September 13, 2010 // 9:30pm ET
Blackhawks prospects ranking
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

CHICAGO, IL -- Training camp is just around the corner, meaning the Chicago Blackhawks are now less than a month away from adding “defending” to the title they earned in June.

Something the Hawks couldn’t defend was their roster from an onslaught of salary cap-necessitated moves that will have more than one-third of the faces on the bench in Chicago looking different than they did when they raised the Stanley Cup.

However, the roster moves that were made in Chicago were not in vain, and were certainly not empty salary dumps. The Blackhawks also did very well at the 2010 Draft, and you will find that half of the top 20 prospects ranked below were not part of the Blackhawks organization at the start of the 2009-10 season.
 

The overwhelming amount of talent added to their system gives Chicago their greatest organizational depth in recent memory, which will serve to help the Hawks sustain excellence for years to come without future headaches from free agent contracts.

Some of these “kids” will see time in Chicago this year, while others will continue their development elsewhere. One thing is certain, though: the eyes of the United Center could be on many of these players in the not-too-distant future.

There are a few names not on this list, because the assumption is that they will be in Chicago. Viktor Stalberg, who was acquired from Toronto in the Kris Versteeg trade, appears to be a lock for the Blackhawks roster. Bryan Bickell and Jack Skille have also graduated off this list, figuring to be fairly sure of a spot in Chicago this winter.

Here are the pre-season top 20 prospects in the Blackhawks organization.

1. Nick Leddy, D

Leddy, 19, was acquired from Minnesota with Kim Johnsson in the deal that sent Cam Barker to the Wild last season, and finished his one (and only) season at the University of Minnesota well after battling an injury for a big part of the season. He was the Wild’s first round pick (16th overall) in 2009, and many thought Leddy would return to Minnesota for another season, but he blew away the Blackhawks brass at the team’s prospect camp in July and signed an entry level deal later in the summer.

He’s an elite skater who handles the puck incredibly well and has a great hockey IQ. The former “Mr. Hockey” in Minnesota will get a season to build his game, and 5-10 175-pound frame, in the AHL this year but isn’t far away from giving the Hawks another stud on the blue line.

2. Dylan Olsen, D

The Blackhawks first round pick (28th overall) in 2009, Olsen evokes a young Dion Phaneuf. Also just 19, Olsen is listed at 6-3 and 200 pounds and can do everything on the ice. He’s an explosive hitter, skates well, and has a heavy shot.

He will spend another year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth on their top defensive pair, but has drawn enough attention already that he isn’t far away from a professional contract and the United Center.

3. Kyle Beach, C/LW

Beach, 20, was the Hawks first round pick (11th overall) in 2008 and is now the hottest name in Chicago this summer. Listed at 6-3 and 210 pounds, Beach combines a great scoring ability with just a little bit of crazy to give the Blackhawks a dangerous powder keg of talent that could push Skille for a spot on Chicago’s roster to open the season.

He opened eyes in Spokane of the WHL last year with 52 goals, 34 assists and 186 penalty minutes in 68 regular season games, followed by seven goals in seven postseason games. He signed and moved to Rockford of the AHL late in their season to see if his abilities translated from juniors to the professional ranks. After failing to score in only four regular season games for the IceHogs, Beach scored three goals in four playoff games.

Beach might begin the season in the AHL, but he’s going to provide a spark to the lineup once he lands in Chicago.

4. Shawn Lalonde, D

If it’s starting to feel like the Blackhawks have a lot of talented 19 and 20-year-old defensemen in their system, you’re seeing the trend. Lalonde, 20, was selected by Chicago in the third round of the 2008 Draft and has progressed well as a player. He filled out his 6-1 frame to around 200 pounds, and was a dominant force for Belleville Bulls of the WHL last year, scoring 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists) in 58 games before jumping to the AHL.

