The Champs have a history of winning Cups and then having salary cap issues force them to purge important players. This offseason is no different with the loss of star players Brendan Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. The Hawks continue to contend for and win Championships however because they keep replenishing the talent pool through the draft and other means.
Yes, the draft has played a key role in their prospect acquisition but Chicago has been very successful at luring free agents as well. Chicago has exploited some key pipelines recently including undrafted college players such as Trevor van Riemsdyk and players from Europe such as Artemi Panarin.
The fact that these players often sign entry level contracts fits the Hawks budget nicely and gives the team some leverage in signing free agents as players like van Riemsdyk enjoy a strong chance of winning immediately.
Here’s a look at the top ten Blackhawks prospects.
1. Artemy Panarin: Left Wing – 5’11” / 170 lbs
Acquired Free agent signed in 2015
Chicago signed the 23-year old Russian sniper to an entry level contract as an undrafted free agent and the expectations and anticipation for his NHL impact are significant. Panarin will be given every opportunity to debut on the first line with Toews and Hossa as a replacement for Saad. He lacks ideal NHL size and perhaps that along with the “Russian Factor” explains why he went undrafted. But his offensive skills are NHL calibre. He played for Russia at the World Championship against NHL players and passed the eye test with flying colors. This past season in the KHL he scored an impressive 62 points in 54 games. Expect Panarin to come to training camp with his sights set on not only making the team but playing in a top six role immediately.
From a scouting report perspective, he possesses an above average one-timer. He has a sneaky quick release, and an innate ability to find the soft spots in defenses and gravitate towards goal scoring areas. The velocity and accuracy on his wrist shot isn’t going to set the world on fire. He’s no Alex Semin in that department. But his wrist shot is certainly more than adequate. His stickhandling moves on the rush may remind some Blackhawks fans of watching Patrick Kane. – Kyle Morton THW
2. Ryan Hartman: Right Wing – 5’11” / 191 lbs
Drafted: 30th Overall in first round of the 2013 draft by the Blackhawks
Hartman was over a point per game player in his junior career with the Plymouth Whalers and made the full time transition to pro last season. He played in 69 games with Rockford scoring only 37 points. Hartman also made his NHL debut, seeing five games with the Hawks. Hartman projects to be an important piece for the Hawks but perhaps not as a prolific scorer like he was in the OHL. Hartman plays a very versatile game and is able to play any forward position as well as a sound two-way game. But his real niche is his agitating and aggressive game. Hartman loves to mix things up, dig pucks out of the corners, and cause havoc in front of the net. His skating needs to improve to keep pace in the NHL and he should return to Rockford to help develop his pro offensive game some more as well. He is coming, and will be a force when he arrives.
At 5’11, 190 pounds, Hartman’s size is not exactly eye-popping but his ability to excel at all facets of the game is impressive. Hartman is a tough 5’11 and is willing to throw his body around. He finds his way into the gritty areas of the ice and has solid enough hands to convert a few opportunities. He’s also played both center and the wing, making him a versatile player with an all-around game. – Hockeys Future
3. Trevor van Riemsdyk: Defence – 6’2” / 188 lbs
Acquired Signed as a free agent in 2014
TVR was last summer’s key free agent signing and began turning heads in training camp, where he earned a roster spot right out of the gate. Coach Quenneville was quick to sing the praises of TVR and he was quickly moving up the depth chart until a knee injury put him out of the lineup. While rehabbing from that injury, he suffered another injury that finished his regular season. In the playoffs, injuries to other players opened the door for TVR to return to the Hawks lineup. He stepped right into the Finals and did not look out of place. He is a lock to play for the Hawks this season and will be in the bottom two pairings.
“He is a smooth-skating, mobile defenseman who needs to be better in his own end to succeed in the NHL. His offensive instincts from the blue line could make him a very valuable power play quarterback for a team down the road.” — SB Nation
4. Nick Schmaltz: Centre – 6’0” / 171 lbs
Drafted: 20th overall in first round of the 2014 draft by the Blackhawks.
The Hawks traded up in the 2014 draft to select Schmaltz who they identified as a playmaking centre who could someday develop into the second line centre behind Toews. After three seasons in the USHL, Schmaltz went the college route last year playing with North Dakota. He had 26 points in 38 games and was also a part of team USA at the World Juniors in which he managed one assist in five games as an 18 year old. He will play at least one more year in college and can return for another go around with USA at the World Juniors as a 19 year old.
“Schmaltz possesses good vision, shows good quickness and a strong ability to read the play in the offensive end. While he can also play in his own zone, Schmaltz’s quick hands and ability to move in tight make him an attractive package.” Aaron Vickers – Future Considerations
5. Ville Pokka: Defence – 6’0” / 214 lbs
Acquired: Trade (New York Islanders) 2014
Pokka was a key acquisition in the trade that sent Nick Leddy to the Islanders for salary cap reasons. Pokka enjoyed a successful season in Finland with Karpat scoring 27 points in 54 games and posting an impressive plus-32. Pokka made his North American debut with Rockford last year and did not disappoint. He played in 68 games as a rookie and scored 30 points with eight goals. The Hawks boast impressive depth on defence despite recently purging Oduya and Stephen Johns to Dallas so there is no rush with Pokka who just turned 21. Pokka will return to Rockford where he can play big minutes in all situations while he continues to gain some seasoning.
