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Blackhawks Insider: Stan Bowman breaks down the NHL Draft

by Adam Kempenaar / Chicago Blackhawks
VP/GM Stan Bowman welcomes one of the Blackhawks' draft picks at the 2010 Draft in Los Angeles.

With the 2011 NHL Draft getting underway this Friday, Blackhawks VP/GM Stan Bowman sat down with Blackhawks Insider to discuss the Blackhawks' options at #18 overall, changes in hockey operations and the top overall pick. To listen to the full interview, click here or subscribe on iTunes.

Marc Bergevin is going from director of player personnel to assistant general manager, taking over Kevin Cheveldayoff’s spot. Why was Bergie the right guy for the job?

Marc has had a lot of experience in so many different areas. Obviously, he played for 20 years in the league, and he’s had a lot of different experiences from that side. Then he wanted to get into the management side, so he’s done scouting. He finally worked his way up to where he was in charge of the pro scouts and amateur scouting this past year, so he’s really brought his skill set over the last five years to the point where he’s ready for this job.

He’s very well-connected, he’s a people person, he’s got excellent relationships with agents and other people in hockey and his network is vast because of his playing days; he played for a number of teams, so he’s got a lot of background on coaches and players. His work ethic and dedication to the Blackhawks is unparalleled. He’s very excited and we’re happy for him.

We’re less than a week away from the NHL Draft in Minnesota. What’s the overall talent pool like this year in the draft, compared to previous years?
We get that question every year and it’s probably unfair to characterize it, although I’m very optimistic this year. From the players I’ve seen play, and I had a chance to meet them at the combine, it’s a very impressive class. If you talk to people in the scouting world, they could give you a more exact comparison to last year's class, and whether or not the talent pool was this deep. Just from a general perspective, I think there are a lot of players who are likable and who are going to be good NHL players. Given the fact that we’ve got some good picks in the early rounds, I’m hopeful that we’re going to get some good players who are going to be great Blackhawks down the road.

We have the 18th overall pick and ten picks in all, including two second-rounders and five of the top 80. With the assets we have, do you think this is a year where could move up from 18?
I wouldn’t rule that out. As you get closer to the draft, usually that’s when those types of discussions heat up. I haven’t had too many talks with other general managers about teams looking to move up or down, although a few teams have been vocal in saying they would consider moving down if their player is not there, so that’s in the back of your mind. We do have the ability, with some second-round picks, to package some things if there’s somebody we really like dropping to where we can get them.

By the same token, there are enough players who are similarly grouped that you could move from 18 to the low 20s if you were able to pick up some assets you liked. So it’s on our radar to either move up or move back, and we’re at an interesting spot at 18, because we’re certainly not in the top grouping, but we think we’re going to get a valuable player.

By the time you’re a week away from the draft, everyone pretty much knows who the top guy is going to be. What’s your sense of the battle between center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, defenseman Adam Larsson and winger Gabriel Landeskog for the number one overall spot?
Looking at those three players, they play different positions and different styles. I was fortunate to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last summer, at the first tournament where all of these draft-eligible players came together, and he was clearly the best player there. It was obvious that he was going to be a top player, and he continued that throughout the season. Landeskog is a Swedish player who left Sweden to come play in North America, which is good in a lot of ways. He plays a rugged style for a Swedish player and he’s got a lot of likable qualities as well. And then you’ve got the defenseman Larsson, who for a couple of years has been on everyone’s radar. He had a very good year as an underage player, and he continued that through his draft year. So they’re all impressive in their own way.

I think Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a very skilled, talented player; he has great vision. He’s on the small side but he may grow into it, whereas Landeskog is probably more prepared to play right out of the gate. He’s a big kid already, and I think he can probably handle the NHL at this point.

There are different motivations when you are picking that high, and luckily we’re not in that mix. It’s nice to be able to get those franchise players, but you don’t want to be picking at the top of the draft. We’re left to sort out some of these other guys, and it’s interesting because you’re probably doing a little bit more projecting. The teams in the top spots have players who are locks to be there, but after that it starts to widen a little bit, and you have to make your assessment of which part of a given player's game you like the most. That’s what makes it fun.

Let’s talk about some of the recent draft picks for the Blackhawks: Kevin Hayes, Stephen Johns and Justin Holl have each been invited to USA Hockey's Evaluation Camp. Do you think all three players have a legitimate shot at making the World Juniors team, and what can you tell Blackhawks fans about them?
I had the fortune of seeing Stephen Johns a couple times this year when he was at the University of Notre Dame; they had a good season, almost going to the finals of the NCAA Tournament. He’s a big, strong kid, especially for the college game. Although he’s only 18, he stands out when he’s on the ice. He’s about 6-foot-4, he likes to play physical, and he’s noticeable in that type of rugged game. I’ve spoken to their coaching staff and they’re very high on his character, his aggressiveness, and in some ways they had to tone it down a little bit, but he’s got good mobility for somebody who plays that way. His puck-moving skills are improving, and he certainly has a chance of being a different style of player than we have here, which is nice. At the end of the day, you like guys who can play that puck-control game, but if they’ve got the size and strength as well, I think that’s a nice package.

Justin Holl is a superb skater. His offensive abilities didn’t all come together in terms of points, but he has that ability to skate and has good size as well. We like the fact that both he and Johns are big and mobile. Johns has more physicality to his game, and Holl carries the puck a little bit more, so he’s got the potential to be an offensive player with that size.

Obviously, Kevin Hayes was our first-round pick, and he really came on for Boston College. They’ve graduated a few players, and his brother Jimmy has left school, so I think he’s going to get a chance to play an expanded role next year.

I think they all have a very good chance of making that [World Juniors] team. It’s a competitive environment there, so it would be great if even one or two of our prospects made it. We’re excited that they’re getting this opportunity to play for the team, which has really come along in the last couple years and produced a number of good players. To make that team would be quite an accomplishment.

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