A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
With three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons, it stands to reason that the Blackhawks have not done very much recent early choosing on draft day. Further, being a perennial contender, it should come as no surprise that they have dealt a number of their high picks and other prospects of interest to fuel their NHL success. We are not here to criticize that, but are happy to celebrate a team using its prospect assets to build a champion. And then another champion and then one more. The fact that the organization is still middle-of-the-pack in prospect strength is a testament to astute drafting, signings and trades by Stan Bowman and Director of Scouting Mark Kelley. For full disclosure, it must also be mentioned that the top two prospects on the forthcoming list are both on the precipice of graduating from this list, as they played just enough to maintain eligibility for the early part of this year. Without those two, the Hawks would tumble downwards of ten places. Which is OK, because….count the rings.
- Teuvo Teravainen, RW, Rockford (AHL) 5-11”, 169. 18th overall, 2012
- Marko Dano, C, Springfield (AHL) 5-11”, 183. Trade: Jun. 30, 2015. Originally: 27th overall, 2013
- Artemi Panarin, LW, St. Petersburg (KHL) 5-9“, 154. UFA: Apr. 30, 2015
- Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, Rockford (AHL) 6-2“, 185. UFA: Mar. 24, 2014
- Nick Schmaltz, C, North Dakota (NCHC) 6-0“, 172. 20th overall, 2014
- Vincent Hinostroza, C, Notre Dame (Hockey East) 5-9”, 158. 169th overall, 2012
- Ville Pokka, D, Rockford (AHL) 6-0”, 206. Trade: Oct. 4, 2014 Originally: 34th overall, 2012
- Gustav Forsling, D, Linkoping (SHL) 5-11”, 176. Trade: Jan. 29, 2015. Originally: 126th overall, 2014 (Vancouver)
- Ryan Hartman, RW, Rockford (AHL) 5-11”, 181. 30th overall, 2013
- Garret Ross, LW, Rockford (AHL) 6-0”, 180. 139th overall, 2012
Players likely to lose eligibility
- van Riemsdyk
- Fredrik Olofsson, LW, Chicago (USHL) 6-1”, 185. 98th overall, 2014
- John Hayden, C, Yale (ECAC) 6-3”, 210. 74th overall, 2013
- Phillip Danault, C, Rockford (AHL) 6-0”, 184. 26th overall, 2011
Teuvo-time has begun. He came over to North America at the tail end of 2013-14 and electrified the AHL in a half-season before slowly integrating himself into Joel Quenneville’s lineup after being recalled on January 2. While he had some bumps on the road to making himself a primary contributor, he truly took off in the playoffs with 10 points in 18 games, after being a healthy scratch for much of the first round. The Hawks have the luxury of easing him into a top six role where his elite passing skills will find the sticks of players talented enough to do damage with them. There are very few prospects today with his offensive vision and flair. Teravainen will also eventually quarterback powerplays from the half wall. With the young Finn on the ice, the Blackhawks will also be one of the deadliest teams in the league during the new 3-on-3 overtimes.
Marko Dano, part of the return in the Brandon Saad trade with Columbus, has been playing with adults since he was 17 years old. Like Teravainen, Dano has only spent one full season playing in North America, in his case, after two years with Bratislava of the KHL. While he was solid in the AHL during the first half, the slight winger was a force in the NHL for the Blue Jackets after being called up. While his ceiling is not as high as that of Teuvo, Dano still profiles as a solid second liner and is a lot closer to that projection at the moment. He is very creative, with a plus shot that is known for its accuracy. He also makes up for his relative lack of size with a high energy level. There is a good chance he plays on a line with fellow Slovak Marian Hossa.
If two NHL-ready prospects were not enough, then we could introduce a third in new Russian import Artemy Panarin. 23 years old, he produced over one point per game in the KHL last year finishing fifth in the scoring race. There are reasonable arguments to be made that he should rank second, if not first on this list, but he is slotted in third due to the uncertainty inherent in a player who reaches his age without any experience on the North American ice surface. On the other hand, comparing apples to apples, his production far outpaced that of Dano at the same age as the Slovak was when he last played in the KHL. More of a finisher than the two players above him on the list, between his flashy puck handling and excellent acceleration, it should not surprise anyone if he spends significant time on the first line. In some order, the Blacckhawks are likely to go into the season with Terevainen, Dano and Panarin manning the top three left wings slots.
