Chicago Blackhawks junior system gets a boost

By Anthony Lyen
Radovan Bondra - Chicago Blackhawks

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks prospect Radovan Bondra is growing into a physically dominant player and could help Team Slovakia surprise at the World Juniors (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

If it weren’t for the selections made in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Chicago Blackhawks would have only one prospect skating at the junior level. In fact, four of their seven selections from this past summer’s draft are currently playing in either the WHL, OHL, or USHL. The Blackhawks typically shy away from drafting players from the CHL, but the 2015 draft saw the organization take a different approach when selecting talent for the future.

OHL

Graham Knott, LW, Niagara IceDogs
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2015

Without a first-round pick, the Blackhawks needed to make sure their first selection in the 2015 draft counted. Despite some intriguing names, including Oliver Kylington and Jeremy Bracco, still being on the board, the Blackhawks went with the big-bodied power forward Knott.

At 6’3, Knott is the prototypical hulking winger Chicago could use in their bottom-six. A versatile skater, Knott has seen a variety of rolls with the IceDogs, seeing time centering both the first and second lines as well as the power play and penalty kill. In 32 games with Niagara, Knott has three goals and 12 assists and a minus-two rating. At just 18 years old, Knott has plenty of filling out to do, but his physical nature and solid shot should give the Blackhawks something worth watching over the next few years.

Roy Radke, RW, Barrie Colts
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2015

During the 2014-15 season, it was quite clear Roy Radke had the skill to be an impact player for the Barrie Colts. He could move the puck and create chances for his linemates, but Radke was seeing bottom-six minutes in only putting up 18 points in 64 games.

This season, however, Radke has earned second-line minutes, which in turn has led to more ice time and more opportunity. The 19-year-old Geneva, Ill. native has been a valuable asset on Barrie’s power play, using his decent size (6’2) and swift skating to get pucks to the net. With 21 points in 32 games (including an October that saw him tally 13 points in 12 games), Radke is seventh on the Colts in scoring. Another year in the OHL would do him good, but Radke could make for an intriguing scoring option for the Blackhawks in a few years.

WHL

Radovan Bondra, LW/RW, Vancouver Giants
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, 2015

Despite being a fifth-round selection in the 2015 draft, Bondra may have been the most intriguing player taken by the Blackhawks on draft day. After all, the Slovakian forward drew some attention at the 2015 World Junior Championship, making him a potential sleeper pick for the Blackhawks.

Thirty games into his junior career, Bondra has been adjusting to North American hockey. His production has been nothing to scoff at (16 points in 30 games, which includes four points in four games during the month of December), but he is playing on a struggling Vancouver Giants team. Bondra plays the puck exceptionally well and has plenty of skill to his game, but he is still developing into a solid all-around player. Another go-around at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki could allow the 18-year-old winger to showcase his true talent to the world and especially the Blackhawks front office.

USHL

Jake Massie, D, Omaha Lancers
Acquired via trade with Carolina, Sept. 11, 2015

In roughly three months, Massie went from newly drafted member of the Carolina Hurricanes to part of an NHL trade when the Blackhawks sent Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom to Carolina in exchange for Massie and Dennis Robertson. While the deal was meant to be a salary cap-based move for the Blackhawks, it also gave them a very raw talent in Massie. The 18-year-old blueliner has two points and a minus-seven in 15 games with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. He has the capability to be reliable in his own zone, but it’s too soon to tell what lies ahead for the young defenseman. Massie will get the opportunity to mature his game further during the 2016-17 season with UMass-Amherst.

Ryan Shea, D, Youngstown Phantoms
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2015

After going to Chicago in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Shea had a solid prospect camp during the summer with the Blackhawks. His skating was smooth, and he was able to get involved in both zones with relative ease. Sure, at just 18 years old, Shea is still a developing player, but there was plenty of promise to be seen. A rough start, however, has put things on hold for Shea, who was placed the 45-day IR by the Phantoms on September 15. Shea has yet to appear in a game or return to the lineup for Youngstown. Shea is committed to attending Northeastern University for next season.

Chicago Blackhawks Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects

The Rockford IceHogs have had a solid start to the first half of the 2015-16 season, and it’s no secret Ville Pokka has been one of the better players for them. Pokka has been a key fixture on Rockford’s blueline, posting 12 points and a +7 in the IceHogs’ last 19 games.

John Dahlstrom has found his scoring touch with Frolunda’s J20 team. The 18-year-old forward leads the team in goals (11) and is third in points (17). Dahlstrom was selected by the Blackhawks in the seventh round, 211th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Prospect of the Month

Nick Schmaltz - Chicago BlackhawksIt can be argued no prospect has had a more exciting start to the 2015-16 hockey season than Nick Schmaltz. In his first 20 games of the season, Schmaltz has recorded points in all but four games. While he hasn’t been putting the puck in the net much himself, his quick hands and stellar vision have made him one of North Dakota’s more fearsome playmakers. With 15 points in just eight games during the month of November (enough to earn him NCHC Player of the Month for November), the 19-year-old center has been a force for UND.

To add to his impressive start to the season, Chicago’s 2014 first-round selection was named to the Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2016 World Junior Championship. Schmaltz had one assist in five games during last year’s tournament.