After many years of lackluster play, the Chicago Blackhawks have revamped their approach. They
are accumulating prospects and draft picks as they build an organization that will produce talent from within for many years to come. Not only has Chicago already landed a very strong core of goalies and blueline prospects, but the
they have continued to answer the need for top end talent at the forward positions.
Believe it or not, but the Blackhawks are poised to make a return to the top of their division within a year or two. Their developmental system is stocked with talent and it runs very deep. Taking the lead on Chicago’s Top 20 prospect list, is the skilled two-way defensemen Anton
Blackhawks Top 20 Quick Glance
1. Anton Babchuk
2. Cam Barker
3. Brent Seabrook
4. Craig Anderson
5. Igor Radulov
6. Michael Yakubov
7. Pavel Vorobiev
8. Corey Crawford
9. James Wisniewski
10. Michal Barinka
11. David Bolland
12. Matt Ellison
13. Lasse Kukkonen
14. Jakub Sindel
15. Mike Brodeur
17. Matt Keith
18. Ryan Garlock
19. Duncan Keith
20. Colin Fraser
Key: Current Rank, Name, Position How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight
1. Anton Babchuk, D
1st Round, 21st – 2002, 20, 6’5, 202
During the 2003-04 season, Anton Babchuk turned in an impressive year with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. If landing a spot on the AHL All-Star PlanetUsa team wasn’t enough to prove his worth, Babchuk was called up and played five games with the Blackhawks when the team faced injuries to some of
their key defensemen.
Babchuk has already developed an edge to his game and likes to throw wicked checks. A strong positional player and shot blocker, he is able to keep the opponents in front of him. For a guy his stature, he is a solid skater with good speed and above average lateral movement. He is also a very effective power play quarterback, where he is able to show creativity with his passing and a good shot.
Destined to be the one of the future cornerstones of the Blackhawks blueline, Babchuk should get an honest opportunity to earn a roster spot for the 2004-05 season.
2. Cam Barker, D
1st Round, 3rd – 2004, 18, 6’3, 206
Making a big splash on the Blackhawks top 20 out of the gate, Cam Barker is poised to be an can’t miss two-way defenseman for Chicago in the near future. Due to his skill, ability and offensive upside, he is by far one of the most ready defensemen who can make the jump directly to the NHL. Playing last the 2003-04 season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, Barker was one of the league’s highest scoring defensemen.
Barker loves to lead the rush into the offensive zone and likes to run the power
play from the point. He has a great wrister and is outstanding puck handler. He is a big, strong player that is very
agile and has excellent vision. He can play a very physical defensive game in his own zone, though he is relatively passive at times.
Having NHL size and a lot of potential, Barker has the ability to crack the 2004-05 roster with the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, Chicago will more than likely return enough healthy veterans and that would leave him as one of the odd men out. He is too young to play in the AHL and he should not be a consistent healthy scratch for the Blackhawks. At this point in his career and because he is still young, he needs to return to the Tigers to continue his development.
3. Brent Seabrook, D
1st Round, 14th – 2003, 19, 6’2, 220
As Chicago’s top pick in 2003, Brent Seabrook rounds out the future core of two-way defensemen for the Blackhawks. He skated for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL during the 2003-04
season and turned in another stellar year where he showed his ability to be a consistent offensive threat from
Seabrook is noted for his ability to make smart plays, while using the entire playing surface to his advantage. He is another defenseman
who has a good overall defensive package and is not afraid to use his body. He is strong protecting the net in his zone and is able to work opponents off the puck effectively. Noted for his offensive upside, Seabrook can also work effectively in the offensive zone and has a great shot package.
Seabrook entertains the thought of possibly making the Blackhawks roster for the 2004-05 season. Realistically, he is in the same boat as Cam Barker, and he will probably be returned to his junior team in the
4. Craig Anderson, G
3rd round, 73rd overall – 2001, 23, 6’2, 170
When 2003 training camp finished, Michael Leighton had won the job to backup Jocelyn Thibault, although it was stated that both he and
Craig Anderson would take turns with it over the course of the season. In November, Thibault went down with a hip injury that required surgery and both Anderson and Leighton ended up with a lot more playing time than either had bargained for in 2003-04.
