The Chicago Blackhawks found themselves on the wrong side of the handshake line after game seven of the Western Conference Final, and although the Blackhawks’ offseason plans did not include planning another celebratory parade, there was plenty of work to be done.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed their eight-year, $84 million extensions, a second-line center was finally found in unrestricted free agent Brad Richards, and restricted free agents Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, and Antti Raanta, all signed two-year contract extensions.
Depth has been one of the key components behind the success of the Blackhawks in recent years. It is no question there is a stacked roster in Chicago, but with lingering salary cap concerns for the foreseeable future and a handful of prospects looking more NHL-ready with each passing season, some of the Blackhawks’ young guns will be looking to showcase their talent this season more than ever.
Although he has yet to register his first NHL point, no prospect has Blackhawks fans more excited than Teuvo Teravainen, and with good reason. The 2012 first-round selection had a splendid 2013-14 season with Jokerit, amassing 44 points (nine goals and 35 assists) throughout 49 games. Teravainen would also serve as Finland’s captain at the 2014 World Junior Championship, where he led the tournament in scoring with 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in seven games. Finland would go on to win the gold medal in overtime against Sweden in a 3–2 decision. Once his season in Finland ended, Teravainen made the jump to North America. The 20-year-old Finn suited up for three games with the Blackhawks before being sent to the IceHogs, where he finished the year with two goals in five games.
During the 2014-15 season, all eyes will be on how Teravainen performs during his first full season in North America. His swift skating, on-ice awareness and dynamic playmaking ability make Teravainen noticeable from the moment he starts his shift. Head coach Joel Quenneville was equally impressed with Teravainen’s improved defensive ability during his brief stint with the Blackhawks. Combine all of these elements, and it won’t be long before it truly is “Teuvo Time” in Chicago.
Jeremy Morin, RW, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Ever since he joined the Blackhawks as part of a 2010 salary-cap clearing trade between the Blackhawks and the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, Jeremy Morin has had quite a ride with the organization. The 23-year-old winger has seen limited time in the NHL, appearing in just 39 games in four seasons. Despite not being able to cement a permanent roster spot in Chicago, however, Morin continued to light up the scoreboard for the IceHogs, earning 157 points (80 goals, 77 assists) in 205 games.
During the 2013-14 season, Morin was a frequent call-up for the Blackhawks, and he made his time count. Playing a career-high 24 games with the Blackhawks, Morin, a second-round pick in 2009, was able to tally five goals and six assists for his most successful season with the club yet. With Morin improving with each passing year, it appears the upcoming 2014-15 season could finally be the year he sticks with the team. In fact, with Brandon Bollig being traded to the Calgary Flames at the 2014 NHL Draft, the team could use Morin’s gritty, aggressive style of play. His physical game, however, should not overshadow his ability to score goals and get where he needs to be on the ice. If Morin can capitalize on his chances and earn more minutes, it is his roster spot to lose.
Phillip Danault, C, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
When Phillip Danault was drafted twenty-sixth overall by the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Draft, there was as much talk about his leadership abilities as there was his skill set. Anyone who watched him with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres knows this quite well, as his 23 goals and 44 assists gave him 67 points in 64 games during the 2010-11 season. This past season saw Danault make his professional debut, and fans were ready to see what the Victoriaville-native had in store for the IceHogs. The results, however, were a bit underwhelming; Danault only managed six goals and 20 assists in 72 games with the ‘Hogs. Despite not putting up big numbers, the 21-year-old center had a plus/minus rating of plus-11.
The offseason may have provided a spark for Danault, who impressed during the 2014 Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario. Danault showcased his explosive skating and dynamic playmaking ability, easily becoming one of the standouts of the tournament. As he continues to develop, Danault will only become more exciting to watch from the stands, but he will also become more dangerous for opposing teams. As a two-way forward, watch for Danault to dominate at both ends of the ice. He appears to be in line for an increased points total, as well.
Top Prospect/Unsigned for 2015-16
The Blackhawks may have one of the top prospect pipelines in the NHL, but they are incredibly thin in the CHL. In fact, with Dillon Fournier turning pro this season, Travis Brown is their main prospect within the junior ranks. Selected in the fifth round during the 2012 NHL Draft, Brown has proved to be quite an effective member of the Royals (and the Moose Jaw Warriors, Brown’s previous team before he as traded on Jan. 6).
While Brown’s 6’2 frame gives him the appropriate size, his agility and offensive-ability make him a standout. He can certainly get the puck in the opponent’s zone and create chances, but his defensive game continues to develop. At only 20 years old, Brown still has another year or two of development to refine his game. The Blackhawks certainly have a plethora of defensemen in the system with several considered to be NHL-ready, so signing Brown might not be considered their number one priority. Regardless, Brown definitely has upside as a mobile, puck-moving defenseman willing to get physical when necessary.
