Blackhawks Top 10 Prospects
1. Michael Leighton, G
2. Igor Radulov, RW
3. Craig Anderson, G
4. Anton Babchuk, D
5. Mikhail Yakoubov, C
6. Pavel Vorobiev, RW
7. Brent Seabrook, D
8. Michal Barinka, D
9. Duncan Keith, D
10. Lasse Kukkonen, D
When you look at the Chicago Blackhawks organization there is much to like. There are more strengths than weaknesses with the franchise, which is a stabilizing factor for a team that has seen its share of recent issues. The Chicago Blackhawks have some great prospects at almost every position, although the left wing is where there is the largest deficiency. The Blackhawks are most in need of strong, two-way, gritty players that will dig pucks out of corners and provide the toughness necessary to be successful. Great power forwards are in great demand and with Eric Daze an ongoing question mark in regards to his health, the Blackhawks as of yet have not found a replacement. Mark Bell is on the horizon and his development can strongly assist in this regard.
The departure of Alexei Zhamnov leaves the Blackhawks without a true No. 1 center. Tyler Arnason’s development will give him the opportunity to take the role, but there is some question whether or not Arnason will be able to work under the current Head Coach Brian Sutter. If their relationship does not resolve itself, the Blackhawks will not only be without a No. 1 center, they will be without a proven top two line center at the NHL level.
With the third overall selection in this year’s draft, along with four second round selections, the Blackhawks will have opportunity to address these needs.
The Blackhawks have a set of good defensive prospects, particularly those who can lead the offense. Anton Babchuk has developed into a great offensive defenseman, and played well enough to earn a call-up with the Blackhawks this year. James Wisniewski was recently named the best defenseman in the CHL and was named to the CHL First All Star Team. Like Babchuk, his main asset is offensive play. Brent Seabrook also has an excellent shot, but is big and plays well defensively. Michal Barinka is the only defenseman in the top ten who cannot be labeled as offensive.
Chicago is arguably the deepest team in the league in goaltending. Corey Crawford put up great numbers this past year (2.62 GAA, .919 save percentage) for the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL. Adam Berkhoel led the Denver Pioneers to a NCAA championship, was named the Most Outstanding Player for the Frozen Four, and was named the USA Hockey College Player of the Year. Mike Ayers was named the Best Goaltender in 2003-04 for the NCAA, and Mike Brodeur had a great year in the WHL and had a great training camp last year. All of these goaltenders have the potential to be the No. 1 goaltender for the Blackhawks in a few years.
There are a few forward prospects that are very skilled. Mikhail Yakubov had a nightmarish year in 2002-03, but recovered in 2003-04, and was one of the best young Russians in Norfolk this year. Pavel Vorobiev is a very talented individual, though he seemed to have a difficult adjustment in his first year in North America. As his development continues, the Blackhawks will add more skill to the front end. The Blackhawks also have a group of prospects that could be good two-way players and have hopes in their development, including Matt Keith, Matt Ellison, and Jeff Miles.
The Blackhawks could use another defenseman who can stick up for his teammates and who is responsible defensively.
The organization doesn’t have a forward prospect that can be counted on to score 30-40 goals in a season. It was initially thought that at least one of Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev or Igor Radulov would be able to do this, but none of them have shown that they can transfer their successes in other leagues to the NHL. They all have talent, but still need to develop to achieve these lofty goals. The Blackhawks primary weakness is forwards who can be counted on to score goals, and be tough at the same time. Finesse forwards are abundant in the organization but the complimentary players are what the organization need to develop.
In past years, the Blackhawks picked European players with their high draft picks (Ruutu, Vorobiev, Yakubov, Babchuk), in the Mike Smith era. Former General Manager Mike Smith was fired this year, along with virtually the entire scouting department that Mike Smith had. Robert Pulford resumed General Manager duties, and selected Dale Tallon as his Assistant General Manager.
Tallon will be in charge of draft selection, along with Head Scout Michael Dumas. With the strong European contingent drafted by the Blackhawks in the last several years, they may look towards North American born players to compliment the finesse players already in their stable. There is no doubt that Tallon, who was instrumental in the drafting of Europeans over the last several years would have no qualms about selecting another one if he were the best player available.
The last time the Blackhawks had a top five pick, they traded it (so that the Vancouver Canucks could select both Sedin brothers), and they may not be afraid to trade this pick either. There is some speculation that they may do so if they feel that the drop off in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft is significant after the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 picks. (Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin)
Player most likely to be taken with the first pick (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result):
Rostislav Olesz, C
Michael DeMeyer and George Bachul contributed to this article.