Blackhawks Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks first three 2009 draft picks debut in the fall top 20. Swedish defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson jumps to the top spot after his successful playoff run with the Blackhawks. Akim Aliu also makes a big jump up the rankings.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (4) Niklas Hjalmarsson, D 7.5B
2. (2) Kyle Beach, LW 7.5C
3. (13) Akim Aliu, RW 7.5D
4. (NR) Dylan Olsen, D 7.5D
5. (6) Shawn Lalonde, D 7.0C
6. (5) Billy Sweatt, LW 7.0C
7. (8) Jack Skille, RW 7.0C
8. (7) Igor Makarov, RW 7.0D
9. (14) Evan Brophey, C 7.0C
10. (NR) Brandon Pirri, C 7.0D
11. (12) Joe Fallon, G 7.0C
12. (NR) Dan DeLisle, C 7.0D
13. (15) Simon Danis-Pepin, D 6.5C
14. (18) Nathan Davis, C 6.5C
15. (NR) Dan Bertram, RW 7.0D
16. (NR) Jake Dowell, C 6.0C
17. (NR) Teigan Zahn, D 6.0C
18. (NR) Jonathan Carlsson, D 6.0C
19. (NR) Braden Birch, D 6.0C
20. (NR) Alec Richards, G 6.0C

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson, D – 22, 7.5B

6’2 200 lbs
Drafted fourth round, 108th overall, 2005

Hjalmarsson was injured in the Blackhawks first game and was forced to spend much of his season in Rockford. A spot opened up after the trade deadline, however, and Hjalmarsson appeared in a total of 21 games in the regular season, scoring one goal, two assists, and had a plus-four rating. By the time the playoffs came, he had earned a spot alongside Brian Campbell and the Swede brought a calm, defensive style to the pairing. Hjalmarsson logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in two of the five Western Conference Finals games against Detroit. His patience and intelligence in the defensive end are only part of his skill set. He can be aggressive as well, and has the propensity for laying big hits. He is also capable offensively and may get more of a chance to assert himself in the coming year. Hjalmarsson should see plenty of time on the second or third pairing this year for the ‘Hawks.

2. Kyle Beach, LW – 19, 7.5C

6’3 206 lbs
Drafted first round, 11th overall, 2008

Beach finished his third WHL season with 24 goals, 39 assists, and 165 PIMs in 54 games, the final 24 of which were played with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes following a mid-season blockbuster trade from the Everett Silvertips. He upped his scoring once in Lethbridge, but was held off the score sheet for the most part in the playoffs, however, contributing just one goal, one assist, and 31 PIMs in 10 playoff games with the Hurricanes. Following playoff elimination, Beach skated two games with the IceHogs. He was held scoreless with 15 PIMs before being dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons. Beach attended the Blackhawks’ prospect camp for the second summer and looked fairly good. While he did not dominate the entire week, he did display a nice scoring touch and fiery attitude.

3. Akim Aliu, RW – 20, 7.5D

6’3 200 lbs
Drafted second round, 56th overall, 2007

Also on the move this season was Aliu, who was traded from the OHL’s London Knights back to the Sudbury Wolves. In his second stint with the Wolves, the power forward netted 10 goals and 16 assists in 29 games. In a season of just 45 games partly due to a groin injury, Aliu scored 18 goals, 26 assists, and 91 PIMs. He also added two goals and an assist in a six-game opening round playoff defeat. Aliu played five games with Rockford and scored two goals. Like Beach, Aliu was also sent home for disciplinary reasons. Aliu also moved up the rankings here, thanks in part to a strong showing at July’s prospect camp. He wowed spectators with his big body and offensive ability. His major junior career finished, Aliu will join Rockford in the AHL where he will likely see top-six minutes.

4. Dylan Olsen, D – 18, 7.5D
6’2 206 lbs
Drafted first round, 28th overall, 2009

Olsen has played two good seasons for the Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL. Following an AJHL title and trip to the Royal Bank Cup title game for the 2007-08 season, Olsen improved his marks with 10 goals, 19 assists, and 123 PIMs in 53 games in 2008-09. The Kodiaks again made the playoffs but lost in the second round with Olsen scoring one goal and adding six helpers in 10 playoff games. The well-rounded defenseman skated with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge where his squad earned a silver medal. He really turned heads at the U-18 World Championships in Fargo where he scored two goals and two assists to go along with a plus-four rating in six games for Team Canada. One of the best defenders at prospect camp, Olsen demonstrated a combination of mobility, physical tools, and hockey sense. Olsen will make the jump to the NCAA next season when he suits up for Minnesota-Duluth.

