The last three months have been a whirlwind for Mike Doneghey.
When Kyle Davidson was named the Blackhawks general manager in March, one of his first moves was promoting Doneghey to director of amateur scouting, putting him in charge of leading the team into July's NHL Draft. With only weeks to spare in amateur seasons around the world, Doneghey went to work booking trips across the globe to see first-hand some of this year's top talent and getting up to speed with the rest of the amateur scouting team.
"Fortunately there was about six weeks left of hockey in North America and in Europe," Doneghey said. "We don't have a top pick, but we have to we still have to know those players... We have to prepare like we're picking anywhere from one to wherever it may be, and know those guys all equally on and off the ice."
The former Blackhawks 12th round pick in 1989 never reached the NHL on the ice, but over the last 12 seasons Doneghey has become an integral off-ice piece of the organization's scouting and player personnel staff. He cut his teeth for nearly 10 years in the amateur scouting circuit, starting as a part-time scout the year Chicago took Kevin Hayes in the first round from Doneghey's home region in the northeast, then climbing the ranks to full-time scout and eventually to head U.S. scout.
In recent years, he took on larger roles as director of player evaluation and, most recently, director of player personnel, expanding his scouting reach to leagues at all levels around the globe, both amateur and professional. His unique path gives him a well-rounded view of the game, the amateur pool and the steps it takes to get a 17- or 18-year-old draft pick to the NHL.
"He's done a terrific job over the years," Associate General Manager Norm Maciver said. "He's very passionate about what he does, very detailed in what he does and he's a very hard-working guy. He's put in his time and he's been rewarded… I think that perspective gives him a little bit more of a baseline for what he really wants in terms of the traits and characteristics looking at these players moving forward."
This week, Doneghey, Davidson, Maciver and Associate GM Jeff Greenberg, along with the team's head scouts from the U.S., Canada and Europe, are digging deep in draft preparation at the 2022 NHL Combine in Buffalo, where 85 of the top prospects are making their cases to all 32 teams. The Blackhawks group has gone through four straight days of one-on-one conversations with the future NHL hopefuls before follow-up conversations and fitness testing conclude the week-long showcase in the coming days.
Chicago doesn't have a first-round selection entering the draft, but with five picks total in the second and third rounds -- ranging from 38th to as late as 96th overall -- meaningful talent for the future of the rebuilding franchise will undoubtedly come from this year's prospect pool.
"When we're looking in the in the second and third rounds, there's a reason probably some of these kids have fallen in terms of other teams' lists across the across the league," Maciver said. "What we're trying to do is really separate the characteristics and the traits that we really value and we're doing our best to try to obviously find some players that we think can help us down the road."
This week's conversations with potential picks will start to solidify the list of targets for Doneghey and his team to work off of come early July, making the most of every selection the Blackhawks have.
"You have a picture painted of these players and what the on-ice product brings," Doneghey explained, "so now you really get to dig in and see their mannerisms, their (build), the way they speak, the way they shake your hand, the eye contact. You get to see the the character side of it and what they're going to bring to your organization."
He points to a player like Alex DeBrincat, a No. 39 overall pick in 2016, as the type of talent that can be found in those second and third rounds if he and his team do their due diligence across the board. The Carolina Hurricanes, Doneghey added, are a consistent playoff contender in recent years with three impact players -- Sebastian Aho, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin -- that were second-, third- and fourth-round picks, respectively.
"The players are there," he said. "You've just got to roll up the sleeves, leave no stone unturned and get after it."
Over the next five weeks, the Blackhawks staff will prepare for every scenario and every possibility. With 37 picks ahead of Chicago's first selection, they have to as they sit and wait for their turn on the clock. Doneghey has been through the process enough in years past to know the more you prepare, the quicker you can react on draft day -- If these four players are there, who is our pick? If it's these three, which position to we value most? If this player falls into this range, would we consider moving up? At what price?
"If you like a player, you've got to go get him," said Doneghey. "You've got to trust your scouts. You've got to trust your own set of eyes, your own knowledge of the draft."
"I've been really impressed with the way he leads the group, the way he's run the the meetings and the interviews here in Buffalo," Maciver said of Doneghey. "I think he's done a terrific job. Just seeing his maturation as the leader of that group has been has been very impressive so far."
It's been a tireless road for Doneghey in preparation for his first draft at the helm for the team, but work that he's excited to see pay off come July 7 and 8.
"From Kyle, down through me, through the amateur scouts, there's a lot of excitement there in that range (of picks)," Doneghey said. "A lot of the group has seen (the players) through the U18 Championships or the World Championships or different tournaments and venues throughout the year. We can all kind of feel, 38 to 96, there's going to be some good-value players there -- let's go and get them. Guys are excited about the players that are there. Really excited."