After those top three, each of whom is sure to exhaust their rookie eligibility this season, the Blackhawks’ organization does not lack for complementary forward depth. Nick Schmaltz is a former first rounder who had a solid, if not spectacular, freshman season with North Dakota. Another fantastic puck mover with great hands, there is still reason to believe that he can reach his second line pivot projection from his time with Green Bay of the USHL. Expect better numbers as a sophomore as well as a more critical role for team USA at the next World Juniors.
Vince Hinostroza is another offensively inclined, undersized forward. Like Schmaltz, he cut his teeth in the NCAA, in his case, Notre Dame. A point per game player in two seasons for the Irish, the Chicago native is an exciting puck rusher who makes up for his size disadvantage through very fast, shifty skating. Hinostroza can be very decisive as he tends to create very quickly once he enters the zone, as he likes to do when carrying the puck. His slap shot is also a weapon. Hinostroza will spend his first professional season in nearby Rockford where he will undoubtedly work on his off-the-puck play.
Ryan Hartman is another former first rounder who made his full season professional debut last year. Unlike the others on this list, Hartman does not have top six upside. Instead, he projects as a bottom six grinder who can lengthen the Hawks’ offense. He is a plus skater who has the agility to push through traffic with the puck. A responsible defensive player as well who can safely be used on the PK, Hartman still has yet to fully get the junior game out of his system, as he has a tendency to let feistiness bleed into uncontrolled aggression. He is likely one more year away from being ready to secure a bottom line role with the NHL club.
The top ten is rounded off with a lower round pick made good in Garret Ross. Like Hartman, Ross is an energy player. His skill set is strongest when it comes to his hands, as he moves them very quickly whether to pass or shoot and his hand-eye coordination makes him a capable shot tipper. His game is well suited for a bottom six role in which he can both harass the opposition in his own end as well as add some danger in the offensive end.
Even the sleepers of the system are all forwards. Phillip Danault is another former first rounder who plays a safe, responsible game and who is ready for a prolonged opportunity to fill a bottom six role. He will not be a big offensive producer, but he can certainly chip in a respectable total given limited minutes. Fredrik Olofsson exploded in his third season in the USHL to score over one point per game, finishing tenth in league scoring. He will take his game to Nebraska-Omaha for next season. John Hayden is a big bodied forward at Yale. While his skating stride is awkward, it has not yet stood in his way. An avid forechecker, his frame and style of play earmark him as a future bottom six contributor.
Moving (finally) away from the forwards, two of the blueliners in the Blackhawks’ top ten are favored to open the season in the NHL. Trevor van Riemsdyk actually made the team out of camp last year, but a promising rookie campaign was cut short by injury after 18 games. He returned in time to help the team overcome the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup finals, although his ice time was very limited. Acquired as an undrafted free agent, van Riemsdyk plays a very quiet, defensive game. He has an impressively high panic threshold, willing and able to wait an extra beat or two on the puck in the face of a mounting forecheck to make sure he gets a better pass off to begin the transition game. Not as big or as talented as his older brother James, he nonetheless has the all-around game to forge a lengthy NHL career.
Hoping to join van Riemsdyk and the top three on this list among Blackhawks rookies this year is Finn Ville Pokka. Acquired last offseason from the New York Islanders in the Nick Leddy trade, Pokka adjusted very nicely to his first North American season, establishing himself as a viable two-way defender with Rockford. Like TvR, he plays with a lot of poise in his own end, but unlike his current and future teammate, he is also a viable option on the power play.
Further away is Gustav Forsling, one of the top breakout stories of last year’s WJC. Although prone to errors in his own zone, the young Swede tracks back well. His strength is his elite point shot which earned him three power play goals in seven games for Team Sweden. Only 19 years old and very slight, Forsling will take another season or two to bulk up and to further establish his credentials in the SHL before coming over to North America.
Before wrapping up, we should note that the Blackhawks have very, very little in terms of goaltending in the system outside of the NHL. That said, it is worthwhile to keep an eye on Russian Ivan Nalimov, a big man who moves well for his size and could blossom in a greater role with Vladivostok in his second KHL campaign.
With so many players so close to NHL ready in the system, the Blackhawks could fall precipitously down the rankings next season. For now, they have a lot of interesting pieces, if we can ignore the system imbalance that is too heavily weighted towards the forwards. The Blackhawks have long made a practice of drafting players for whom they will have a longer lead time to offer contracts, heavily scouting the USHL and Europe at the expense of the CHL with only two of the players profiled here coming from the Canadian junior ranks. As such, expect to see more sleepers emerge as legitimate prospects in the coming years.