It’s no secret the Chicago Blackhawks have a knack for scouting and developing young talent. In fact, it is one of the prime reasons the Blackhawks have been one of the premiere franchises in the NHL for the past seven seasons. Due to this success, they continue to draft near the end of each round. Nevertheless, general manager Stan Bowman has managed to assemble an impressive system at nearly every position.
The 2014-15 season has seen several young guns get more of an audition than a full-time opportunity with the big club. Goaltender Antti Raanta is near graduation status and, come next season, a handful of members in the latest Top 20 could join him.
1. (1) Teuvo Teravainen, C, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 18th overall, 2012
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Teuvo Teravainen continues to be the Blackhawks’ most important prospect moving forward. His value to the organization was made evident with a mid-season call-up on January 2nd. As the 20-year-old Finn gained more experience and ice time, he appeared to grow more comfortable at the NHL level before being eventually sent back briefly to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL. Teravainen has amassed three goals and two assists in 17 games with the Blackhawks and now will have to help fill the void created by Patrick Kane’s injury.
Unless the Blackhawks decide to bring back Brad Richards this offseason, it would appear Teravainen is the number one candidate to fill the second line center position come next season. He certainly has the speed and offensive instincts for it, and will be asked to make a big leap in his overall game in the coming weeks.
2. (2) Nick Schmaltz, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 20th overall, 2014
Much like Teravainen, there’s no question last year’s first-round pick Nick Schmaltz has top-6 potential of his own. The creative center has been an important player for the University of North Dakota, earning 24 points in 29 games. An injury in November put Schmaltz’s season on hold, but he was able to recover in time for the 2015 World Junior Championships, where he had an assist and +2 plus/minus rating in five games. At just 19 years old, Schmaltz has plenty of time to work on his consistency and 200-foot game. If he can improve in those areas while still maintaining his remarkable vision, skating and stick-handling ability, Schmaltz will be an offensive wizard for the Blackhawks sooner rather than later.
3. (NR) Ville Pokka, D, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with the New York Islanders October, 2014
It wasn’t easy for the Blackhawks to lose a young, puck-moving defenseman in Nick Leddy at the start of the 2014-15 season. Adding Ville Pokka to their already deep group of defensive prospects certainly helps. The 20-year-old Finn has definitely become a standout on the IceHogs’ blue line. In 50 games, Pokka has 24 points, which includes 4 power play goals. Pokka seems to do all the little things right, from smart play in his own zone to generating offensive opportunities for the attack. In a system flush with defenseman, Pokka has made a case for himself as the cream of the crop.
4. (6) Mark McNeill, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2011
While a handful of IceHogs have had brief stints with the Blackhawks throughout the 2014-15 season, Mark McNeill has yet to be one of them. It shouldn’t be long, though, seeing as how McNeill brings plenty to the table. His 6’2 frame and physical playing style make him a force on the ice, but his toughness isn’t his sole attribute. McNeill’s strong hands and versatility (he has seen time on both the power play and penalty kill) make him an effective player in all situations. His 16 goals are good for second on the IceHogs, and he’s tied for third in points with 31 in 43 games. Going forward, McNeill has all the characteristics necessary for a middle-6 role with the Blackhawks.
5. (3) Stephen Johns, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2010
Just because Stephen Johns dropped a couple of spots does not mean there isn’t a ton of potential for the 22-year-old defenseman. Despite missing significant time this season due to two separate injuries, Johns has been an important part of Rockford’s success this season. He has ten points and a +17 in 33 games for the IceHogs. His smart, physical play make him a perfect fit for the Blackhawks down the road, possibly as a top-4 defenseman.
6. (10) Phillip Danault, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2011
Things are definitely trending upward for Phillip Danault. The 22-year-old center has already surpassed his point total from last season, with 11 goals and 20 assists in 51 games. His defensive game has grown as well, as Danault has become an effective penalty killer for the ‘Hogs and sees plenty of defensive zone faceoffs. His solid two-way play and smooth skating earned him a brief call-up on November 21st, and although he didn’t get on the score sheet, he earned the praise of head coach Joel Quenneville.
7. (NR) Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent March, 2014
Prior to his unfortunate injury on November 16th, everything seemed to be going right for Trevor van Riemsdyk. He impressed out of training camp, earning the trust of Quenneville and the rest of the Blackhawks. Skating on the third pairing, van Riemsdyk looked comfortable and effective at both ends of the ice. His hard work paid off on November 9th, when van Riemsdyk tallied his first NHL point, an assist on a Kris Versteeg deflection. Van Riemsdyk is in the final stages of recuperating from this fractured leg and the Blackhawks could certainly use the young blueliner.
8. (5) Ryan Hartman, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2013
When one thinks of Ryan Hartman, the first word to come to mind is “pest.” The 20-year-old winger has an edge to his game, never missing a big hit and never backing down from a fight. An agitator at heart, Hartman can still contribute at both ends of the ice. While he has the hands to put the puck in the net, he’s smart in his own zone as well, acting as a crucial penalty killer for the IceHogs. Hartman is the type of forward who can bring energy to his line – and even team – in just one shift, as seen during his first NHL game, when he delivered a massive hit on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus.
9. (19) Michael Paliotta, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2011
Rising through the ranks is Michael Paliotta, captain of the University of Vermont Catamounts. Paliotta has been having a noteworthy season for Vermont, leading his team with 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and a +14 in 34 games. While he has been noted for his awareness on the ice and mobility, the 21-year-old defenseman shows great character and leadership on the ice. He may need a year to get acclimated to the pros, but Paliotta has all the qualities of a solid bottom-four defenseman.
