Chicago Blackhawks own deep group of junior prospects

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Byron Froese has improved his offense output every season since he joined the WHL. Now in his third season, Froese is averaging over a point-per-game. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Chicago Blackhawks currently have nine junior level prospects, three in the WHL and QMJHL, two in the OHL, and one in the USHL.

WHL

Byron Froese, C, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 4th round (119th overall) in 2009
March 12th, 1991. Ht: 6’1 Wt: 180 lbs.

Traded to Red Deer prior to the start of the season in exchange for Landon Ferraro (DET), Froese has fit right in with the Rebels so far this season. The pivot ranks third on the team with 11 goals and 33 points in 30 games.

Not only has his presence been noticed on the score sheet, but the WHL veteran has also had an impact on a young dressing room. He has clicked with one of the top 2011 draft prospects in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, especially on the power play where Red Deer currently ranks fifth in the nation. Froese is second on the team with nine goals on the man advantage despite his reputation as more of a hard-working, defensive forward.

He was selected to Team WHL in the Subway Super Series but did not crack the score sheet in his lone appearance. That big game experience will still come in handy as Red Deer leads the Central Division with a 20-7-1-2 record and is poised to make some noise in the WHL playoffs.

Kent Simpson, G, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 2nd round (58th overall) in 2010
March 26th, 1992. Ht: 6’1 Wt: 183 lbs.

Simpson has carried a bulk of the load early in the season for the ‘Tips, appearing in 23 games with a 9-10-4 record, 2.71 goals against average, and .909 save percentage. He has played steadily in net but has not been able to steal any games for his squad.

Everett’s defensive style of play has resulted in one of the league’s lowest scoring offenses this year, averaging just 2.55 goals per game. Simpson has allowed at least two goals in 22 of his appearances, making it difficult for a slow offense to keep up.

His tendency to spend a lot of time down in the butterfly position means that pucks can still squirt by even his big frame. Rebound control has been a struggle at times as well for the 18-year-old, evident in his start for Team WHL in game five of the Subway Super Series. Simpson allowed six goals during regulation and was scored on by three of the four skaters in the shootout in Russia‘s victory. The visitors went on to capture their first ever Subway Series victory in game six against another 2010 second rounder Calvin Pickard (COL).

MacMillian Carruth, G, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall) in 2010
March 25th, 1992. Ht: 6’2 Wt: 172 lbs.

The biggest surprise so far among Chicago’s junior prospects has been goaltender Mac Carruth. While he benefits from playing behind Portland’s talented offensive engine that drives itself at times, the 18-year-old still ranks fourth in the WHL with a .923 save percentage and seventh with a 2.64 goals against average.

With solid size at 6’2 and good athleticism, he got off to an excellent start by winning nine of his first 10 starts. While his numbers have leveled out some recently, he has still been a source of fire for the team. His combative style was on full display in a scrum with Kamloops netminder Jeff Bosch on November 20th.

With the talent at forward, Portland is poised to make a long run in the WHL this season. Despite Carruth’s early season success, the goaltending position is still the weaker link for the Winterhawks. Expect the WHL’s top team to ride the hot hand between Carruth and fellow 18-year-old Keith Hamilton as the season rolls on.

OHL

Rob Flick, C, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 4th round (120th overall) in 2010
March 28th, 1991. Ht: 6’2 Wt: 190 lbs.

Rob Flick has had another surprising start from a 2010 draft pick. He has not only led Mississauga in the physical department like he did last year, but he has also contributed solid offense. His 26 points rank third on the team. He has 13 goals in his first 28 games this season after scoring 15 in all 65 appearances last year.

His ability to finish his chances is an added bonus for a player who projects as more of a checker at the pro level. His impact in the physical game is well known and he is leading the Majors with 65 penalty minutes, including seven fighting majors.

Mississauga currently leads the OHL with a 24-3-1 record thanks in large part to 18-year-old netminder J.P. Anderson (SJ). With Flick and the rest of the forwards doing their part as well, the team already looks poised to defend their home ice well at the Memorial Cup in May.

