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Blackhawks prospect needs for 2019 NHL draft

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Chicago will likely seek a center and left-handed defenseman early.

2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will look to find some future NHL players this weekend with six picks in the NHL draft in Vancouver.

Chicago will start its draft with the No. 3 overall pick Friday then move to Saturday with the No. 43rd overall pick in the second round. Bowman will then wait until the fourth round where he has two picks (Nos. 105 and 123) before finishing the draft with pick in the sixth (No. 167) and seventh rounds (No. 194).

Defense

The Blackhawks have selected five defensemen in the first two rounds in the last three years, including three in the first round. Since 2016, the Blackhawks have taken 11 defensemen and only four (Chad Krys, Lucas Carlsson, Blake Hillman and Henri Jokiharju) have made their professional debut in the AHL or NHL.

The top end of the defensive prospect pool is heavy on the right side with Adam Boqvist, and Ian Mitchell, while Jokiharju has already cracked the NHL roster. Nicolas Beaudin, Dennis Gilbert, Carlsson and Krys lead the pack on the left. If the Blackhawks draft defensemen, it appears going with a left-handed shot would be the way to go.

Centers

The Blackhawks have a good share of centers in the pipeline, but none of them project to be a No. 1 or 2 line center in the NHL. Jacob Nilsson and Reese Johnson — both signed as undrafted free agents — are the top AHL centers. Philipp Kurashev, MacKenzie Entwistle and Mikael Hakkarainen are all set to play in the AHL next season, but don’t appear anything more than a No. 3 line center. Kurashev and Entwistle might also find success at right wing more so than center. Unsigned prospect Evan Barratt will return to Penn State for his junior season as the top center.

The Blackhawks will likely target a center with one of their first three picks.

Wingers

The Blackhawks have a lot of wingers in the system, with several of them also being able to play center. European free agent signees Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin are expected to content for roster spots in the fall, while three AHL players in Matthew Highmore, Alexandre Fortin and Dylan Sikura have all seen some NHL playing time. Luke Johnson and Kris Versteeg (that’s still weird, right?) are the only right-handed shot winger in the AHL that has played in the NHL.

Anthony Louis, Brandon Hagel, William Pelletier, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura and Nick Moutrey are all left-handed shot wingers in the AHL. Unsigned prospect Artur Kayumov is also in the pipeline.

Chicago has Andrei Altybarmakyan, who shoots left but plays right, and Niklas Nordgren on the right side among unsigned prospects. A right winger looks to be more of a need depth wise than the left side, but the ceiling is higher for three listed above than the others on the left.

Goaltenders

It’s unlikely the Blackhawks will draft a goaltender for two reasons: draft history and team depth.

As noted last weekend, the Blackhawks haven’t selected a goaltender in an odd year since 2011 when they selected Johan Matsson in the seventh round.

Depth chart wise, the Blackhawks have Corey Crawford locked down as their No. 1 for one more year with a $6 million salary cap hit. Collin Delia is expected to be his backup after signing a three-year extension worth $1 million per season. Kevin Lankinen has one year left on his entry-level contract and should slot into the starting role in the AHL. Either one could be in contention to take over for Crawford after his deal expires next season, if the Blackhawks choose not to bring him back. Anton Forsberg is a restricted free agent, and is future with Chicago is unknown after not playing in the NHL last season.

In the pipeline, unsigned prospects Ivan Nalimov and Alexis Gravel are developing in Russia’s KHL and in Canada’s QMJHL, respectively. Nalimov wants to sign now, but there’s no indication the feeling is mutual. Matt Tomkins is under an AHL contract with the IceHogs after serving as the Indy Fuel’s starter in the ECHL. Wouter Peeters signed a tryout contract with Tappara in Liiga’s, Finland’s top division, and looks to have a long road ahead of him.