No shortage of collegiate, European prospects in Chicago Blackhawks system

By Anthony Lyen
Anthony Louis - Chicago Blackhawks

Photo: Chicago prospect Anthony Louis helped Miami reach the NCAA Tournament with a 36 point sophomore campaign. (courtesy of Tim Zechar/Icon Sportswire)

 

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has seen the enormous potential in scouting both European and collegiate players, and nothing shows this more than his recent draft history. In the last two drafts, 12 of Bowman’s 17 selections would skate in either the NCAA or Europe the very next season. 
 
There’s clearly no rush to get these young guns to the NHL just yet, so allowing these prospects to perfect their game in their respective leagues has been crucial for their development. Several Blackhawks prospects will also have a chance for an NCAA Championship at the 2015 Frozen Four as well.

NCAA

Nick Schmaltz, C, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2014

The cream of the crop in terms of collegiate prospects is Nick Schmaltz, who has had a solid 2014-15 season as a freshman for UND. While he didn’t assert himself as a lethal goal scorer, Schmaltz displayed his keen ability to manage the puck and create plays for his teammates. While Schmaltz’s season hit a speed bump with an injury in November, the 19-year-old center has managed 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 37 games.

When the Blackhawks moved up to nab Schmaltz at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, it was clear upper management saw plenty of upside in the Madison, Wisconsin native. Schmaltz is gifted with smooth skating and impressive stick-handling ability, and his vision allows him to read the play effectively, making him one of North Dakota’s better playmakers. He’s still a couple years away from being considered NHL-ready, but it appears Schmaltz has all the makings of a middle-six forward.

Michael Paliotta, D, University of Vermont (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2011

If Schmaltz is the Blackhawks’ top forward in the NCAA, it can be argued Paliotta is the top defenseman of the group. In fact, Paliotta had quite a remarkable senior season with the Catamounts. Through 41 games, the 21-year-old captain led his team in assists (27), points (36), plus/minus (+15), and shots on goal (151). While his offensive production took another step forward, Paliotta was also reliable in his own zone. He would eventually go on to be named the Old Time Hockey Best Defensive Defenseman for the 2014-15 season.

As if Paliotta’s season couldn’t get any better, he signed a two-year, entry level contract with the Blackhawks on March 26th, officially ending any speculation Chicago could face another “Kevin Hayes situation.” While Paliotta has yet to play his first NHL game, he should get an opportunity with the Blackhawks soon. If he impresses enough, he has a good chance of making the big club next season as well.

Vincent Hinostroza, C, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2012

Another one of the Blackhawks’ college kids benefiting from a superb season is Hinostroza, who signed his very own entry level contract, a three-year deal, on March 21st. The 20-year-old sophomore led the Fighting Irish in points, tallying 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 42 games, good enough to earn him a spot on the 2015 Hockey East First All-Star Team. Hinostroza continues to earn constant praise for his exceptional skating and passing abilities, but some fear his 5’9 frame may prevent him from being an effective forward in the NHL. As Calder Trophy frontrunner Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) has proven, however, size does not matter as much as skill does, and Hinostroza certainly has the skill set to be an offensive threat every time he hits the ice. Hinostroza made his pro hockey debut with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, on April 3rd and has registered two assists in three games.

John Hayden, C, Yale University (ECAC)
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2013

At the start of the 2014-15 season, there were some high expectations for Hayden. Coming off an impressive prospect camp, Hayden became an important member for the Bulldogs, scoring three goals and seven helpers in the first ten games of his sophomore season. Although Yale’s championship hopes fell short with a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Boston University, Hayden had a solid season, notching 18 points in 29 games. More will be expected from the 20-year-old center next season, however, where Hayden will look to further develop his all-around game.

