The Chicago Blackhawks Top 20 ranking update maintains much of the depth from the fall ranking despite the graduation of Brandon Saad and loss to trade/waivers of prospects like Jimmy Hayes, Dylan Olsen, Ryan Stanton, and Kyle Beach.
The team’s dearth of high picks over the last few drafts has come to a head at the AHL level, where many of the club’s top forward prospects are competing for ice time and the next chance in Chicago. The NCAA and European levels are also well represented in the system with intriguing forward and defense prospects who could make an impact down the line.
1. (2) Teuvo Teravainen, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2012
Finnish center Teuvo Teravainen takes over the top spot with Brandon Saad graduating to the pro ranks. The skilled, cerebral pivot is as talented an offensive player as the Blackhawks system has had since Patrick Kane. The pivot showed those skills off at the 2014 World Junior Championships, where he captained Finland to the gold medal with a tournament-best 15 points. Still only 19 years old, Teravainen could join the Blackhawks organization as soon as this season after the end of Jokerit's year.
2. (3) Adam Clendening, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2011
Adam Clendening, Chicago’s top defensive prospect, remains a leader on the Rockford blue line. His 38 points through 50 games lead the IceHogs and tie for second overall in the league amongst AHL defensemen. Rockford's power play has been strong in 2013-14 thanks in large part to Clendening's vision, passing, and ability to get the puck on net from the point. The 21-year-old Clendening could have had his first shot in the NHL this season in a shallower organization, but the Blackhawks depth and skill already at the NHL level will keep him in Rockford for now.
3. (6) Brandon Pirri, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2009
Despite several talented new prospects in the minor league system in 2013-14, Pirri established himself as the top pro forward prospect in the early stages of the season. Often playing limited minutes during his initial stint in Chicago, the 22-year-old center stepped up in the absence of Michal Handzus and had good showings with more skilled linemates. His play tailed off however and has seen only limited time in the NHL over the last couple months. He has maintained close to a point-per-game pace in the Rockford lineup and recently had a standout performance as the MVP of the AHL All-Star Game against Farjestad BK.
4. (4) Phillip Danault, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2011
Twenty-year-old rookies Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill have held steady through the first half of the 2013-14 season. Both have seen plenty of opportunity with the IceHogs, with Danault skating throughout the lineup and on special teams so far. More of a facilitator offensively, he has four goals and 11 assists. His hockey sense and versatility make him one of the best bets on this list to have a career in the NHL, but for now, he can benefit from plenty of ice time as he transitions to the pro level.
5. (5) Mark McNeill, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2011
Although he has found the back of the net with more frequency for Rockford than Danault, McNeill has seen more ups and downs in his play. He was a pacesetter offensively at times, particularly with Pirri and Jeremy Morin spending time in Chicago early in the season. His 13 goals rank fourth on the team through 51 games. He has the ability to take over shifts, but unsurprisingly for a player in his rookie season, those shifts can be hard to come by.
6. (8) Stephen Johns, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2010
The decision to return to Notre Dame for his season has not hurt Stephen Johns' stock in the Blackhawks organization. Johns leads a deep and talented group of blueliners for the Fighting Irish, providing not only his physical presence but also some offense so far in the team’s first season in Hockey East. Notre Dame has their sights set high this season, but no matter how long his college season lasts, expect Johns to be signed and skating somewhere in the pro system by the end of the season.
7. (9) Jeremy Morin, LW, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Atlanta (Winnipeg) in June, 2010
Like Pirri, Jeremy Morin has dealt with the highs and lows that come along with shuttling between the NHL and AHL. The winger's role in Chicago was limited to the third and fourth line, but he has the opportunity to be on the first line and top power play in Rockford. Morin has never shied away from a chance to get the puck on net. Despite spending plenty of time In Chicago this season, Morin currently leads the IceHogs in goals with 15 in 35 games.
8. (10) Ryan Hartman, RW/C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2013
The Blackhawks top pick last summer, Hartman returned to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL for the 2013-14 season following a good impression at Chicago's training camp. He was productive but hampered by injury during his time in Plymouth. As one of Team USA’s few returning players for the 2014 WJC, Hartman came up with two goals and two assists for the team, which failed to medal. Hartman will play out the balance of his season in Plymouth, where he ranks third in goals (19) and points (36) in 38 games.
9. (16) Antti Raanta, G, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent in June, 2013
Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta started in Rockford before injuries to Nikolai Khabibulin and Corey Crawford forced him into the Blackhawks crease. The Finnish goaltender responded well, particularly during a string of 10-consecutive starts with Crawford on the shelf. Raanta is an adventurous goalie capable of making highlight reel saves with his athleticism and quickness in the crease. With Khabibulin recently undergoing surgery, Raanta maintains the back-up spot in Chicago behind Crawford.