David Pacan, C, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: 6th round (177th overall) in 2009
March 31st, 1991. Ht: 6’3 Wt: 187 lbs.

Pacan was abruptly dismissed from the University of Vermont at the end of September for disciplinary reasons. He landed on his skates in Niagara, where he has fit right into the IceDogs’ top six forwards. Through 26 games, the pivot has scored nine goals and added 12 assists.

Pacan is a power forward who can use his 6’3 frame and strength along the boards and in front of the net. His crash and bang style is a great fit among Niagara’s smaller top six, including frequent linemates Andrew Agozzino and Alex Friesen (VAN).

The 19-year-old will look to improve his consistency from shift to shift as he becomes more familiar with the energy and speed of the OHL. With Niagara currently ranked second in the Central Division behind Mississauga, Pacan’s continued improvement will help keep the IceDogs in the hunt for the OHL’s second Memorial Cup slot.

QMJHL

Philippe Paradis, C, PEI Rocket
Acquired: Trade with Toronto, 2010
January 2nd, 1991. Ht: 6’2 Wt: 212 lbs.

Now in his fourth junior season, Philippe Paradis was brought in to be a veteran leader for PEI as the team hoped to be able to make a run at the Quebec
League crown. While the Rocket may not be living up to those expecations, Paradis has delivered with 26 points in 26 games. His 12 goals as well as his plus-14 both lead the team.

While the pivot has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a first round NHL draft pick, he still brings a power forward package of size, strength, and skill. His physical presence has been noticeable while he also uses his strength well in fighting through checks and working along the boards.

The 19-year-old forward suited up for both of the QMJHL‘s games at the Subway Super Series but did not register a point. Still, his point-per-game pace for PEI is an improvement over his first three years and could make him a valuable trade chip if the team falls out of contention.

David Gilbert, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired: 7th round (209th overall) in 2009
February 9th, 1991. Ht: 6’2 Wt: 185 lbs.

In his first full season with Acadie-Bathurst, Gilbert has been solid at both ends of the ice. Playing in a two-way role along with time on both special teams units, the 19-year-old has 20 points in 23 games. In nine November appearances, he notched five goals and five assists.

The Titan have not quite lived up to the high expectations heading into the season, evidenced by the firing of head coach Ron Choules after a 10-5-0 start to the season. Still, Gilbert has helped the team in a variety of ways. He has played at both center and on the wing at times throughout the season. He has proven to be an aggressive penalty killer and good offensively on the power play, where he has notched four goals.

As a forward who likes to carry the puck to create offense, he has fallen victim to trying to do too much at times. While his confidence with the puck on his stick is a key part to his game, it is still the consistency shift to shift where Gilbert could improve.

Mirko Hoefflin, C, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 6th round (151st overall) in 2010
June 18th, 1992. Ht: 6’0 Wt: 174 lbs.

Mirko Hoefflin is currently in his first season in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts. The German-born pivot has adjusted fairly well already for the Remparts, with eight goals and 12 assists in 25 games. His 20 points ranks second among rookies on the squad.

A bit on the light side at 174 pounds, he uses his excellent speed to find open ice and create chances in the offensive end. He has been used at both wing and at center so far this year and also impacted both special teams units, registering two power play goals and one shorthanded tally.

As Hoefflin gets adjusted to the North American style, expect him to become even more of a factor offensively for the Remparts. The squad is 23-7-2 thus far and is currently second in the league.

USHL

Nick Mattson, D, Indiana Ice
Acquired: 6th round (180th overall) in 2010
October 25th, 1991. Ht: 6’1 Wt: 190 lbs.

Mattson has carried over last year’s improvements into his second season as a member of the Indiana Ice. The 19-year-old leads the team’s blueliners with 11 points in 15 games, boasting a team leading plus-13 rating.

Though he is considered a balanced defenseman, Mattson displays good puck-carrying ability because he sees the ice well and makes smart, accurate passes. He has been solid on the power play for the Ice, scoring his lone goal of the season and two assists on the man advantage.

Mattson is committed to the University of North Dakota for next season, but will continue to benefit this year from the bigger role he has for Indiana.