5. Shawn Lalonde, D – 19, 7.0C
6’1 186 lbs
Drafted third round, 68th overall, 2008

Lalonde put a difficult episode behind him this season after being unhappy with his playing time and leaving the team for one game. The Belleville Bulls players and coaches were quick to take the speedy defenseman back and he helped the team to the OHL playoffs. In 66 regular season games, Lalonde put up career highs with 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points to go along with 73 PIMs. He also added three goals and nine assists during the Bulls 17-game playoff run. Like Olsen, Lalonde was one of the standouts on the blueline at Blackhawks prospect camp where his magnificent skating was on display. The Ottawa native should see an increased role in Belleville this year following the departure of fellow defenseman P.K. Subban.

6. Billy Sweatt, LW – 20, 7.0C
6’0 190 lbs
Drafted second round, 38th overall, 2007

Sweatt finished fourth on Colorado College with 12 goals and 11 assists in 36 games. His 23 points is a collegiate career low on a Tigers team that finished the year with a 16-12-10 record. A local prospect from Elburn, Illinois, Sweatt combines fantastic speed with good vision. He also plays a scrappy game and often seeks contact all over the ice. While his hands and finishing ability can be inconsistent, he still shows flashes of the offensive upside that made him a second-round pick. Sweatt will stay at CC for his senior year before jumping to the pro game in the 2010-11 season.

7. Jack Skille, RW – 22, 7.0C
6’1 208 lbs
Drafted first round, 7th overall, 2005

After opening the year on the Blackhawks’ roster, Skille spent a majority of the year with the IceHogs. He managed just one goal in his eight NHL games but fared much better in the American league. In 58 matches, he scored 20 goals and 25 assists to finish fourth on the team in scoring with 45 points. Skille’s speed fits well on Rockford’s top line and he’ll likely remain one of the first offensive options for the ‘Hogs. While he may be ready for another shot at the NHL, both the number of forwards already signed by the Blackhawks and Skille’s substantial cap hit may keep him in the minors.

8. Igor Makarov, RW – 21, 7.0D

6’1 195 lbs
Drafted second round, 33rd overall, 2006

Makarov impressed many with strong showings at the prospect and training camps in 2008, but returned to this SKA St. Petersburg squad in Russia for the year. He scored a career-high nine goals and 17 points in 42 KHL games. Makarov’s role has been limited somewhat because of a veteran presence ahead of him on the depth chart. Not only is he a very well-rounded prospect, the native of Moscow also has some of the best offensive talents in the pipeline. He did not participate in the Blackhawks prospect camp this summer and is not expected to attend training camp. With a bevy of forwards already signed by the Blackhawks, it is not surprising that Makarov would wait for a chance at a roster spot with Chicago.

9. Evan Brophey, C – 22, 7.0C
6’2 197 lbs
Drafted third round, 68th overall, 2005

The OHL product had a successful second pro season, upping all of his numbers for Rockford. In 79 games, the pivot scored 16 goals and added 23 assists with 65 PIMs – all career highs. Thanks to his developing two-way game, he was able to play in any situation for Rockford. Brophey will likely stick in the top six during this coming season as one of the better offensive centers on the Rockford roster. With his capability in both zones, Brophey could be a solid – and cheap – option as a third or fourth line center for the Blackhawks within the next few seasons.

10. Brandon Pirri, C – 18, 7.0D

6’0 160 lbs
Drafted second round, 59th overall, 2009

Chicago’s second pick in the 2009 draft, Pirri is coming off two successful seasons in the OJHL. His 2008-09 season was split between two teams, the Streetsville Derbys and Georgetown Raiders. In 44 games, the pivot scored 46 goals and assisted on 48 more. He also contributed eight goals and 13 assists in 14 playoff games for Georgetown. Pirri played in the OJHL’s Senior All-Star game as well as on the Canada East team in the World Junior A Challenge. A combination of quick hands and excellent hockey sense made Pirri stand out at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp against mostly older players. While he will certainly need to add weight, he plays stronger than 160 lbs might indicate. Pirri will play in the NCAA for RPI next season.

11. Joe Fallon, G – 24, 7.0C

6’3 202 lbs
Drafted sixth round, 167th overall, 2005

In his first pro season, Fallon spent most of his year in the ECHL due to goaltending depth for Chicago at the higher levels. In 35 ECHL games, playing for the Fresno Falcons and later the Gwinnett Gladiators, Fallon turned in a respectable 18-14-1 record with .904 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average. He made two relief appearances in Rockford, logging just over 60 minutes and giving up just one goal on 16 shots. The combination of great quickness and focus make Fallon an intriguing prospect in net. While Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi will battle out for a spot behind Cristobal Huet in Chicago, the loser should see a bulk of the starts in Rockford. Fallon will likely see more time in Rockford this season as the backup.

