2015-16 season brings major changes to Chicago Blackhawks Top 20

By Anthony Lyen

Vincent Hinostroza - Chicago Blackhawks

Photo: Vince Hinostroza, who turns 22 this weekend, used his speed to put together an AHL rookie campaign that helped the IceHogs into playoff position (courtesy of Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

 

10. (NR) Dennis Rasmussen, C, 6.5C
Acquired via free agency, June 2014

Rasmussen has seen plenty of time helping Chicago’s bottom-six in the wake of Marcus Kruger’s wrist injury. While he lacks the flashiness of some of the other centers on this list, Rasmussen has given the Blackhawks some reliability in terms of their third and fourth lines. Though he’s split the 2015-16 season between the NHL and AHL, the 25-year-old center has eight points and a +8 rating in 42 games with the Blackhawks this year. He could be a reliable – and inexpensive – option for the bottom-six moving forward.

9. (12) Graham Knott, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2015

Knott started the year slow with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, but as the season picked up, so did Knott’s play. The 19-year-old winger tallied 42 points in 68 games for the IceDogs, but his inconsistent play was also made evident by his –11. Knott is still young, though, and the more he learns to use his body and skill set to his advantage, the better he will become.

8. (NR) Viktor Svedberg, D, 7.0C
Acquired via free agency, October 2013

While Svedberg isn’t the flashiest defensive prospect in the Blackhawks system, he has been relied upon more than other skaters in the pipeline. Svedberg has averaged 16:24 of ice time during his first 21 NHL games during the 2015-16 season. The 24-year-old Swedish blueliner tends to turn heads based on his size (6’8) rather than his defensive play, although he plays best when utilizing his stature. It’s clear, however, the Blackhawks value Svedberg, seeing as how the defender signed a 2-year contract extension on March 14.

7. (15) Gustav Forsling, D, 7.0C
Trade with Vancouver Canucks, January 2015

The reason behind Forsling’s dramatic climb is mostly in part to his value. In a system suddenly low on defensive prospects, Forsling has become an intriguing name to watch. In 48 games of the 2015-16 season with Linkoping (SHL), Forsling tallied six goals and 15 assists in 48 games. His +21 was good for second on the team in terms of plus/minus rating. At just 19 years old, the Swedish blueliner could use another season overseas before a look in the pros is considered.

6. (6) Mark McNeill, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2011

McNeill continues to be one of the IceHogs’ most important pieces going into the Calder Cup Playoffs. He’s their leading scorer, with 40 points in 54 games, including a team-high six goals on the power play. After waiting patiently for several seasons, McNeill made his long-awaited NHL debut, suiting up for the Blackhawks in a 5–0 loss on Jan. 26. He was reassigned to Rockford the next day.

McNeill has been a powerhouse for the IceHogs ever since he joined the AHL squad full time during the 2013-14 season. His efforts, however, have not seemed to warrant him an extended look with the Blackhawks. The 23-year-old forward still has the tools to be a competent bottom-six forward on an NHL team. As the 2015-16 regular season comes to a close, however, it’s becoming quite evident it’s likely not with the Blackhawks.

5. (11) Vincent Hinostroza, C, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2012

Making the most of his first year in the pros is Hinostroza. The 21-year-old forward is currently second on the IceHogs in points, with 14 goals and 24 helpers in 56 games. Hinostroza has also seen time with the Blackhawks after being recalled on two separate occasions. He went scoreless in seven contests with the Blackhawks, but not without showcasing his strong skating ability. It’s evident the Blackhawks brass, including head coach Joel Quenneville, are high on Hinostroza, so it will be interesting to see where he projects into Chicago’s future moving forward.

4. (13) Tyler Motte, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2013

With each passing year, Motte only seems to get better. Being part of the NCAA’s best line certainly helps too, as Motte skated with Kyle Connor and J.T. Compher for the powerful Wolverines team during the 2015-16 season. The 21-year-old winger put up 32 goals and 25 assists in just 38 games, earning himself a Hobey Baker Award nomination. Motte’s impressive offensive instincts and vision made him a perfect complement to Michigan’s top line, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Wolverines to the promised land, as they fell to North Dakota 5–2 on March 26. It’s believed by many that Motte will aim to sign with the Blackhawks at some point in the very foreseeable future.

3. (9) Ryan Hartman, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2013

It’s quite clear the Blackhawks see Hartman in their future plans in some way. Over the last two seasons, Hartman has suited up for the Blackhawks eight times, notching his first NHL point, an assist, this season. The 2013 first-round pick for Chicago has become a key member for the success of the IceHogs. A versatile winger with a knack for being physical, Hartman has 34 points for the IceHogs in 60 games.

2. (4) Ville Pokka, D, 7.5C
Trade with New York Islanders, 2014

Pokka remains Chicago’s top defensive prospect. Building off a successful 2014–15 campaign, Pokka has 37 points and plus–five rating in 66 games with the IceHogs during the 2015–16 season. He also has been taking every opportunity to showcase his heavy shot, ranking second on the team in shots (158). Despite being the Blackhawks’ top prospect on the blueline, however, Pokka has yet to be recalled by Chicago. It may simply be a matter of allowing Pokka time to develop, and at just 21 years old, he still has plenty of time to become the well-rounded two-way defenseman the Blackhawks hope he can become.

1. (3) Nick Schmaltz, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2014

To say Schmaltz has avoided a sophomore slump is an understatement. With 44 points in 35 games for the University of North Dakota, Schmaltz has been an important cog in the success of UND’s top line, who are leading North Dakota to their 22nd NCAA Frozen Four appearance. Schmaltz’s swift skating and creativity make him an exciting prospect for the Blackhawk, but concerns regarding consistency continue to plague him. Regardless, don’t be surprised if the Blackhawks make a serious attempt at signing the 20-year-old center once his season with North Dakota concludes.

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