10. (12) Kevin Hayes, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2010
Kevin Hayes has stepped up in his final year at Boston College, centering a lethal top line for the Eagles. He ranks second on the team in goals (21) and points (48) through 29 games this season. BC leads Hockey East with 27 out of a possible 30 points in conference play. The big centerman's debut at the pro level, which should begin promptly at the conclusion of his college season, will be a big factor in where he opens his rookie 2014-15 season on the organizational depth chart and on this list going forward.
11. (7) Drew LeBlanc, C, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent in April, 2013
It has not been an overly productive start for Drew LeBlanc in Rockford, but the center has nonetheless been a contributor to the team's offensive attack. Beaten out by the likes of Brandon Pirri and Joakim Nordstrom at Chicago's camp, the transition to the pro game in Rockford has taken some time. At 6'0 and 194 pounds, he is pushed around at times in the AHL. With spots in Chicago scarce, LeBlanc will have the second half of the season to show where he stacks up with the other minor league forwards.
12. (NR) Joakim Nordstrom, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2010
Swedish centerman Joakim Nordstrom has never been a particularly flashy or productive prospect in the Blackhawks system, but he showed off his hard work and reliable play well enough in training camp to make the NHL team. He skated on the fourth line and penalty kill in Chicago for eight games before his assignment to Rockford, where he has been a do-it-all forward and one of the most consistent performers for the IceHogs all season. The Swede has inserted himself into the conversation should Chicago need to call on reinforcements from Rockford, but ultimately may not have the offensive upside of the other centers in Rockford.
13. (17) Klas Dahlbeck, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2011
Nordstrom's strong first half may not be the most notable performance by a Swede in Rockford. Defenseman Klas Dahlbeck has logged more minutes and shown more confidence with the puck on his stick. More of a safe, stay-at-home blueliner last season, his first in North America, the 22-year-old has more goals (eight, a total somewhat inflated by a few empty-net goals) than Clendening and is tied for fifth overall on the team with 27 points in 50 games. Dahlbeck's well-rounded play and character should make him a candidate for a depth spot on the Chicago blue line in the next couple seasons.
14. (NR) Garret Ross, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2012
A hard-nosed OHL forward drafted in his third year of eligibility, Garret Ross' narrative has often been aligned with Andrew Shaw’s. The similarities have continued with Ross quickly rising up the IceHogs depth chart in 2013-14. Where the IceHogs fans did not get to watch Shaw for too long, the 21-year-old Ross will not be rushed into NHL action. He has worked his way up the IceHogs lineup, contributing 24 points in 49 games so far this season and adding a hard-working complement to each line.
15. (20) Alex Broadhurst, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 199th overall, 2011
The development of Alex Broadhurst as he has transitioned from the USHL, to the OHL, and now the AHL has been dramatic, with the forward producing and rounding out his game at each stop. While he hit a bit of a wall in terms of production for Rockford in December along with most of the other rookie forwards, the younger Broadhurst brother remains a dangerous playmaker and key contributor. After seven points in four February games, he is tied for second on the ‘Hogs with 31 points in 50 games, one point ahead of his 25-year-old brother Terry.
16. (19) Michael Paliotta, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2011
Vermont junior defenseman Michael Paliotta is having a career year on the score sheet for the Catamounts, pacing the blueliners with 19 points in 27 games. More importantly after finishing the last three seasons well below .500, the defenseman's contributions at both ends have propelled Vermont to an 15-9-3 record. Likely to play out his final year of college eligibility in 2014-15, Paliotta will continue to play a prominent role for Vermont and have an excellent opportunity to move up this list.
17. (13) Dillon Fournier, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2012
Fournier contributed at both ends of the ice for the QMJHL's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. He provided a bulk of the offense from the blue line for the squad, holding down the point on the power play and registering 13 goals, 32 points in 36 games. The Blackhawks are always on the lookout for mobile skaters, and Fournier should get the opportunity to join the minor league system in 2014-15.
18. (14) Carl Dahlstrom, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2013
Defenseman Carl Dahlstrom has spent time this season playing in Sweden's top junior league for Linkoping J20. A smart, mobile defenseman, he was productive with 10 points through 16 games. Thought to have had a chance to crack Team Sweden coming into the season, it was instead Robin Norell, a fourth round pick in 2013, who turned out to be the Blackhawks prospect that played a prominent role for the WJC host team. He has recently joined Linkoping’s top team in the SHL, where he has no points and an average of over 16 minutes of ice time in seven games.
19. (15) John Hayden, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2013
John Hayden, another 2013 pick, is in his freshman season at Yale. He has eight points in 23 games so far for the defending National Champions while settling for a limited role so far. Hayden is a center with the size to overpower the opponent at the dot or along the boards, and he also has the offensive chops to skate with skilled players. Part of a successful program at Yale, the Blackhawks have no reason to rush the big centerman.
20. (NR) Vince Hinostroza, C, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2012
One of college hockey's most surprising freshman performers in 2013-14 is Vince Hinostroza. In his freshman season at Notre Dame, the 5'9 forward has been one of the team's most productive forwards. He was selected to Team USA for the 2014 WJC as well, and like his season with the Irish, Hinostroza has been difficult to ignore even with limited ice time early in the season.