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And Then There Were Three

by Adam Kempenaar / Chicago Blackhawks

Worrying about whether Jonathan Toews would be available at #3 last year prevented Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon from getting much sleep on the eve of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. With the first overall pick this year, Tallon expects to rest a little easier.

"We'll get the guy we want," Tallon said with a smile Wednesday.

Tallon and the Blackhawks hockey operations staff has paired down the top pick to three choices -- RW Patrick Kane, C Kyle Turris and LW James van Riemsdyk. The Hawks have interviewed all three candidates several times already and will have the club's psychologist meet with them this week to check for any "red flags."

Tallon admitted that he is solidly leaning toward one of the three prospects right now but the final decision will be based on a consensus from his staff.

Turris, a 6-0, 170 pound center out of Burnaby of the BCHL is Central Scouting's #1 ranked North American skater with Kane and van Riemsdyk ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Both Turris and van Riemsdyk are committed to playing at least one year in college before entering the NHL. Turris will play for Wisconsin; van Riemsdyk will attend New Hampshire.

Despite being undersized at 5-9, Kane believes he is ready to make the jump directly to the NHL after leading the Ontario Hockey League in scoring last season with 145 points (62-83) in 58 games for the London Knights. Kane also led the league in playoff scoring with 31 points (10-21) in 16 games.

Kane's desire to play in the NHL rather than return to junior hockey is just one of many factors the Blackhawks will have to consider, but Tallon said the fact that Turris and van Riemsdyk will "probably go to college" certainly doesn't rule them out.

"Anything can happen once you're drafted," Tallon said.

While Kane's numbers are comparable to Sidney Crosby's as a major junior player, Tallon said Turris was probably the best two-way player available, and at 6-3 and 200 pounds, van Riemsdyk is physically the most NHL-ready.

So far only a handful of teams have called to inquire about moving up into the Blackhawks' slot at #1, and Tallon has had no conversations yet with Philadelphia or Phoenix about a deal.

"We'll consider a trade but we have to get a guy we want in return," Tallon said. "People are calling but somebody has to make an offer."

Qualified for the job: The Blackhawks have qualified restricted free agent defensemen Danny Richmond, James Wisniewski and Bruno St. Jacques; goalie Mike Brodeur; and forwards Jonas Nordqvist, Pierre Parenteau and Martin St. Pierre. Nordqvist has elected to play in Sweden next season but the Hawks will retain his rights ... The lone RFA not qualified was Nikita Alexeev, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after a disappointing stint in Chicago following a trade with Tampa Bay at last year's deadline.

You can go your own way: Tallon said unrestricted free agents Denis Arkhipov, Peter Bondra and and Michael Holmqvist will not be back with the club next season. Arkhipov has signed with AK Bars Kazan in Russia ... Center Michal Handzus has elected to test the free agent waters July 1. Player Tracker>>

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