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Prospects: Those Playing, Those Of An NHL Season

January 1, 2013, 12:12 PM ET [137 Comments]
John Jaeckel
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow me @jaeckel

Happy New Year everybody.

I don’t know if it’s the possible aversion of the fiscal cliff and resolution of the NHL labor impasse both happening right now, but I have a good feeling about 2013.

And that said, I’m going all in on this good feeling today, and assuming the lockout gets resolved this week. Should that happen, I’ve got some blogs coming on a range of subjects, and I’m told the trade market could be very active.

Until then, we have prospects to watch and discuss.

As regular readers here likely know, I like to use the following phrase: water always finds its level.

That is what’s happening to the large stable of prospects the Hawks have acquired since the Great Talent Sell-Off of 2010.

I think we’ve learned some things about a lot of the prospects this year for a couple of reasons.

First, numerous NHL-experienced players are playing at the AHL level due to the lockout, and therefore the quality of competition in that league is better than ever. As a result, we’re seeing who the pretenders and contenders are, who’s ready and who isn’t.

Second, the Hawks have three recent #1 picks and an ascendant 4th rounder in the WJCs, and all on higher profile national teams.

And even though some prospects’ stocks have risen while others have fallen, we have to remember prospect development is a marathon, not a sprint. Even a year is a snapshot in a player’s development curve.

Still, individual players aside, we are learning a few things about the pipeline as a whole. And those are:

1) There are lot of prospects who project as competent, if not exceptional lower line/pairing, role NHL players

While this might not excite anyone, I would put a positive face on this.

Look at the Hawk roster; it is and has been top heavy, very strong in the top 6 and top defensive pairing, but weak in terms of reliable, quality depth and physicality.

Enter Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Philippe Paradis, Ryan Stanton, Klas Dahlbeck, Ben Smith, Mark McNeill, Philip Danault and possibly Joakim Nordstrom (currently playing in the Swedish Elite Men’s League for AIK) and Rob Flick. All of these players appear to have NHL ability in some areas, and enough to play somewhere on the bottom half of the roster in checking, defensive or two-way roles. It can also be argued that Danault, Kruger and Shaw could be second line players in the NHL.

Paradis, Flick and Bollig could be a competent 4th line in the NHL very soon, meting out a lot of hits and keeping other teams’ troublemakers honest.

2) There are a few players who safely project as top 4/top 6 players

The good news is, Teuvo Teravainen is the real deal. He’ll be a top 6 player for the Hawks, and a good one, maybe very good, at center or wing in the next few years. I’ll go a little out on a limb and say Nick Leddy looks like a man now, as opposed to a frightened boy. And he has all kinds of talent. After them, Adam Clendening looks like he can develop into a good puck-rushing NHL defenseman but he is far (FAR) from ready, victimized again last night on a Grand Rapids Griffin goal, the backbreaker in a 3-1 Rockford loss.

After that, however, for all the high picks the Hawks have taken and players acquired, there is not much on the top shelf of the talent closet.

3) The “parking lot” is still a little crowded

This is where we put the players who are a little tougher to read.

The Hawks have a group of forwards who sit here: Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Maxim Shalunov, Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes and Brandon Saad. All have positives in their games. Each has enough negatives or question marks to leave you wondering if they have an NHL role or what it will be—because each pretty much has to be a top 6 player due to their playing styles.

Stephen Johns has had a solid career at Notre Dame and will soon be put to the pro test at Rockford. His fellow 2010 2nd round pick Justin Holl was supposed to be a puck-rusher extraordinaire, but also hasn’t put up much in the way of numbers at the University of Minnesota.

2009 first rounder Dylan Olsen is struggling to find his game at Rockford (though he scored last night).

I watched Jimmy Hayes closely last night and you can’t fault the kid’s effort. And he does look to be moving better than he used to. That said, and it’s true of all these players, is the production legitimately there to say any of these guys (including possibly the Great Saad) has much of an NHL future?

Saad has 14 points in 26 games and is -2. Granted, he just turned 20 and is a rookie.

But for comparison sake, at roughly the same age as a pro rookie, Troy Brouwer (who is probably at best a 40-50 point player in the NHL) put up 79 points in 66 games at Norfolk six years ago. In fact, Saad’s rookie AHL numbers are closer to those of another recent former Hawk winger, Jack Skille. Uh-huh. And Skille, like Saad, had the “look” of a pro winger—an NHL body and plus skating.

That said, Saad shows some pretty smart positional play and hockey sense. And I still think he’s going to be some kind of an NHL player. But those who translated a big year in junior last year into surefire, high NHL offensive production for Stan Bowman’s shiny penny, I think, could end up disappointed. And certainly, his Rockford numbers don’t say he’s NHL ready.

Kevin Hayes is having a solid junior season at Boston College. Like Johns, he will be tested soon at Rockford.

Shalunov has all the physical tools and intensity to be a pro winger, and maybe a good one, but Chelyabinsk is a long way from Chicago, literally and figuratively.

4) Goaltending remains at best a puzzle, and more likely a glaring problem

The good news: the Hawks seem to have found an intriguing prospect in 27 year old Carter Hutton. But that’s also the bad news. Hutton is a career minor leaguer (at this point) yet appears to be better than all the Hawks’ other goalie prospects. And this for a team that many would argue has two backups at the NHL level. 2010 2nd round pick Kent Simpson has a GAA under 9.00 at Toledo in the ECHL. Mac Carruth, Johan Mattson and Brandon Whitney all have size and decent junior numbers, but . . . none looks remotely special.

So that’s what we’ve learned. And like I said, it’s a snapshot, but also a fairly sizable one.
And let’s hope also, that snapshot can serve as a bookmark of sorts— a topic we revisit in the offseason, and at the conclusion of a shortened NHL season and playoffs.

All for now,

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