Review: Chicago Blackhawks Top Prospects

As the 2010 NHL Draft approaches, and the Blackhawks look to move salary off their 2010-11 payroll, it’s a good time to look forward to some names that could factor significantly into the future of the franchise. As some names and faces leave the roster of the Stanley Cup Champions, there are some kids in the system that will be looked at to fill some of the holes left by cap casualties. Let’s look at some of these young names that could become fan favorites in the near future.

Bryan Bickell

First let’s look at some names that you likely already know from seeing them in Chicago.

  • Bryan Bickell, F
  • Jake Dowell, C
  • Jack Skille, F

From these three players, the biggest contributor last year was Bickell. He saw action in the first round series for the Hawks and played well, scoring his first career playoff point (an assist) while seeing surprising time with the Hawks top line of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. In 16 games with the big club in 2009-10, Bickell scored three goals and had one assist and was +4 while averaging 9:36 in ice time. His ice time increased to 13:14 in his four playoff appearances, and he was +3 that limited action.

Listed at 6’4 and 223 pounds, his size is comparable to Ben Eager (6’3, 227) and Troy Brouwer (6’3 220). He had 16 goals and 15 assists in 65 games in Rockford last year, and is a restricted free agent that could be back to fill a big forward spot on the roster next year.

Dowell is also a big kid, listed at 6’0 and 200 pounds. He played in three games with the Blackhawks last year, scoring one goal and adding on assist in over six minutes of ice time per game. He is considered a smart center who’s good in the faceoff circle who had seven goals and 16 assists in 78 minutes in Rockford this past season. He is under contract with the Blackhawks for one more season with a cap number of $525k, and at 25-years-old could finally get a chance to play in the NHL.

Skille’s an interesting case. The Blackhawks selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft, which may have killed him in the court of public opinion considering a few of the names that came after him included Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, Martin Hanzal, Tuukka Rask and TJ Oshie, just to name a few in the first round alone.

Just because he hasn’t performed to the level of some of these other budding stars doesn’t mean Chicago fans should write Skille off, however.

He only played in six games in the NHL in 2009-10, but the biggest contributing factor to the concrete ceiling between Skille and the NHL was an inflated cap number because of where he was selected where he was in the draft; frankly, the Hawks couldn’t afford him last year. He is now a restricted free agent with only five career goals in 30 NHL games on his resume. But that limited resume could help his chances of seeing ice time with the Blackhawks (finally) next year.

Skille has scored at least 20 goals in consecutive AHL seasons, with new career bests of 23 goals and 26 assists in Rockford this year. At 6’1 and 200 pounds, and considering he and Dowell were both members of the University of Wisconsin NCAA Championship team captained by Adam Burish, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that a 23-year-old Skille might get his shot in Chicago this fall.

Dylan Olsen

These recognizable names will be tested by some young faces, however. The Blackhawks have some young players developing that could be ready for a jump to the NHL in the not-too-distant future. Let’s look at the Top Ten Blackhawks prospects (excluding the three “veterans” already discussed) heading into next season.

  1. Kyle Beach, F
  2. Dylan Olsen, D
  3. Nick Leddy, D
  4. Shawn LaLonde, D
  5. Marcus Krüger, C
  6. Akim Aliu, F
  7. Billy Sweatt, F
  8. Brian Connelly, D
  9. Brandon Pirri, C
  10. Simon Danis-Pepin, D

If you haven’t heard of Beach yet, remember the name and consider this a mild introduction. Listed at 6’3 and 210 pounds, Beach fell to the Blackhawks at the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft because of some character concerns from his past in juniors; Beach was considered a top-five talent heading into a draft featuring Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn and potential 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers, who was selected with the pick directly following Beach.

In 68 WHL games this season, Beach scored 52 goals and had 34 assists (86 points, or 1.27 per game) and 186 penalty minutes per game (2.74 per game). He’s a big, aggressive scorer who answered some of the questions about needing time at the AHL level when he was promoted for Rockford’s playoff run. In four postseason games in the AHL, Beach led the IceHogs with three goals (and was whistled for six penalty minutes). He’s only 20, but could be in Chicago on Opening Night this fall.

Olsen is a big defenseman (6’3, 220) who played for the University of Minnesota-Duluth this past season. At only 19, he’ll probably stay in college for another year but could be a key contributor on the blue line in the future.

