The Blackhawks recent dominance over the past decade has left them with a limited number of high draft picks as trade deadline acquisitions were viewed as a more important trade-off for Chicago’s deep Stanley Cup playoff runs.
Prior to the 2018 draft, the Hawks had not selected in the top half of the first round since 2008, and instead had focused on filling in the bottom half of their roster with a high quantity of draft picks, instead of quality. They’ve been relatively successful at grooming NHL talent through a focus on NCAA, AHL and junior development and have had a high degree of success in finding prospects that have been impact players at the NHL level. The salary cap issues they’ve endured because of their accomplishments have led to a monumental departure of many players that were original Chicago picks.
Recently, they’ve made a visible effort to bolster a lackluster defensive depth and have replenished the prospect pipeline in a hurry with some high-end talent. As the end of a dynasty is clearly at hand, the Blackhawks will need to make a concerted effort in finding the hidden gems of the prospect world that will be given an increased opportunity due to the value of entry-level contracts and a destination that lands at the top of many free agent lists.
2018-19 Top 10 Chicago Blackhawks Prospects
1. Adam Boqvist, D – London Knights (OHL)
Drafted: 8th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft by Chicago
The young Swedish defenseman is still a bit raw as he heads towards the end of his first season in the OHL playing for the London Knights, but make no mistake, he is as dynamic a player as you will find outside of the NHL. Boqvist is just beginning to hit his stride and the extra development that scared NHL teams away from drafting him at the top end of the 2018 draft will only come back and pay the Blackhawks in dividends and they’ll be rewarded for their patience.
He has so much untapped potential, and working in a world-class organization like the London Knights has only helped him to mature as a blue-chip prospect. It’s not unthinkable that he could end up being the top defenseman taken after Dahlin in 2018; a draft that saw the likes of Quinn Hughes, current teammate Evan Bouchard and Memorial Cup champion Noah Dobson selected in a defense-heavy draft.
Boqvist’s skating is exceptional and his edgework, acceleration and top gear help create space that should translate nicely at the NHL level.
2. Henri Jokiharju, D – Chicago Blackhawks/Rockford IceHogs (NHL/AHL)
Drafted: 29th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Chicago
The Blackhawks used their 2017 first-round pick on Jokiharju, which was the first time they had picked inside the initial round since 2014. They have to be ecstatic that he was still there at the bottom of the round and the progress he’s made since they drafted him.
The Finnish defenseman had already made the jump to North America and was dominant in his draft plus-one year with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL where he scored an exceptional 71 points, including 12 goals, in only 63 games.
He wasn’t expected to make the Hawks roster out of camp, but he took a big step forward while adding some much needed muscle to his frame and was able to land a spot in Chicago where he hasn’t looked out of place. He has had a couple of stints in the AHL when the Blackhawks rationalized that extra ice-time would be more helpful in terms of his development and he has gone almost a point-per-game from the back end while in Rockford.
He is mainly an offensive defenseman and has earned 19 minutes of ice per game including a minute on the power play when he was in the NHL. The defensive side of the puck could still use some development, but the rookie has acclimatized nicely at the world’s biggest stage and will only get better with time.
3. Evan Barratt, C – Penn State University (NCAA)
Drafted: 90th overall in the third round of the 2017 draft by Chicago
There really hasn’t been a faster riser in the Blackhawks’ organization than Evan Barratt. Playing in more of a second-line depth role with the USNTDP program and also with Penn State during his freshman year, Barratt’s numbers never jumped off the score sheet. This played a large part of why he slid to the end of the third round in the 2017 NHL draft.
However, he was finally given first line duties and was dominant for the Nittany Lions early this season, which helped to catapult him onto a very strong USA World Junior squad. Although his ice-time was diminished throughout the tournament, he managed to play a contributing role, which helped to earn him a silver medal for his efforts. The Blackhawks will try to get him under contract when Penn State’s season comes to an end.
4. Ian Mitchell, D – University of Denver (NCAA)
Drafted: 57th overall in the second round of the 2017 draft by Chicago
Ian Mitchell is another Blackhawk second-round selection that could end up becoming a steal for Chicago. He will have his work cut out for him as the right side of their defensive corps has some legitimate top-end talent that will muddy the waters and make it more difficult for him to earn valuable ice-time at the top level.
As a freshman, Mitchell had the very difficult task of taking over the role of top defender and power play quarterback on one of the nation’s top programs after Will Butcher graduated and signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils. Fast forward one year and not only did he fill that role as a rookie, but he excelled and showed that he could handle the workload against much older competition in arguably the NCAA’s top conference.
This season, Mitchell’s numbers have dwindled slightly which is to be expected with the loss of NHL talent in Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom and Dylan Gambrell. Make no mistake that Mitchell’s offensive upside is much higher than his current numbers indicate. Chicago will push hard to sign him at the culmination of Denver’s season and he could be a sleeper to make the Blackhawks roster in 2019-20 if he can take another step forward this summer.
5. Nicolas Beaudin, D – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Drafted: 27th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft by Chicago
As a defenseman, scoring over a point-per-game in the CHL is no small feat, but that’s exactly the pace that Beaudin has set for the entirety of the 2018-19 season for Drummondville, which would be the second consecutive time he’s accomplished that. He finished the year scoring 56 points in 53 games, and missed time with a fractured wrist.
