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Blackhawks look at college players more than most teams

PHILADELPHIA PA - JUNE 27:  Nick Schmaltz Chicago Blackhawks poses for portrait during 2014 NHL Draft Wells Fargo Center

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27: Nick Schmaltz of the Chicago Blackhawks poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 498655293

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With a talented group of players in their prime, the Blackhawks don’t have many of the roster concerns teams looking to build a Stanley Cup contender have.

The organization is already there, so it can afford to invest time — the most crucial element of talent development — in its prospects.

‘‘We’re afforded the luxury of being a little bit more patient,’’ Hawks senior director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said. ‘‘We don’t have to fix it quick. It’s just part of the plan.’’

That patience has allowed the Hawks to look more closely at drafting college prospects, as opposed to going the juniors route. Seven of the Hawks’ nine draft picks this year are going to college.

Choosing whether to play in juniors or in college is a decision prospects face every year. Many are lured by the benefits of being able to fall back on a college degree should hockey not pan out, but there are factors to consider when it comes to their development, too.

College hockey teams play about twice a week. That allows players more practice time, which means more opportunity to work on their game.

Moreover, the thing many prospects need most is to gain strength. Many players at Hawks prospect camp this week emphasized the quality of the off-ice conditioning programs at college programs around the country.

‘‘I just need to get stronger physically, so that’s the biggest thing for me,’’ center Nick Schmaltz, the Hawks’ first-round draft pick last month, said of his decision to attend North Dakota. ‘‘I work out three times a week at least. So just getting bigger and stronger and being able to play the toughest guys.’’

Other players, such as Yale forward John Hayden, who scored in the scrimmage Tuesday, offered a different perspective on the benefits of the college schedule. He said playing so few games puts a greater emphasis on each individual matchup and simulates the kind of pressure players might face competing against opponents — and teammates for ice time, for that matter — at the pro level.

Hayden had an up-close look at how playing in college can round someone into an NHL-ready player. During Yale’s run to the NCAA championship in 2013, he was linemates with Kenny Agostino, who played in eight games last season with the Calgary Flames.

‘‘College is all [like] playoffs, and I think it gets you ready,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘You see that statistically with the guys going to the NHL from college.’’

As far as the Hawks are concerned, they can wait for their prospects to mature. They don’t need to rush teenagers up to the NHL.

‘‘The college route, you get a little bit more time,’’ Kelley said. ‘‘You can be a little bit more patient in their development.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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