There's no doubt about the importance of stockpiling talent through the NHL Draft to ensure your team’s success now and in the future. First and second round picks are expected to the make the team and make an impact, but if you’re lucky enough to get talented players in the later rounds, you know you’re doing something right.
Chicago has historically found great players in later rounds; Steve Larmer (#120 overall in 1980), Darryl Sutter (#179 in 1978), Dominik Hasek (#199 in 1983) and Eric Daze (#90 in 1993) are all buried treasures which the Hawks dug up later in the draft.
While the Hawks leaned on early round selections such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to get them through their playoff run, the Hawks wouldn’t have had the season they did without the play of some late-round choices.
Where would the Blackhawks have been this season without the play of Dustin Byfuglien -- #245 overall in the 2003 Draft -- in front of the net, or without the grit of Adam Burish, a ninth-round selection in 2002? Two of this year’s biggest surprises, Troy Brouwer and Niklas Hjalmarsson, were selected late in their respective classes; Brouwer was a seventh-rounder in 2004 and Hjalmarsson was taken 108th overall in ’05.
Of course, later-round selections from other teams have made big contributions to the Hawks as well. Kris Versteeg, Boston’s fifth-round selection in 2004, made such a big splash this year that he was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Philadelphia’s third round pick in 2001, Patrick Sharp, was given the chance in Chicago that he never got with the Flyers and has become one of the Hawks' best snipers.
It’s ironic that, in my opinion, the best first-round draft pick in Hawks history was a player who never laced up the skates in Chicago. In 1976, the Hawks tabbed RW Real Cloutier as their ninth overall pick. However, when the WHA’s Quebec Nordiques decided to keep their native son, the Blackhawks were awarded the third overall pick in 1980 instead of fifteenth, allowing them to pick future Hall of Famer Denis Savard.
Let's hope that this year's choices produce as well as the Hawks' recent crop of draftees.