Nick Leddy

Leddy is the answer to the question “What did the Hawks get for Cam Barker?” Also only 19, Leddy was the 2008-09 Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota and is currently playing at the University of Minnesota. He is listed at 5’11 and 180 pounds and was originally selected 16th overall in the 2009 draft by the Wild and is considered an elite skater on the blue line. Both Olsen and Leddy are smart defensemen who move the puck up the ice effectively, but both are likely one or two years away from the United Center.

LaLonde, 20, is listed at 6’1 and 185 pounds and could be the first youngster on this list if talented defensemen to jump to the Madhouse. After four successful seasons with Belleville of the OHL, LaLonde was promoted to Rockford late in the 2009-10 season and was effective in eight games in the AHL. The Hawks signed LaLonde to a three-year entry-level contract on New Year’s Eve of 2009 with a cap number of $600k, which could make him a good fit into the tight budget on the West Side. LaLonde is also a smooth skater with good instincts who could be part of the Hawks third defensive pair this year.

Krüger, also 20, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Hawks last week. He will likely spend 2010-11 in Rockford, but is a smart center that could play a role in Chicago soon. We discussed Krüger at more length when he received his contract last week.

Aliu is an intriguing character in the Blackhawks organization. At 6’3 and 205 pounds, Aliu has the size and skill to have played at a top level with the London Knights before moving to Rockford and the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Maturity has been a problem for Aliu, though, and at 21 he’ll likely get another season in the minors before getting a shot at Chicago.

Sweatt, 22, played for Colorado College last year and scored 15 goals and 18 assists in 39 games. Listed at 6’0 and 180 pounds, Sweatt projects as a possible top-six forward in the NHL because he can fly on the ice and makes good decisions with the puck. Jumping straight from the NCAA to the NHL isn’t an easy, or likely, transition, but after some time in Rockford Sweatt could become a smooth skating scorer in Chicago.

Connelly is another guy that, with LaLonde, could be in contention for a spot on the Hawks third defensive pair next year. At 24, he’s older than many of the other players in the Hawks top ten and spent 78 games in Rockford last year, where he contributed well with four goals and 31 assists. Listed at 5’11 and 170 pounds, Connelly is another good skater who moves the puck up the ice well from the blue line.

Pirri is only 19, but was second on RPI in scoring in the NCAA this year with 43 points (11 G, 32 A) in 39 games. He is listed at only 5’11 and 165 pounds, so he could use some time in college to bulk up his frame but shares the common theme throughout these top prospects: speed. Pirri can move on the ice and handles the puck well.

Danis-Pepin is a lot bigger than some of the other prospects on this list, as the roster has him at 6’7 and 222 pounds. At 22, and with seasons in both the AHL and ECHL under his belt, his size might push him into contention for a spot on the Blackhawks roster next year as well. He is a smart player with the puck, but isn’t as quick on his skates as some other Hawks prospects. It would be a stretch to compare him to Boston’s Zdeno Chara based completely on size, but his hockey IQ indicates that he could be in Chicago soon.

Those are just the top ten prospects. There are some other names that you should know heading into next year as well, as some of these players could fill holes when an injury happens or could be a call-up in the event of an in-season trade as well.

  • JC Sawyer

    Ben Smith, F

  • JC Sawyer, D
  • Ryan Stanton, D

Smith, 22 in July, was the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player in 2010 with Boston College, and signed a two-year deal with the Hawks in late April.

Sawyer was named the ECHL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009-10, and could be invited back after his entry-level contract expired. He will turn 24 in August, but at 6’3 and 200 pounds could get a chance to challenge for a spot on the Hawks bench this year.

Stanton had 40 points (10 G, 30 A) in 59 games in the WHL before making the jump to Rockford. He’ll turn 21 in late July, but at 6’2 and 205 pounds could bring more physical play to the Hawks blue line at some point (192 PIM in 128 WHL games the last two years).

In addition to these prospects, please check out our updates on some of the Hawks recent signings.

One final name that must be mentioned when talking about the Blackhawks prospects is Igor Makarov. Drafted by the Hawks in the second round in 2006, Makarov was an elite Russian prospect who appeared to be on the fast track to the top-six on the Hawks roster. His game, as well as his apparent desire to play in the United States, have stalled however, and he remains in Russia.

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