Advertisement

What’s the real reason behind the draft-pick trade? 4 things we learned from Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson.

CHICAGO — This offseason, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson has traded one exotic locale, the Dominican Republic, for another — Buffalo, N.Y.

After sunning himself on a family vacation in the Caribbean, he’s in Buffalo for work: the NHL scouting combine, which runs Sunday through Saturday.

“You’re doing draft prep, lots of video, lots of discussions and meetings planning out how we want to attack potential roster changes,” Davidson told the Chicago Tribune. “All along the way, you’re meeting with the players you’re able to.”

The draft takes place June 28-29 at Sphere in Las Vegas. In 2025, the NHL plans to have teams run their drafts from their home markets instead of gathering in one place.

“It’s exciting,” Davidson said. “It’s the last in-person draft from what we know at this point. So we’ll enjoy the experience down in Las Vegas, but we’re excited to extend this run through the process, get down there and see how we can improve the organization.”

In an interview with the Tribune, Davidson weighed in on several topics, including top wing prospect Ivan Demidov, Connor Bedard’s performance at the IIHF World Championship and the reasoning behind the recent draft-pick trade with the New York Islanders.

1. On the draft trade

When it comes to the draft, the Hawks are developing a reputation for swinging eye-catching trades.

So they created some buzz last week when they upgraded a first-round pick (from 20th to 18th) and a second-rounder (from 54th to 50th) by dealing an additional second-round selection (61st) to the Islanders.

Davidson has to be up to something, right? Maybe a precursor to another move up the board?

“It’s actually been kind of funny to watch all the discourse around that trade,” he said. “It’s been hilarious, actually.

“To us it was just our internal information indicated that it was an improvement in value, and so we did it. You’re correct, a second(-rounder), no matter how late a pick, is not nothing. Having said that, we do have a lot of picks. … We just felt that the picks we’re receiving have a better asset value package than the ones we were sending out.

“Honestly, it was that simple. It’s not a precursor or anything. It’s not a first domino to fall. It was interesting reading all the theories on what the next move was going to be.”

It’s a short list of candidates for the Hawks to pick at No. 2 — Demidov? Artyom Levshunov? — so their second first-round pick carries a lot more intrigue.

A few buzzy prospects, such as Bennett Sennecke or Michael Hage, could be at risk of getting snapped up before No. 20.

The conventional wisdom is you don’t make a trade like this unless you have a specific target. But Davidson said: “It wasn’t really done with players in mind. It was just strictly, in our opinion, we were more likely to improve our chances of finding legit NHL players at 18 and 50 than (at) 20, 54 and 61.

“You never know how the drafts are going to go. Whether you’re three minutes from someone making a pick or we’re 30 days from someone making a pick, I don’t know who anyone’s going to pick. I don’t know how it’s going to fall. … I’d be lying if I said that I knew what was going to be there at 18 versus 20.”

2. On interviewing Ivan Demidov

The Hawks will jet down to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late June for an independent interview session with several of the top Russian draft prospects, including Demidov.

Pundits see Demidov and Levshunov as the strongest contenders to be selected at No. 2 by the Hawks.

“One of the agents is hosting almost like a combine of his own for some of his clients, many of them Russian-based clients that are draft-eligible,” Davidson said. “So it’ll be an opportunity to meet with them that we haven’t necessarily gotten the opportunity to do previously.”

Because of their overseas contracts and visa hurdles, Russian prospects can be difficult to scout, so Davidson said he relishes this chance to get to know Demidov.

“You want to understand what’s motivating a player, whether they’re playing in Vancouver, Toronto, Stockholm or St. Petersburg,” Davidson said. “You want to get to know them and what their motivations are, what their ambitions are, no matter where they’re playing.

“It’s not like he’s different from — or any other Russian-based player is different from — the other 100 players that you’re going to talk with. It’s just everyone’s unique. … But we’re excited to meet him as well as the other players that are going to be down there and then dig into the rest of the group in Buffalo. So it’ll be an interesting process.”

3. On Connor Bedard at the worlds

Bedard started the IIHF World Championship in Czechia with back-to-back goals in the second period of Canada’s 4-2 win against Great Britain, and he finished the tournament with five goals and three assists.

It was a particularly fruitful opportunity for Bedard.

“I believe this year it seemed like you had a few more NHL players willing to go than previous years, and perhaps that’s because of upcoming international play,” Davidson said. “For Connor to be able to experience that, to go play with and against those (NHL) players and get experience playing with Canada … at the world championship level, it can only benefit him, so I’m excited for him to be able to get that opportunity to play in those moments.”

In a shootout loss to Switzerland in the semifinals, Bedard made the primary assist on John Tavares’ tying goal with a little more than two minutes left in regulation.

“He’s out there on the ice and trying to tie up the game late or (win) in overtime of a semifinal game like that,” Davidson said. “That’s all really beneficial experience for him to be on the ice for.”.

4. On signing Martin Misiak and Zach Sanford

Misiak might not be the household name that Bedard is, but he’s a fairly essential piece of the Hawks’ long-term plan.

After the 2023 draft, Hawks director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey called Misiak “almost like a Brandon Saad-type player, that big-bodied wall player.”

On Tuesday the 6-foot-1, 201-pound Slovakian winger signed a three-year contract with the Hawks that carries an annual salary-cap hit of $878,333, according to CapFriendly.com.

After posting six goals and 11 assists in 27 games for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms in 2022-23, Misiak racked up 23 goals and 24 assists in 60 games for the OHL’s Erie Otters this past season.

“We just thought his two-way game was strong all year,” Davidson said. “He’s a mature player, he plays a mature game.”

Davidson said Misiak followed a similar development plan to Nick Lardis, another winger from the 2023 draft class, whom the Hawks signed to a three-year entry-level contract in April.

“We’ll figure out what’s best for his development and where he’s best suited to play,” Davidson said. “The options are pro hockey (in the AHL) or back in the OHL. There’s always the European option, but we’ll figure that out over the summer.”

Davidson doesn’t see Misiak as a candidate to make the Hawks roster this fall.

“You never want to say never, but it would be hard,” he said. “It would be a very big jump. I think that’s unlikely. He needs some development time.”

The Hawks also brought back 29-year-old depth forward Zach Sanford on a one-year, two-way contract with a $775,000 cap hit. Sanford put up four assists in 18 games last season.

“We just love the mentality and the experience and what he brings to the room every day,” Davidson said. “Whether he’s here (in Chicago) or in Rockford, we know he’s an absolute pro.”

Davidson said Sanford will have an opportunity to make the Hawks roster out of camp, but “if he does end up with the IceHogs, we know he’s a capable recall to come up and play some bottom-six minutes for us and fill a role should we need it.”