Anthony Louis, C, Miami University (Ohio) (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2013

One thing that will constantly be linked to Anthony Louis for the rest of his hockey-playing career is his size. At just 5’7, Louis’s diminutive stature may cause some to question his ability to compete in the pros, but based on his skills offensively, that could put speculation to rest. With 36 points and a +15 in 37 games for the RedHawks, Louis was one of the top offensive contributors for his team (he tallied nine points in eight games during the month of March for Miami-Ohio). His skating and stickhandling are two of his key attributes, and with the hope he can add some strength to his small build, there’s no need to rush the skilled center to the pros just yet.

Tyler Motte, C, University of Michigan (Big 10)
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2013

Despite getting off to a slow start to begin the 2014-15 season, Motte was able to pick things up come winter. Tallying 21 points from November through January, the 20-year-old forward managed 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) in 35 games for the Wolverines, good for third on the team in points. Motte’s stellar second year with Michigan was highlighted by his selection to represent the United States in the 2015 World Junior Championships, along with fellow Blackhawks prospects Schmaltz, Hayden, and Louis. Motte has the offensive skill and awareness to be an effective secondary scorer in the NHL, but he still has some filling out to do.

Luc Snuggerud, D, University of Nebraska–Omaha (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2014

Even though he was ranked among the top 50 for North American skaters prior to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Snuggerud fell to the Blackhawks in the fifth round. After a couple more years of development, they may be happy he dropped to the fifth round. In his first season with the Mavericks, the 19-year-old defenseman was able to crack the top-four, posting 2 goals and 14 assists in 38 games. Snuggerud became a fixture on UNO’s top power play unit, using his strong skating and heavy shot to his advantage. He can be equally effective in his own zone, but Snuggerud will need more time with Nebraska-Omaha to enhance the overall qualities of his game.

Nick Mattson, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 180th overall, 2010

It has been quite the senior season for Mattson. Quite frankly, the start of the 2014-15 campaign for the 23-year-old defenseman was pretty rough, tallying just two assists in his first nine games of the season for UND. By the middle of December, Mattson had been a healthy scratch for nearly half the season. Come January, however, Mattson’s play began to improve, making him one of North Dakota’s more effective defenseman. His 20 points put him third amongst UND defensemen in points. Mattson still has yet to sign with the Blackhawks but may do so at the conclusion of the Frozen Four.

Chris Calnan, RW, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2012

Despite Boston College failing to advance to the Frozen Four, there is plenty for Calnan to be excited for in regards to next season. The 20-year-old winger was named one of the Eagles’ three alternate captains for the 2015-16 campaign, and he has another year of experience under his belt. Calnan’s offensive abilities were on full display at the beginning of the season, but after scoring 15 points in the first 20 games of the season, he would fail to register a point in the final 14 games of the season. Calnan’s 11 goals – third best on the team – and five assists gave him a decent sophomore season, but he needs to become a more consistent player at both ends of the ice if he wants to take his game to the next level.

Luke Johnson, C, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2013

It’s easy to overshadow Luke Johnson with the high-profile Schmaltz also skating at UND. Nonetheless, Johnson had himself a fairly successful sophomore season, notching 23 points and a +11 throughout 41 games. The versatile 20-year-old saw time as North Dakota’s top center as well as on the second-line right wing. Consistency has always been a lingering concern, but if Johnson can continue to build off what he’s achieved thus far, the future looks quite promising.

Sam Jardine, D, Ohio State University (Big 10)
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2011

The Buckeyes will be looking for a big senior season next year from alternate captain Sam Jardine. That’s not meant to put down the 21-year-old blueliner’s 2014-15 season, either: his 12 points led all Ohio State defensemen in scoring. Jardine typically saw time on the left side in the top-four, and that trend should continue next year. Still, he will need to show more aggressiveness in both zones should Ohio State look to make a deeper championship run come 2016.