Fearing he would be taken before they would get to make their selection, the Blackhawks traded with the San Jose Sharks to move up in the 2014 NHL Draft and grab Nick Schmaltz. The Chicago brass admitted Schmaltz was high on their wish list, and rightfully so.
During the 2013-14 season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, Schmaltz put up impressive numbers: 18 goals and 45 assists in 55 games, to be exact. The 18-year-old center brings a lot to the table, including good vision and terrific playmaking ability. His quick hands will only get quicker, and after a season or two at UND, Schmaltz should be able to develop into the top-six forward he projects to be.
Tyler Motte, C/LW, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Implying Tyler Motte needs to have a bounceback season is not meant to be an insult. The 19-year-old center’s season was decent, tallying 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 34 games for the Wolverines. Those numbers are solid, and Motte definitely has the potential to increase that point total.
Motte’s skating and hockey sense are what allow him to stand out on the ice. At 5’10, he’s not the biggest guy on the team, but Motte’s two-way game make him one of the more versatile skaters in Ann Arbor. He will get every opportunity to earn big minutes and be relied upon for an even bigger role. As long as Motte can mature physically and continue to improve, he could become one of the more intriguing prospects within the system.
John Hayden, C, Yale University (NCAA)
At the Blackhawks Prospect Camp in July, one of the most noticeable duos was 2013 sixth-round pick Anthony Louis and John Hayden. The two did not just stand out because of the size difference, either (Louis is 5’7, while Hayden is 6’3). There was definite chemistry between the two – general manager Stan Bowman even mentioned Hayden’s line being “effective” during the camp – but it was Hayden who kept people talking.
Despite having a memorable prospect camp, Hayden’s first season with the Bulldogs was a bit forgettable, scoring six goals and adding 10 assists, totaling 16 points in 33 games. There is no need to panic, though. Hayden’s size tends to play in his favor, where his physical play allows him to use his body to create chances and get in the dirty areas. The Blackhawks have a lot of wingers who could compliment Hayden as a bottom-six forward, and his aggressive play is one of the main reasons Chicago drafted him in the third round in 2013. It won’t be long before Hayden is wowing the Blackhawks upper management during the preseason rather than simply during prospect camp.
Carl Dahlstrom, D, Linkoping (SHL)
With Teuo Teravainen turning pro in North America for the 2014-15 season, Carl Dahlstrom has taken over the top spot as the premier prospect in Europe. The 2013 second-round pick appeared in 37 regular season games with the Linkoping U20 team during the 2012-13 season, managing five goals and eight assists with a plus/minus rating of plus-18. This past season saw Dahlstrom in less games due to an injury, but he still put up decent numbers again.
At 6’4, Dahlstrom is able to use his size to his advantage, although he is not an overwhelmingly physical defenseman. Do not expect huge numbers in terms of offensive production from the 19-year-old Swede, but rest assured he can be trusted in his own zone. His puck possession skills and passing ability are crisp, and they will only get better with another season with Linkoping. If his development continues to trend upward, expect Dahlstrom to be an effective defensive-defenseman for the IceHogs and, potentially, the Blackhawks in a couple years.
Robin Norell, D, Djurgarden (SHL)
When Robin Norell was selected in the fourth round by the Blackhawks in 2013, most knew he would be more of a project. After being drafted, Norell returned to Sweden for the 2013-14 season, where he had five assists and a plus/minus rating of plus-10 in 22 games with Djurgarden. His postseason, however, was one to forget, with a single assist and a minus-four rating in 10 games.
Coming into Prospect Camp, it was clear Norell was ready to move on. The 19 year old, despite being rather undersized a 5’11, played well throughout the camp, showing smooth skating and good vision. Norell can be trusted defensively, but with his mobility, the potential to increase his offensive production is higher than last season. Norell is certainly one of the Blackhawks’ long-term projects, but another season in Sweden could prove to be crucial in his development.
Robin Press, D, Sodertalje (AllSvenskan)
At the 2013 NHL Draft, Robin Press had the honor of being “Mr. Irrelevant,” which is the last player selected in the draft. Press’ numbers were not too impressive, tallying four points (two goals, two assists) in 41 games with Sodertalje in 2012-13. The Blackhawks were hoping another season in Sweden would prove beneficial for Press.
The 19-year-old defenseman certainly saw a spike in his offensive production during the 2013-14 season, earning 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 51 games, despite having a plus/minus rating of minus-three. In fact, as of this writing, Press already has four goals and seven assists in a mere eight games for Sodertalje to begin the 2014-15 season. Press is an offensive-defenseman who prefers to get involved in the play, and his 6’3 frame has begun to play a part in his production spike. It is clear Press is comfortable getting involved offensively, but his defensive game is still developing. Nonetheless, expect him to lose the “Mr. Irrelevant” title should he continue to progress.