Blackhawks Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2008

By Kevin Hopson

Known in recent years for drafting players who can make an immediate impact on the team, Chicago stayed true to form in 2008. The 11th overall pick – Kyle Beach – tops Chicago’s prospect list and hopes to follow in the path of recent graduates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (NR) Kyle Beach, C/LW
2. (2) Petri Kontiola, C
3. (3) Dave Bolland, C
4. (5) Troy Brouwer, RW
5. (4) Jack Skille, RW
6. (6) Niklas Hjalmarsson, D
7. (7) Igor Makarov, RW
8. (8) Akim Aliu, C/RW/D
9. (9) Jordan Hendry, D
10. (11) Billy Sweatt, LW
11. (NR) Shawn Lalonde, D
12. (10) Tony Lagerstrom, W
13. (14) Corey Crawford, G
14. (16) Josh Unice, G
15. (17) Nathan Davis, C
16. (20) Kris Versteeg, LW
17. (15) Evan Brophey, C
18. (12) Simon Danis-Pepin, D
19. (19) Bryan Bickell, LW
20. (18) Joe Fallon, G

1. Kyle Beach, C/LW

6’3, 203 pounds
Drafted Round 1, 11th Overall, 2008
Born: January 13, 1990

Beach is coming off a season with the WHL Everett Silvertips in which he averaged a point per game and amassed 222 penalty minutes. Considering the amount of time he spent in the box, his production was extremely impressive. Just imagine what he could do by toning it down a little bit. Beach’s combination of size, skill and physical play make him a dominating power forward. Beach could compliment Chicago’s stars down the road. However, he will need to show better discipline to realize his full potential.

2. Petri Kontiola, C

6’0, 197 pounds
Drafted Round 7, 196th Overall, 2004
Born: October 4, 1984

If there were ever any doubts about Kontiola’s transition to North American hockey, they have now been erased. In his first season at Rockford, Kontiola was second on the team in scoring and even saw time with the big club. This is not bad for a guy who made the trip from Finland only a year ago. Kontiola’s playmaking abilities make him a legitimate No. 2 center, which is the one advantage he holds over fellow center Dave Bolland.

3. Dave Bolland, C

6’0, 175 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 32nd Overall, 2004
Born: June 5, 1986

Bolland is the epitome of a complete player. He possesses solid offensive skills but is also responsible in his own end, which is why he’s so valuable on the penalty kill. Bolland proved last year that his quality two-way game translates well at the NHL level. Though he has the talent to be a top-six forward, his style of play is geared more towards that of a checking forward.

4. Troy Brouwer, RW

6’3, 215 pounds
Drafted Round 7, 214th Overall, 2004
Born: August 17, 1985

Brouwer has had great success at the AHL level, yet he has only seen limited action with Chicago. Team depth is one reason but Brouwer’s lack of readiness can also be faulted. Initially known for his poor skating, Brouwer has steadily improved his mobility on the ice. This progress should help him make a push for the NHL in the near-term. Even if Brouwer remains an average skater at best, his positioning away from the puck helps compensate for this. He is very opportunistic around the net, which gives him first or second line potential as a scoring power forward.

5. Jack Skille, RW

6’1, 205 pounds
Drafted Round 1, 7th Overall, 2005
Born: May 19, 1987

Skille is best known for his speed, blistering shot, strength and contact game. Some see him as a top-six forward based on his offensive talent alone. However, his style of play and lethargic defense could reduce his role to something less than this. Unlike Brouwer, who can create scoring chances regardless of those around him, Skille is highly dependent on his linemates. Fortunately, Chicago has the playmakers to compliment Skille’s game.

6. Niklas Hjalmarsson, D

6’3, 194 pounds
Drafted Round 4, 108th Overall, 2005
Born: June 6, 1987

Like Kontiola, Hjalmarsson showed no ill effects after taking his game to North America last year. In his first season outside of Sweden, Hjalmarsson helped Rockford make a run at the Calder Cup, as he tied for first among IceHogs defensemen with four points in the playoffs. Hjalmarsson is the type of player who can be an effective offensive defenseman without sacrificing his defensive duties. He utilizes his lofty frame to battle opposing forwards on a regular basis, as he can play the body or use his long reach to poke check the puck away. Hjalmarsson’s reliable two-way game is what made him a part-timer in Chicago last season and why he will likely see time with the club again in 2008-09.

