Blackhawks 2005 draft evaluation

By Brad Gardner

The 2005 draft was the first for Dale Tallon as the General Manager with the Blackhawks. The team held 12 picks heading into the draft but Chicago’s 2005 class has yielded only one NHL player so far. While the fourth-round selection of Niklas Hjalmarsson was certainly a victory, the remainder of the draft class is spotted with busts and even two players no longer in pro hockey. The 12 players drafted by the ‘Hawks have accumulated only 191 NHL games played, which averages out to about 15 games per selection. Two of the prospects from this draft class are with other Central Division organizations, leaving the Blackhawks with just one NHL player and five prospects from the 2005 draft.

Jack Skille, RW, US National U-18 – 1st round, 7th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 30

The Blackhawks entered the draft in need of offense and turned to the Madison native Jack Skille, then playing with the US U-18 team. A strong season prior to the draft had him vaulting up draft boards but Chicago’s selection was still seen as a reach by many. ISS, for instance, had Skille ranked 13th overall heading into the draft and he was outside Central Scouting’s top 10 North American skaters.

One of the knocks against the winger going into the draft was inconsistency from shift to shift, a problem that has also been evident during his professional career. A deep forward corps the past two seasons in Chicago and a moderate cap number kept Skille from holding onto a roster spot with the ‘Hawks. Still, the 23-year-old has worked himself into position to finally stick with Chicago for the 2010-11 season. Following two seasons at Wisconsin, including a National Championship in 2006, Skille has spent the last three years playing primarily with Rockford in the AHL. He improved both his point and goal production each year with the ‘Hogs, culminating in 23 goals and 26 assists in 63 games this season.

To his credit, Skille has kept himself focused on getting better rather than bemoaning his minor-league role. Though his lack of NHL success so far makes some label the pick a bust, Skille has worked his way to the doorstep of the NHL and a strong season will quiet the critics of his long road to the NHL.

Michael Blunden, RW, Erie Otters (OHL) – 2nd round, 43rd overall
Status: NHL prospect (CBJ)
NHL games played: 50

With one of two second-rounders acquired from Nashville in the Steve Sullivan trade, Chicago took the opportunity to take another winger in Michael Blunden. The 6’4 power forward had a pair of 20-goal OHL seasons under his belt at the time of the draft and was poised for a breakout year offensively. Despite having back surgery before the 2005-06 season, Blunden had his most productive season for Erie with 84 points in 60 games.

The 23-year-old has spent the last four seasons bouncing between the AHL and NHL. He appeared in 10 games with the Blackhawks between 2006-08 and put together a strong 2007-08 season in Rockford with 37 points in 74 games. He played a more limited checking role in Rockford during the 2008-09 season before being traded to Columbus in January 2009. Blunden had more opportunity at the NHL level with the Jackets fourth line, appearing in 40 NHL games this season with four points and 59 PIMs.

Dan Bertram, RW, Boston College (Hockey East) – 2nd round, 54th overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

Continuing the forward trend, the Blackhawks drafted more offensive firepower with Dan Bertram. A speedy skater with soft hands, the Calgary native enjoyed a strong four-year career at Boston College that ended with a National Championship in 2008. Bertram signed with Chicago that summer and played five ECHL games in addition to a rather limited role with Rockford, finishing with 10 points and 63 PIMs in 56 AHL games. At 5’10, Bertram was not very successful in a checking role in Rockford and was again sent to the ECHL Toledo Walleye to start the 2009-10 season. He did not appear in a single game this season, however, as the 23-year-old opted to leave the team and pursue other interests outside of hockey.

Evan Brophey, C, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 3rd round, 68th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

Though his offensive skills may have ranked him higher on draft boards, questions about Evan Brophey‘s ability to play a tough, physical pro game saw him slip into the third round. A steady scorer during his first two OHL stops in Barrie and Belleville, the 6’2 center finished his junior career with Plymouth and 107 points in 68 games as an over-ager during the 2006-07 season.

He has spent the last three seasons in Rockford developing a balanced, two-way game. Concerns about his lack of physical play persist, however, and he has been unable to secure a top-six role for any period of time. Without the strength and power to be an effective fourth-line checker, Brophey will have to get the offensive side to click before getting an opportunity with the big club.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, D, HV 71 Jr (Swedish Jr) – 4th round, 108th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 111

The emphasis on offense heading into the draft was understandable with a handful of highly-drafted defensemen in the cupboard like first-rounders Anton Babchuk and Cam Barker. Chicago would also be incorporating a couple of young defensemen into their line-up heading into the 2005-06 season in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Still, the team hit a home run with the Hjalmarsson pick despite going away from their immediate needs at the time.

