Blackhawks 2008 draft preview

By Kevin Hopson

Top 10 prospects

1. Jonathan Toews, C
2. Petri Kontiola, C
3. Dave Bolland, C
4. Jack Skille, RW
5. Troy Brouwer, RW
6. Niklas Hjalmarsson, D
7. Igor Makarov, RW
8. Akim Aliu, C
9. Jordan Hendry, D
10. Tony Lagerstrom, C

Team Needs

A concern going into the 2008-09 season is the team’s lack of depth, experience and firepower at left wing. On top of that, Rene Bourque and Andrew Ladd – Chicago’s two most productive players at this position – are restricted free agents this summer. Re-signing Bourque and Ladd and avoiding arbitration seems to be no-brainers for Chicago.

Though goaltender depth is adequate right now, things could change during the summer. Backup goaltender Patrick Lalime will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, while veteran starter Nikolai Khabibulin only has one year remaining on his contract. Fortunately, the signing of 24-year-old Finnish goaltender Antti Niemi should help in the short run. Niemi played for the Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League the last three years, where he posted a combined record of 56-44-29 with a 2.71 GAA. During the 2007-08 season, which proved to be his best, Niemi had a record of 26-6-14 with a 2.35 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Niemi should challenge for the backup job. Crawford is the organization’s top goaltending prospect and looks very capable in a backup role based on his brief stint with Chicago last season. However, he is probably not ready to become a full-time starter. As a result, picking up another goaltender, a veteran, as an insurance policy is not a bad idea.

Organizational Strengths

Chicago’s biggest strength is its depth up the middle. Jonathan Toews only needs to play in one more regular season game before graduating from the prospect ranks, but he remains the organization’s top prospect for now.Up-and-comer Dave Bolland also showed the ability to produce at the NHL level last year, as he registered 17 points in 39 games and posted a +6 rating. Even though Finnish player Petri Kontiola only laced up his skates 12 times for Chicago last season, he may be ready to climb the ladder as well. Kontiola recorded five assists and had a +5 rating in his 12 games with the team. His playmaking abilities and long-term potential make him one of Chicago’s top prospects.

Right wing is another position that looks to be solid for the foreseeable future. Top right wing prospect Jack Skille saw limited action in Chicago last year, playing in 16 games and recording five points in the process. Skille’s speed and ability to create breakaway opportunities make him dangerous alongside proven playmakers, which Chicago now has. As a result, Skille has the capacity to succeed if he is exposed to the right players. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Troy Brouwer is also moving up the ranks. The bruising power forward lit up the scoreboard in Rockford last season when he registered 54 points in 75 games and compiled 154 penalty minutes. Brouwer also added nine points in 12 playoff games with the IceHogs. Brouwer’s size, instincts and good positional play could make him an effective first or second-line forward down the road.

Organizational Weaknesses

Starting depth is already an issue on the left side, so the fact that there are only two left-wing prospects in the top 20 just adds to the Blackhawks’ problem. Chicago’s top prospect there is Colorado College player Bill Sweatt. Sweatt has registered 53 points in his first two seasons (67 games) at Colorado College. Sweatt’s remarkable speed, along with his talent to remain in control at top flight, is what stands out the most. He also possesses good decision-making skills, sharp vision and supple hands, all of which make him a quality playmaker.

Sweatt knows how to play in his own end as well, as he has improved his defensive awareness and has become an effective penalty killer. Chicago needs more weapons on the left side and could use another defensively-conscious player, as the team’s penalty-killing unit ranked 17th in the league last season. As a result, Sweatt might be able to eventually fill two voids at once. 

Though there is quality depth on the blueline, Chicago lacks a top-notch, offensive defenseman in its pipeline. Chicago ranked in the bottom half of the league last season in defensive scoring and was also 24th in power play percentage. While defensive prospects like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry and Danny Richmond all possess solid offensive skills, Richmond is the only one who has put up impressive numbers during his developmental years. However, his distinctive play has not carried over to the NHL, as Richmond has only recorded three points in 49 games with the Hurricanes and Blackhawks. Success may come in time but none of these players appear to be a quick fix for Chicago right now.

Draft Tendencies

During the last few years, Chicago has selected players from a variety of leagues and countries. Though the organization seems to favor North Americans over Europeans, there has not been a geographical preference within these two areas. For example, Chicago has shown the willingness to draft players from Canadian junior leagues, U.S. junior leagues, high school, college and the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP). Even overseas there is not a clear tendency, as Finns, Swedes, Russians and Czechs have all been drafted in virtually equal numbers.

However, Chicago does show a tendency in the type of player it likes to draft. With the exception of Patrick Kane and a few others, the majority of the players within the Blackhawks’ organization are over six feet tall and weigh over 200 pounds. Chicago has shown an infatuation for size.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft result: Mattias Tedenby, LW (HV 71, Sweden).

Chicago’s biggest hole is at left wing, as the organization has very little depth and firepower at this position. As a result, Tedenby’s exceptional speed and puck-moving abilities will surely be welcomed.