Both did well enough this season that the picture remains cloudy as to who will emerge atop from this strong, young, goaltending tandem, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Hawks organization.
Anderson did well in solidifying himself as a goalie that can
play at the NHL level as the season wore on, earning the same number of wins as Leighton (6), with 14 fewer games started.
He will compete for a job at the NHL level again in 2004-05.
5. Igor Radulov, RW
3rd Round, 74th – 2000, 22, 6’1, 185
Starting the 2003-04 season with a depleted Blackhawk team from the get go, Igor Radulov found himself in probably one of the most uncomfortable situations in his young career. During his stay with the parent club, he had to endure a 14-game winless streak that stretched the span of a month. Radulov was only able to scrape together 11 points in 36 games before he was assigned to the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. He ended the season with the Admirals, turned in an average performance and
seeing playoff action.
Radulov is a great skater with good balance. He is a good stickhandler with soft hands who is able to maneuver through
traffic without getting knocked off the puck that easy. He works hard down low and in the corners and doesn’t have a problem getting physical. He hasn’t showed the ability to be a consistent offensive threat and he needs to incorporate his linemates into his game.
Radulov will more than likely show up to Blackhawks training camp with aspirations of making the club again. The safe bet would have him starting in Norfolk again, while he continues to develop his overall game.
6. Mikhail Yakubov, C
1st Round, 10th – 2000, 22, 6’3, 204
Mikhail Yakubov started the 2003-04 season with the Norfolk Admirals trying to duplicate the stellar performance he handed in while in Red Deer (WHL), from the 2003-04 season. As he began to acclimate himself with the pro style of American hockey in the AHL, Yakubov got his shot with the Blackhawks and ended the season in the NHL. Even though he put up lackluster numbers for a prospect on an NHL crash course, he still has a lot to offer the Chicago organization.
He plays a strong game and will use the body to get things done. He is a good skater and uses it to his advantage. He is a great puckhandler and can be depended upon to win crucial faceoffs. He doesn’t quit and is a surprisingly effective two-way forward. He can score or setup linemates effectively. He works well with and without the puck.
Yakubov is yet another prospect who will fight for a roster spot with the Blackhawks for the 2004-05 season. Due to some key veteran additions and healthy proven talent returning to the lineup, it is going to be hard to squeeze him in.
7. Pavel Vorobiev, RW
1st Round, 11th – 2001, 22, 6’0, 194
Pavel Vorobiev had decent year while making his transition to the North American game. He played 18 games with the Blackhawks this season, but the majority of his 2003-04 season was spent in Norfolk of the AHL.
Vorobiev plays a grinder’s game and has great overall potential. He does the small things on the ice and loves to get his hands dirty. He is a strong forechecker that plays bigger than he is. He works hard down low and fights for positioning around the net. He is very skilled and an effective skater. He can play on the special units and is a very versatile forward.
Vorobiev is projected to be a can’t miss top six forward. His all-around game opens opportunities for him in the Chicago near future. He should be able to land a spot on the 2004-05 roster.
8. Corey Crawford, G
2nd Round, 52nd – 2003, 19, 6’2, 180
The up and coming netminder had an outstanding 2003-04 season with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Corey Crawford guided the Wildcats deep into the playoffs this year before they eventually fell to the Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL Championship Series (Moncton’s best finish in franchise history). Crawford led all goaltenders in overall ranking during the regular season, as well as the best overall ranking in playoffs. He was named CHL Player of the Week twice during the 2003-04 season.
Crawford’s biggest assets are his height and his broad shoulders. Combined with the butterfly style, he is able to effectively cover both the top portion of the net, while working the lower half at the same time. He does a good job of using his size to remain big, covering a lot of net behind him. He does a good job of staying upright and squared to the shooter. He has great lateral movement and enjoys getting to the top of the crease to challenge the attack.
