Chicago Blackhawks minor league prospects off to impressive start

By Anthony Lyen
Photo: Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ville Pokka is on track to bolster next year's team (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ville Pokka is on track to bolster next year’s team (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

The 2013–2014 season was not kind to the Rockford IceHogs. Inconsistency with scoring and goaltending led to a 35-32-5-4 record, resulting in Rockford missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

With a handful of players turning pro, however, the IceHogs now have some much-needed balance in virtually every area. Through their first 33 games of the 2014-15 season, Rockford stands at 19-10-3-1 in the standings, good enough for third in the Western Conference and first in the Midwest Division. It’s too early to call this team playoff-bound, but a rejuvenated offense, excellent goaltending and a dominant penalty kill provide some promise for the ‘Hogs.

With the Chicago Blackhawks facing some salary cap-based issues this offseason, it’s fair to expect any holes will be filled using the organization’s prospect depth rather than through free agency. With the abundance of talent in Rockford, however, Blackhawks upper management will have a good problem in trying to determine which young gun wears the Indian Head sweater for good during the 2015-16 season.

AHL

Teuvo Teravainen, C, 20

A loaded Blackhawks roster is the only reason Teravainen, Chicago’s top prospect, remains in the AHL. He certainly has the skills to be a top-six forward in the NHL, but it is evident Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman does not want the 20-year-old Finn logging bottom-six minutes. Therefore, Teravainen is using this season with the IceHogs to work on the aspects of his game that require improvement. The idea of spending his first full season in North America down in the minors has not always been a positive one for Teravainen, with reports circulating that the 2011 first-round pick was still getting used to AHL hockey, noting it’s “not my type of hockey.”

Despite battling this frustration, Teravainen has had an overall solid season with the IceHogs. His 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) are good for second on the team in scoring. His superb playmaking and passing abilities have also earned him duties on the top power play unit. As long the production continues to grow, it won’t be long before Teravainen joins the Blackhawks for good.

Phillip Danault, C/RW, 21

After an average 2013-14 campaign with the IceHogs, Danault has been one of the most effective players for Rockford this season. His 4 goals and 15 helpers give him 19 points in 28 games thus far. It seemed the 21-year-old forward would spend this season in the AHL, hoping to earn a roster spot with the Blackhawks next season, but when Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp was placed on LTIR on Nov. 21 after sustaining a lower-body injury, Danault got the call-up. Despite going scoreless and averaging a mere 9:30 of ice-time in his two-game stint with the Blackhawks, it was a solid debut for Danault. He was eventually sent back to Rockford on Nov. 24, but it is fair to speculate that one has not seen the last of Danault in Chicago.

Mark McNeill, RW, 21

After getting off to a hot start, McNeill was sidelined with an injury after taking a puck to the knee in a Nov. 15 contest against the Milwaukee Admirals. The IceHogs found ways to win the next 13 games without one of their top point producers, but McNeill’s presence was missed nonetheless. He would eventually tally an assist in his return to the lineup, a 5-1 loss to the Iowa Wild on Dec. 16.

McNeill has been a crucial part of the IceHogs’ success this season. The 21-year-old winger has 19 points (ten goals, nine assists) in 20 games, and for the most part, he has been effective at each end of the ice. McNeill has scored one of two shorthanded goals for the team, and his committed play has helped the IceHogs be the fifth best penalty kill in the AHL. His combination of offensive and defensive instincts make him a very likely call-up should the Blackhawks need extra bodies in the coming months.

Garret Ross, LW, 22

While McNeill was out injured, Ross took his place as arguably the most effective forward for the IceHogs. His hot streak on the scoresheet (he currently leads the team in goals with eleven) was highlighted by a Dec. 7 hat trick (his second of the season) against Lake Erie. In terms of production, Ross’s game is starting to look reminiscent of his days with the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL, where he tallied 82 goals during his four seasons there. His recent surge came to a halt with an injury sustained December 16th against the Iowa Wild. Once he returns to the lineup, Ross should continue his standout season, getting on the scoresheet using his aggressive, pesky style of play.

