How the Blackhawks almost landed both Artyom Levshunov and Ivan Demidov: NHL Draft takeaways

LAS VEGAS – The assumption was always that the Blackhawks would draft Artyom Levshunov or Ivan Demidov with the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Well, it was almost both.

Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson wanted Demidov so badly, along with Levshunov, that he aggressively scoured the phone lines for a second top-five pick. He almost found a seller.

A league source said the Blackhawks offered their 2025 first-round pick unprotected and a 2025 second-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their 2024 No. 4 pick. The source described the deal as “close ‘.

Ultimately, like The Athletics Pierre LeBrun reported that the Blue Jackets were too high in center Cayden Lindstrom and declined the Blackhawks’ offer. The Blackhawks’ dream of pairing Levshunov with Demidov faded.

Lindstrom went to the Blue Jackets and Demidov went to the Montreal Canadiens one pick later.

Blackhawks amateur scouting director Mike Doneghey is always looking for market inefficiencies in a prospect’s career trajectory, something that could mean untapped potential and a higher ceiling. Think back to 2022, when the Blackhawks took 6-foot-4 Finnish center Riku Tohila in the seventh round. Doneghey rather amusingly called him “naive and from a small town,” and said he was way behind the learning curve. Doneghey saw that as a positive because it meant there was so much more room for Tohila to grow.

In Levshunov, Doneghey found something similar in a much more expensive prospect, which was very exciting for a scout. As good as Levshunov was at Michigan State, he is only just beginning to realize what he can be.

“It’s the whole Belarus aspect of it,” Doneghey said. “He showed up at (agent) Dan Milstein’s door and all he had was his suitcase and his clothes. They got him the equipment in Green Bay (of the USHL) and everything else. I just think he’s so far behind, even though he’s a big guy. You look at him and he’s got long arms and long legs. It’s just that he hasn’t trained in North America. (Last) August he’s going to Michigan State, so he hasn’t even had a college workout like most kids. I just think his ceiling is high-end.

Did the Blackhawks need more size in their up-front group? From the outside, most pundits seemed to think so after drafting the likes of Connor Bedard, Frank Nazar, Oliver Moore, Paul Ludwisnki and Roman Kantserov in the first few rounds over the past two years.

But the Blackhawks often disagree. Doneghey hinted Friday that he has read what was written. Asked if the size of the 6-foot-2 Sacha Boisvert was what attracted the Blackhawks to draft him at 18, Doneghey replied with a smile: “That’s what you say.”

Doneghey continued: ““He’s a big body in the middle that can move the ice well and has a good scoring touch. He can play in a shutdown role. He’s on the power play in Muskegon. I’m sure he’ll be in North Dakota at some point. He’s just a good overall skill set in different roles.”

The Blackhawks have of course had a few centers come through North Dakota in the past, with Troy Murray and Jonathan Toews being the most notable.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about that,” Davidson said when asked if Boisvert is a big center like Toews. “That’s funny. No, we weren’t trying to recreate Jonathan Toews. We’re not going to do that to him.

“But also a shout-out to Troy Murray, a former North Dakota alum. He asked me and Norm Maciver if we needed any help for the draft, and I joked to him and I texted back that we don’t take players that go to North Dakota, and lo and behold, we take someone that goes to North Dakota. Maybe Troy had a little bit of influence on that. But no, it’s a great path, North Dakota is a great program, and Jonathan has obviously had a lot of success coming out of there. And so if Sacha can bottle a fraction of that, we’d be pretty stoked.”

The Blackhawks have certainly added forward size to the depth. After Boisvert, Marek Vanacker (27th) is 6-0, John Mustard (67th) is 6-1, AJ Spellacy (72nd) is 6-3, Jack Pridham (92nd) is 6-1 and Joel Svensson (138th) is 6 – 1.

But more than the size, The Athletics Scott Wheeler immediately noticed the speed the Blackhawks had drafted. Wheeler described Mustard, Spellacy and Pridham as possibly the fastest players in the entire draft. Add that to Nazar, Moore and Ludwinski, that’s a lot of speed.

Spallacy approved.

“I think speed kills,” Spellacy said. “So if you have speed as a team, it’s a lot easier to win games and beat the other team. So, I think it’s more than just speed, but if you have a lot of speed, it’s easy to win games if you have a great team.”

