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NHL Draft Fan Q&A: Mark Kelley

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks
With the 2009 NHL Entry Draft kicking off this Friday, Blackhawks Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley recently sat down with to answer fan questions about drafting philosophy, scouting, Tavares vs. Hedman and more.

In the position that we’re drafting -- 28th overall -- are you planning on drafting by position or taking the best player available?
--Will Schwenn, Chicago

Both. In a perfect world the best player available would fill a need in the organization. We’re always looking to fill needs on the team’s depth chart, but at the same time we can’t overlook the best available talent.

Is this a draft where the Hawks are interested in filling depth within the organization across all positions, or are you looking to fill a specific need in one area?
--Matthew Lee, Loveland, Colorado

We're always looking to fill needs. But while filling needs we have to look at our organizational depth chart and if we can identify a specific hole -- such as a big, strong forward -- we might look to fill it. At the same time, we’d like to come out of the draft well-rounded at all positions.

With the recent trend of signing kids out of college -- another free agent pool -- have the Hawks been keeping an eye on this resource, and might there be some surprise signings?

--Darren Brown, Winnipeg, Manitoba

I’m not sure that there will be “surprise” signings. We are focusing very strongly on the college free agents. [Director of Player Recruitment] Ron Anderson -- that’s his job, identifying the best available college free agents. I would say as an organization that we are moving to the forefront with that.

Winning faceoffs was an issue in this year’s campaign with the Hawks having so few natural centers. Is drafting players at that position an issue, or are all drafted players expected to change and take on that workload so that you can get the best possible player who can play the Blackhawks’ brand of hockey?
--Cody, Kelowna, British Columbia

I’ll tell you this, and I’ve said it for fifteen years in the business: if you can win sixty percent of the draws, there’s a job for you in the NHL. That's something we always have our eye on. But the hardest faceoff to win is at the NHL level.

If you look at Jonathan Toews and his history in the league, he has developed into one of the better faceoff men. He was excellent at faceoffs in the World Juniors Tournament, and he was excellent in college, but when you make it to the NHL there is still a learning curve.

Kelley (R) with Patrick Kane at the 2007 Entry Draft

Is there any chance the Blackhawks will trade up in the draft because we may have some assets on the trading block anyway?
--Donald Fritzinger, Chillicothe, Illinois

There’s always a chance that we’ll move up. What I’m doing right now is determining where the players are likely to go in the first round. Then I’ll meet with Dale Tallon and Stan Bowman and present it to them. It will be Dale’s decision whether we move up. Or if there’s a player that we really like, we can possibly trade down and get a little more depth.

While the Hawks will most likely not be moving up to take either, would you take John Tavares or Victor Hedman with the first overall pick, keeping in mind the team we currently have? Who will make the better NHL player in the long run?
--Jack Goldberg, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

We really haven’t spent too much time going over Tavares vs. Hedman because where we’re picking, it’s a waste of energy. From an organizational standpoint, it’s easy: you want the best player, but you’re also trying to fill a need. So I would say based on who’s picking, that is who I’d draft. If I wanted a 6'6" defenseman who could skate and handle a puck, I’d take Hedman. If I wanted an impact forward, I’d take Tavares.

This is an easy one to decide because you’re picking who you think will be the best player, but you’re also immediately filling a need. It was only difficult for us when we were picking between Kane, Kyle Turris and James vanRiemsdyk because they were all forwards. It was the same problem when deciding between Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin because Ovechkin was better-defined at the time, but Malkin maybe had the better upside. This is an easier draft because a team can justify the pick by picking the player who best fills their need.

Right now, is there any one player the Hawks have hopes of getting?
--Donald Fritzinger, Chillicothe, Illinois

Umm… I think someone is going to take John Tavares (laughs). At the 28th pick, there are four or five names that we’ve said, “If he’s there, we’ll be thrilled.” If we went in there with one name hoping he was going to be there, that’d be a pipedream.

The first round will dictate itself, but more than likely we’ll regroup the night after the first round and target the player who is maybe eighth or ninth on our list going into the second round and say, “Boy, we hope that guy is there.” That’s what happened last year with Shawn Lalonde; we met after the first night of the draft and we were trying to find a way to trade up into the second round to draft Lalone. We couldn’t do that -- the best that we could do was trade up in the third round and it worked out. Did we think that he was going to be available in the third round? No, and we didn’t realistically think we’d get him in the second round unless we traded up.

How much weight, if any, do you assign to intelligence when evaluating players?
--Jim Schwartz, Charleston, Illinois

A lot. We need smart hockey players. In Chicago, we like to think that we have smart players and high-character players.

More and more NHL prospects seem to be coming out of Sweden. Why is that?

--Jim Schwartz, Charleston, Illinois

It's very much a cyclical thing. Four or five years ago, we were looking at Sweden and wondering what happened to their hockey program. They weren’t producing many players and they didn’t have much success with their World Junior or Under-18 teams. Tthat’s changed. Right now, we're asking what happened to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. But it’s all a cycle.

Kelley (L) with Kyle Beach at the 2008 draft

The Hawks have three second-round draft picks next year. Since this year’s draft is supposedly stronger, what are the chances of trading those picks for additional picks this year?
--Craig Nigrelli, Omaha, Nebraska

Like I said, there’s always a chance. But a bird in the hand is always better than two in the bush. If we could trade one of our second-round picks next year for an additional second-round pick this year, that would be ideal. When Dale was making those deals, that was kind of the plan, but some of those picks that we got were decided by other deals.

For instance, the Calgary pick that we have in 2010 was a second-round pick this year or next year, but they traded this year’s pick in the Olli Jokinen deal, so we automatically got next year’s. You’d like to trade it, but because of the salary cap, team’s are putting a higher value on draft picks.

[Editor's note: Check out the Blackhawks' draft pick tracker here.]

With the number of top-50 players coming out of the U.S. developmental programs, how do you compare them to kids coming out of the Canadian major junior leagues with the different schedules and game play?
--Charles Lee, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Well, it’s hard. If you look at Patrick Kane, even in the World Juniors, he dominated his peers even though many of them were a year or two older than him. This year, for instance, we had the chance to watch the U.S. Under-18 team face the Canadian Junior Team, which is comprised of kids coming out of the Canadian junior leagues, and they stood to the test and beat the Canadians 2-1 and went on to win that tournament.

But there are lots of ways that you can cross-reference the players during the year; in the summertime, they have an Under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic that we scout very heavily. A lot of it is just cross-referencing players in the same tournaments and games.

With the first few rounds of talent very well-documented and ordered, it would seem that by the later rounds the player pool would be very diluted and comparable. How do teams go about choosing players in the later rounds?

--Jeff Costas, Glendale, AZ

Well, that’s where regional scouts really have to have a passion for a player. They have to have seen something that opens their eyes, and then they have to make it known.

Why are the Hawks so snake-bitten when it comes to drafting goalies? Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour were all acquired by other means. Apart from Dominik Hasek, we’ve never drafted a goalie who has been a true #1 for any team. Is goaltending really that hard of a position to scout or is it just bad luck?

--Charles Kenville, Des Moines, Iowa

I think that it’s a hard position to scout, but it’s also a hard position to develop. It’s a two-fold problem. We’re in a position now in Rockford that we can now develop players and give them more attention. With [2002 2nd round pick] Corey Crawford, maybe in a year or two we won’t be talking like this because he could develop.

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