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Blackhawks pick Artyom Levshunov at No. 2 in NHL Draft: Why they took him over Ivan Demidov

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Blackhawks pick Artyom Levshunov at No. 2 in NHL Draft: Why they took him over Ivan Demidov


Follow our live coverage of the 2024 NHL Draft. Follow along with our NHL Draft grades and analysis.

LAS VEGAS — The Chicago Blackhawks’ last Stanley Cup window shut permanently with the demise of their defense.

Johnny Oduya left in free agency. Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded. Brent Seabrook couldn’t physically maintain his high level. Duncan Keith tried to carry the load, but it wasn’t enough as younger and older reinforcements failed to fill the holes.

Now, after years of defensive struggles, the blue line is the first area Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson has worked to address in the franchise’s rebuild. After drafting a defenseman in the first round in each of his first two drafts, Davidson selected his third and arguably most significant one Friday when the Blackhawks took Artyom Levshunov with the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Although the Blackhawks debated internally and were immensely intrigued by draft prospect Ivan Demidov’s offensive ability, Chicago opted for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Levshunov, whom they believe has the size, strength and two-way upside to be a future No. 1 defenseman. The Blackhawks did their homework throughout the past two years on Levshunov and were convinced of his potential.

“I just think (he’s) the total package,” Davidson said. “Offensively, he can drive offense, he can skate, he’s super mobile, he’s got good size, he’s aggressive, he’s a physical defender, and we just think there’s more upside to come. So, just the package as well as the potential growth left to come is — it was just so intriguing and something we really felt that would just make us a much better organization.”

Levshunov is originally from Belarus and arrived in the United States before the 2022-23 season. He played for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL in his first season, then went on to play college hockey and was a freshman defenseman at Michigan State this past season.

Blackhawks amateur scouting director Mike Doneghey has reason to believe Levshunov can grow immensely.

“I just think he’s so far behind the curve, even though he’s a big guy,” Doneghey said. “You see him and he’s got long arms and long legs — it’s just, he hasn’t trained in North America. In August, he goes to Michigan State, so he didn’t even have a college training session like most kids do. I just think his ceiling is high-end.”

The Blackhawks have another major decision ahead: whether to ask Levshunov to return to Michigan State for a sophomore season or turn pro. The Blackhawks could sign Levshunov and assign him to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.

“I’ll probably talk with (Levshunov’s agent) Dan Milstein and kind of give him our idea of what we think and what we believe is the best path but we’ll let him hear that first,” Davidson said of where Levshunov will play next season.

Aside from what the Blackhawks envision him to be, Levshunov also helps fill a need for right-handed defensemen within the organization. Outside of current NHL defensemen Seth Jones and Connor Murphy, the Blackhawks only have a few prospects who are right-handed. Sam Rinzel, who is returning to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season, is also right-handed.

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(Photo: Michael Miller / ISI Photos / Getty Images)



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