The Blackhawks hope so.

Bedard is still the face of the Blackhawks. The team even had him announce the Levshunov pick, which is especially funny considering Levshunov is just three months younger than Bedard, who turns 19 on July 17. But eventually the novelty of Bedard will wear off – in a good way. He will always be a star and the face of the franchise and probably one of the faces of the league. But from the end of this weekend the competition calendar will turn to next year. So he won’t be a rookie. He won’t be visiting every NHL city for the first time, with all the extra attention that comes with it. He’ll be just another high-profile NHL veteran.

In other words, there will be less fuss around him wherever he goes. That’s nice for someone who has probably been in the media more and at more events than any player in the league.

“Yeah, it’s (fun) for sure,” he said after winning the Calder Trophy, putting a crown on that wild first year. “Obviously it’s a special year, achieving my lifelong dream of playing in the NHL. But then you just want to fit in with the rest of the group. I don’t want that every time I score a goal or whatever (that it’s) a big thing because I’m the youngest or whatever. Just getting that out of the way and moving forward and learning, I feel like I learned a lot from last year, so hopefully I can take that into the next season.”

The Blackhawks took a USHL player in the first round for the third straight season, with Muskegon’s Boisvert joining Moore and Nazar (the US National Team Development Program team competes in the USHL). They also drafted Waterloo’s Mustard in the third round on Saturday, making it a total of seven USHL picks in Davidson’s three drafts. Levshunov also played a year in the USHL in Green Bay before transferring to Michigan State.

Additionally, Macklin Celebrini played a year with the USHL’s Chicago Steel and Steel forward Michael Hage was selected 21st overall by the Canadiens.

“It’s a great path for players,” Davidson said. “It’s also a bit unique. We took a Canadian from Quebec who went to the USHL, and then a Belarusian who went to the USHL. Non-traditional paths, I would say. It’s a traditional path for students, but not for people from Quebec or Belarus to take that path.

“But it’s a great league. It’s gotten a lot better in the last few years, I think. And so I think it’s a great opportunity for young players to develop and prepare for the college ranks, or if they decide to major-junior or go pro after the USHL, I believe it’s a great path for players and it’s a really high quality of junior hockey.

“We love the league and I think it shows that across the league there are really good players coming out of that league. So that wasn’t the reason why we went with those players. We have to like the players first and not the competition, but it’s a great competition.”

Perhaps the sweetest words in hockey speak are “we have a trade to announce.” It’s one of the things that makes draft weekend so much fun — the sheer chaos of the time pressure between the draft and the start of free agency on July 1 and the mass exodus of all the Canadians to their lake houses on July 2. The NHL and Sphere even came up with a “trade horn” and a dazzling graphic for when a trade occurs.

But the only trades in Round 1 involved numbers, not names. Davidson had an interesting theory as to why: There just isn’t time. With only a few minutes between picks, it’s tough to navigate the labyrinthine world of NHL contracts and the salary cap.

“I guess it doesn’t feel like a lot of time,” he said. “Especially with players who don’t have trade clauses, the extra steps you probably have to take with (NHL) Central Registry. It’s such a breakneck pace there that even if you just put the number of picks on paper and get it, it feels like you’re in an extreme hurry.”

Not that it stopped Davidson from getting those pick trades. Davidson packaged his two remaining second-rounders to send to Carolina to move up to No. 27, allowing him to pick Vanacker. In the 2022 draft, Davidson went from zero to three first-rounders via trades (two of which involved key players such as Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach). The Blackhawks have made a whopping eight first-round picks in Davidson’s three drafts. That’s the most for any team over a three-draft period since Montreal had 10 between 1974 and 1976. In just two years, Davidson has dramatically replenished its pipeline with high-quality prospects.

That’s one of the reasons Davidson collects second- and third-round picks every year in deals that happen close to the transfer deadline.

“It never ceases to amaze me,” Doneghey said. “We start with none in Montreal during the day and two last year and only two this year, and he finds a way to give myself and our staff the players we like, the players we want. He has the ability to package things and get what we want.

Fortunately, the excitement ramped up considerably on Day 2 of this year’s draft, when trades between Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Hayes kicked off less than half an hour into the second round, kicking off a slew of deals across the League.

(Photo of Artyom Levshunov and Ivan Demidov: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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