Matt Tomkins, G, Ohio State University (Big 10)
Drafted 7th round, 199th overall, 2012

It was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-type of season for Matt Tomkins. When Tomkins was good, he was great: he earned the Big 10 Second Star of the Week on November 25th and posted two shutouts during the 2014-15 season. When Tomkins was off, however, he very noticeably struggled. The 20-year-old netminder finished the season with a 5-7-1 record, posting a .876 save percentage as well as a 3.28 goals against average. After losing the starting job to Christian Frey, Tomkins will need to rebound in major way next season.

Dylan Sikura, C, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2014

After three strong seasons with the Aurora Tigers of the OJHL (110 points in 131 games), Sikura had a season of transition with Northeastern University. Although he was drafted at center, Sikura dressed as a bottom-six winger for the Huskies, scoring five goals and two helpers in 25 games. The 19-year-old freshman has good hands and moves well up and down the ice, but he’s a bit of a project for the Blackhawks and will continue his development at NU next year.

Europe

Gustav Forsling, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Acquired via trade with Vancouver Canucks January, 2015

Forsling is still a very raw project for the Blackhawks, but the 18-year-old defenseman has plenty of potential. Nothing proves that more than his excellent play throughout the 2015 World Junior Championship, where Forsling registered eight points in seven games for the Swedes. He would go on to have a decent season for Linkoping, where he scored three goals and another three helpers in 38 games. He missed some time in March with a hand injury but that shouldn’t slow down the flashy defenseman.

Carl Dahlstrom, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2013

Joining Forsling on the blueline for Linkoping is Dahlstrom, who, also like Forsling, managed three goals and three assists this season. The Blackhawks have a good feeling about the 20-year-old Swede, admiring his NHL-ready build – Dahlstrom checks in at 6’4 and 212 lbs. – and heavy left-handed shot. Although he may not be prepared for North American hockey just yet, he has the tools to be an effective Niklas Hjalmarsson-type of defenseman for the Blackhawks in the near future.

Robin Press, D, Sodertalje (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 7th round, 211th overall, 2013

One of the absolute surprises of the season in terms of European prospects was that of Robin Press. The last selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Press exploded offensively for Sodertalje, leading all defensemen on the team in points with 13 goals and 17 assists in 51 games. At 20 years old, he will need to show he is not a one-hit wonder come the 2015-16 season and further develop his defensive play.

Robin Norell, D, Djurgarden (SHL)
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2013

Unlike the blueliners listed before him, Norell isn’t known for his offensive production, notching just nine points in 48 games. He still managed to impress with his defensive play enough to make the Swedish team for the 2015 World Junior Championship in January. Don’t expect Norell to wow every night, but there is enough ability in his game to keep the Blackhawks front office interested in his continued progress overseas.

Andreas Soderberg, D, Skelleftea J20 (SuperElit)
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2014

Another defensive prospect who aims to be a project for the Blackhawks, Soderberg had a solid second season with the Skelleftea J20 team. The 18-year-old Swede had seven points in 44 games, earning a +9 in that stretch. Possessing a 6’4 frame and decent on-ice awareness will certainly help with Soderberg’s development going forward.

Ivan Nalimov, G, Admiral Vladivostok (KHL)
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2014

The lone Blackhawks goaltending prospect overseas, Nalimov had a back and forth season. After a rocky beginning to the season, the 21-year-old netminder would eventually post a 10-10-5 record, which included a .900 save percentage and 2.76 goals against average. Nalimov did show flashes of exceptional play throughout the season, registering three shutouts in the process.

Prospect of the Month
Stephen Johns - Chicago Blackhawks
Although he missed significant time throughout the 2014-15 season due to injury (including missing a few games in March with a hand injury), Rockford IceHogs defenseman Stephen Johns has been able to step into the lineup without missing a beat. In eight games for March, the 22-year-old defenseman earned seven points (three goals and four assists) as well as a plus/minus rating of +4. Johns is considered a frontrunner to make the Blackhawks roster on the blueline for the 2015-16 season, and he will be an important part of the IceHogs’ playoff run in April. In 45 games for Rockford this season, Johns has 18 points and a team-high +27 rating.