Ville Pokka, D, 20

Since his arrival as part of the Nick Leddy trade on October 4th, Pokka has been a welcome addition for the IceHogs. In his first full season in North America, the 20-year-old Finn has earned his way into the ‘Hogs’ top defensive pairing with T.J. Brennan. Pokka is not afraid to use his booming shot, registering 63 shots on goal this season. His offensive talents have been a regular sight, as he has 14 points in 27 games, making him second for defensemen on the team in scoring. Pokka seems to be earning head coach Ted Dent’s trust as well, as Pokka is seeing time on the power play as well as the penalty kill. The Blackhawks already have an impressive amount of defenseman who are nearly NHL-ready, and after this season, one should be able to add Pokka to that list.

Adam Clendening, D, 22

Last season, Clendening wasn’t just the IceHogs’ best defenseman – he was arguably their best player. Leading the team with 59 points (12 goals, 47 assists) in 74 games, Clendening was a shoe-in for a roster spot with the Blackhawks. A logjam at defense, however, has seen him spend the majority of the season thus far in Rockford. Clendening’s successful tenure with the ‘Hogs paid off when Trevor van Riemsdyk became sidelined with a left patella fracture.

Clendening made his NHL debut on November 20th, scoring his first NHL goal in just his second shift of the game. Clendening was sent back to the minors on December 4th. Should the Blackhawks require a smart, puck-moving defenseman in the foreseeable future, look for Clendening to get the call-up once again.

Klas Dahlbeck, D, 23

As Clendening’s stint with the Blackhawks ended, Dahlbeck -Clendening’s defensive partner from last season- saw his own begin. And like Clendening, Dahlbeck made sure to make the most of his opportunity. The Swede notched his first NHL goal on December 11th, and he concluded his tenure with the Blackhawks having played four games, registering one goal and earning a plus-minus rating of -1.

Dahlbeck plays a primarily defensive style, working best in his own zone as well as the neutral zone. This makes Dahlbeck a valuable commodity when it comes to the Blackhawks’ pipeline of defensive prospects.

Joakim Nordstrom, C/LW, 20

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville values the defensive aspects of his forwards. This can most likely explain why Nordstrom has been the preferred call-up for the Blackhawks when the team is in need of a thirteenth forward. Even though he has shown a physical side by registering 24 hits in 11 games with the ‘Hawks, Nordstrom has only two assists and an even plus-minus rating. This may come as a surprise to those who have seen the 20-year-old Swede’s play in Rockford, where the captain of the IceHogs has seen time on both the top power play unit as well as the main penalty kill, tallying 13 points in 17 games with the ‘Hogs.

Mac Carruth, G, 22

The emergence of Scott Darling has pushed Carruth even further down the Blackhawks’ depth chart in terms of goaltending. Carruth’s big break, however, came when the Blackhawks recalled Darling, opening the door for Carruth to get some games in with the IceHogs. While he has struggled during his time with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL (he has an underwhelming 0-6-1-2 record with a goals against average of 3.43 and .885 save percentage), Carruth made sure to stand out while with Rockford. He won both his starts, including his first career AHL shutout against the Chicago Wolves on November 23th. Carruth is a long way away from seeing significant NHL action, but some more time with the ‘Hogs would be beneficial to the 22-year-old netminder’s development.

Stephen Johns, D, 22

Many were eager to see how the hard-hitting Johns would fare in his first full pro season. Things started out well enough – Johns earned six assists and a +11 rating in 20 games with the IceHogs. He even earned a call-up on November 17th, though it was discovered to be a purely salary cap-related move. Nonetheless, Johns has been a vital part of the Rockford blue line, but a hit on November 26th from Iowa Wild forward Stephane Veilleux has sidelined Johns with an upper-body injury ever since. There is still plenty of promise with Johns, though, so he should not miss a beat when he eventually returns to the IceHogs lineup.

Matt Carey, LW, 22

While his brother, Greg, has struggled with the Arizona Coyotes minor league affiliate, the Portland Pirates, Matt Carey has shown consistency thus far in Rockford. While he has not been as dominant as he was with St. Lawrence University during the 2013-14 season, that does not mean the 22-year-old has been a dud in the AHL. Carey, despite being a left winger, has been centering the third line with Peter Regin and Ryan Hartman. He may not put up major numbers, but he is a responsible player who can be beneficial on any line.

