Blackhawks Trade Bait: Jack Skille Benched or On the Market?

Jack Skille was a very late scratch from the Blackhawks game Thursday night, a move coach Joel Quenneville indicated had nothing to do with Skille’s health.

With Jonathan Toews out for the next two weeks and Fernando Pisanialso missing, it was shocking that the Hawks would essentially sacrifice two forward spots by dressing both Jordan Hendry and John Scott; the two combined to play roughly 10 minutes in the ugly loss to the Sharks.

So why would the Hawks pull Skille from the lineup? Was Quenneville just sending the young forward a message, or could there be a deal coming?

As we discussed in September, Skille was brought back on a one-year deal as much as a favor to the player as it was a pride-driven one-last-chance for the top pick, but Skille almost lost out on that chance with a very mediocre preseason.

When the Blackhawks signed Hugh Jessiman to an AHL contract this summer, there were jokes about him being the biggest bust in the history of the New York Rangers. After all, Jessiman was the 12th overall pick in 2003, ahead of a list including Dustin Brown to LA, Seabrook, Zach Parise to New Jersey, Ryan Getzlaf to Anaheim, Ryan Kesler to Vancouver, Mike Richards to Philadelphia and Corey Perry to Anaheim.

But, because he tries hard, many Blackhawks continue to give Skille a pass despite the realities of his draft position in 2005. Here are a few players that were selected after Skille: Anze Kopitar (LAK), Marc Staal (NYR), Tuukka Rask (TOR), Nicklas Bergfors (NJD) and TJ Oshie (STL). Those are only the players in the first round that were picked after Skille; players like James Neal (2nd – DAL), Paul Stastny (2nd – COL), Kris Letang (3rd – PIT), Jonathan Quick (3rd – LAK) and Darren Helm (5th – DET) also came out of the 2005 Draft.

However, despite his average performance during the preseason, the Blackhawks opted to keep Skille on the NHL roster to start the season.

Since Opening Night, there is only one part of Skille’s game that cannot be questioned: effort. More than perhaps any player on the roster, Skille appears from the seats/through the television that he is skating his butt off on every shift. However, from there it’s anyone’s guess.

Skille still ranks third on the Blackhawks with 96 shots on goal in 37 games, but has only put six in the net. His shot conversion percentage (6.3) is, by far, the worst on the roster, and is among the worst in the NHL. He has six goals and eight assists while averaging only 11 minutes per game, far from the top-six forward Dale Tallon thought he was drafting.

Indeed, Skille has become very predictable, even from the 300 level at the United Center. If he gets the puck at center ice, one of two things will happen:

  1. he will carry the puck up the boards and throw either a weak shot on net or a dump behind the boards, followed by a blowout. Somehow the puck is going the other way, and Skille’s on his back.
  2. he will charge the net and put a missile of a shot directly into the logo on the chest of the goalie, followed by a likely collision between Skille and either the net or a defensive player.

Neither of those results helps the Blackhawks.

In the 2010-11 season, Skille has a cap number of $600k, and has restricted free agent protection after the season. To the Blackhawks organization, who can replace Skille with a player like Jeremy Morin, Evan Brophey, Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger or Kyle Beach next year, the odds that a player struggling to produce gets an invite back is doubtful.

For the sake of comparison, Morin has two goals on just 13 shots in the NHL this year.

If the Blackhawks moved Skille, even if it was for little more than a prospect or draft pick, the Blackhawks would clear sufficient roster (and payroll) space for Morin to be in the NHL full time for the rest of the year. Yet, to another team, Skille may have some value as a bottom-six forward.

While other long-term prospects, like Corey Crawford, Jake Dowell and Bryan Bickell, are establishing themselves this year in the opportunity provided by last summer’s cap casualties, Skille remains behind the curve and continues to struggle. Whether or not Skille is on the block is something fans likely won’t know until after a deal is consummated, but the fact that Quenneville admittedly sat him down clearly indicates that if Skille isn’t on the block, he’s certainly in the doghouse.

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