Pokka is a steady two-way defenseman however his strengths lean more towards the offensive side of the game. Pokka is a sensational first passer. He rarely settles on a first option and exhibits uncanny poise to deliver a perfect saucer pass up the middle or on the half boards as he sees his options. Pokka also shows an innate ability to read the offensive zone and knows when to pinch or when to fall back defensively. Equipped with modest size, Pokka does not have a long reach and his pivots are a handicap in defensive situations. His lateral agility and start-up speed are also areas of his game that he needs to address. Nonetheless his game-reading ability and offensive skill set make him an enticing prospect. – David Burstyn, McKeen’s Director of Scouting
6. Kyle Baun: Right Wing – 6’2” / 209 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015
Baun is another free agent signing coup for the Hawks. Baun played the last three seasons with Colgate in the ECAC before signing with Chicago and turning pro. Baun had a three game NHL look with the Hawks at the end of the season where he was held pointless and posted a minus-1. While his brief NHL debut was not overwhelming he did not look too out of place and will get a good look in training camp. Baun is 23 and physically further ahead in the development curve than several others of the Hawks prospects in that regard. While his offensive upside may not have a high ceiling, he has NHL size and at the very least will be a competent bottom six role player with some upside.
He is an above average skater and a very difficult player to play against. In just three games down the stretch for the Blackhawks, he had no points and averaged four hits per game. Looking ahead, Baun has the looks of a bottom-six forward that can chip in offensively as well. – Dobber Prospects, Matt Donohue
7. Phillip Danault: Centre – 6’2” / 218 lbs
Drafted: 26th overall in first round of the 2011 draft.
Danault is a nice, safe prospect who is good but not great. He has good size but needs to add strength. He plays an excellent two-way game but has limited offensive upside. He is versatile and can play centre or wing but likely is limited to a bottom six role. He has continued to develop in the AHL and improved his stats in his sophomore season posting 38 points in 70 games and posting an impressive plus-20. He was rewarded with a two game NHL audition where he played 9:30 minutes of ice time but failed to produce a point and only managed two shots on goal. Danault will play for Rockford again but should receive more than two games of action in the NHL this season and will need to show something.
“A leader both on and off the ice, Danault’s effort level can never be questioned. Whether it’s scoring a goal, finishing a check or killing a penalty, he plays an all-weather, two-way game. Though he might not be naturally skilled enough to be a scoring forward at the next level, his work ethic should guarantee a future in the NHL.” – Hockey’s Future
8. Tanner Kero: Left Wing – 6’0” / 185 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015
Kero is yet another free agent signing out of college by the Hawks. Kero played the last three seasons with Michigan Tech in the WCHA where he produced 46 points in his final 41 games as a senior and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. After his college career ended, he signed with the Hawks and made his pro debut in the AHL scoring five goals in six games. Kero will return for a full season in Rockford where he hopes to adjust to the pro game.
Kero steadily developed as a prospect during his four-year career at Michigan Tech — emerging as an offensive threat and leading the Huskies in scoring as a senior. Slightly undersized, Kero has a high level of hockey intelligence and is adept at anticipating the plays and finding openings in the offensive zone. He is solid in his defensive responsibilities though his lack of bulk can be a disadvantage. – Hockey’s Future
9. Erik Gustafsson: Defence – 6’0” / 176 lbs
Drafted: 93rd overall in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by the Oilers.
Acquired Signed as a free agent in 2015
Gustafsson was originally a draft choice of the Edmonton Oilers but was never signed. For the past two seasons he has been playing in Sweden for Frolunda and had 29 points in 55 games last year. Gustafsson was also a member of team Sweden at the World Championship and was impressive despite only recording one assist in eight games. Gustafsson has committed to coming to North America where he will play for Rockford in the AHL while he transitions to the smaller North American ice. Gustafsson will need to add some strength to be effective in North America but he has excellent puck moving skills and offensive ability. He could be a steal.
A skilled defenseman with some nice offensive skills. Can quarterback the powerplay and able to log big minutes. Has good vision and an edge to his game. Good release. (EP)
10. Graham Knott: Left Wing – 6’3” / 192 lbs
Drafted 54th overall in second round of the 2015 draft by the Blackhawks.
Knott was the Hawks first selection in the 2015 draft after they traded their first round pick to acquire Antoine Vermette at the trade deadline. Knott had a successful draft year in the OHL with Niagara where he scored 43 points in 59 games. He was also a member of Team Canada at the under-18 tournament where he scored four points in five games. Knott has NHL size already and has a reputation for his excellent board play where he uses his size to cycle and protect the puck. Knott currently projects as a bottom six role player but continued development could bump him up to a second line slot. He will be back for another important year in junior in 2015-16.
A big, aggressive, physical winger…has impressive first step acceleration and a good top speed…dangerous on the forecheck due to his speed and reach…quickly transitions from defense to offense…exudes confidence with the puck and has the innate ability to be a difference maker…controls the puck and protects it well…has a good shot…successful in forcing attackers to make mistakes and played a strong positional defensive game…needs to maintain consistency of effort level…has many interesting tools. – Future Considerations
Recent Roster Graduates: Teuvo Teravainen, Scott Darling, Joakim Nordstrom