It’s officially NHL Combine week, and in Buffalo, the final evaluations of this year’s draft class are underway for the Blackhawks.

Led by director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey, Chicago’s staff is actively meeting with this year’s top draft-eligible players and later in the week will observe the fitness testing each goes through with the NHL. With eight picks in the draft — now less than four weeks away — including two in each of the first three rounds, the work done this week will serve as the final step in solidifying what names are called come the last weekend of the month in Las Vegas.

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It’s the third combine for both Doneghey and General Manager Kyle Davidson in their respective roles leading the draft process — and every year to date has been a different experience. Early returns on the first two draft classes appear positive, though, with names like Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar and Connor Bedard leading the group overall in a busy two summers for Chicago.

In 2022, the Blackhawks, until draft day, didn’t own a first-round pick (though would end the draft with three). At that year's combine, the duo was still figuring out how they wanted to run things compared to the years, and players expected to go in the first round were somewhat questioning why the Blackhawks were interested in them.

A year ago, while the entire hockey world knew that Connor Bedard’s name would be the first one called in Nashville, the team still had to enter the combine with an open mind, doing their complete due diligence on all the players in the top echelon of the first round, while also putting a lot of focus on their remaining picks across the opening rounds. In the end, they chose Bedard first overall and eight other players before the weekend was done.

This year, sitting at No. 2 overall, the hockey world is expecting the draft to really kick off when Chicago is on the clock, with San Jose anticipated to select consensus top prospect Macklin Celebrini at the top of the order. From there, the Blackhawks have full control of where they want to go, and Donegehy says his group feels the most confident yet in their roles and internal process as they evaluate their future picks for one final time.


Mike Doneghey leads an interview at the 2023 NHL Scouting Combine with Norm Maciver and Kyle Davidson looking on

Across four days this week, Doneghey will lead the interviews with nearly 70 prospects in Buffalo. Next to him will sit Hudson Chodos, the team’s manager of scouting and player development, who will be taking notes and updating the team’s internal database in real time with any new information or details a player divulges in the conversations. In a row behind the two of them is a somewhat intimidating site for the prospects: the GM, Davidson, as well as Associate General Manager Norm Maciver and advisor Brian Campbell, a 17-year veteran of the league. And then depending on the prospect seated across the table, the scout from their respective region, who has met with the players over the past two years, will also be in the room to help guide any conversations — Rob Facca for the U.S. prospects, Colin Fraser for the Canadian Hockey League prospects and Nick Blomgren for any Europeans.

“Some teams go in there and they really drill these kids, almost to a degree of uncomfort,” Doneghey said of the 20-minute conversations that take place with players. “But we try to keep them loose, because we feel like that's how we get the most information out of them. And at the end of the day, if anybody needs to loosen a room or crack a joke, it's usually Rob Facca because he's got the personality. We like the way we do it, we're comfortable with the way we do it, and it's been successful for us.”

Blackhawks Ready to Add Foundational Player with No. 2 Pick

Over the past two years, the team’s amateur scouting staff has put together a full picture of each player in this year's draft with scouting reports from their on-ice play while building a personal rapport off it. The Blackhawks already have a fairly good sense of their internal draft board entering the week, slotting where certain names might fall during the draft and projecting where their individual potentials can go. The combine though serves, for most prospects, as the first and only time they’ll meet with the highest levels of Chicago’s hockey operations group before draft day — a first and last impression for both sides before the decisions are made by Davidson and Doneghey on draft day.

“You get a feel for the handshake, the eye contact, the posture, how they speak, how they would react in pressure situations, whether it be in games or in front of the media,” Doneghey said. “We understand that it's an avenue for us to meet the player and continue a relationship that's been formed (with the scouts) over two years.”

Regardless of where the dominos fall, ahead of No. 2 and the rest of Chicago’s seven picks in the draft order, Doneghey is his confident his staff has put in the work for the organization's future success.

“(Our scouts are) traveling the world, criss-crossing and zigzagging (countries) 20 to 22 nights a month from the end of September through April," he said. "For a scouting staff. this is kind of our Stanley Cup, all the hard work that we've put in throughout the course of the two years, now you really get to see the fruits of your labor.”