Blackhawks draft Artyom Levshunov with No. 2 pick, adding new cornerstone prospect

LAS VEGAS — Artyom Levshunov approached the entire NHL draft process with a refreshing sense of levity, and that didn’t change even when the Blackhawks officially selected him Friday with the No. 2 overall pick.

“It was a special day for me, but…I just came to the draft and was drafted,” Levshunov said. “That’s it. Life goes on, right? [The] world goes on. I’m so excited again to be part of it.”

The 18-year-old defenseman, coming off an impressive freshman season at Michigan State, immediately leaps to the top of the Hawks’ already talented defensive prospect pool.

With Kevin Korchinski and Alex Vlasic already in the NHL, Wyatt Kaiser, Ethan Del Mastro and Nolan Allan in position to contend for NHL jobs in 2024-25 and Sam Rinzel developing in college, Levshunov adds potentially the final piece to the Hawks’ long-term defensive core.

“I was a little bit nervous, but I was thinking that they could pick me,” Levshunov said. “It happened, and I’m happy.”

He becomes the highest-drafted Belarus native of all time — easily surpassing former Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei, who went ninth overall in 1996 — and the highest-drafted Michigan State product since the Red Wings took forward Joe Murphy first overall in 1986.

Plus, he’s the first Michigan State product the Hawks specifically have drafted since 2002, when they nabbed a versatile defenseman by the name of Duncan Keith. That might be a good omen.

Levshunov, indeed, possesses the potential to grow into a true No. 1 NHL defenseman, one able to make stops and force turnovers with ease in the defensive zone, move the puck smoothly through the neutral zone and contribute at a significant rate in the offensive zone. His offensive game is more refined than his defensive game at this point, but he’s expected to continue developing in all areas.

To pick him, however, the Hawks passed up their shot at Russian winger Ivan Demidov, who looked like he could’ve been a tailor-made complement to Connor Bedard for years to come. Demidov instead fell to the Canadiens at the No. 5 pick.

Whether Levshunov will play in the NHL next season remains to be seen. He and the Hawks will have to determine together this summer (and possibly during training camp) whether he’s ready for the big leagues, would benefit from some time in the AHL or should return for his sophomore collegiate year.

First, though, he will fly to Chicago on Sunday to attend the Hawks’ off-ice-only development camp.

The Hawks also hold the No. 18 overall pick in the first round, which they will make later on Friday night.

This story will be updated.

General manager Kyle Davidson said Thursday he feels “confident with where we’re going to go.” He didn’t name names, but defenseman Artyom Levshunov has emerged as the favorite over Ivan Demidov.

After leading all rookies with 61 points this past season — and doing it in just 68 games — Bedard on Thursday received the trophy he always seemed destined to receive.

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