With the Blackhawks’ first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, they will select…

If the Blackhawks had to make a top-four 2023 draft selection today, they’d be ready.

“Do I know who our top four are? I do. I do know who our top four are,” Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey said on Friday.

The Blackhawks held amateur scouting meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday this week and began putting together their draft list. They’ll meet again in May after knowing where they’ll actually draft and start making more definitive decisions.

Doneghey wouldn’t go any further than saying he knew their top four, but the assumption is Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson and Matvei Michkov make up that list in some order. To assume even further, Bedard is likely no. 1 and Michkov, because of his unknown future, is likely no. 4. Bedard is the grand prize of the draft, but all four players are potential game changers.

“I think if you look at the four of them, if you go back two or three prior years to this, and we’re always looking at future drafts, kind of what you see on paper right now over the next year or two, any four of them could be a number one pick in any given year,” Doneghey said. “It happens all four are available in one year right now. So, they’re all very good players based on their 16- and 17-year-old comparables to other years’ drafts. Their projections are high-end players.”

Based on the league’s point standings as of Friday, the Blackhawks could draft anywhere from first to fifth. That will likely continue to fluctuate over the remainder of the season. The Blackhawks would have been guaranteed a top-three pick if the season had ended a few weeks ago. They’ve moved up the standings since then by winning five of their last six games. The trade deadline could, of course, deplete them. It’s all unknown.

Doneghey is ready for anything, even the possibility of drafting outside the top four. That wouldn’t be the dream scenario, but it’s also not one Doneghey thinks is the end of the world. William Smith, Dalibor Dvorsky, Edward Sale, Brayden Yager, Nate Danielson, Colby Barlow, among others, are in the conversation beyond the top four.

“Ideally, you want to be in the top four because of how good those players are, but there are top-line players in the five to 15 range,” Doneghey said. “You just have to be more patient. Three years from now, you’ll be wondering why some of those players weren’t being discussed in the same way.”

The Blackhawks are hoping to get a shot at a couple of those players. The Blackhawks will have two first-round picks, and there is a possibility for more depending on what happens at the trade deadline. The Blackhawks are expected to select mostly forwards, especially early in the 2023 draft after taking two defensemen, Kevin Korchinski and Sam Rinzel, in the first round last year.

Doneghey and I discussed a wide range of topics on Friday. Here are some notes from our conversation:

On Connor Bedard

If you didn’t know who Connor Bedard was, if you were living under a rock prior to the world juniors, you know who Connor Bedard is now. He’s obviously an elite player. Hey almost. He can shoot. He’s skilled. He’s competitive. He’s got a high hockey IQ. He’s a leader. He checks every box, so someone’s going to be fortunate to land him.

On Adam Fantilli

Fantilli, he’s a hell of a player. He played out of position on the right wing and he was bounced around the lineup a little bit in the world juniors, which for me was fine because you got to see him outside his comfort zone and how he responded.

Historically, he’s a center. I don’t know up until that tournament if he’s ever played wing in his life, but sometimes to put a national jersey on for a player you got to adjust your role and play. And for me, it was a little bit more exciting because you got to see him outside of that No. 1 center at Michigan, no. 1 center role with the Chicago Steel, even the No. 1 center role back at Kimball Union. Very good player excellent player.

On Leo Carlsson

He’s been on the radar for well over a year now, but his game kept growing. And obviously with Nik Blomgren and Mats Hallin there in Sweden, we got to see him a lot, and (general manager) Kyle (Davidson) obviously saw him over in October while we were there. So we’ve got a very good book on him, and he’s another one, he’s a really good player. He’s got size. He’s got quick hands. His head is always up wherever he is in the zone. And I don’t think people got a really true snapshot of him in Halifax because he missed one game with the flu, he was ill all week and did his best to play. So you know, the size, the skating, the head up, the hockey IQ, he checks all the boxes.

On Matvey Michkov

We get a lot of Michkov because we have (scout) Anatoly Semenov, who lives right there in Russia. So he’s seen Michkov play a lot, both when he was with SKA and now when he’s with Sochi, so he’s kind of dialed in on him. And myself and the crossover guys and actually (associate general manager) Norm (Maciver) and (senior advisor) Brian Campbell, they watch a ton of video on Michkov because we want to stay as current on him as possible.

On determining the draft list

It’s just through watching and communicating and you start slotting players that we like for the Blackhawks, that meet our traits. It’s not necessarily what The Athletic might have, what Craig Button might have or what Sam Cosentino might have, what Central Scouting might have. They’re not building the Blackhawks. They’re putting names on the board where they think those guys are gonna go.

So (what) we look at, it’s a constant on every player. Is he skating? Does he play direct? Is he competitive? Is it hockey sense? We break down the levels of those and then from player one all the way even through the second round, the third round, we kind of just slot players based on those characteristics where if we were drafting where we’d like them to go.”

On Davidson’s active involvement in scouting

It’s very helpful. And the more you guys get to know Kyle, like I’ve told you since Day 1 last year, like Kyle and I have been on the road a lot together over the last 12 years as he was learning the scouting game and everything else. I think he said it in a recent article, he feels by being on the road and seeing different players and different events and venues, it’s more helpful to him to get an understanding of the player, of the league.

And I think one of the best things he did was we went over in October to Sweden and Czech, and he up until that point, because it wasn’t his role, he had never saw an SHL game or Allsvenskan game or Czech Elite game (in person). For him, it made a world of a difference.

So when European scouts are talking about player X that plays in that venue, he’s got a mental picture of not just the player, but the atmosphere around, the bigger rinks, the crowds, all that kind of stuff. So, he’s not hands on by any means, he’ll give his opinion when asked or if he thinks the conversation’s going one way or another and might be a deciding factor. For me, it’s helpful because it’s just an extra set of eyes on the road. But for him, it’s helpful because he really likes the scouting process. So for him to have as much information as he can when we’re talking about players, I just think it’s beneficial.”

On what the Blackhawks’ draft meetings were like this week

This year’s meetings, like I told you last year, we changed the way it’s been done in the past where we had a lot more of the scouts regionalized to focus on their areas and then we have myself and three crossover scouts zigzagging North America and Europe to oversee the players that they see, as well as Kyle, Norm, Brian Campbell and (associate general manager) Jeff (Greenberg) getting out to see games.

So, we had all those guys in meetings, as well as the new hockey analytics and strategy group that Jeff Greenberg put together. They made a presentation on how they can be a help and the stuff that they’re kind of tackling right now. We started Tuesday morning and Europe went first, and they just went through the regions, one through whatever, and we had a healthy dialogue and broke those guys down.

And then we did it on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday afternoon went North America, same thing, the regional guys broke down their regions and areas and we kind of cross-checked it, double-checked it. And then on Wednesday morning, we built an overall soft European list. And then Wednesday afternoon, we built a soft North America list.

I’m the one who gets to talk to you and gets in front of the camera and everything, but the work that (the scouts) do on a daily basis when they’re going to games and traveling and the information that they get, I just think they’re great at their jobs. So I feel good because they feel good about where they are in their regions, so it just makes my job a lot easier based on the information. I trust those guys.

On how the analytics team can assist in the process

The best thing about the group is they’re not pushing a piece of paper across the table to me and saying, “our analytics say this, this is the player, this is the guy,” or whatever. It’s just they did a lot of listening on how we talk and how we talk about players and the traits that we’re looking for, so they could familiarize themselves with it. And they just kind of have certain formulas and metrics that they come up with that can provide information when we’re comparing player X vs. player Y. And again, it’s in the beginning stages of it.

(Photo of Adam Fantilli: Ron Ward / The Canadian Press via AP)

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