UNITED CENTER PARK — The Blackhawks and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday that the NHL Draft is coming to Chicago next year.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined Blackhawk Chairman Rocky Wirtz and the mayor in making the announcement Thursday at the United Center. The Hawks will play host to the league draft for the first time to, in effect, drop the puck on the NHL's centennial season.
"It's an exciting day for the Chicago Blackhawks," Wirtz said, while thanking the mayor for his "perseverance" in bringing the NHL Draft to Chicago.
"I didn't have to be persistent," Emanuel said. "They wanted to make this happen, too."
Issuing a challenge to Detroit, Emanuel said, "Chicago will be Hockeytown, U.S.A.," in that the United Center will also play host to the NCAA "Frozen Four" hockey semifinals and finals that year, as well the Hawks continuing their perennial run for the Stanley Cup.
"This is cool," said Hawk President John McDonough. "It's a big day for our franchise, a big day for our fans."
While not as much a marquee sporting event as the NFL Draft — which the city snared last year and which will return to Grant Park in April — the NHL Draft is still a draw for hockey fans eager to discover the next generation of young, free-agent talent being drafted from around the world by top hockey teams.
Similarly, while the NFL Draft last year extended from the Auditorium Theater to Grant Park, the NHL Draft is expected to be confined to the United Center, although it should still be a major event for fans as well as league officials.
While declining to estimate its economic impact on the city, Emanuel said it would be a global story and heighten the city's profile. "It is an international event," he said. "It will be viewed around the world, and that's advertising you can't pay for."
Emanuel also emphasized that, as with the NFL Draft, city costs in added security and other logistical details will be paid for with private funding. He added there would be "no taxpayer support, but a huge dividend economically."
The impact on the Hawks and the rest of the league is clear. When the Hawks drafted Jonathan Toews with a first-round pick in 2006 and then made Patrick Kane the top selection in the draft the following year in 2007, it set the stage for the team's three recent Stanley Cup NHL championships — and counting, as the Hawks lead the Western Conference in points this season.
For fans, it usually results in an expo atmosphere surrounding the league's business at hand. The 2015 draft was held June 26-27 in Sunrise, Florida, with the Florida Panthers as hosts. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated an economic impact of nearly $10 million.
Organizers expected more than 15,000 fans and 500 members of the media for the televised event, according to a Sun-Sentinel report.
The Florida event included a free NHL Draft Fan Fest, which featured hockey-themed activities and merchandise, a trading-card show, autograph sessions and the opportunity for fans to have their pictures taken with the Stanley Cup. There were also displays from the Hockey Hall of Fame, a coach's clinic and sports career conference.
The 2013 draft in Newark, N.J., included a fan fest with street-hockey games, a boardwalk, carnival rides and games, miniature golf, a Ferris wheel and live music. Some 4,500 hotel rooms were reportedly booked in the region.
This year's NHL Draft will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., where local officials predict the economic impact will be $9.2 million.
Next year's NHL Draft is set for Friday and Saturday, June 23-24, 2017, at the United Center.
McDonough joked that he was pleading with General Manager Stan Bowman not to deal the Hawks' first-round pick that year.
The draft could, however, fall hot on the heels of another potential Stanley Cup victory parade for the team. Wirtz said the Hawks would love to have that problem and would deal with it ably if it occurs.
On another hockey note, Bettman declined to confirm early reports that the Hawks will be selected to play another outdoor stadium game in St. Louis next season, saying, "I'm only breaking one announcement at a time."
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