Bowen Byram

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Zawaski: Scouting Blackhawks' Options At No. 3

The NHL Draft starts Friday evening.

Jay Zawaski
June 18, 2019 - 11:41 am
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(670 The Score) On Friday night, the Blackhawks will become a better team. They will select No. 3 overall in the NHL Draft and have a boatload of prospects to choose from. The top two picks in this draft are all but guaranteed. The New Jersey Devils will choose American-born forward Jack Hughes at No. 1, and unless something crazy happens, the New York Rangers will choose Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko at No. 2.

Beyond that, there are a number of options for the Blackhawks at No. 3. Let's take a look at their choices and break them down, starting with who's most likely to be taken third down to who would surprise.

FAVORITES

Bowen Byram 
Defenseman
Vancouver Giants of Western Hockey League
6-foot, 195 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games

PROS: Byram is an incredible skater and excellent puck mover. He has a hockey savvy beyond his years and could be an immediate starter next season for whichever team drafts him. His on-ice vision combined with his skills make him one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in the past few years. In the WHL, he had the ability to take over a shift or a game on his own. He stands out as if he’s a men among boys on his highlight films. Byram projects to be an All-Star No. 1 defenseman for years to come. He's the player whom I want the Blackhawks to choose Friday night.

CONS: As with every offensive defenseman, questions about defense will arise -- but at this point, it feels like grasping at straws to find an obvious flaw.   

HOW HE FITS THE HAWKS: While the Blackhawks' logjam at defense only got deeper with the acquisition of Olli Maatta on Saturday, Byram is the kind of player you draft regardless of depth. The Hawks do have a glut of defensive prospects, but none of them are in the same class as Byram. Duncan Keith’s best years are behind him, and this is the Blackhawks' best chance at acquiring their next No. 1.

Alex Turcotte
Center
USA Hockey National Team Developmental Program
5-foot-11, 185 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 62 points (27 goals, 45 assists) in 37 games

PROS: Turcotte is the player whom I believe the Blackhawks will select, and he has drawn comparisons to Jonathan Toews. It's easy to see why -- he has elite skill, elite work ethic and great vision. When Turcotte returned from his hip injury, he didn’t miss a beat. His scoring outpaced even Hughes. Scouts rave about Turcotte’s hands, and his shooting ability is just as good. He has a knack for scoring and creating off the rush, which will fit well into Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton’s system. 

CONS: Like Toews, Turcotte isn't a gifted skater. He’s solid but not nearly elite in that category. He makes up for it with his active feet and work ethic -- again, like Toews. 

HOW HE FITS THE HAWKS: Turcotte’s ability to create and score on the rush will be enticing to Colliton. While Toews’ decline isn’t quite as advanced as Keith’s, the Hawks will need to have a No. 1 center to replace him soon. It’s doubtful Dylan Strome will ever ascend to true No. 1 status (as much as I love him). Turcotte can.

EVEN MONEY

Dylan Cozens
Center
Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League
6-foot-3, 185 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 84 points (34 goals, 50 assists) in 68 games

PROS: Cozens has the size the Hawks sorely lack. If the St. Louis Blues proved anything with their Stanley Cup victory, it’s that size and brute force can still win in the NHL. As his stats show, Cozens is a great scorer. He plays a consistent game and can be relied upon to score night after night. He’s also strong away from the puck. He has a hockey awareness above many forwards in this draft class. He knows where to be and when, with or without the puck. To me, Cozens may be the safest pick in this draft despite perhaps having a lower ceiling than some others.

CONS: It feels more likely that Cozens maxes out as an elite second-line center. The Blackhawks are better off going for the big payoff instead of the safe payoff. Second-line centers can be signed and acquired through other avenues, and Strome might already have that job locked down for the foreseeable future.

HOW HE FITS: Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has never shown a desire to draft big forwards. That said, in a recent Hawks Talk Podcast with Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago, Colliton acknowledged the team's need to upgrade its size and physicality. It will be interesting to see if Bowman feels the same way. 

