Expectations For Former MSU Hockey Star Artyom Levshunov Go Far Beyond the No. 2 Selection

Artyom Levshunov was one of the highest-drafted Spartans in the history of the NHL Draft on Sunday. His expectations are sky-high, and it is more than just draft position.
Jun 28, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Artyom Levshunov is selected with the 2nd overall pick of the 2024 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks at The Sphere. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 28, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Artyom Levshunov is selected with the 2nd overall pick of the 2024 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks at The Sphere. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Former Michigan State defenseman Artyom Levshunov is now a Chicago Blackhawk. The 2024 NHL Draft's second-overall pick will have high expectations in Chicago. He and last year's top pick, center Connor Bedard, will be tasked with turning around a franchise that was at the top just a decade ago in the halcyon days of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and the Spartan legend Levshunov will be compared to for years to come.

Duncan Keith was one of the best defensemen of an entire generation. Keith won two Norris Trophies as the top defenseman in the league, in 2010 and 2014. He was an integral part of the Blackhawks dynasty that owned the decade, securing Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013, and 2015. In the last championship, Keith shined.

Keith scored 3 points in the six-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he had a +3 plus/minus while on the ice. His iconic moment came in Game 6 when he scored the game-winning goal that would clinch the series and the Cup for the Blackhawks.

In 2017, in honor of the league's 100th anniversary, the NHL released a list of the "100 Greatest Players" in league history. Keith was included.

Keith played one full season at Michigan State under legendary coach Ron Mason before he decided to join the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. The Spartans went 27-9-5 in Keith's season, 2001, finishing second in the CCHA. In 41 games, Keith scored three goals and dished 12 assists for 15 points. Keith briefly played with current Spartans head coach Adam Nightingale, and his brother Jared, in 2002. He signed his professional contract late December of that year.

Levshunov will have higher expectations from the start than his elder Spartan counterpart, who was drafted 54th overall in 2002.

Levshunov was touted as a Top 3 pick before he even stepped onto the ice in East Lansing. He appeared in all 38 games for the Spartans last season, scoring nine goals with 26 assists for 35 points. He was 13th nationally in plus-minus, at +27. He earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors, along with first-team All-Big Ten and All-Freshman team recognition. He was 11th nationally in freshman scoring and the highest-scoring freshman since Jason Wooley in 1988.

Levshunov's scouting report from The Hockey Writers read:

"Levshunov has made the transition to the NCAA look trivial this season with Michigan State University. ... He is primarily an offensive player, leading the rush and creating tons of zone entries on his own. Levshunov is also very willing to join the rush as a trailer where he is confident both as a shooter and as a secondary playmaker. ... He skates well and is very mobile laterally which helps him manipulate passing lanes and shape his shots through traffic. Levshunov is a 6-foot-2 defender with a right-handed shot which immediately makes him a valued commodity in the NHL, even before you acknowledge his offensive skills. ... His defensive game will likely be the determining factor of his ultimate value in the NHL, but ... he’ll adapt well and become a legit top-pairing defender who plays big minutes and provides lots of offense on the top power play."

Levshunov is one of the best players in Spartans hockey history. Only Joe Murphy was drafted higher, the top pick in the 1986 NHL Draft. Levshunov will have to contend with Keith's legacy, not just as the Spartans' most successful NHL player, but as a top-billed defenseman tasked to turn around a franchise with a generational forward.

Fairly or unfairly, Norris Trophies and Stanley Cups will be the measuring stick.

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Michael France

MICHAEL FRANCE