As the Blackhawks prepare for the beginning of training camp (yes, it’s September finally), it appears the roster movement can be considered finished. The Hawks have signed a number of young prospects to pro contracts, added some young free agents, and acquired a great deal of organizational depth over the summer that gives the Hawks their strongest group of talent in recent memory.
Some of the top young players in the system will be playing in college or overseas again this year. Dylan Olsen, Kevin and Jimmy Hayes, Stephen Johns, Justin Holl and Ludvig Rensfeldt are some of the youngsters that will spend at least one more year working on their game somewhere other than Rockford or Chicago.
There are some other players that will need another year of development to be ready for the NHL. Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, Marcus Kruger, and Brandon Pirri will all spend time working on their game, and their bodies, before jumping to the NHL. Kruger will likely spend one more year in the SEL, while Leddy, Morin and Pirri could all be playing together on a loaded Rockford roster this fall.
After the exodus off last year’s team, though, there will have to be some younger players ready to make the jump to the NHL this year. Bryan Bickell is seen as a lock to make Chicago’s NHL roster this year after playing well in his time with the big club last year, including time with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the Hawks’ first round playoff series against Nashville.
But beyond Bickell and Jack Skille (who has been around for what feels like forever), who are some of the other kids that might make a splash in Chicago this season?
Kyle Beach, F
A big-time instigator who can score, Beach is the enigma heading into Blackhawks camp this year. Based on talent, he could slide into one of the top two lines for the Hawks and become a force. Based on approach…
Beach was the player to watch at the Hawks prospect camp in July, and ended the four-day camp with three fights and one point. He was overshadowed by a handful of other prospects, including Leddy, Johns and Rensfeldt at the camp, and the Hawks have subsequently added veterans like Fernando Pisani that may have pushed Beach into a season in Rockford.
However, if Jack Skille struggles in camp and Beach shows both sides of his game – scoring and mixing it up – he could be a sleeper to make the roster and contribute this year.
Igor Makarov, F
Makarov was the hot name in Chicago a couple years ago after a strong minicamp, but his game hasn’t developed as much as most scouts would like in Russia the last two years. At 22, Makarov has been stuck in a limited role with his Russian club and hasn’t put up the numbers many fans and scouts had hoped for after he was so strong a couple years ago. When he didn’t come to camp last year, there were also concerns that he didn’t want to play in North America.
However, he signed a deal with the Hawks this summer and, with Skille, has a strong chance to contribute as a bottom-six forward this season. Makarov is a little big bigger (6’1, 185) and plays a good two-way game. He will need to show the ability that led so many to salivate two years ago to keep Beach off the team, though.
Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
We talked about Vishnevskiy over the summer. The Hawks have six of their top seven defenseman from last year’s playoff run back this year, so he’ll have to turn some heads in camp to make the roster and see significant ice time. However, his skill set might get him on the roster.
Vishnevskiy is a smaller defenseman (listed at just 5’11 and 165 pounds) but is a strong skater who would give the Hawks a third defenseman that could carry the puck out of the zone and take power play minutes away from Duncan Keith’s already heavy workload. Because he’s a better skater than Jordan Hendry and Nick Boynton, he could be a strong candidate to make the roster.
Brian Connelly, D
At 24, Connelly is one of the older prospects in the Hawks organization that might be ready for a taste of the NHL. He posted 35 points in Rockford last year as the best blue liner on the IceHogs, and possesses the abilities that are necessary to make the jump onto the current Blackhawks team: he skates well, handles the puck well, and plays smart defense.
The trick for Connelly might be breaking through the veteran depth. He isn’t as quick on the ice and lacks the NHL experience of Vishnevskiy, but might have a high enough hockey IQ to make the team as a sixth or seventh defenseman.
Shawn Lalonde, D
After posting 56 points in 58 games in the OHL last year, Lalonde signed a professional contract. Now, at only 20 years old, Lalonde might be the biggest sleeper to make the team this fall.
Without question, Lalonde was the most impressive player at the Hawks prospect camp in July. Paired with Leddy, the slender defenseman was consistently positioned well, moved the puck exceptionally well and was appropriately physical. He cleared the puck from the zone effectively and carried the puck out of the zone with ease. Everything he showed during those four days points to a very good NHL defenseman for years to come.
The pause the Blackhawks may have in promoting him this year may come from how well he played with Leddy. With the veteran depth already signed to the NHL roster, and an older prospect like Vishnevskiy available with NHL experience, the Hawks may opt to keep Leddy and Lalonde together in Rockford for a year so the two can continue developing their chemistry.
Can you imagine having two pairs on the blue line that work as well together as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook do? That could be the future for Leddy and Lalonde.