Trevor Zegras
Center
USA Hockey National Team Developmental Program
6-foot, 170 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 87 points (26 goals, 61 assists) in 60 games

PROS: Zegras is an incredible playmaker. The words "creativity" and "imagination" can be found in many of his scouting reports. He's a north-and-south skater who creates high-danger scoring chances as well as any player in this draft. What he lacks in overall skill (which isn’t much), he makes up for in hockey IQ. Zegras is another safe pick and should be a solid player for a long time.

CONS: It’s unclear whether Zegras will ever become an elite scorer. If a player in the lower levels thinks "pass first," it’s unlikely he will change his game in the NHL. If anything, players shoot less when they get to the league. 

HOW HE FITS THE HAWKS: Zegras has the ability to play all forward positions and play them well. There's no drop-off in his playmaking ability from position to position. A team can never have too many players like this, but at No. 3, the Blackhawks need to hit a home run. I’m not sure Zegras would be a home run.

Kirby Dach 
Center 
Saskatoon Blades of Western Hockey League
6-foot-4, 200 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) in 62 games

PROS: Like Cozens, Dach has an NHL-ready body. He would be an immediate asset to a playoff roster and the power play. He's a willing screener, he’s tough to move from in front of the net and he has the hand-eye coordination to deflect shots with the best of them. He’s a really good skater, despite his size. McKeen’s Hockey’s draft guide refers to Dach as a "general" on the ice, taking over the game and making everyone around him better. He logs a ton of minutes, and if he maxes out, he could be an ideal top-line center. 

CONS: Dach has good speed but doesn’t have the first step of many of these other prospects. His consistency has been a bit of a concern, as he’s gone through scoring lulls at the WHL level. 

HOW HE FITS THE HAWKS: Dach might have the highest ceiling of these centers aside from Turcotte and represents exactly what the Blackhawks need -- a big, physical center whose game translates well to playoff hockey. I do fear he might be a high-risk, high-reward pick, but I’m not sure the Hawks are willing to take that risk.

DARK HORSE

Cole Caufield 
Right wing
USA Hockey National Team Developmental Program
5-foot-7, 165 pounds
18 years old
2018-'19 stats: 100 points (28 assists, 72 goals) in 39 games

PROS: He could be Alex DeBrincat 2.0. If you like DeBrincat and think the Hawks need another player like DeBrincat, then Caufield is your guy. Of course, there’s nothing to dislike about DeBrincat, who's an elite scorer and plays a bigger game than his frame suggests. Caufield’s numbers don’t lie: 100 points in 39 games, 72 of which were goals. He's an absolute sniper. 

CONS: Can the Hawks afford to ice another forward this small? I have no issue with small players, but NES Ice Hockey players will tell you that you can’t win with a team of all skinnies. It’s impossible! 

HOW HE FITS THE HAWKS: Caufield can flat out score, and every team likes a player who can score. While I’m told the Hawks are leaning heavily toward taking a center, it’s not an NHL Draft without a Bowman curveball. Why do I have a feeling this might be the Hawks' secret pick? Check out this piece from Mark Lazerus, as he interviewed Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley, who had high praise for Caufield.

"He’s the best goal-scorer in the draft," Kelley said. "His ability to get to open spots and get the puck on net is just remarkable. And the size factor is not an issue. He has a lot of similarities to Alex, and he has a very, very strong lower trunk. He has no fear. Like Alex, you probably least suspect him to be in the scrums, but when you go back and look it up, he’s one of the leaders in scrums. He’s so competitive. He doesn’t feel like he has any kind of size disadvantage and he’s proven that."

This comment from Kelley is longer than any other prospect in the piece. I found it quite telling.

What would Jay Zawaski do?

If I’m Bowman, here’s my draft board for the Blackhawks (after Hughes and Kakko go). Now it’s in print so you can all make fun of me three years from now. 

1) Bowen Byram
2) Alex Turcotte
3) Kirby Dach
4) Dylan Cozens
5) Trevor Zegras
6) Cole Caufield 

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon and a columnist for 670 The Score. He's also the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​