.

Here’s the age-old question: At No. 18, are you looking at the best available player or at organizational depth needs?

We’ll weigh both. A lot of that is dictated at by how the first 17 picks go. We’re always looking at organizational depth chart needs, but at the same time, if there is a player who can make a significant impact on your team, you go in that direction regardless of the position.

How do you assess the overall depth needs in the organization right now? It would seem that the cupboard is stocked pretty well at center after the past couple of drafts.

If we look at our depth as an organization, I think we’d have to be pretty pleased. When we look at the big club, there’s not a lot of spots available there. When we translate that and look at what we have in Rockford, we have a good variety in our depth. Then when you go a step further and look at what is coming out of the CHL and NCAA, again, I think our depth chart is pretty well-rounded.  

How can prospects help or hurt their stock at the combine? What are you and the Blackhawks scouts specifically looking for?

It’s really two-fold: the first part of the combine is player interviews. We interviewed 80-plus players at the combine. We had regional scouts sit down with each of them previously, so when they came in the interview room this year, I felt we were probably as prepared as we have ever been. The players came in, they felt comfortable and we felt comfortable with them. It was a situation where when we sat down there was a good flow going. A lot of times you get players in there where you ask a question and they just start a monologue trying to tell you so many things that they think you have to know, but this year the players had a good feel for the Blackhawks. We had a good feel for them, so the banter back and forth was really good.

On the flip side, on the physical testing part , that’s where we bring in [Blackhawks Strength and Conditioning Coach] Paul Goodman; this is his fourth or fifth combine, so he’s got it down really well. He brought up [Rockford IceHogs Strength and Conditioning Coach] Shane Lawson, also. The two of them assessed the players as they went through the workout stage. We’re not really looking necessarily at the test results, but really the body development, how hard they compete and the body frame; it's how we project what the potential physical upside of each prospect can be.

How much can someone really help or hurt themselves in that process? If you have the list a certain way and then you interview them, can that send somebody, say, up ten spots or down ten spots back, or is it more of a gradual thing?

It’s more gradual. It would be hard to move somebody up or down that many spots. What does happen sometimes is if we respect what a player can do, somewhere along in the combine process we might decide that where that player is going, we don’t have that kind of value on him.

It would be hard to argue that last year's draft wasn't already a success, not just in the way it was graded by experts but the progress and potential several picks showed last year. Does that affect your process this year in any way, give you extra confidence, or have you already put that draft behind you?

You have to put each draft behind you because each draft is unique by the pool of players, what you have for picks and where you are picking. But in saying that, we’re very confident in the way we go about scouting, identifying players, determining the characteristics of those players and deciding how they fit our needs. At this point in the year, what we’re really trying to determine is the character of the player and how they would affect team chemistry.

You’ve been at this a fair number of times, what’s your favorite part about the draft?

It’s the challenge of projecting, of trying to find the players who can make an impact in the NHL, whether as a top forward like Jonathan Toews or Pat Kane, or a guy like Andrew Shaw, who makes an impact with his compete, character and passion. For the scouts, I think the real art and the real joy is watching the player develop and nourishing their growth. 

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