7. Igor Makarov, RW

6’1, 183 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 33rd Overall, 2006
Born: September 19, 1987

Makarov wants to become a more integral part of the Blackhawks organization and has threatened to stay in Russia if he does not get his way. This warning, no doubt, acted as a motivational tool for him during development camp. Fortunately, Makarov turned heads at camp, as he was one of the best players on the ice. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will do but Makarov has too much talent to be ignored at this point. Even if he has to be planted in the AHL, Makarov will do whatever it takes to become a top-six forward in Chicago.

8. Akim Aliu, C/RW/D

6’3, 219 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 56th Overall, 2007
Born: April 24, 1989

Aliu is coming off his most productive season in junior hockey. Not only did he lead the London Knights in penalty minutes, but he was also third in scoring. He possesses all of the necessary tools to be a prolific power forward in the NHL. However, much like Beach, Aliu has had self-control issues on and off the ice. If he can harness this energy in a positive way, he should be a top-six forward in Chicago in the not-so-distant future.

9. Jordan Hendry, D

6’0, 195 pounds
Signed as free agent, 2006
Born: February 23, 1984

Hendry played half of the 2007-08 season in Chicago, proving to be a valuable defenseman for the Blackhawks. Hendry’s physical, shutdown game and penalty-killing abilities both resulted in solid ice time, most notably as a third-pairing defenseman. Though he will never be an elite offensive defenseman, Hendry transitions well and can contribute on the power play given his speed and strength on the puck. Chicago’s depth on defense will force Hendry to battle for his job in the near term but he will likely remain with the team, even if it requires being a seventh defenseman.

10. Billy Sweatt, LW

6’0, 180 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 38th Overall, 2007
Born: September 21, 1988

Sweatt is one of Chicago’s youngest and most talented prospects. With the exception of size, Sweatt has everything you could want in a hockey player. He possesses acute vision, top-notch speed and good hands. Sweatt also knows how to handle matters in his own end, making him a quality two-way player who can work in just about any situation. He has even demonstrated a higher tolerance for contact, which was one of his weaknesses heading into college. Sweatt does not have as much experience as some of the other prospects but his talent alone makes him a likely top-six forward down the road.

11. Shawn Lalonde, D

6’1, 175 pounds
Drafted Round 3, 68th Overall, 2008
Born: March 10, 1990

Lalonde, Chicago’s third-round pick in the 2008 draft, is the second newcomer to make the list. Lalonde was one of the top skaters in the 2008 draft. He also possesses the offensive skills to quarterback a team’s power play. In a league where quality offensive defensemen are highly sought after, Lalonde holds significant value. However, the defensive side of his game is lacking. For this to improve, Lalonde not only has to become stronger, but he has to make better decisions in his own end. Even if this part of his game progresses, it is unlikely that he will ever become a top defenseman. Instead, Lalonde projects to be a second-pairing defenseman with power play capabilities.

12. Tony Lagerstrom, C

6’1, 189 pounds
Drafted Round 3, 76th Overall, 2006
Born: July 19, 1988

Lagerstrom is not exceptional at any one thing but is good at everything. His all-encompassing game allows him to be a threat on offense, while at the same time remaining dependable in his own end. Lagerstrom’s style of play has made him an effective checking forward with Huddinge IK. Unfortunately, Lagerstrom is playing in Sweden’s second-tier league, which raises concerns over his current development, as well as his ability to transition to North American hockey.

13. Corey Crawford, G

6’2, 188 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 52nd Overall, 2003
Born: December 31, 1984

Crawford has been groomed to be Chicago’s next goaltender, but this is now in doubt given the recent signings of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi. Crawford has proven to be a solid No. 1 goalie at the AHL level, as well as a capable backup in Chicago. However, given the depth that is in front of him, Crawford will likely see more time in Rockford during the 2008-09 season than he does in Chicago. Also, with Josh Unice nipping at his heels and Joe Fallon not far behind, the competition will become stiffer.