Hjalmarsson has been a fixture on the ‘Hawks second pairing for nearly two seasons thanks to a great understanding of the game. That hockey sense results in sound positioning defensively as well as smart decision-making with the puck. He has the ability to lay out huge open-ice hits but his emphasis on defensive responsibility has stabilized the ‘Hawks second pairing, where he is normally partnered with the wayward Brian Campbell. When Campbell missed time with a broken collarbone during the season, Hjalmarsson also opened up a little bit offensively by more aggressive pinching and getting pucks on net. In his first full NHL season, Hjalmarsson scored two goals along with 15 assists and only 20 PIMs in 77 games. Though it is the defensive play of Keith and Seabrook that garner the headlines, Hjalmarsson has been the key to shutting down the Western Conference’s secondary scoring lines, adding one goal and four assists in 16 playoff games.

Nathan Davis, C, Miami University (CCHA) – 4th round, 113th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

Yet another dynamic forward in Chicago’s 2005 class, Davis played all four years at Miami (Ohio) before signing with the ‘Hawks during the summer of 2008. He has played parts of the last two seasons with Rockford, where he demonstrated his outstanding skating and offensive skills. However, Davis has been hampered by injuries for the last three seasons going back to his senior year in college, appearing in just 93 games over that span. He registered eight goals and added three assists in just 23 games this season for the IceHogs and has not yet made his NHL debut.

Denis Istomin, RW, Chelyabinsk (RUS-2) – 4th round, 117th overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

An offensive forward drafted with tons of raw potential, Istomin was ranked as the fourth-best European skater in the final Central Scouting rankings, one spot ahead of Thrashers forward Nicklas Bergfors. Despite his soft hands and accurate wrister, Istomin’s poor skating and subpar hockey IQ prevented him from sustaining a career in his native Russia. He last appeared in Russia‘s second-tier league with Kapitan Stupino during the 2007-08 season.

Brennan Turner, D, Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL) – 5th round, 134th overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

A bit of a departure from the skilled forwards previously selected by Chicago, Brennan Turner was a hulking defenseman drafted out of the Notre Dame Hounds at the Junior A level. The 6’3 220-pound bruiser played three seasons at Yale before signing with Rockford during the 2008-09 season, when he spent most of the season in the ECHL. He signed with the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL this season, appearing in 62 games with 21 points and 144 PIMs.

Joe Fallon, G, University of Vermont (ECAC) – 6th round, 167th overall
Status: NHL prospect (STL)
NHL games played: 0

After his strong freshman year helped turn around Vermont’s fortunes in the ECAC, Fallon was considered one of the top undrafted collegiate goalies. He played out all four years at Vermont, breaking Tim Thomas’ career records for goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts. The 6’4 goalie covers a lot of net and was solid with Chicago’s affiliates, playing in both the ECHL and AHL over the past two seasons. He recorded a 15-10-1 record with a 2.64 goals against average and .912 save percentage during his stint with Rockford this season. Fallon was traded along with Daryl Boyle to St. Louis at this year’s trade deadline in exchange for 2002 first-round goalie Hannu Toivonen and defenseman Danny Richmond. He had a 4-6 record for Peoria after the trade with a 3.50 goals against average and .889 save percentage.

Joe Charlebois, D, Sioux City (USHL) – 6th round, 188th overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

Chicago plucked another defensive defenseman in Charlebois, who played four seasons at New Hampshire after being drafted. He joined Rockford prior to finishing his senior season with the Wildcats and re-signed with the AHL club for the 2009-10 season. He played in just two AHL games without scoring and spent 67 games in the ECHL with 25 points and 88 PIMs. A blueliner with great physical presence, Charlebois has yet to sign an NHL contract.

David Kuchejda, RW, Budejovice Jr (Czech Jr) – 7th round, 202nd overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

Chicago’s second international selection of the draft came from the Czech Republic in the form of Kuchejda. Seen as primarily an offensive threat, the 5’11 forward combined good hockey sense with an aggressive attack. He also fit into the theme of the draft class with speed and great skating. His defensive game was lacking, however, and he spent only two years in North America playing for Sault Ste Marie in the OHL. The past three seasons have been spent in his native country, splitting time between the Czech Extraliga and the second-tier Czech league.

Adam Hobson, C, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 7th round, 203rd overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

Despite being a late-round long shot, Hobson has continued to work in Chicago’s system, making his presence known through his tenacity and work ethic. The grinder played all four of his junior seasons in Spokane before signing with Chicago. The last three years have seen a fairly even split between time spent in the ECHL, where he scored 44 points in 39 games this season, and the AHL. He had a strong showing in a checking role during his 31 games with Rockford this season, demonstrating his hard-nosed approach and willingness to drop the gloves. Though his future in the NHL is still uncertain, a tireless worker like Hobson will get chances.