The Blackhawks have engineered a few draft steals in recent years, finding talented young players in the latter rounds, some of whom have already made an impact at the NHL level. What often goes unnoticed, however, is the work that the organization’s amateur scouts put in year-round to identify, track and evaluate these prospects, so that Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman and Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley are completely prepared to make their selections on draft day. One of those scouts is Jim McKellar, who joined the organization in the 2010-11 season and is responsible for surveying the Ontario Hockey League.
“Early in the season, you’re watching everybody to see who pops out and catches your eye,” McKellar says of the basic process. “You’re narrowing that focus on players you really like as the year goes on, but continuing to watch other guys.”
One player McKellar zeroed in on was Andrew Shaw, who at that point had already passed through two drafts, untouched by all 30 NHL teams. Of course, Blackhawks fans know the rest—from his stellar start in the NHL to his gritty, shinpads-and-stitches performance during the 2013 Stanley Cup run. As the 2014 Draft approaches, chicagoblackhawks.com caught up with McKellar to get his reflections on the Blackhawks' selection of Shaw.
When did you first see Andrew Shaw play, and what was your first impression of him on the ice?
The first time I saw him was probably two years before we drafted him. I wasn’t even working for the Blackhawks at the time; Andrew was playing for Niagara, and I was working for the London Knights. He was a first-year player in the OHL, and to me he was really competitive, feisty and determined, and he competed very hard.
My first year with the Blackhawks was Andrew’s third year in the OHL, the year we drafted him. I had seen him for a couple of years, so I got to see this competitive and determined kid grow and develop. He kept finding your eye; that’s a tribute to him, how hard he worked to get better and get noticed.
Looking at his stats over the two seasons he played at Niagara, it seemed like he was more of a scrapper than a scorer, always racking up more penalty minutes than points. Did that perceived role affect how teams might have evaluated him leading up to those first two drafts?
Knowing Andrew, the way he is with us now is certainly the way he’s been in his career. When he came into the OHL, he was so determined to get a spot and earn ice time, he did whatever it took. It’s the same kind of thing he’s done with us at development camp, in Rockford and after he came up to Chicago. Every year he went into hockey, he wanted to be a better player than he was the year before, and he would do whatever it takes to make that happen. The sky’s the limit for him, really.
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Is it common for players to stay on a team’s radar even after their first or second years of draft eligibility?
You’re looking for players to get better, and some do it at different ages. In Andrew’s case, maybe opportunity and the depth of the teams he was with at age 17 and 18 did lead to him working hard and getting noticed at 19. If a guy keeps getting better, we have to keep watching him and keep taking note of that. I know we do that, and we’ve had success with players who have been through a draft and just gotten better and better.
If you see a kid who gets better, you have to keep watching; you owe it to them and to your own team to make sure. It is very common to keep watching them, and ultimately, if they compete and are determined, they’ll create their own opportunity.
Andrew had a tremendous season in 2010-11 with Owen Sound, winning the OHL championship and getting to the Memorial Cup, where he led the tournament in points. How did his game improve during that season?
[Getting traded form Niagara to Owen Sound] was probably a turning point in his junior career. He was relied upon as one of the most important players on that championship team in Owen Sound, and we saw all of the elements of his game that we see now in Chicago—the skill, the hand-eye coordination, the skills around the net, the hockey sense. With more opportunity came greater success, and he was a big part of that Owen Sound team winning, and that allowed us to see him in a different role. He took advantage of that and really got noticed, and he earned the right to be drafted because he did have a really solid year and continued to use his talents.
When you got to the fifth round of the 2011 Draft, were there deliberations at the table or any debate over Andrew, who was an overage prospect and on the smaller side?
We do a lot of preparation leading up to the draft; the discussions have taken place already, so the thinking and planning has been done. At the table, it’s about managing the time at which to take players that you like. At that time, it wasn’t as common for 19-year-olds who had been through the draft to be drafted. But it’s important that you look at a lot more than age at the time, and I give Mark and Stan a lot of credit for picking a kid who was two years older than a lot of guys in that draft.
In general, is Andrew the type of player that teams look for in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft?
You’re always looking for players like Andrew, regardless of the round. You’re looking for character traits that make people successful, and Andrew slid in the draft to the fifth round because the opportunity was a little bit lower at the ages of 17 and 18.
When you see kids like Andrew, they continually find you and show you their determination, compete level and skill. It's something you can't stop watching. I had seen him for a couple years in the OHL, which really helped me. We had a few years—and the Blackhawks had a few years—on this guy. I had seen the growth and the improvement as a sign for us to draft him at 19.
Looking back at the player he was then versus now, has anything really changed in his game?
He created an opportunity for himself. A lot of the things he was doing when he was 17 and 18, he's continuing to do, and he's rewarding coaches and organizations that had faith in him. He continues to grow, to evolve, and all the things that are there are utilized to their fullest extent. Credit to the organization for using him, and also to the young man for taking the time and not giving up. He's continued to push, and he wants to be a good player.
At 17 or 18, he could have very easily said, "Hey, I don't see the dream continuing," but he didn't do that. And all that we see at the United Center now is a makeup of the same thing he was when he was younger—he's just grown more experienced.