10. (12) Garret Ross, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2012
Much like Hartman, Garret Ross is a pesky, physical winger who can still contribute offensively. In fact, Ross has been possibly the most important member of the IceHogs this season, leading the team in goals with 17 and plus/minus (+23). The 22-year-old winger has shown great tenacity and versatility, and he continues to look better each week, which could very well earn him a roster spot in 2015-16.
11. (15) Tyler Motte, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2013
Back in the fall of 2014, Tyler Motte was named Hockey’s Future NCAA Bounceback Prospect for the Blackhawks and so far he’s making good on that prediction. At this point in the 2014-15 campaign, Motte has already surpassed his point total from last season with the University of Michigan. With 25 points in 26 games, the 19-year-old left wing has used his strong skating ability to his advantage, typically skating on the top line. He still needs time to develop with the Wolverines before he sees any action in the pros.
12. (14) Vincent Hinostroza, C, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2012
Leading the way for the University of Notre Dame with 38 points in 36 games is center Vincent Hinostroza. After three years of growth with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, Hinostroza has become one of the top players for the Fighting Irish. Though a bit undersized at 5’9, the 20-year-old possesses some impressive offensive skills. Incredible passing and one-ice awareness make Hinostroza a legitimate threat every shift and, despite his size, he could develop into an effective playmaking forward at the next level.
13. (9) John Hayden, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2013
Sliding out of the top 10 makes Hayden appear as a struggling prospect, but it’s more a matter of team depth than shortcomings on behalf of Hayden. In fact, Hayden has been a key member of the Yale University Bulldogs. He’s tied for the team lead in scoring with 7 goals and 18 points in 25 games, which includes 3 goals on the power play. Hayden may be a sophomore with Yale, but his 6’3, 209 lbs. frame is NHL-ready. After an impressive prospect camp last summer, Hayden impressed the Blackhawks brass, and as he continues to refine his game, the 20-year-old center may see himself rising up the ranks once again.
14. (11) Joakim Nordstrom, C, 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2010
Of all the prospects on the latest Top 20, Nordstrom has been lucky enough to get the most opportunities at the NHL level, appearing in 27 games with the Blackhawks throughout the 2014-15 season. What’s surprising to many is the Swedish center’s inability to translate his minor league success to the NHL. Named the captain of the IceHogs’ for the 2014-15 season, Nordstrom has been an offensive dynamo for Rockford, tallying nine goals and seven helpers in 23 games and leading the team in power play goals and shooting percentage. Nordstrom has also been praised for his impressive two-way play and defensive instincts. Regardless of all this, Nordstrom has just two assists and a -4 plus/minus rating during his time with the Blackhawks. Perhaps a bump from his typical fourth-line duties could help Nordstrom be more effective.
15. (16) Chris Calnan, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2012
As a sophomore with Boston College, Chris Calnan is attempting to make a name for himself with the Eagles. The 20-year-old nephew of Jeremy Roenick has been skating in BC’s top-six with seniors Michael Sit and Quinn Smith, seeing time on both the power play and penalty kill. With these added responsibilities this season, Calnan has been able to total 11 goals and 16 points in 33 games. This season has seen Calnan grow in a variety of areas, becoming a more versatile and well-rounded player.
16. (NR) Anthony Louis, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2013
One of the first things that stands out about Anthony Louis is his size. At 5’7, it’s no wonder Louis fell to the Blackhawks in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but Louis has been a standout within the organization’s pipeline. He first turned heads with an impressive prospect camp last summer, where Louis was often paired with John Hayden. The duo clicked during scrimmages, with Louis using his speed and vision to his advantage. The 20-year-old has done the same with the University of Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, where he ranks fourth on the team in points with 27 points in 29 games.
17. (NR) Gustav Forsling, D, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with the Vancouver Canucks, January 2015
Although the Blackhawks traded a young, offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman in Adam Clendening on January 29th, they received an even younger one in return with Gustav Forsling. The 18-year-old Swede showed plenty of promise during the 2015 World Junior Championships, where he collected three goals and five assists in seven games. That performance, as well as his contributions for Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League, gave Bowman enough confidence to acquire Forsling, who Bowman notes “plays very well on the power play and has a big shot.” Forsling will need a couple years to adjust to the North American game, but he still has great potential to make an impact with the Blackhawks in a few years.
18. (NR) Fredrik Olofsson, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2014
Although the 2014-15 season as a whole hasn’t been particularly memorable for the Chicago Steel, Fredrik Olofsson has had a year to remember. Currently eleventh in the USHL in points, Olofsson has 23 goals and 23 assists in 42 games with the Steel. Olofsson’s offensively dominant year can be highlighted with his most recent honor, being named a co-recipient of the CCM Forward of the Week with Steven Spinner (WSH) of the Omaha Lancers. With eight points in his last five games, Olofsson is making a case for himself to be considered amongst the Blackhawks’ talented pool of forwards. He’s committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the 2015-16 season.
19. (NR) Luc Snuggerud, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2014
Perhaps one of the more underrated prospects within the system is Snuggerud, who is in his freshman season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Falling to the Blackhawks in the fifth round in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Snuggerud is a smart, smooth-skating defenseman who can play well in both ends. In 32 games for the Mavericks, the 19-year-old has two goals and 12 assists while earning time on the power play. As he continues to mature and work on his overall game, Snuggerud will certainly be a blueline prospect to keep an eye on.
20. (20) Matt Iacopelli, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2014
Rounding out the Top 20 is 20-year-old winger Matt Iacopelli, who continues to be one of the top goal scorers in the USHL. Although his production has slipped from his 41-goal, 64-point 2013-14 season, Iacopelli has been showcasing his innate offensive abilities this season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, tallying 20 goals and 8 assists in 44 games. Look for Iacopelli to further mature his game next season with Western Michigan University.
Follow Anthony Lyen on Twitter via @aclyen