Lalonde is a sleeper to make the Blackhawks roster this year after he was the most impressive player at the summer prospect camp, but will more likely go back to Rockford where he’ll likely skate with Leddy. The two were paired early on at the prospect camp and their chemistry was impressive the entire four days; these two could develop into a partnership similar to what the Hawks have already in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

5. Jeremy Morin, C

Morin, 19, was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to Atlanta this summer, and was also very impressive at the prospect camp. He was the Thrashers second round selection (45th overall) in 2009. Listed at 6-1 and 190 pounds, Morin is the best pure scorer in the Hawks system and received an invite to training camp in Chicago.

After three seasons with the US National Under-18 team, Morin joined the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL last year and put up monster numbers: 47 goals and 36 assists in just 58 regular season games, followed by 12 goals and nine assists in 20 postseason contests. He will likely spend the coming season in Rockford of the AHL.

6. Marcus Krüger, C

Krüger is a smooth Swede who has a fantastic eye for passing lanes and can finish at the net as well. Listed at 5-11 and 172 pounds, the 20-year-old center had a great prospect camp and signed with Chicago over the summer.

The Hawks fifth round pick in 2009, Krüger posted 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games in the Swedish Elite League regular season before adding three goals and seven assists in 16 playoff games .He was also very impressive while representing Sweden in the World Juniors this year.

7. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D

The second player to make the top ten that the Hawks acquired from Atlanta this summer (this time for Andrew Ladd), Vishnevskiy could challenge for a spot in Chicago this year as a puck-moving defenseman on the Hawks third pair.

Listed at 6-0 and 193 pounds, the 22-year-old Vishnevskiy saw NHL action for the Dallas Stars in each of the past two seasons; he was dealt to the Thrashers last season in the Kari Lehtonen trade. He was the Stars first round pick (27th overall) in 2006, and is a smooth skating sniper who could provide a much-needed third option on Chicago’s power play while Keith and Brian Campbell rest.

8. Kevin Hayes, RW

Kevin Hayes was selected with the 24th overall selection of the 2010 Draft, a pick acquired from New Jersey via Atlanta in the Byfuglien trade. The younger of two Hayes brothers that will both be playing at Boston College this year is still only 18, but is already a bruising 6-2 and 201 pounds. At the Blackhawks prospect camp in July, he showed that he has very good hands and can carry the puck up the ice, using his size well for a player coming right out of high school.

9. Ludvig Rensfeldt, LW

The first of the Blackhawks four selections in the second round of the 2010 Draft, Rensfeldt was a surprise at the prospect camp. Listed at 6-3 and 193 pounds at only 18, Rensfeldt played in the Swedish Juniors last year and posted 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 39 games. He also skated for Sweden's Under-18 team at the World Juniors, where he scored 6 goals and added 6 assists.

He might be a couple years away from playing in North America, but Rensfeldt showed an excellent ice awareness and vision during the prospect camp, and also added a physical presence. As he continues to mature and fills out his frame, he could be a solid top-six forward in Chicago in the future.

10. Stephen Johns, D

Another of the Hawks’ second round picks from the 2010 Draft (and the third 2010 selection to make the top 10), the Notre Dame-bound Johns is a beast. Listed at 6-3 and 215 pounds, the 18-year-old played for the USA U-18 team last year and impressed with his ice awareness and leadership.

At the Hawks prospect camp, Johns worked with Ryan Stanton and the two were an imposing, physical duo. Over time, Johns could become a shut-down defenseman similar to Seabrook in Chicago.

11. Brandon Pirri, C

Pirri, 19, left RPI after his freshman year, signing an entry level deal with Chicago late in the summer. The 6-0, 160 pound center posted 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) and 67 penalty minutes in 39 games for RPI last year, and will be another talented teenager skating for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford this year. He was selected in the second round by the Blackhawks in the 2009 Draft.