12. Dan DeLisle, C – 18, 7.0D

6’4 222 lbs
Drafted third round, 89th overall, 2009

DeLisle led his Totino-Grace High School squad with 33 goals and 33 assists in 28 games his senior season, good enough to earn a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist nomination. He not only supplied the bulk of his team’s offense, but also provided leadership as the varsity captain. Initially, the intangibles will play a big part in DeLisle’s success as he will be making a big jump from Class A high school hockey to the University of Minnesota-Duluth of the WCHA. While he moves fairly well and can use his long reach effectively, DeLisle could be more physical. His hands are not especially lethal, though his understanding of the game helps a lot in the offensive end. A bit of a project, the combination of size and hockey instincts makes DeLisle an intriguing prospect.

13. Simon Danis-Pepin, D – 21, 6.5C

6’7 208 lbs
Drafted second round, 61st overall, 2006

The giant defenseman finished his collegiate career serving as co-captain for the Maine Black Bears with no goals, 13 assists, and 29 PIMs in 36 games on the year. He’ll be making the jump to the pro game, possibly straight to Rockford. With a handful of returning defensemen, though, there may be a battle for ice time. Danis-Pepin moves fairly well for a player of his size. Though he is not exactly a dominant force in the defensive end, he can use his size and reach to his advantage. The pro game will be a test for the Montreal native.

14. Nathan Davis, C – 23, 6.5C

6’1 197 lbs
Drafted fourth round, 113th overall, 2005

The Miami University product spent some time on the shelf last season, but appeared in 49 games for Rockford with five goals and seven assists. With 2008-09 being Davis’ first pro season, he spent much of his time in a limited role on the checking lines. His versatile play makes him useful in all special team situations, but it seems he will be buried on Rockford’s depth chart again this year behind the more experienced centers like Brophey and Jake Dowell.

15. Dan Bertram, RW – 22, 7.0D
5’10 180 lbs
Drafted second round, 54th overall, 2005

In his first pro season following a four-year career at Boston College, Bertram played just five games with the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons – scoring one goal and three assists – before joining Rockford as a bottom line winger. In his 56 AHL games, Bertram scored four goals and 10 points. Much like Davis, his production came in a limited role. With a year’s pro experience under his belt, Bertram’s role could increase. The expected arrival of Aliu in Rockford could complicate that, however. Considering Bertram’s offensive upside, he could make a strong push for more ice time.

16. Jake Dowell, C – 24, 6.0C

6’0 197 lbs
Drafted fifth round, 140th overall, 2004

Dowell has 20 games of NHL experience under his belt from his first two pro seasons. He spent 75 games in Rockford last season and scored six goals, added 14 assists, and earned 128 PIMs. A strong defensive forward, Dowell was generally used to center one of the bottom lines for the IceHogs. Though his role will likely remain the same, he remains a strong candidate for a call-up in the right situation. He is capable in both zones and especially strong in the faceoff circle providing some defensive depth at the center position.

17. Teigan Zahn, D – 19, 6.0C

6’2 214 lbs
Drafted fifth round, 132nd overall, 2008

Zahn served as one of the team’s assistant captains for the second season and helped lead the Saskatoon Blades to the WHL playoffs, where they were eliminated in seven games by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Zahn scored one goal and two assists in the playoff series after posting five goals and 11 assists in 62 regular season matches. More of a shutdown defenseman, he excels at the physical aspects of the game and his 160 PIMs in the regular season easily lead the team. Zahn will likely continue to see his role increased as he enters his fourth major junior season.

18. Jonathan Carlsson, D – 21, 6.0C

6’1 192 lbs
Drafted sixth round, 162nd overall, 2008

Carlsson spent his first full season in the Swedish Elite League, playing in 55 games. A purely defensive-defenseman, he notched just one assist on the year and finished with 78 PIMs and a minus-seven rating. Carlsson has a considerable amount of international experience, most recently the 2008 World Juniors, which could help in his transition to North America. Carlsson signed an entry-level deal in June, so he should make his pro debut this year with Rockford.

19. Braden Birch, D – 19, 6.0C

6’3 192 lbs
Drafted sixth round, 179th overall, 2008

Birch appeared in 35 games for his OJHL squad the Oakville Blades and finished third in scoring on the blueline despite playing fewer games. Of his seven goals and 18 assists on the season, five goals and eight helpers came on the power play. Birch also spent some time on the penalty kill where he added another two assists. The well-rounded defenseman has a big frame but moves well for his size. He is not afraid to get physical and can use his size effectively in battles along the boards. Birch will make the jump to the NCAA this season for Cornell University.

20. Alec Richards, G – 22, 6.0C

6’4 190 lbs
Signed as free agent June, 2009

The Blackhawks signed Richards following a four-year career at Yale, which included ECAC regular season and tournament titles in his senior season. In 25 games, Richards carried a 19-5-1 record that included four shutouts. He finished the year with 2.06 goals against average and .923 save percentage. At 6’4, Richards butterfly style effectively takes away a lot of the net. He’ll likely spend time with the ECHL affiliate Toledo Walleye, but some time in Rockford this season is not out of the question.

No longer prospects due to age: Corey Crawford, Jordan Hendry, Marko Anttila