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2008-09 Top 12 Prospects: Chicago Blackhawks

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
4/6/2009 2:15:34 PM
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Most of Chicago's rich farm system has graduated to the NHL and you can't turn around without bumping into someone with NHL potential. The Hawks have been able to add Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Barker, David Bolland, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Troy Brouwer to the roster over the last few years. Pundits could look back to the 2002 to 2007 drafts as the reason for the revival.

On defence, they can afford to be patient with the kids currently in the system. The most prominent prospects are Niklas Hjalmarsson, Simon Danis-Pepin, Shawn Lalonde, Ben Shutron and Logan Stephenson - who they picked up in a trade. This young group does not have the same talent as the core group of youngsters with the big club, so the Hawks need to focus some attention on this area.

With so many young forwards currently in the NHL lineup, there is no pressure to push players at a quick pace. This is a great advantage for the Blackhawks long-term, as these prospects can bond together in the minors like the previous group. They have a mixture of role players, with a couple of aggressive forwards in Kyle Beach and Jack Skille. The depth behind them is intriguing as Nathan Davis, Bill Sweatt, Maxime Tanguay and Akim Aliu could all develop into third or fourth liners.

Two forwards that are on the verge from graduating from this list are Adam Pineault and Bryan Bickell, who have both played three seasons in the AHL. They must prove they can take the next step soon or both could be caught in numbers crunch. In the AHL they have Bryan Bickell, Evan Brophey, Adam Hobson and Robert Klinkhammer toiling in the minors as well. Second-round pick Igor Makarov is in Russia and has not come over to North America yet.

The Hawks have a potential NHL netminder in Corey Crawford, who looks to be ready for backup duty next season. To Crawford's credit, he has been diligent in his work ethic and patient in waiting for his chance to prove his mettle. They also have Joseph Palmer and Josh Unice, who will continue to develop their craft in the juniors and minors for another couple of seasons.

Over the next couple of drafts, the Blackhawks' priority should be to add skilled defencemen and a centre to re-stock the ranks.

1. Kyle Beach - Right Wing, 19 (1st round 11th overall 2008)
Currently with Lethbridge (WHL)

Beach is a pure prototypical power forward in every sense of the word. He scores, hits to hurt, fights anyone and intimidates opponents with his fearlessness. He has top-end puck skills and can stickhandle through traffic to create time and space. Beach makes good decisions with the puck and does not panic under duress. He owns a dangerous powerful slap shot that is heavy and quick off his stick with a deadly accurate wrist shot in close. Away from the puck, you would like to see him hustle back a little bit more on the back check. It is important for him to make sure he is on the right side of the puck in the defensive zone. He has the hockey sense and work ethic to be a better player overall and just needs to work on some small nuances on defence. The toughest and best defencemen in the WHL have issues containing him down low and in front of the net. He does take many undisciplined penalties and will need to rein himself in a little while playing on the edge. Beach has all the desire and passion you want in a player and will pay the price to win games. He is a player that fans will grow to love because he will stand up for his teammates and never back down.

2. Corey Crawford – Goalie, 24 (2nd round 52nd overall 2003)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

After four seasons in the AHL, Crawford has played enough games as a pro to be moved off this prospects list. He remains only to show his value to the franchise and the lengthy development of goaltenders. Over the last six seasons, Crawford has shown the capacity to carry the ball, averaging over 50 appearances between the pipes. He has consistently improved every year statistically and displays the attitude and composure to become a No. 1 goalie in the future. In his second season as a pro, he has begun to look more comfortable and confident with good habits. Crawford is not the traditional butterfly goalie you would see out of the QMJHL and has altered his style. He displays a good glove hand and uses his blocker well to deflect pucks out of harm's way. In the crease, he moves post to post quickly while keeping a compact frame. He is ready to make the next step and be a back-up netminder in the NHL for the Blackhawks.

3. Jack Skille – Right Wing, 21 (1st round 7th overall 2005)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

Skille has displayed an aggressive nature when in the offensive zone and will battle to the net with tenacity. He owns excellent skating ability and will continue to get bigger and stronger. He's a gritty forward who likes to bang, crash and get his nose dirty and that style should eventually translate into the postseason. He is responsible defensively and has worked hard to improve some aspects like taking good angles and keeping on the right side of the puck. Skille has shown this year that he can take his offensive game to another level and will be able to deliver consistently. He had a solid rookie campaign last season in the AHL with 34 points in 59 games with 44 penalty minutes. For his efforts, Skille was given a 16-game stint in the NHL where he had five points in 16 games. Skille followed that up with a workmanlike performance this season, posting better offensive numbers. But more importantly, his game is more complete. He shows the potential and talent to play at the NHL, but whether that translates into a top-six forward remains to be seen.