12. Jimmy Hayes, RW

The older, and bigger, of the two Hayes brothers was part of Boston College’s National Championship team in the spring, and was acquired from the Maple Leafs in a draft day trade in exchange for a second round pick. Jimmy, 21, is listed at 6-5 and 210 pounds and was the Leafs second round pick in the 2008 draft. He had 35 points (13 G, 22 A) in 42 games at Boston College last year. He has good hands and acceleration for a big man, and could be a power forward in Chicago in the near future.

13. Ryan Stanton, D

Stanton, 21, has found himself somewhat buried in the blue line depth in Chicago, but could be a factor in Chicago (or somewhere else) soon. Listed at 6-2 and 205 pounds, Stanton 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) and 81 penalty minutes in 59 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL last year. The Blackhawks signed Stanton as a free agent in March of this year, and he will begin the year in Rockford.

14. Chris DiDomenico, C

Acquired from the Maple Leafs as another piece of the Kris Versteeg deal (with Stalberg and Philippe Paradis), DiDomenico, 21, is a smaller center who still puts up big numbers. Despite being listed at 5-11 and 170 pounds, DiDomenico posted 59 points in 51 combined games in two stops in the QMJHL last year, and despite missing most of last year due to an injury still recorded seven goals and 15 assists in only 12 games. If fully healthy, he could be another good, young center in Rockford this year.

15. Igor Makarov, RW

After blowing away scouts two years ago at training camp, Makarov raised eyebrows by not attending last year; there were some that questioned if the Hawks second round pick (33rd overall) from 2006 wanted to play in North America. Chicago signed Makarov, 22, this summer, and the 6-1, 195 pound forward could challenge for a spot among the bottom six forwards with the NHL club this year.

16. Justin Holl, D

The third of the Blackhawks second round selections from the 2010 Draft to make the list, Holl will replace Leddy at the University of Minnesota after an outstanding season at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota. Holl, 18, posted 20 goals and 17 assists in 31 games for Minnetonka before jumping to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Holl is a slender 6-2, 170 pounds but handles the puck exceptionally well, has a quick release from the point and skates well for his size.

17. Brian Connelly, D

The “old man” on the list, Connelly is still only 24 and could benefit from the youth headed to Rockford and wind up as a seventh defenseman in Chicago this year after putting up 35 points (four goals, 31 assists) in 78 games for Rockford last year. He’s skilled at the point on the power play and his experience could put him in the mix for the NHL despite being listed at just 5-11 and 168 pounds. He was signed by Chicago as a free agent in 2009 after three years at Colorado College.

18. Ben Smith, RW

Smith, 22, brings a championship pedigree with him to the Blackhawks organization that has been consistent over the last few years. He was named the 2010 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player after leading Boston College to the championship, and led BC with five game-winning goals while serving as an alternate captain. Listed at 5-11 and 205, he’s a grinder with a high hockey IQ that could find his way into the role Adam Burish and Colin Fraser played on the fourth line last year at some point in the 2010-11 season.

19. Philippe Paradis, C

Paradis, 19, was the Carolina Hurricanes first round pick (27th overall) in 2009 and was dealt to Toronto during the season, only to be subsequently dealt to Chicago this summer in the Versteeg trade. Listed at 6-2 and 205 pounds, Paradis won the Hardest Shot contest at the 2009 CHL Top Prospects Game with a shot registering at 95.7 mph. He’s a physical center who scored 24 goals and 20 assists and added 104 penalty minutes in 63 games in the QMJHL last year before moving to the AHL. He may prove to be “Kyle Beach Lite” with his mix of scoring ability and physical play, and could see time in Chicago after a year in Rockford.

20. Braden Birch, D

After a quiet season at Cornell, the 6-3, 185 pound Birch had a solid prospect camp this summer in Chicago. Birch won’t turn 21 until late September, and will benefit from Chicago’s defensive depth and take his time growing into his game. He showed a strong, physical presence and good ice awareness during the prospect camp. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft by the Blackhawks.

Tab Bamford covers the Chicago Blackhawks for TheFourthPeriod.com
 



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