The Chicago Blackhawks have not selected a player in the top 10 of the NHL Draft since 2007 but have a rare opportunity this year to accelerate their rebuild with the No. 8 pick.
"I think we're in the neighborhood where we can get a player that can make a good impact on the team down the road, so that part is exciting," said Mark Kelley, Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting.
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"We're sitting in a really good spot at No. 8. Not only do we think we're going to get a player that we like, but it's going to be a hard decision, and that's exciting. I think it's a good draft class. There are a few players at the top who stand out, and I think there's a pool of 10 to 12 players who, depending upon the team and how you view them, could be ordered differently."
The Blackhawks, who haven't drafted higher than No. 29 in the past three years, also have the No. 27 pick in the first round. They gained the extra selection, along with a fourth-round choice and forward prospect Victor Ejdsell, in a trade with the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Hartman on Feb. 26.
The 2018 NHL Draft will be held at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The first round is June 22 (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are June 23 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS).
"I think a player we have listed as top-six value would be available to us at No. 8," Kelley said. "I wouldn't want to say we're drafting by need, but when you look at the forwards and the defensemen that are available you can go for a preference.
"I don't think when you're picking No. 8 you want a player to fill your prospect pool. You're still looking for the player you believe will impact your team the best down the road. The prospect pool is always pretty fluid."
According to the latest NHL.com mock drafts, the Blackhawks could choose forward Oliver Wahlstrom or defenseman Adam Boqvist.
Wahlstrom (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) scored 48 goals in 62 games with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team and seven goals in seven games to help the United States win the silver medal at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Boqvist (5-foot-11, 168 pounds) played with Brynas Jr. in Sweden last season. He is more of a finesse-type player who at times plays bigger than he is but has a tremendous shot and his upside is high with proper development.
The Blackhawks have drafted well in recent years and could be reaping the benefits soon. Defenseman Henri Jokiharju (2017 NHL Draft, No. 29), a right-hand shot, was signed to a three-year contract Tuesday. The 18-year-old scored 71 points (12 goals, 59 assists) in 63 games for Portland of the Western Hockey League last season, the most points by a Portland defenseman since 1993-94.
"He's the best defense prospect we've had in a long time," Kelley said. "We thought [Jokiharju] had a great season and we look forward to him coming to training camp and showing us what he has."
Kelley also mentioned the maturation of forwards Dylan Sikura (2014, No. 178) and Tim Soderlund (2017, No. 112), and defensemen Ian Mitchell (2017, No. 57) and Chad Krys (2016, No. 45).
Sikura signed a two-year contract with the Blackhawks after his senior season at Northeastern University. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after scoring 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists) in 35 games. Soderlund will play for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League in 2018-19 after spending three seasons with Skelleftea (SHL).
Krys will likely spend one more season at Boston University after scoring 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 36 games as a sophomore last season. Mitchell quarterbacked the power play as a freshman at the University of Denver and had 30 points (two goals, 28 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 41 games.
"For a true freshman to play on the power play, and run the power play for a perennial national championship team, is something," Kelley said. "He really seized the moment."
The last time the Blackhawks had a top 10 selection was in 2007, when they won the NHL Draft Lottery to move from No. 5 to No. 1 and chose forward Patrick Kane, who helped them win three Stanley Cup championships (2010, 2013, 2015).
The Blackhawks hope to acquire the same type of difference-maker with the No. 8 pick and make a quick return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after finishing last in the Central Division last season.