4. Niklas Hjalmarsson – Defense, 21 (4th round 108th overall 2005)
Currently with Chicago/Rockford (NHL/AHL)

The young Swedish blueliner did not take much time adjusting to the North American game after coming over from the Swedish Elite League. He possesses good size and is expected to get stronger as he matures. Overall, he is a solid skater with the quickness, agility and lateral movement to combat the faster forwards in the NHL. He shows the hockey sense to be a reliable blueliner. Hjalmarsson makes smart safe plays with the puck and communicates well with his defence partner. Away from the puck, he does many of the things that coaches appreciate like solid gap control and taking good angles to the puck carrier. He seems to have good habits when it comes to keeping his feet moving while getting his stick in the lanes. He will battle hard in the slot for loose pucks and position and could develop into a respectable third pairing defenceman.

5. Shawn Lalonde – Defence, 19 (3rd round 68th overall 2008)
Currently with Belleville (OHL)

He's an offensive-minded defenceman that likes to jump into the rush and dictate the pace of the game with his passing and skating ability. He's not the biggest defenceman, but has time to develop physically over the next few years. What makes him an intriguing prospect is his skills for creating offence from the blue line. He shows the hockey sense, can react quickly in all situations and makes the correct decisions with the puck. His main weapon once he gains the offensive zone is his right-handed shot, which is effective because of his knack for finding shooting lanes. An area Lalonde must continue to improve is his play away from the puck, since he pushes the offense so often. He must make sure he does not miss any defensive assignments and know when to jump into the play. To his credit, Lalonde is improving when it comes to keeping better body position and keeping his stick in the lanes. Once he gains some extra strength he should be more effective physically in all one-on-one puck battles. Lalonde will need another season in the OHL followed by a couple of seasons in the AHL to hone his craft.

6. Nathan Davis – Centre, 22 (4th round 113th overall 2005)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

Davis is a strong two-way centre that does everything well and is a versatile forward that can line up anywhere. He has decent size and hustles hard when battling larger opponents for loose pucks and body position. Although he posted up 132 points in 138 games over his four years in college, he does not show the elite skills to play on the top two lines. He shows good skating ability with the quickness and agility needed to handle the tempo and speed at the NHL level. He's a savvy player who always finds a way to be productive and has shown an underrated shot that can fool goalies with his quick release. He's a strong defensive player, works hard in his own zone and consistently keeps good body position. He has a knack for getting his stick on the puck and scoring shorthanded goals. He could potentially be a valuable third line checker if he can progress through the AHL over the next two seasons.

7. Bill Sweatt – Left Wing, 20 (2nd round 38th overall 2007)
Currently with Colorado College (NCAA)

Sweat is a fast, no-nonsense gritty winger with some offensive ability. He may need to get a little stronger on the puck to win more one-on-one battles. It will also be important to increase his endurance and stamina for the next level. He has solid puck skills overall and is a solid passer in the offensive and defensive zones. He owns a decent, accurate wrist and slap shot and likes to shoot when he gets the chance. Defensively, he showed good awareness and was solid against other top lines. Overall, Sweat has good defensive habits and does many of the things coaches like on a consistent basis. He will need some time to adjust to a tougher schedule and style of play when he moves on to the AHL. Speed is his game and Sweat was arguably the best skater in his draft. He has had three good years in Colorado with 76 points in 104 games. Sweat has the potential to develop into a fine character role player in the NHL one day.

8. Akim Aliu – Right Wing, 19 (2nd round 56th overall 2007)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

Aliu is another potential power forward with the athleticism and skating ability to cause mismatches against defenders. He shows good hockey sense and knows where to go but needs a little refinement to make his decisions easier. He has shown the puck skills to create time and space for his himself and his teammates. He owns a good wrist and slap shot but he could unleash it more often and be more selfish in scoring areas. He must continue to work on aspects in the defensive zone, like making sure he keeps his feet moving and having his head on a swivel. He does a better job using his body and stick to bust up passing lanes. He has been involved in a couple of incidents that, in the end, showed he has strong character despite what was originally reported. Overall, he is an intriguing package and just needs more time to develop and take his game to the next level.

