After pushing their Western Conference Finals series against the Los Angeles Kings to seven games, an overtime goal by Alec Martinez sent the Blackhawks home a couple weeks earlier than they had hoped. The club is not likely to make much of a shift in philosophy after coming up just short of the Stanley Cup Finals. That said, after trading some of the size in the system in Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen to Florida this past season, it would not be a surprise for the team to add size and strength the pipeline.
Top 10 Prospects:
The Blackhawks are likely to continue making minor adjustments to the roster, and with only a handful of unrestricted free agents heading into the summer, the club will not have many spots to fill at the NHL level. The expected departure of veteran center Michal Handzus and perhaps also that of Peter Regin, the only unrestricted forwards, would open minutes and some ice time at center. Marcus Kruger improved his faceoff percentage considerably in 2013-14, but the center depth behind Jonathan Toews remains a weak spot in the Chicago lineup.
Barring a shuffling of current personnel, acquisitions on defense and in goal would likely be for limited NHL minutes or veteran presence in the minor leagues.
Chicago's prospect system features a deep and talented group of center prospects. Teuvo Teravainen made a good impression at every stop during his 2013-14 season and fellow first-round picks Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault showed potential as professionals in their rookie pro seasons. Apart from depth at the pro level, Chicago had five center prospects debut at the NCAA level in 2013-14 and each one of them put together a strong debut.
The defensive pipeline is similar, with prospects like Stephen Johns, Klas Dahlbeck, and Adam Clendening likely on the verge of a look in the NHL in the next year or two. Meanwhile, longer-term projects like Michael Paliotta, Robin Norell, and Carl Dahlstrom continue to develop in the NCAA and overseas. The organization will have plenty of competition for the few NHL spots and then AHL ice time, but the prospects developing in other leagues will ensure the system has a continual stream of talent to add to the professional depth chart.
For all the depth the team has down the middle and on defense, the pipeline is shallow on the wings and between the pipes. Many pivots are versatile enough to line up on the wings, but there are not many natural wingers in the system that project as top-nine forwards in the NHL. The goaltending pipeline has long been a sore spot in the system, and the lack of NHL quality talent there has resulted in the team signing a steady stream of veterans to short-term contracts with varying levels of success.
Chicago's style of play at the NHL level relies on speed and hockey smarts, but the squad has been pushed by bigger, more defensive-minded teams like Los Angeles and St. Louis. While the prospect pipeline could yield some physicality and size in blueliners like Stephen Johns and Michael Paliotta, the team's forward group does not feature a lot of size or strength capable of dominating on the forecheck.
Chicago's selections at the 2013 NHL Draft continued to focus on NCAA-bound and Swedish prospects. That is not to say the Blackhawks have shied away from the CHL, particularly early in the draft, but taking advantage of the longer development time allowed to both college and European prospects has been a key tenet of the team's philosophy when it comes to filling out the pipeline.
Almost half of Chicago’s picks in the third round or later during the last four drafts have been from North American Junior ‘A’ leagues, the U.S. National Team Development Program, or U.S. high schools. The emphasis on Swedish prospects has also been pronounced; the Blackhawks have selected eight Swedes in the past four years out of a total 11 prospects developing overseas.
The team has struck a balance in recent years between forwards and defensemen. At least one goalie selection is likely in 2014. Behind the prospects at the pro level, Chicago has only Matt Tomkins at Ohio State developing in the system.
Entering the 2014 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks hold the 27th, 62nd (from FLA), 88th, 98th (from TOR), 141st (from SJS), 148th, 178th, and 208th. Chicago traded its 2014 second round pick to Phoenix as part of the David Rundblad trade, while the fourth round pick was traded to the Islanders (and subsequently traded to Washington for negotiating rights with Jaroslav Halak) as part of the Peter Regin deal. The Blackhawks hold additional picks in the draft in the third round as part of the Brandon Pirri trade to Florida, the fourth round as part of the Dave Bolland trade to Toronto, and the fifth round after swapping picks with San Jose last year.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
The Blackhawks are not a team that has invested many picks in Russian prospects in recent years, but Ivan Barbashev has potential that is hard to ignore this late in the round. A late 1995 birthday, he would add to the organizational competition in the minors as soon as 2015-16 and provide some skill, depth, and versatility to the pipeline. With the upside to perhaps fill a triggerman role like Patrick Sharp in the Chicago lineup, he still has the grit and skill to be a safe bet to help out somewhere in the NHL lineup down the road.