Ivan Demidov or Artyom Levshunov? Debate begins for Blackhawks’ 2024 No. 2 draft pick

0507 Blackhawks Ivan Demidov Artyom Levshunov

CHICAGO — There are two names you need to start getting used to hearing a lot about in regards to the Chicago Blackhawks’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Neither, obviously, is Macklin Celebrini any longer. That dream ended with the flip of the final NHL Draft Lottery card on Tuesday night.

Instead, there’s winger Ivan Demidov.

And then, there’s defenseman Artyom Levshunov.

They’re listed here in alphabetical order, for those already trying to determine the Blackhawks’ pick. Also, for the record, Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson didn’t say Demidov and Levshunov are the two players they’re targeting with the second pick. You’ll have to take our word on that.

Here’s what Davidson did say:

“Maybe people think I’m lying, but No. 2 is a win; we’re really excited about that,” Davidson said after the lottery. “To not fall and just kinda hold serve and hold place, it’s a win. I’ll go to dinner tonight and it’ll be a celebratory dinner, because we’re really excited about it.”

That excitement may not be to the level that kept the Blackhawks tickets staff busy for days last year with Connor Bedard on the horizon after winning the draft lottery — the Blackhawks offered to buy the San Jose Sharks’ staff pizza on Tuesday night — but it does excite the hockey geek in Davidson, you know, the person trying to build a Stanley Cup contender.

Davidson may have missed out on the internal debate over his top pick last year. Could you imagine being the person to recommend not drafting Bedard? But if the draft pundits are any indication of where everyone’s heads are at with the top of this upcoming draft, Davidson should hear plenty of varying opinions this year. He seemed to be looking forward to that, too.

“I think we just rank them as hockey players and who fits the best,” Davidson said. “That’s the fun part of the job. You get to talk hockey players. You get to talk hockey, and everyone loves doing that. We’re going to look at it through a specific lens as it pertains to our team and the way we’re going to build the team. That’ll be interesting. Those will be interesting discussions to have and to really dig in and take different players and put them into our system and our future roster so to speak and kind of look at what makes the most sense to us and where the best player on our board ends when that discussion is over.”

Again, Davidson never brought up Demidov or Levshunov during his media session Tuesday, but that is the lens we’re looking the other way through as it pertains to the pick. How does Demidov fit the Blackhawks? How does Levshunov fit the Blackhawks?

Luckily, we have dove into both of those questions already. This is how Levshunov fits the Blackhawks. This is how Demidov does. Both are elite talents and could have high NHL ceilings, but they’re obviously both very different, too. We’ll certainly be going even deeper into those discussions over the next month.

There were some questions asked Tuesday about Davidson’s philosophies that could be linked back to Demidov and Levshunov.

For one, there is the Russian question with Demidov. He’s currently playing in Russia and has one year remaining on his KHL contract. According to his agent Dan Milstein, Demidov plans to come to North America after next season. Davidson will have to trust them on that.

“As far as the player being from Russia, it’s so case-by-case and every player is different,” Davidson said. “Just like a North American or a non-Russian European, it’s always case-by-case. There’s reasons why someone may or may not be on the board or something like that. You just have to do your fact-finding. If you feel comfortable — in this case, I’m sure the Russian question is, ‘Are you going to see them?’ — if you feel comfortable, then they’re just treated like every other player. There’s obviously some dynamics sometimes you have to weigh when it comes to players with contracts overseas, but I don’t necessarily see too many of those questions in this draft, as we stand here now. There’s a lot of work to be done, now that we know where we’re picking. As we rank the players and rank our board, we’ll be digging into those options a little more specifically and find where we’re comfortable, where we’re not, and build the board accordingly.”

Davidson will also have to trust what he’s seeing on video and what his Russia-based scout, Anatoly Semenov, is seeing in person of Demidov. Davidson went through the same process before deciding to draft Roman Kantserov from Russia in the second round in 2023.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a hurdle in that of course there’s comfort in eyes and being present in the rink and watching them in person,” Davidson said. “But we trust our scout and Russia, he does really good work and then there’s also the video that you can rely on. Of course, you’d love to be able to see them in person. But I think the process we ran with Roman last year felt thorough enough that we took him, and I wouldn’t expect that to change with any player this year.”

Demidov suffered a knee injury late in his season, but Davidson said he didn’t think it was a concern for his future. Milstein said earlier this week Demidov didn’t require surgery and should be fully recovered in 6-8 weeks.

As for Levshunov, the major question asked Tuesday was about whether Davidson thought he needed more young defensemen. With Alex Vlasic, Kevin Korchinski, Wyatt Kaiser, Ethan Del Mastro, Nolan Allan, Sam Rinzel, among other defensemen in the pipeline, would Levshunov or any other projected top-10 defenseman be a good fit for the Blackhawks?

Davidson thought the Blackhawks were in a good position to draft either position.

“I think we’re heavy on defense, we’re heavy on forward,” Davidson said. “I think we’ve done a really exciting job establishing depth in our prospect pool, and that’s important. We want a lot of guys coming up and competing for spots. This is about building a team. It’s always been about building a team and not just one player. Strength at those different positions just means that we can go best player. We can rank the board accordingly and then just go with what fits the best. Who is going to fit the Blackhawks the best? We’re really excited to dive into that process. A lot of the work is done, but now we can be a little more specific with our analysis and our rankings and our questions.”

Davidson was pushed further on the idea of defenseman vs. forward.

“As a tiebreaker, maybe,” he said. “I think that depends on what you think our need is. If you were drafting, it would be a winger. (laughs). If all things are equal, maybe you go for a certain position you can help boost. We’re going to rank them as hockey players —position is definitely part of the discussion. It’s not going to drive anything. The talent of the player, the upside of the player, and the draft is — you get one day to acquire talent. You want to get a player you feel has the most talent for your system and you just go from there. Tiebreaker maybe position would come into play. We’ll see.”

So, Levshunov or Demidov? We shall see.

(Top photos of Artyom Levshunov and Ivan Demidov: Michael Miller / ISI Photos / Getty Images and Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images) 

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