Chicago Blackhawks boast giant pool of talented CHL players

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Swedish forward Ludvig Rensfeldt has been impressive so far in his first season of North American Major Juniors. (Photo courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Blackhawks have 10 prospects developing at the junior level. Three of their top four picks from the 2011 draft, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, and Brandon Saad, skated well in the team's training camp but were ultimately assigned to their CHL teams.

Chicago has added depth to the goaltending pipeline in recent drafts with junior players, bringing in WHL goalies Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth in 2010 and OHL rookie Johan Mattsson in 2011. All three are 19 years old this season and could be playing for a pro contract with Chicago.

The organization also has two late 2011 picks, Sam Jardine and Alex Broadhurst, playing in their second season of Junior 'A' hockey before transitioning to the NCAA level.

WHL

Mark McNeill, C, Prince Albert Raiders
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall) in 2011

McNeill is Chicago's highest draft pick since Kyle Beach was taken 11th overall in 2008, so there is plenty of pressure on the 18-year-old forward. That pressure is not all that new to McNeill, who is one of the best prospects to suit up for the Prince Albert Raiders in recent years.

The center ranks second on the Raiders with 22 points and is tied for second with nine goals through 27 games. He is the team's top line center and has proven dangerous on special teams with a pair of shorthanded goals and one goal from the point on the power play.

His November has been strong with five goals and three assists during an eight-game point streak. McNeill has not been held off the score sheet since the first game of the month and is having his best plus/minus month of the season at plus-four. With only three wins in their last 19 games, however, Prince Albert is drifting out of contention despite McNeill's contributions.

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

Kent Simpson is in his second season as the starting goaltender for the Everett Silvertips. Like last season, the 'Tips netminder has seen a ton of work. The team's low-scoring offense, along with a multi-week injury to perhaps their best defenseman in draft-eligible Ryan Murray, has resulted in a lot of time spent in the defensive end. Simpson has seen an average of over 30 shots per game in his 21 appearances so far this season.

After finishing last season top ten in the league with a .916 save percentage and 2.78 goals against average, Simpson has seen a decline to those numbers with .903 and 3.70, respectively. The 19-year-old goalie was solid in October with a .925 save percentage and a 4-7 record. He has yet to register a win in November, however, and has averaged 4.28 goals against in his eight appearances. Everett remains near the bottom of the WHL standings, but Simpson will likely keep his role in net as long as he continues to outplay rookie Austin Lotz.

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

Mac Carruth came out of no where to some extent two years ago, jumping ship from the NAHL and a commitment at Minnesota-Duluth in favor of the starting gig for the WHL powerhouse Winterhawks. He has carried the reigns in Portland for the last two seasons, providing a steady presence and helping the team stay among the league elite.

Though he certainly benefits from a potent offense in front of him, Carruth has acquitted himself well with the tough-to-play-against style of the Winterhawks. He is aggressive against traffic in front of his crease and considered something of an enforcer in net.

He has seen a dip in his save percentage early in the season, going from .913 to .904 this season, but his 16-8-1 record and 3.02 goals against average are fairly consistent with his first season as starter. With the Portland offense still firing on all cylinders, Carruth and the Winterhawks should compete for a high seed in the WHL playoffs.

OHL

Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 2nd round (43rd overall) in 2011

The Blackhawks selected Brandon Saad with their fourth selection of the 2011 draft at 43rd overall as the highly-touted OHLer saw his stock slide on draft day. His response to the fall at the draft was to steal the prospect spotlight in Chicago with strong showing at the summer prospect camp and at the team's main training camp.

Saad skated in two NHL games, skating on Chicago's top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, before heading back to Saginaw when the 'Hawks roster got back to full strength. He proceeded to obliterate the OHL level with nine goals and 18 points in eight games for the Spirit. He had four multi-point games, including a dominant four goal, one assist performance in his third game back against Brampton, and managed at least a point in each game he played.

He took a shot off his hand against Sarnia on October 29th and has not been able to suit up for any games in November. His status is considered week-to-week. Despite the relatively small number of games, Saad still ranks in the top five on the team in points.

Assuming he returns to full strength soon, he should get a chance to compete for a spot on Team USA for the upcoming World Junior Championships. After being a late cut from the team last year and then declining the invite to the USA summer camp, Saad may be very dangerous playing with a chip on his shoulder.

Ludvig Rensfeldt, LW, Sarnia Sting
Acquired: 2nd round (35th overall) in 2010

The Swedish winger is in his first OHL season and has provided some solid production right off the bat. He has found a bit more top six ice time with the long-term injury to Alex Galchenyuk and a few games missed by Nail Yakupov, two of the best draft-year players in the OHL.