Currently Chicago is top heavy with goalie prospects. Even though Crawford has steadily risen through the prospect ranks, he should be returning to Moncton to closeout his junior career.
9. James Wisniewski, D
5th Round, 156th – 2002, 20, 5’11, 210
The Chicago scouting staff saw something special in this two-way defenseman leading up to the 2002 NHL Entry
Draft, and at this part of his development, James Wisniewski has to be considered a steal out of the
fifth round. He hit his stride and showed a whole lot of promise while skating for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL during the 2003-04 season. He was also named the OHL and CHL defenseman of the year.
Wisniewski not only had a great year with Plymouth, but the Michigan native was also a member of the Team USA blueline that took home the gold in the recent World Junior Championships. Earlier this month, he attended the 2004 Team USA Evaluation Camp that took place in Grand Forks North Dakota.
He is a strong skater and forces his opponents to the outside on the rush where he effectively work them out of the play. He handles the puck well, can carry it, or make the long and short outlet pass. He has a nice hard shot and is an effective passer in the offensive zone.
Wisniewski signed with the Blackhawks in March 2004 and is expected to attend training camp this summer. He has a couple of able prospects ahead of him and should be playing out the 2004-05 season with Norfolk of the
10. Michal Barinka, D
2nd Round, 59th – 2003, 20, 6’4, 209
Michal Barinka made the jump from his native Czech Republic during the 2003-04 season. He put in some quality time with the Norfolk Admirals and even earned a call up that lasted a total of nine games with the Blackhawks. He was also loaned to the Czech National Junior team that participated in the 2004 World Junior Championships. During that tournament he suffered a broken nose, facial lacerations and a mild concussion.
But don’t feel sorry for him because he knows that comes with the style of game he plays.
Barinka is an anomaly in the Blackhawk system, a physical stay at home player in a prospect pool that is mainly dominated by skilled two-way defensemen. He uses his size to his advantage. Due to his natural ability, he is able to be used in all sort of on ice situations. He works extremely hard down low and does a good job of clearing the net of opposing attackers.
11. David Bolland, C
2nd Round, 32nd – 2004, 18, 5’11, 171
David Bolland had a 2003-04 season that he would love to live over and over again. Having a breakout year with the London Knights of the OHL, Bolland put up impressive numbers and was by far one of the best over achievers in the league last season. He was selected to the 2004 CHL Top Prospect Game (Team Cherry) and the OHL All-Star team. His hard work and determination only furthered his cause when Chicago came around and selected him late in the
second round of the 2004 draft.
Playing with a lot of moxie for a smaller centerman, Bolland plays a strong physical game, loves dishing out the big hits and methodically finishes his checks. He has great speed and packs a booming shot. He is a sound two-way player with exceptional poise and good positioning. He is a frequent and effective contributor on the backcheck, which also makes him very valuable on the penalty-killing units. He plays with an edge and is able to work hard in the corners and in front of the net.
Many are skeptical that Bolland can continue to dominate and score goals with much consistency.
But he is headed back the London Knights determined to raise the bar for the 2004-05 season.
12. Matt Ellison, LW
4th Round, 128th – 2002, 20, 6’0, 192
Starting over was the story of Matt Ellison last season. After leading all forwards in goals and points for the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) during the 2002-03 season, he left behind a junior career that had just begun. In doing so, he departed the WHL and CHL as the Rookie of the Year. He picked up his game during the 2003-04 season with the Norfolk Admirals and put up some solid numbers for a rookie in transition. He got a crack of the Blackhawks roster right before the NHL All-Star break. The stay lasted a month, before he was returned to the Admirals.
Ellison is and a playmaker that is able to increase the tempo, flow and productivity of his linemates. He is a good skater with excellent balance.
13. Lasse Kukkonen, D
5th Round, 151st – 2003, 22, 6’1, 187
Lasse Kukkonen started the 2003-04 season with Chicago before getting sent back down to Norfolk where the majority of his year was played. He did a good progressing his game under Admirals head coach Trent Yawney.
