Dennis Gilbert, the Blackhawks' 2015 third-round pick, stands with GM Stan Bowman (left) and scout Mark Kelley (right) (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Next season, for the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Blackhawks will host the NHL draft. Over the past seven seasons, Chicago has hosted the Stanley Cup final, Winter Classic and Stadium Series.
Chicago has been the site of the Stanley Cup final, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and All-Star Game, but the Blackhawks have never once hosted the draft in franchise history. That’s set to change in 2017.
According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun and the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, commissioner Gary Bettman will be in Chicago Thursday afternoon to announce that next season’s draft will take place in the Windy City. Bettman will be joined by Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough, as well as Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The league’s draft has been one of the biggest annual events. While it may not boast the star power of the all-star weekend or outdoor games, it allows fans to watch the next generation of players slip on NHL jerseys for the first time. The draft is also one of the few times during the season GMs from every team are under one roof which can lead to a flurry of trade action as team’s attempt to build for the future.
For the first 22 years of its existence, the draft was held in Montreal, but moved in 1985 to Toronto, which began the current practice of awarding the event to different cities throughout the league. Since 1985, the draft has been held in cities such as Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hartford and Bloomington, Minn. Buffalo will host the event this season for the third time in the past 26 years. No city has hosted it more over that period.
Placing the draft in Chicago comes at a time when the Blackhawks are arguably the most popular American team in the league. Over the past six seasons, Chicago captured three Stanley Cups and the franchise has been a part of the league’s marquee games over the past several seasons. Since 2009, Chicago has played in two Winter Classics — they hosted the 2009 contest — and one Stadium Series game, with another on its way this season against the Minnesota Wild.
The announcement of the draft also comes amidst reports the Blackhawks could be in line for another outdoor game next season, as well. The rumored game would be a Winter Classic contest in St. Louis against the rival Blues.
Worth noting with the draft being held in Chicago is that it now appears Toronto could be without any of the league’s marquee events next season when they celebrate their centennial season.
The Maple Leafs were believed to be frontrunners for the 2017 All-Star Game, but the festivities were awarded to the Los Angeles Kings, who will be celebrating 50 years in the league. Toronto was also thought to be a potential Winter Classic site, but that game may be heading to St. Louis. Now with the draft heading to Chicago, the Maple Leafs may be relegated to a Stadium Series contest, if they receive an outdoor game at all.