Blackhawks 2003 draft evaluation

By Kevin Hopson

The Chicago Blackhawks finished the 2002-03 season with 79 points, which was just outside playoff contention. Despite having one of the better penalty-killing units in the league, Chicago used the 2003 draft to solidify its defensive corps. Seven of the club’s 10 draft picks were either defensemen or netminders, including their first four selections.

The 10 picks have played 511 NHL games between them, for a draft class average of 51.1 games per pick.

Only four of the 10 players remain with the Blackhawks organization. The rest were either traded, stayed in their home country or became free agents.

Brent Seabrook, D – 1st round, 14th overall (Lethbridge, WHL)

Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 232

Seabrook has lived up to his billing as a first-round draft pick by becoming one of the better offensive defensemen in the league. Once known for underutilizing his frame, Seabrook now takes advantage of his size by throwing checks and blocking shots on a nightly basis. In fact, he led the team in hits (167) during the 2007-08 season and ranked 12th in the league in this category.

Additionally, Seabrook’s +13 rating in 2007-08, which was a career best for him in the NHL, is a testament to the progress he has made in the defensive end. Furthermore, Seabrook’s consistent all-around game has warranted regular duty on special teams and made him one of Chicago’s leaders in ice time.

Corey Crawford, G – 2nd round, 52nd overall (Moncton, QMJHL)

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 7

Crawford’s significant improvement with the Moncton Wildcats during the 2002-03 season was enough for the Blackhawks to take him in the second round of the 2003 draft. This move was a little surprising, as Crawford was still experimenting with his style of play at the time and gave up a lot of rebounds. But Crawford justified Chicago’s faith in him by putting up even better numbers the next two seasons in Moncton.

Crawford made his NHL debut in 2005-06, playing in two games but spent most of the year in Norfolk in the AHL. After playing the entire 2006-07 season in Norfolk, Crawford was called up to Chicago for a second time in 2007-08. Despite posting a 1-2 record in five games, Crawford put up solid numbers during his brief stint. In addition to one shutout, Crawford registered a 2.14 GAA and a .929 save percentage. It is uncertain how much playing time, if any, Crawford will see in Chicago next season. He must be signed to a new contract in the offseason. 

Michal Barinka, D – 2nd round, 59th overall (Budejovice, Czech Republic)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 34

Considered to be a tough, stay-at-home defenseman, Barinka was expected to add toughness to Chicago’s blue line when he was selected 59th overall in 2003. Though he was a physical force and racked up substantial penalty minutes at just about every level of play, Barinka had a difficult time transitioning to the NHL. Most of his time was spent in Norfolk, as he only played 34 games with the Blackhawks, recording two points and 26 penalty minutes in the process.

During the summer of 2006, Chicago sent Barinka and a 2008 second-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for winger Martin Havlat. Barinka has since left the Senators organization, making his way back to the Czech Republic, while Havlat has put up impressive point-per-game numbers with Chicago. Despite being injury-prone the last two years, Havlat has recorded 84 points in 91 games with the Blackhawks and has a +19 rating. As a result, even though Barinka is an NHL bust, Chicago received good value in Havlat. 

Lasse Kukkonen, D – 5th round, 151st overall (Karpat, Finland)

Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 137 (64 with Chicago)

Chicago – via trade – sent its third and fourth-round picks in the 2003 draft to Washington and Anaheim, respectively. As a result, the Blackhawks did not pick again until the fifth round, where they eventually selected hard-nosed, Finnish defenseman Lasse Kukkonen. Kukkonen played a limited role with the Blackhawks during his first few years, as he split his time between Norfolk and Finnish powerhouse Karpat. After returning to the U.S. for the 2006-07 season, Kukkonen registered 14 points and 30 penalty minutes in 54 games with the Blackhawks.

Prior to the trade deadline, however, Chicago sent Kukkonen packing. The Blackhawks shipped Kukkonen to Philadelphia in exchange for former draft pick Kyle Calder, who was then traded to Detroit for center Jason Williams. Like Havlat, Williams has had the injury bug during the last two years. That being said, he had one of his best years in 2007-08, putting up 36 points in 43 games, including four game-winning goals. So while Kukkonen remains an NHL player, Chicago was able to add some offensive firepower in place of him, which is a direction the team has been heading in recent years.