14. Josh Unice, G

5’11, 175 pounds
Drafted Round 3, 86th Overall, 2007
Born: June 24, 1989

Unice withdrew his commitment to Bowling Green University for the 2007-08 season and signed with Kitchener of the OHL.  His decision, at least from a hockey perspective, may have proved to be the right one. Unice put up impressive numbers with Kitchener, leading the Rangers to the J. Ross Robertson Cup title and a berth in the Memorial Cup finals. With competing goaltender Steve Mason likely to play a bigger role with the Columbus Blue Jackets next season, Unice should be back as Kitchener’s No. 1 goalie. Though Unice has more potential than Crawford, he may have a harder time living up to it.

15. Nathan Davis, C

6’1, 190 pounds
Drafted Round 4, 113th Overall, 2005
Born: May 23, 1986

Davis is similar to Billy Sweatt in many ways. Though he does not possess Sweatt’s speed, he is a sound skater who sees the ice well, thus making him dangerous in transition. Additionally, like Sweatt, Davis can play defense with the best of them. In fact, he was considered by many to be one of the top defensive forwards in college while at Miami. Davis’ quality two-way game makes him an ideal special teams player. Now that he has been signed by Chicago, Davis will likely see time in Rockford next season.

16. Kris Versteeg, RW

5’10, 179 pounds
Drafted Round 5, 134th Overall, 2004 (by Boston)
Born: May 13, 1986

Once considered to be a checking forward at best, Versteeg has blossomed into a potent offensive player, thus making him more flexible in what roles he can play. Despite leading Rockford in penalty minutes last season, Versteeg still managed to finish fourth on the team in scoring, as he put up nearly a point per game. When Versteeg was called up to Chicago last November, he was initially paired with Robert Lang and Patrick Sharp on the team’s top line. Though his small size has always been a concern, Versteeg’s gritty play and offensive prowess has caused his stock to rise.

17. Evan Brophey, C

6’1, 205 pounds
Drafted Round 3, 68th Overall, 2005
Born: December 3, 1986

Brophey lit up the scoreboard as an over-aged junior with Plymouth (OHL) two seasons ago but failed to match this success at the AHL level, as playing against more experienced players proved to be difficult in 2007-08. Brophey’s inconsistency also made him a healthy scratch in 11 of Rockford’s 12 playoff games. Brophey’s physical game and his ability to feed off others both hold value but he will have to return to his old scoring ways if he is going to be anything more than a third-line forward.

18. Simon Danis-Pepin, D

6’7, 221 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 61st Overall, 2006
Born: April 11, 1988

Despite improving his offensive output last season at the University of Maine, Danis-Pepin did not perform as well in the defensive end. He was second among Black Bears defensemen in scoring but also had a minus-18 rating, which was a team low. Danis-Pepin’s size, alone, makes him an intriguing prospect, and he is still considered a work in progress. However, he has a ways to go to meet his full potential.

19. Bryan Bickell, LW

6’4, 223 pounds
Drafted Round 2, 41st Overall, 2004
Born: March 9, 1986

Bickell has proven to be a steady scorer at the AHL level and has even shown the ability to tone down his physical play when necessary. However, when he wants to, Bickell can utilize his bulky frame to dominate opponents at will. Unfortunately for Bickell, Chicago has a lot of depth at the power forward position, which means it could be difficult for him to crack the line-up on a regular basis in the near term.

20. Joe Fallon, G

6’3, 190 pounds
Drafted Round 6, 167th Overall, 2005
Born: February 1, 1985

Fallon is coming off his final season at the University of Vermont, in which he set the school’s all-time record with 20 shutouts during his four-year campaign. Those 20 shutouts also stand as the second most in NCAA history. Despite this remarkable accomplishment, Fallon will have to prove that he can translate this success at the professional level. Now that he has been signed by the Blackhawks, Fallon will get his chance in Rockford soon enough.