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Hawks' core came together through savvy drafting

by Phil Coffey
PHILADELPHIA --  With precious few exceptions, winning NHL teams are built through the Entry Draft. While the Chicago Blackhawks have been active players in both the trade and free-agent markets, the cornerstone of their 2010 Stanley Cup championship team was built through the Entry Draft.

"There's so much leadership in the room," veteran center John Madden said of the Hawks' core. "The guys are young, but way beyond their years in terms of the way they handle themselves. From Jonathan Toews and Dunks (Duncan Keith) and Sharpy (Patrick Sharp), those guys are our captains, (Brent) Seabrook as well.

"There are lots of leaders in the room that do a lot of things," Madden said. "It's been easy to come in and play hockey and not worry about all the other things that go on."

Toews, the Hawks' captain and forward Patrick Kane are the poster boys of the Blackhawks' youth movement -- and for good reason. Toews was the Hawks' first-round pick (No. 3) in 2006, and Kane was the No. 1 pick in 2007. Together, they're a young combo that figures to anchor the Hawks for the foreseeable future.

"You can't plan on something like this happening so quickly," Toews said of the Blackhawks' success since he and Kane arrived. "I mean, since the day we both came in as rookies, so much has gone well for us. And we understand that -- the way the opportunities were given, the players we're playing with, the guys in the locker room we're surrounded with, everything was set up for us to have success and have fun playing hockey.

"You definitely don't expect to be playing for a Stanley Cup in your third season as a pro," Toews said. "So we've been very lucky from Day 1. It's one a heck of a ride. We're just enjoying the moment whatever happens, whether it's the Winter Classic or -- everything that's been going on in Chicago for our organization has just been a lot of fun, and we're enjoying this one as well."

Toews' seriousness belies his age.

"We still have to check the birth certificate and make sure he's only 21 or 22, whatever he is," teammate Patrick Sharp said of Toews. "From Day 1 he entered the League, he hasn't changed.  Maybe he's lightened up a little bit now. Takes things seriously. He prepares to play just as hard as anybody else. He cares about the game and winning."

Defenseman Duncan Keith is another high draft pick who has become a linchpin for the Blackhawks. He was selected in the second round (No. 54) of the 2002 Entry Draft and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman this season. He's been a mainstay in the playoffs as well, averaging a touch over 28 minutes per game.

"I thought 'Dunks' has played throughout these playoffs and series -- throughout the whole playoffs -- he's been very consistent," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Some nights he absorbs over 30 minutes or up to 30 a lot of days. He seems like he doesn't even get any wear on him. He seems like he doesn't even blow hard when he comes to the bench after some tough shifts.

"We like the pace of his game," Quenneville said. "We like his speed. The last couple of games I thought he was a big factor in our game. I thought he really influenced the way the game was being played. He still doesn't look like he's wearing down or slowing down one bit. It's a little bit of a testament to his conditioning and how he prepares and takes care of his body."

"He's a great player," Sharp agrees. "Everyone knows what he can do on the ice.  Off the ice he has that personality that he can crack anybody up, especially his boy Seabrook there. We're lucky to have him on and off the ice."

Keith's defense partner is Brent Seabrook, who was the 14th pick of the 2003 Entry Draft. Like Keith, he has blossomed into an excellent defenseman, playing nearly 24 minutes per game during the playoffs. Other higher-round picks to make the grade for the Hawks are Dave Bolland, who was a second-round pick (No. 32) in 2004, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, a fourth-round pick (No. 108) in 2005 who has played a regular shift in the playoffs.

But Chicago has also done well in the later rounds of the draft.

A very big pick for the Hawks, winger Dustin Byfuglien, came to Chicago in the eighth round (No. 245) of the 2003 Entry Draft. Forwards Troy Brouwer (2004 seventh round, No. 214) and Adam Burish (2002 ninth round, No. 282) also came seemingly out of nowhere to earn NHL positions and championship status with the Blackhawks.

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