Grit and character well represented in junior pool for Chicago Blackhawks

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Nick Mattson is the only Blackhawks prospect currently playing in the USHL. He will join the University of North Dakota next season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Chicago Blackhawks had eight prospects skate in junior leagues across North America this season. Several prospects, including Byron Froese, Philippe Paradis, and David Gilbert, enjoyed strong finishes to their junior careers and will begin to develop against professional competition next season. Chicago also added several junior prospects at the 2010 draft, including a pair of intriguing goalie prospects in Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth.

WHL

Byron Froese, C, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 4th round, 119th overall, 2009

Froese was one of Red Deer’s top performers after coming over to the team from Everett in the offseason. He played as the team’s top line center at even strength, triggerman on the power play, and a tenacious penalty killer helping the Rebels to one of the WHL‘s second best regular season record.

The 20-year-old pivot ranked first on the team with 43 goals and third with 81 points through 70 games. Twenty four of those goals came on the power play, leading the league in that category as Froese made good use of his quick release. He continued to lead the Rebel’s offense in the playoffs with five goals, including the game-winner in the team’s only victory in their second round loss to Medicine Hat, finishing with seven points in nine postseason games.

Froese improved steadily each year in the WHL and is expected to be signed to a pro deal this summer. A hard-working forward who is reliable defensively, he will likely be able to step into a checking role in Rockford right away next season. If he can continue to develop the scoring touch he has shown in junior, the Manitoba-native could climb quickly up the center ranks for the Blackhawks.


Kent Simpson, G, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2010

Kent Simpson played his first season as Everett’s primary starter in net, appeaing in a career-high 53 games. He turned in a solid performance after Chicago made him the team’s highest-drafted netminder since Corey Crawford was selected 52nd overall in 2003.

A goalie with good size at 6’3, Simpson finished the year with a 21-20-5-4 record as the Silvertips struggled to generate consistent offense in front of him. He earned a 2.78 goals against average while his .916 save percentage tied for third best in the league with the help of a strong second half. In his 24 starts after January 1st, Simpson earned a .927 save percentage and his only two shutouts of the season.

An ankle injury knocked the 19-year-old goalie out in early March and he was unable to return, forcing back-up Luke Siemens into action. Everett was swept in the first round by Portland and will look to bounce back with Simpson in line to carry the load again next season.


Mac Carruth, G, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 7th round, 191st overall, 2010

Mac Carruth debuted as the primary backstop for the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks in his first full WHL season. The 6’2 netminder got off to a fast start and never gave up the reigns except for some time missed due to injury, providing the squad with spirited performances in goal.

He finished the regular season with a 31-13-0-1 record in 48 appearances along with a 3.08 goals against average and .913 save percentage. While he certainly benefited from the firepower in front of him, Carruth is a competitive player in net and came up with countless big saves for the Winterhawks over the course of the year. He is back on track in the playoffs, posting a .929 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average while winning 11 of his 15 appearances. Portland took a 3-2 series lead with a game five win in their Conference Finals series against Spokane with the help of a 39-save effort from Carruth.

While the Winterhawks still have plenty of hockey ahead of them this year, the 19-year-old netminder will be the leading candidate for a bulk of the starts again next year for Portland. If Carruth can develop more consistency with his rebound control, he could be among the top goalies in the WHL next year.


OHL

Rob Flick, C, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2010

Already known for his physical presence and penalty killing ability, Rob Flick provided quite a bit of offense for the Majors, who have been one of the OHL‘s top teams throughout the year. Although Mississauga already has the automatic bid as the Memorial Cup host, they are still alive in the OHL playoffs and will play Owen Sound for the league title.

Flick finished fourth on the team with 27 goals and 57 points in 68 regular season games. One of the OHL‘s heavyweights at 6’2 and 205 pounds, he continued to lead the team with 167 PIMs. He was more than willing to drop the gloves, engaging in 18 fights over the course of the year.

The 20-year-old center has continued to produce in the playoffs with six goals and 11 points, which both rank third on the team through Mississauga’s first 13 games. Flick will have a chance to raise his stock further as the squad has their biggest games of the season still ahead.


QMJHL

Philippe Paradis, LW, P.E.I. Rocket
Acquired via trade from Toronto, June, 2010

A top six forward for PEI, Paradis tied for second on the team with 23 goals. At 6’2 and 205 pounds, he played on both special teams units and provided a physical presence for the squad in his fourth junior season.

The 20-year-old winger ranked third on the team with 53 points in 59 regular season games. He was strong at both ends of the rink, finishing with a team-leading plus-19 rating along with 85 PIMs. The Rocket qualified as the 10th seed in the QMJHL playoffs, but fell to Shawinigan 4-1 in the first round. Paradis notched a goal and an assist in the five playoff matches.

Signed to a pro deal by Toronto before being traded, Paradis will report to Rockford in the AHL next year. He scored his first professional goal during a four game stint with the club after his junior season ended. A reliable, two-way forward, Paradis projects as a checking line player at the pro level.

David Gilbert, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2009

David Gilbert skated as the second line center in his first full season for Acadie-Bathurst. The 6’2 pivot was solid down the middle for the team, winning 49.3 percent of his draws and earning a plus-22 rating during the regular season.

In 52 games, he scored 28 goals and 51 points, both of which were career highs. A solid two-way center with good hockey sense, Gilbert still struggled to bring a consistent effort night in and night out. He added a power play goal and a shorthanded goal during Acadie-Bathurst’s first round playoff series, in which the sixth-ranked Titan was upset by Victoriaville in a four-game sweep.

The 20-year-old Gilbert finished his season on an amateur try-out contract with Rockford, scoring two goals and an assist in five AHL games. If signed, he will be another center competing for minutes with the IceHogs as a rookie pro next season.


Mirko Hoefflin, C, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 6th round, 151st overall, 2010

The German center turned in a strong first season in North America. Not the biggest player at 6’0 and 174 pounds, Hoefflin nonetheless has been a solid contributor at both ends of the ice for Quebec.

A swift skater with a good feel offensively, the 18-year-old forward played both winger and center during the season. He finished the year with 14 goals and 45 points in 54 regular season games and a plus-15 rating. He continued to provide secondary scoring in the playoffs with three goals and 10 assists in 14 games.

The Remparts hold a 3-2 series lead over Gatineau in their semi-final series, with Saint John awaiting the winner in the league finals. Hoefflin will continue to be relied upon in all situations for the squad and will look to continue developing his strength and two-way ability.


USHL

Nick Mattson, D, Indiana Ice
Acquired: 6th round, 180th overall, 2010

Utilized in all situations by Indiana, Mattson showed improvement at both ends of the ice in his second USHL season. His performance earned him the USHL‘s Defensive Player of the Year award in his final season before joining the University of North Dakota.

The 19-year-old blueliner led the Ice defense with six goals and 36 points in 57 regular season games. His plus-33 rating ranked third overall on the team and was the best among all of the USHL‘s defensemen. A skilled offensive defenseman, Mattson is not an aggressive shooter, registering only 69 over the course of the season, but he is patient and makes smart plays with the puck. He is disciplined defensively and uses an active stick to neutralize opposing forwards.

Indiana was ousted by Green Bay in the second round of the playoffs, with Mattson picking up two assists and a plus-three rating in five playoff games. The North Dakota blue line graduated three regulars this season, so Mattson could have a big opportunity to play significant ice time immediately.