The Finnish defenseman plays an overall sound and disciplined game. Kukkonen has a decent shot and works his way into the offensive zone. He figures to be somewhat effective in the offensive zone, though he has a relatively small ceiling. He lacks good size, though he isn’t afraid to clear his own net when forced by bigger and stronger players. He has good vision and is able to work the puck out of the defensive zone with solid passing and good stick handling skills.
14. Jakub Sindel, C
2nd Round, 54th – 2004, 18, 6’0, 170
Jakub Sindel spent the 2003-04 playing in his native Czech Republic team, Sparta Praha. Starting with the under-20 junior, he quickly made an impression that got him a spot on the senior team roster. He also made a showing with the Czech Republic World Junior U-18 team and participated in last years World Junior Championship.
Sindel’s offensive upside is huge and the Blackhawks hope he will turn into the sniper they feel he can be. He can dominate defenses and has ability to work around defenses in traffic. He has great hands and can distribute the puck with ease. He needs to fill out his frame to be able to compete in the bigger leagues. Without it, he lacks the necessary strength and toughness to compete effectively. He also needs to round out his defensive game.
15. Mike Brodeur, G
7th Round, 211th – 2003, 20, 6’2, 175
What was supposed to be a fresh start at the University of Wisconsin, never was for Mike Brodeur. After the NCAA ruled him ineligible stemming from his participation in a exhibition game in 2001, Brodeur’s hopes of playing with the Badgers were over before they even began. That proved to be just one small hurdle for the netminder as he turned to the WHL and played the 2003-04 season for the Moose Jaw Warriors.
He had a decent year and earned the Greyhound Player of Week Honors for the week of February 23, 2004. He ended the season leading all WHL goalies as a rookie in save percentage. His goals against average was the best among all active rookie goaltenders in the league. He also led all WHL goalies with his
save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.
Brodeur signed with the Blackhawks in March 2004. He will battle for a spot on the Norfolk roster or possibly end up with
affiliate Greenville in the ECHL.
16. Alexander Kojevnikov, LW
3rd Round, 93rd – 2002, 20, 6’3, 193
Alexander Kojevnikov didn’t have the year that everyone expected him to have, not even himself. After coming over to North America from Russia, he had a really good showing at the Blackhawks prospect camp. It was good enough that he left optimistic and decided to stay and join up with the Norfolk Admirals.
His stay didn’t last long at all before Kojevnikov started his 2003-04 season with Val-d’Or in the QMJHL. He suffered numerous setbacks because of injuries and suffered a bit from culture shock while adapting to his new home. He ended up being traded to the Quebec Ramparts after playing just 19 games with Val-d’Or.
Kojevnikov is a skilled skater with a lot of sniper potential. He has the ability to put up quality numbers with his strong finishing touch. He is superb puck handler who does a great job of creating plays and incorporating his linemates into the flow. He isn’t fearful of crashing the net or working hard on the forecheck. He needs to fill out his frame to endure the rigors of the North American style. If not, then he needs to learn to work around the physical adversity. He could end up being worn down rather quick if he fails to obtain to endurance to sustain mass contact.
Obviously having an off year, he needs to rebound quickly to maintain his presence in the Blackhawks future plans.
17. Matt Keith, RW
2nd Round, 59th – 2001, 21, 6’2, 200
Matt Keith did an excellent job of making the adjustment to the pro style game last year. Coming off a shoulder surgery during the summer, he started the 2003-04 season with Norfolk in the AHL. He put up good numbers and was rewarded by finishing out the season in Chicago.
Keith is a big strong forward that plays a grinder’s style game with a never quit attitude. He plays an
up tempo game and is extremely strong on the forecheck. He can play with both power and finesse. He has the ability to take the puck from goal line to goal line and finish strong. He has a great shot that doesn’t get much attention because more times than not, he is rushing the net and works the rebounds. He is a good passer and reads plays well, however his strength is in finishing.