9. Adam Pineault –Right Wing, 22 (2nd round 46th overall 2004 (CLB) - From Columbus)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

After moving between six different organizations and five leagues over the last seven years, Pineault has not shown consistency at the pro level. He has the hockey sense to play at the AHL and it remains to be proven if he can translate that to the NHL level. He has decent puck skills and can stickhandle and pass the puck, but it is not his strength and specialty. He works hard battling for loose pucks in the offensive zone, finds seams and gets decent body position. He's a good skater overall and displays the quickness and foot speed needed to excel at the NHL level. His ability to shoot the puck from anywhere and get the puck on net is a valuable asset, especially on the power play. Over the past three seasons in the AHL he has been decent defensively. He is improving in picking up his forward on the backcheck, keeping his feet moving and hustling hard. He jumped from 28 points as a rookie to 48 points last season and then dropped off this year. If he can repeat that improvement from his rookie year to his second year, he could get some time in the NHL in 2009-10.

10. Logan Stephenson – Defence, 23 (2nd round, 35th overall, 2004 (PHX) – From Anaheim)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)
This rugged and tough blueliner loves to play the physical game and is developing into a prototypical defensive defenceman. He has shown decent poise under duress and makes life ugly for forwards lingering in front of the net. He's continuing to refine his game and tries to make safe plays in the defensive zone. He lacks the puck skills to be more than a one-dimensional player at the NHL level. He can skate well for a big player and does a good job protecting the slot. He had a challenging season playing for three different teams this year and it tested his mettle and commitment. With another season in the AHL, he could become a call-up player or a reliable third pairing defensive defenceman.

11. Simon Danis-Pepin – Defence, 21 (2nd round 61st overall 2006)
Currently with Maine (NCAA)

A massive defenseman at 6-foot-7 and 224 pounds, he can cause mismatches while intimidating the opposition forwards lingering in the slot. He does not seem to have the puck skills or hockey sense to be anything more than a defensive defenceman. He's not the greatest skater and needs to work on his quickness and agility. His strength and wingspan makes him a tough defender down low and on the penalty kill as he can envelop forwards. Now that he's completed all four years at the University of Maine, he needs a new challenge. He is a long-term project, but there might be enough tools to play at the AHL and NHL level.

12. Bryan Bickell – Left Wing, 23 (2nd round 41st overall 2004)
Currently with Rockford (AHL)

Bickell is another potential power forward for the Blackhawks as his size and skill is intriguing to Chicago. He is one of those players that tries to get the most of the minutes given to him. He has a knack for getting his body in the right place at the right time. While he does not have top end puck skills, he is capable of being an effective AHL player - especially in front of the net. He is a strong enough skater to play at the AHL level but he could improve on his quickness and agility for play down low. He's well coached at the junior level in Ottawa and some of that has translated over to the pro ranks. In his rookie AHL season, he had 25 points in 48 games with an impressive plus 14 rating and 66 penalty minutes. However, his production in the last two years has faltered a little because of injuries. The question remains whether Bickell can do more. He could he running out of time to get a legitimate shot at the NHL.

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Chicago Blackhawks - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Chicago Blackhawks 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 11 (2) (LW) Dan Cleary (1/13), Kyle Calder (5/130)
1998 9 (3) (LW) Mark Bell (1/8), (D) Kent Huskins (6/156) (C) Tyler Arnason (7/183)
1999 8 (2) (D) Steve McCarthy (1/23), (G) Mike Leighton (6/165)
2000 15 (0)
2001 13 (2) (C) Tuomo Ruutu (1/9), (G) Craig Anderson (3/73)
2002 9 (4) (D) Anton Babchuk (1/21), (D) Duncan Keith (2/54), (D) James Wisniewski (5/156), (RW) Adam Burish (9/282)
2003 10 (3) (D) Brent Seabrook (1/14), (D) Lasse Kukkonen (5/151), (D) Dustin Byfuglien (8/245), (G) Corey Crawford (2/52)

Total: 7 yrs – 72 draft picks – 16 NHL Players = 22.2% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 10 total picks
Jones, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Adam Munro
7 yrs – 10 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 60.0% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks + 1 pending
Jeremy Reich, Dmitri Levinsky, Stepan Mokhov, Jonas Nordqvist, Matt Keith, Michal Barinka, Corey Crawford
7 yrs 8 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 12.5% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 4 total picks
Matt Ellison, Alexander Kozevnikov, Igor Radulov
7 yrs – 4 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 25.0% success rate

Total: 7yrs – 22 draft picks –8 NHL Players = 36.4% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (6) North American, (2) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (4) North American, (8) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 53 total picks
7yrs – 53 draft picks – 8 NHL Players = 15.1% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

Hockey Prospect Radio

Akim Aliu (Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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