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Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson on No. 2 overall pick, Patrick Kane reunion, Jake Guentzel rumors, and more

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Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson on No. 2 overall pick, Patrick Kane reunion, Jake Guentzel rumors, and more originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has been in Buffalo all week interviewing various prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine as the organization gathers its final pieces of information ahead of the 2024 NHL Draft, which takes place in Vegas on June 28-29.

The Blackhawks, most notably, hold the No. 2 overall selection. Davidson spoke to the media on Friday and confirmed “it’s very unlikely” that Chicago will trade the pick, which is no surprise.

The pick is expected to come down to skilled offensive forward Ivan Demidov and all-around defenseman Artyom Levshunov. Demidov wasn’t able to attend the NHL Scouting Combine but agent Dan Milstein is scheduled to hold a mini camp in Florida before the draft for the Russian prospects, and the Blackhawks will be one of the teams present for it.

The Demidov vs. Levshunov conversation has dominated headlines in Chicago for the last month, but Davidson admitted the Blackhawks aren’t leaning in one particular direction yet.

“I’d say the debate is still very real,” Davidson said. “I thought we would have a little, maybe a decision at this point, which is not a bad thing at all, but I think there are some really good options out there.

“It’s something that we’re knocking around. We’ll take a little bit of a break after the combine and kind of revisit that in 7-10 days and start going through things again. But yeah, we’ll decide closer to [the draft], so no, we’re still knocking things around.”

Moving up from No. 20 to No. 18 overall

Davidson has already been busy beforehand, too. The Blackhawks moved up two spots in the first round from No. 20 to No. 18 overall and four spots in the second round from No. 54 to No. 50 in a five-pick trade with the New York Islanders.

It’s rare to see a pick swap so far out in advance of the draft, and you had to wonder whether it was a move that could set the Blackhawks up for something else. But Davidson wasn’t ready to go that far.

“It just kind of came up and just felt the pick package was a better one afterwards than previous and so we did it,” Davidson said. “If we can marginally improve what we consider the pick values that we were receiving, then why not? I think we’ve had a lot of volume in the last, certainly, two drafts, so it just made sense. It wasn’t a precursor or anything like that. It just made sense at the time so we just did it.”

While it may not be a precursor to anything, it at least gives the Blackhawks the option to potentially trade up even higher on draft day. We’ll see how it plays out.

The Jake Guentzel sweepstakes

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman provided an off-the-board prediction in free agency on The Jeff Marek Show and NHL Network radio earlier this week, and his pick was Jake Guentzel to the Blackhawks. He doubled down on that thought on his 32 Thoughts Podcast on Friday, saying the Blackhawks would at least consider it.

The hockey community, obviously, had some fun with that on social media. Davidson was asked about the Guentzel rumors and respectfully did not want to dive too much into it.

“I’m not going to address any rumor,” Davidson said. “That’s just the time of year. There’s talking points and there’s things that people talk about. It is what it is. It’s fun. I follow it. I wonder what’s true, what’s not, and the fans do and the media does. For me, sometimes it’s more annoying than anything because I just get asked about it. People are wondering. It just is what it is. That’s the time of year we’re in right now.”

Davidson has repeatedly said he’s going to be careful when it comes to how the Blackhawks utilize their cap space. He doesn’t want to tie up too much money long-term and handcuff himself before players like Connor Bedard and Kevin Korchinski earn their big paydays.

That hasn’t changed, but Davidson didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a higher-profile name via free agency or trade as long as it doesn’t impact their long-term financial outlook. That’s obviously a big stipulation.

“For me, with free agency or trade or whatever, because players you trade for could have term, it just has to make sense,” Davidson said. “This is the way we approached last offseason, as well. If it makes sense and we feel there’s value there, then it’s something we’ll explore. You talk about and you think about everything, and you evaluate every situation that could present itself: trade, free agency, the different players available in the draft. They just have to make sense in the grand scheme of things. If they don’t, you move past them. If they do, you consider them, and even those, they probably never happen.

“The number of things we take in and evaluate and try to make sense of, there’s a ton of them and so few of them ever happen. But it would be a disservice not to consider every trade option or every free-agency option. We did it last year and we kept it short, but you’re always open to longer. You have to be. In the NHL, it’s hard to acquire talent, so you have to be open to whatever comes up. But it can’t be something that limits what you’re doing.

“We started on this path and, as things come up, we evaluate them, but if they don’t make sense, we don’t do them. If we feel they do, we pursue it, and maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t. But we’re very mindful of where we’re at, what we’re trying to do both short- and long-term, and if we feel something improves that long-term outlook, we’ll jump at it. If we feel that it hurts or anything, then we won’t.”

What about Patrick Kane?

The Blackhawks moved on from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews because they wanted to clear the deck and allow the new core to grow into their own organically without being in the shadows of a pair of legends. Whether you agree with the decision or not, that’s the Blackhawks’ thinking behind it.

Well, Kane is a pending unrestricted free agent, he would like some term on his next deal, and his hip held up just fine this season in Detroit. The Blackhawks are one of the only teams who can afford giving Kane a multi-year extension and a higher cap hit. And who hasn’t dreamed about the thought of Bedard and Kane playing on a line together?

So, is it possible the Blackhawks consider bringing back Kane? Davidson seemed to throw cold water on the possibility of a reunion with No. 88 this offseason.

“He did have a really good year,” Davidson said. “I think we’re all really happy to see that after having his hip procedure last offseason. That was great to see. I think we made some really tough decisions on some longstanding players. I don’t foresee us going back on that.”

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