Keith will return to the Blackhawks this summer to attend training camp. He has the ability to make the team on the third or fourth line. He already plays a strong NHL style game and that is something that Chicago cannot ignore.
18. Ryan Garlock, LW
2nd Round, 45th – 2004, 18, 6’0, 202
Ryan Garlock bruising style of play caught up with him during the 2003-04 season. He played through a handful of injuries, though he did miss time to tend to some serious injuries. He started the year with the Guelph Storm (OHL) before being traded to the Windsor Spitfires. He was voted to the 2004 CHL Top Prospects Game and represented Canada at the 2004 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championship in Minsk, Russia.
Garlock is a good, speedy skater who is becoming a consistent force on the ice. He can go around defensemen or work right through them. He is aggressive on the forecheck and will follow through with his checks. He is not afraid to use the body to help plays develop. He has good hands, makes excellent passes, and is great in the faceoff circle. However, he needs to work on finding the back of the net more. Garlock is a very dependable two-way player who will help out in the defensive zone and on the penalty-killing unit.
19. Duncan Keith, D
2nd Round, 57th – 2002, 22, 5’11, 176
For a player of a smaller stature, Duncan Keith plays big time hockey. He got a lot of
work with the Norfolk Admirals for the 2003-04 season, playing strong and putting up good numbers during his first full season in the pro arena.
Noted for his strong work ethic on and off the ice, he is a great skater that does a good job of moving the puck up ice. He has a very strong first pass, which can set the tone for the breakout. He is an exceptional two-way skilled defenseman overall. He needs to continue to add size to endure the brutal style of play in the NHL.
Keith is a long shot to crack the Blackhawks roster. Starting in Norfolk would be a more realistic move for him. This gives him a huge chance to prove his resiliency. He would be a great prospect for Chicago to have if they needed an immediate call-up, to step in and make an immediate, yet, temporary impact. Unfortunately, due to the lack of space on the Blackhawks roster, higher seeded defensive prospects with the same attributes, this is where he is for the 2004-05 season.
20. Colin Fraser, C
Trade with Philadelphia – 2004, 19, 6’1, 183
Known as a crafty agitator, Colin Fraser was acquired in a late season trade that sent former Blackhawk Alexei Zhamnov to Philadelphia. He played his 2003-04 season with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL and strangely enough, led the team in scoring and was second on the team in penalty minutes. He attended Team Canada’s summer development camp that was held in Calgary, earlier this month.
Fraser is a rarity. On one hand he has the ability, whether limited or not to produce consistent points. On the other, he plays such a relentless style and really gets under opponents skin. Like everything he does, he works a strong forecheck, is solid in the corners and battles hard in front of the net. He has good hands and is somewhat of a faceoff specialist.
Fraser will return to Red Deer for the 2004-05 season to wrap up his junior career.
Missing the cut
Adam Munro, G
Signed as Free Agent – 2003, 21, 6’1, 183
As a unrestricted free agent, Adam Munro spent the 2003-04 season battling back from a concussion, earning pro hockey experience and racking up the frequent flyer miles. Munro began the start of his journey with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL. While putting in some solid play between the pipes, he earned multiple professional tryout contracts with the Norfolk Admirals.
The former first round pick negotiated a contract with the Blackhawks in January 2004. Even though injuries began to plague Chicago at the goalie position (which factored into the signing), it was actually Munro who proved his value to club time after time. He continued to play very well with the Admirals and saw his determination and persistence
pay off. He earned a call-up and ended the season with the Blackhawks. He started a total of six games for Chicago in the last month of the season.
The future remains bright for Munro, but his place in the system is another story. He showed enough promise and perseverance to rise through the ranks in such a short period of time. The Blackhawks have depth at the goaltender position, which as a group, they are
group of strong prospects. He is in their plans, but he might have to prove himself all over again. Right now, he will start the 2004-05 season in either
Norfolk (AHL) or with Greenville.
Jeff Dahlia, George Bachul, Guy Flaming, Dan Linn, Robert Neuhauser
and Jason Ahrens contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not
duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.