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Why Blackhawks felt Artyom Levshunov was right choice at No. 2 overall

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LAS VEGAS — After an intense internal debate, the Chicago Blackhawks officially made their decision with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft by selecting two-way defenseman Artyom Levshunov.

The pick all along was believed to come down to Levshunov and offensive playmaking forward Ivan Demidov, and the 18-year-old Belarusian defenseman edged out the latter.

It should be noted though it was reported by TSN's Pierre LeBrun late Friday night that the Blackhawks made Columbus an offer for the No. 4 overall pick but it was turned down. Presumably, the Blackhawks would have taken Demidov, which would have landed them both.

Nevertheless, Levshunov was the Blackhawks' choice at No. 2 and it was a decision that was made weeks ago.

"I just think the total package," Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson said of why Levshunov was the selection. "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.

"The package as well as the potential growth left to come, it was just so intriguing and something we really felt that would just make us a much better organization."

The Blackhawks were enamored by Levshunov this season and had scouted him regularly at Michigan State. Their love for him only grew over time, and it's not hard to see why.

Levshunov put up terrific numbers as a freshman with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) in 38 games. The year prior, he had 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers.

"You see the way he skates and the size, for a big guy to get around the ice that well, and he's very puck friendly and he's ultra competitive," Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey said. "He just continued to take the steps.

"Everyone thought he was going to go back to Green Bay, and then he ends up going to Michigan State and he was able to elevate his game against players that are 3, 4 and 5 years older than him and not miss a beat from the USHL.

"And then once you meet him off the ice, he's an engaging personality, his character, the way he treats people, it's just what we're about."

Physically, Levshunov looks NHL ready; he's listed at 6-foot-1.75 inches and 205 pounds. But the Blackhawks feel there's even more room to grow.

"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 big question now is, where will Levshunov play next season? Will he return to Michigan State for a sophomore season or turn pro and play in the AHL?

The Blackhawks seem to have thought about that already.

"I'll probably talk with [his agent] Dan Milstein and kind of give him our idea of what we think and what we believe is the best path," Davidson said. "We'll let him hear that first."

With the pick, Levshunov instantly becomes the top prospect in Chicago's system and projects to be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. He very well could be the headliner of the new core on the back end that includes Kevin Korchinski and Alex Vlasic.

"With the size, mobility of Levshunov and the abrasiveness that he plays with, he's a great complement to the group," Davidson said. "But also his ability with the puck and the ability to turn defense into offense, it's something that he does very well and it's just a really appealing add to the group."

The Blackhawks not only feel Levshunov could be a top-pairing defenseman. They think he has all the tools to be a bonafide No. 1 blue liner, which every Stanley Cup contender needs.

"He certainly has that upside, yes," Davidson said. "It's just the total package. The ability to play both sides of the puck, the upside, the physical. I think there's still physical growth to happen in terms of filling out and getting even stronger than he is, which is pretty scary to think about. 

"But I think just the ability to impact the game on both sides of the puck and to log big minutes, which I believe he will do at the NHL level."

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