Rensfeldt is tied for sixth on the team with 20 points through 25 games, while his nine goals rank him in a tie for fourth place. He has skated consistent power play time with two of his goals coming on the man advantage.

If there has been a sour spot in his North American debut it has been the issue of consistency. He has been held off the score sheet in five of his nine November games and suffered through a three and four game pointless streak so far this season. The 19-year-old winger will likely be relied upon as one of Sweden's main contributors at the upcoming WJC, as he tries to build on his two-goal performance in his first taste of the tournament last year.

Johan Mattsson, G, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 7th round (211th overall) in 2011

Johan Mattsson was drafted in his second year of eligibility after attending Chicago's prospect camp each of the past two summers. Though a relative unknown before the OHL season, Mattsson is the name on everyone's lips in Sudbury. The Wolves' import pick has been in net for 10 of Sudbury's 12 wins on the season as the Wolves try to keep pace in the OHL's competitive Central Division.

The Swede's composure in net may be his strong suit and his 6'4 frame can take away a lot of the net. In 15 appearances this season, Mattsson has earned a 10-5 record, a .909 save percentage, and 3.09 goals against average. Eight of his wins have come in games where he had more than 30 saves and he has had some particularly strong efforts against division teams. His 44 saves held Niagara to just one goal in a shootout win on October 28th and he raised his season-high with 51 saves as he withstood the Barrie Colts attack late in the game.

Mattsson played with Sweden's U20 team in exhibition play over the summer and could see some starts at the WJC in December. The 19-year-old prospect joined a crowded goaltending pipeline for Chicago at the junior level but has had the most impressive start of the three prospects.

QMJHL

Phillip Danault, LW/C – Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 1st round (26th overall) in 2011

After missing a handful of games at the start of Victoriaville's season while in camp with the 'Hawks, Danault returned to his hometown club and has been every bit of the stud that he was last season for the Tigres. His 23 assists through 25 games ranks second on the team and he is fifth with 28 points.

Danault is an all-purpose forward and Victoriaville's top center option in every situation. His ability to possess the puck on the rush and around the net has led to a lot of chances for the Tigres in the offensive zone. He has also been the team's primary faceoff man with 573 total draws on the season, taking over 200 draws more than any other forward, and won at a decent clip of 51.3 percent.

The 18-year-old forward should compete for a spot on Team Canada at their selection camp, particularly given his versatility to play wing or center and on all special teams units. He wore an 'A' for Team QMJHL in the Subway Super Series but was held off the score sheet in the team's two losses that kicked off the tournament.

Mirko Hoefflin, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired: 6th round (151st overall) in 2010

Though less-heralded around the QMJHL and amongst Chicago prospects than Danault, Mirko Hoefflin has played an equally versatile role for Acadie-Bathurst in his first year with the club. Skating in all situations and wearing an 'A' early in the season, the speedy German forward has six goals and 17 points in 25 games.

Skating in a largely third line role, Hoefflin's production has dipped slightly from his .83 points per game average last season with Quebec. He has played in all special teams situations, notching one goal on the power play and one while shorthanded so far this season.

Hoefflin's skating ability has allowed him to turn in solid performances at Chicago's rookie and training camps. His production at the junior level may not be eye-popping, but he certainly has tools that could help him at the pro level. The 19-year-old center should also get a look for international play for Germany this season as he tries to earn a pro contract from Chicago.

Junior 'A'

Alex Broadhurst, C, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Acquired: 7th round (199th overall) in 2011

Alex Broadhurst returned for a second USHL season with Green Bay in 2011-12. After finishing his first season with 13 goals and 33 points in 55 games, the skilled center has taken a step forward for the USHL's top-ranked Gamblers. He ranks third on the team and is tied for ninth in the league with 17 points in just 14 games and his 11 goals have him in a five-way tie for second in the USHL.

The native of New Lenox, IL is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha next season. He scored two goals for Team USA at the World Junior 'A' Challenge, helping that team to a bronze medal. Broadhurst has rattled off three multi-point games since returning from the tournament, scoring seven goals, three assists with a plus-nine rating in his last five games for Green Bay.

Sam Jardine, D, Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Acquired: 6th round (169th overall) in 2011

Versatile defenseman Sam Jardine also returned for another season of Junior 'A' hockey this season with the Camrose Kodiaks. The sort of college-bound defensive project pick the Blackhawks have favored late in drafts for the last few years, Jardine plays a smart game at both ends of the rink. He plays in all situations for Camrose and is tied for second among blueliners with 12 points in 25 games.

The 18-year-old Jardine also suited up for Canada West at the Junior 'A' challenge. He tied for the team lead with three points, all assists, in five games for the gold medal-winning Canada West team. The defenseman is committed to Ohio State and should join the Buckeyes for the 2012-13 season.

 

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