Although he is a bit slight, he uses his hockey sense and skating ability to create plays on the offensive side of the puck while defensively he takes away opportunities and space from the opposition. He’s progressed in all areas of his game and was one of the last cuts on a very deep Team Canada prior to the World Junior Championship. Beaudin should be one of the front-runners to earn a spot on the 2020 roster.
The path to the NHL may be a bit more wide open by the time Beaudin is able to make the jump simply because of his handedness, but with Duncan Keith, Erik Gustafsson, Gustav Forslin and Carl Dahlstrom all in the mix, it’s certainly not a clear cut path. It does, however, allow Chicago to be patient with his development as a prospect. Beaudin’s progress over the past three seasons may force them into making a difficult decision in the next couple of years. For the Blackhawks, that is a good problem to have.
6. Dylan Sikura, D – Chicago Blackhawks/Rockford IceHogs (NHL/AHL)
Drafted: 178th overall in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by Chicago
The Blackhawks waited patiently for Sikura to complete all four years at Northeastern University before he finally signed an NHL contract in the spring of 2018. He showed enormous progress as a former sixth round pick. His development as an offensive forward is well suited for today’s NHL, where his quick first step and good acceleration creates plays.
However, his size is still an issue where he often times gets pushed around in the defensive zone and can get pushed off the puck. Because of his offensive inconsistency, it’s difficult at this point in time to project if he’ll be able to maintain a role as a top-six forward in the NHL, and if he is unable to provide regular points his game style isn’t really suited for a bottom-six role. That leaves some doubt if he’ll be able to carve out a role as a career NHLer, but in an organization that tends to roll three offensive lines, it certainly leaves the door open.
He’s spent the majority of time in the AHL this season and has done an admirable job as a rookie and has the second highest points-per-game on the team. The fact that Chicago is using him on one of their top lines during the stretch drive as they make one final push for the last playoff spot bodes well for how they see him as one of the top prospects in their organization.
7. Philipp Kurashev, LW/C – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Drafted: 120th overall in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by Chicago
In an otherwise bleak season for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), Kurashev has been a beacon of hope. He has single-handedly pulled them into the playoffs based on the offense he’s provided, and his team contribution in both goals and overall production is some of the highest in the entire CHL.
Kurashev was also able to pull the World Junior Championship Swiss team all the way to the bronze medal game where they were knocked out by Russia. He was named to the tournament All-Star team and led the entire tournament in goals scoring six in seven games. If Kurashev can continue to progress in terms of his development, he’ll be a lot higher on this list next time around.
8. MacKenzie Entwistle, C/RW – Hamilton Bulldogs/Guelph Storm (OHL)
Drafted: 69th overall in the third round of the 2017 draft by Arizona
Entwistle became a member of the Blackhawks organization when he was a part of a seven-player trade that included Marian Hossa’s contract as the centrepiece, and the loss of a valuable prospect in Vinny Hinostroza. Although at the time, Entwistle seemed like nothing more than a throw-in, he could end up becoming one of the most important pieces and could soften the blow of shedding the contract of a player who is unlikely to play in the NHL again.
Entwistle is never going to blow you away with his point totals, but he brings a lot more to the table than his huge frame. At 6-4 he plays a power forward style, but is surprisingly mobile which adds an extra component to both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. His all-around game landed him a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team where he was able to pot three goals before a disappointing exit from the tournament.
At this point in time, it looks like he could end up as an effective bottom-six type player that will contribute on the penalty kill. The reason why he is listed higher compared to other prospects with a higher upside is that Entwistle’s style of play lends itself to the NHL; he’s got a lower ceiling, but he’s more likely to reach it.
9. Niklas Nordgren, RW – HIFK (Liiga)
Drafted: 74th overall in the third round of the 2018 draft by Chicago
Injuries warrant some concern for the 2018 third round pick. Nordgren has shown flashes of high-end skill level, and the diminutive forward utilizes his speed and agility to open up space in the offensive zone. He’s still got a long way to go in the defensive zone and was a large part of the reason that he spent nearly half of 2018-19 in the Jr. A SM-Liiga – where he was far too good for the opposition – and the other half in Finland’s Liiga professional league. He was able to find the score sheet seven times in 15 games for HIFK.
Nordgren was expected to play a secondary offensive role for Finland’s World Junior Championship team that won the gold medal but was injured just prior to the tournament.
Next season will be very important for Nordgren and the Hawks hope that he can stay healthy and take another step forward in his progression. His skating is not fantastic, but he plays a strong two-way game, which is surprising for an undersized wing.
10. Brandon Hagel, LW – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Drafted: 159th overall in the sixth round of the 2016 draft by the Buffalo.
Buffalo decided not to sign him to a contract, and after he was not selected in the 2018 draft, the Blackhawks used a contract to sign Hagel.
Scoring over 100 points including over 40 goals is no small feat even for an over-ager in the CHL, and Hagel has been the leader of the Red Deer Rebels the last two seasons. He scored almost 50 points more than the next nearest teammate, Reese Johnson, a recent free agent signing by the Blackhawks.
He’ll probably need at least a year in the AHL to get acclimated to a faster pace against much stronger opponents, but it’s not unreasonable to see him eventually land a spot on the third line in Chicago.