PHILADELPHIA -- The Chicago Blackhawks have been in the business of making childhood dreams come true in the past few NHL drafts.
Having taken Illinois native and Blackhawks fan Ryan Hartman in the first round in 2013, the Blackhawks selected Madison, Wisconsin, native and lifelong Hawks fan Nick Schmaltz with the No. 20 overall pick of the 2014 draft Friday.
“I’ve always been a Blackhawks fan,” said the 18-year-old Schmaltz, whose Twitter account already included a profile picture of him wearing a Blackhawks shirt prior to the draft. “It’s been a dream ever since Day 1. I’m kind of lost for words right now.”
The Blackhawks assured themselves of getting Schmaltz, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound center, by moving up Friday in the draft. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman dealt the Nos. 27 and 62 picks to the San Jose Sharks for their Nos. 20 and 179 selections.
Bowman’s fear was that the St. Louis Blues would take Schmaltz with the No. 21 overall pick because his older brother Jordan was already a Blues prospect. St. Louis took Jordan Schmaltz with the No. 25 overall pick in 2012.
“We like Nick,” Bowman said. “We’ve been really following him starting last August, the first tournament of the year over in Slovakia. He was probably the best player in the tournament. He opened up our eyes back then, and we followed him closely all year.
“When we saw him available, we were calling around just to see who might be willing to trade their pick to us. It worked out with San Jose.”
Schmaltz played this past season for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. He had 18 goals and 45 assists in 55 games. He plans to join Jordan at the University of North Dakota next season.
ESPN NHL draft and prospects analyst Corey Pronman ranked Schmaltz as the No. 30 prospect in the draft. “Nick's puck skills and pure creativity allow him to make a lot of defenders miss, and create scoring chances at times when it doesn't look like there is an opportunity," Pronman wrote. "Schmaltz has pretty good possession skills as well.”
Schmaltz described himself as a playmaking center and named Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane as his favorite player. Schmaltz said he has attended Blackhawks games throughout his life and was at two playoff games this past season.
Schmaltz is also quite familiar with the Chicago area. He spent five years in the Chicago Mission hockey program and would make the 2½-hour drive from Madison to Chicago three times a week during his seasons.
As much as Schmaltz enjoyed his moment Friday, he said he understood what was ahead of him.
“There’s 30 guys in the world that are going in the first round, so it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Schmaltz said. “But like I said, now the real work starts.”