Ryan Hartman, RW, 20

When one thinks of Hartman’s style of play, the first word to come to mind is aggravating. Being a first-round selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, however, doesn’t mean Hartman is only good at being a pest: the 20-year-old winger put up 113 points in 108 games with the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL. While his contributions on offense aren’t eye-popping, he is always noticeable when on the ice. His swift skating has put him on the second power play unit, and he continues to be a valuable member of Rockford’s penalty kill. Hartman has four goals and six helpers this season, being one of just three members of the IceHogs to suit up for every game this season.

Viktor Svedberg, D, 23

Injury limited Svedberg’s playing time last season when the IceHogs certainly could have used the hulking 6’9 defenseman. Now, they are making sure to get the most out of him. With two goals and four assists in 25 games this season, Svedberg is starting to return to form. He also has a +5 rating, seeing a mix of defensive partners which has included Clendening and Johns. A solid penalty killer, Svedberg has managed to be an important part of Rockford’s bottom-four on defense. There are a handful of defenseman ahead of him in the pipeline, but should the Blackhawks ever need a blueliner with size, Svedberg is the go-to guy.

Alex Broadhurst, C, 21

The 2014-15 season has gotten off to a rough start for Broadhurst. After finishing third on the IceHogs in points last season, Broadhurst has only been able to tally two assists in 15 games. On November 26th, the 21-year-old took an illegal hit from Iowa’s Curt Gogol, which fractured Broadhurst’s upper arm. He had surgery on November 28th and is expected to be out until April.

Drew LeBlanc, C, 25

There was plenty of hype surrounding the 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner when he signed with Chicago. Some expected LeBlanc to provide a solution to the Blackhawks’ second-line center issue. Instead, LeBlanc has taken some time to get acclimated to the professional game. Things have improved since last season, though. LeBlanc has seen time centering the fourth line, and he has three goals and a helper in 23 contests. His passing and ability to read the play are some of his biggest assets, and if he can continue to be a positive player on the ice, he could make a case to move up in the IceHogs lineup.

ECHL

Dillon Fournier, D, 20

The surplus of defensemen in the system has forced Fournier to spend his first few months of the 2014-15 season with the Indy Fuel. Despite being an offensive-minded defenseman with exceptional puck-handling skills, Fournier is not getting much help from the last-place Fuel. He has two goals and two assists in 20 games in the ECHL, but his -16 rating stands out the most. Fournier did dress for two games with the IceHogs, and there is certainly plenty of potential. Should a spot open up in Rockford, it would be beneficial for Fournier to get some playing time at that level, especially on the power play.

Mathieu Brisebois, D, 22

It wasn’t long ago Brisebois was an offensive juggernaut for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL. The skill set is definitely there for him to be an effective offensive defenseman in the AHL, but the aforementioned surplus has resulted in Brisebois seeing time primarily with the Fuel. He ranks third amongst defenseman in points, with two goals and eleven assists in 25 games. Despite his production, he also is a team-worst -23. He has seen minimal action with the IceHogs, appearing in only one game on December 13th.

Non-Minor League Prospect Update

Robin Press continues to impress for Sodertalje in the Swedish league, Allsvenskan. In 36 games, the 20-year-old defenseman has 10 goals and 16 assists, which puts him atop his team in points. Press was the last selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Fredrik Olofsson’s impressive 2014-15 season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL just keeps getting better. The 2014 fourth-round selection has lready surpassed his career highs in goals and points, and his 25 points rank second on the team.

Chicago Blackhawks Prospect of the Month

Michael Paliotta - Chicago Blackhawks

An important factor behind this season’s success for the University of Vermont Catamounts can be attributed to captain Michael Paliotta. Tied for fourth amongst NCAA defensemen in points with 16 (5 goals, 11 assists), Paliotta has been arguably one of the best blueliners in Hockey East. The 21-year-old defenseman, who was selected by the Blackhawks in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2011, was also named his school’s student-athlete of the week for the period ending December 1st. Paliotta has notched seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last six games, and as the Catamounts continue their surge, Paliotta will continue to be a driving force behind their success.