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FEATURE: VP of Amateur Scouting Kelley reflects on Combine

Mark Kelley has met with almost 90 players in Buffalo this week. Now the hard part begins.

by Austin Siegel /

If you ever find yourself driving behind Blackhawks Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley, you might want to consider switching lanes. 

"We're in a car, we take off the rear-view mirrors because we need to move forward," Kelley said, when it comes to second-guessing picks. "We want to get all the information, so when we do make that decision, we're very comfortable with it."

The very quality that might make him a terror on the Dan Ryan is why Kelley feels comfortable as the NHL Scouting Combine rolls into the weekend. With the draft three weeks away, Kelley and the Blackhawks could be sitting on the most interesting decision of all 31 teams in attendance. 

What to do with a pick that mock drafts, scouting reports and hockey fans in general can't seem to agree on? 

"Right now, the net is probably six players," Kelley said. "Where we're picking, we get our choice. If you look at the draft as whole, I would say the depth of the first round is at the forward position."

Video: Mark Kelley at the Combine (Part 1)

Every answer a scout like Kelley can give in Buffalo will seemingly lead to more questions. Does forward depth mean the Blackhawks should prioritize defense in the first round and grab a player like Bowen Byram? Or after loading up on defenseman in 2018, should Chicago pick from a pool of offensive players with a high floor such as Vasili Podkolzin or Trevor Zegras?

"It's my job to come up with some kind of a draft board ranking for Stan [Bowman]. In discussion, team needs can come in, but at this point where we're picking, we're going after the best available player," Kelley said. "If you look at it generically in the NHL, typically centers can have more impact over wings, but when you look at a player like [Alexander] Ovechkin, he certainly has more impact than the top center in Washington."

Video: Mark Kelley at the Combine (Part 2)

Projecting the future for each prospect means Kelley will work with everyone from Bowman to Strength and Conditioning Coach Paul Goodman to understand how these players could perform years down the road.

"They're 17 or 18 years old, I'm talking to them and I'm looking at them and I'm saying to myself, he doesn't even shave," Kelley said. 

After meeting with "80 or 90" players over the course of the Combine, Kelley and the Blackhawks have nearly wrapped up the fact-finding portion of NHL Draft preparation. 

Next, the staff will get into a room and continue a journey that will end on the draft stage in Vancouver as the Blackhawks pick third for the first time since 2006. That year, Chicago selected a player named from Winnipeg named Jonathan Toews. No pressure or anything. 

"Most teams are probably in the same position we're at," Kelley said. "They're trying to assess, take all the information for the week and build a board."

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