Alexei Ivanov, C – 5th round, 156th overall (Yaroslavl, Russia)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

When Chicago selected Ivanov later in the fifth round, they were willing to look past his small stature in hopes that his speed and playmaking abilities would outweigh this deficiency. Unfortunately, Ivanov’s true potential was never realized, as he saw limited playing time in Russia and the OHL after being drafted. Chicago failed to sign Ivanov and he fell off the playing map.

Johan Andersson, C – 6th round, 181st overall (Troja, Sweden)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Chicago took another center in the sixth round, selecting Swedish pivot Johan Andersson with the 181st overall pick. The skilled, puck-handling center put up solid numbers in Sweden’s second-tier league during the 2004-05 season but his production fell off sharply when he was promoted to the Swedish Elite League (SEL) later that year. Andersson continued to struggle during the 2005-06 season, as he only recorded nine points in 64 games. Andersson was never signed by Chicago and has been playing with Timra IK (SEL) during the past two years.

Mike Brodeur, G – 7th round, 211th overall (Camrose, AJHL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Referring to Brodeur as an NHL bust may be premature but calling him a prospect is not very accurate either. After putting up quality numbers with the Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) during the 2003-04 season, Brodeur has spent the bulk of his career at the ECHL level. Brodeur has rarely been called up to the AHL during the last few years, as he has shown inconsistency at this level. However, he finally put up respectable numbers with the Rockford IceHogs last season during his brief stint with the team. Brodeur played in eight games for the IceHogs, with a 2-3 record with a 2.81 GAA and a .904 save percentage.

When Chicago starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin went down with an injury last season, Brodeur was called up to act as Patrick Lalime’s backup. Though he has yet to participate in an NHL game to this date, Brodeur could be a depth re-signing for Chicago this summer. But Brodeur will likely never make it as an NHL regular.

Dustin Byfuglien, D – 8th round, 245th overall (Prince George, WHL)

Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 101

Chicago obtained a late-round gem when they drafted Byfuglien as the 245th overall pick in the 2003 draft, but the team did not know it at the time. Initially drafted as a defenseman, Byfuglien was converted to right wing during the 2007-08 season, as Chicago attempted to utilize his massive frame in front of the net. Byfuglien recorded 36 points in 67 games last season, including seven power-play goals and four game-winning goals. Now that Byfuglien has appeared to find his niche, he should be a regular in the foreseeable future.

Michael Grenzy, D – 9th round, 275th overall (Chicago, USHL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Grenzy, a former U.S. national team player and Clarkson University graduate, was taken in the ninth round of the 2003 draft. Grenzy was drafted for his size, as well as his ability to contribute in the offensive end. However, after completing his senior season at Clarkson in 2006-07, Chicago failed to sign Grenzy, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. Grenzy played last season with the Texas Wildcatters of the ECHL, an affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. The team will be moving to Ontario, California next season, where it will become an affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.

Chris Porter, C – 9th round, 282nd overall (Lincoln, USHS)

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Like Grenzy, Chris Porter – Chicago’s final selection in the 2003 draft – was never signed by the Blackhawks after graduating college. Porter put up solid numbers at the University of North Dakota, totaling 92 points in 172 games. Because of his edgy play, he also amassed 156 penalty minutes during his four years there. Though Chicago let him go, Porter was eventually signed by the St. Louis Blues. He played last season with the Peoria Rivermen, the club’s AHL affiliate, recording 37 points in 80 games. Porter is still considered a prospect but he is part of the Blues organization now.

Summary

In all, Chicago’s 2003 draft was mixed but it could have been worse. The Blackhawks did not waste their top two picks, as Seabrook and Crawford have developed nicely. Additionally, Chicago found some late-round value in Byfuglien and also received quality compensation in exchange for Barinka and Kukkonen.