The Chicago Blackhawks enter the 2012 offseason with one of the deepest prospects pools in the league, but that fact does little to make up for two consecutive first round playoff exits. Rather than expecting new faces in Chicago, there will instead be plenty of competition in training camp to decide the team's roster heading into the 2012-13 season.
Top 10 Prospects:
Barring activity in the trade market, there are not likely to be many changes in Chicago this summer. The most important hole in the lineup was filled with the re-signing of Johnny Oduya. That contract gives the team six experienced blueliners under contract and, assuming Steve Montador is healthy, likely sends Dylan Olsen back to the Rockford IceHogs to begin the season. New veterans could be brought in to replace those losses or prospects such as Joe Lavin or Ryan Stanton may be called upon if they want to promote a sixth/seventh defenseman from within the organization.
A forward could be added via trade or free agency, especially if the team is able to solidify the center position. The second line center position has been a sore spot for the forward lines, but the team has most recently implied that spot would be filled by a current roster player such as Patrick Kane or Marcus Kruger. Whether either player is especially suited for the role is still in question, but there does not figure to be many new faces in the Chicago lineup next season.
Chicago has nine forwards that could be considered locks to make the roster next season. The remaining three to four spots will be decided in training camp between a range of players from over-priced veterans Michael Frolik and Rostislav Olesz to experienced young players like Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Bryan Bickell, and Jimmy Hayes. Throw in RFA forwards with NHL experience in Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith and longshots like Phillip Danault or Mark McNeill and there will be plenty of competition for the remaining spots on the Blackhawks roster. Unrestricted free agent forwards Andrew Brunette and Brendan Morrison are not likely to be brought back and their roster spots will most likely be filled by prospects.
In goal, the Blackhawks will keep the tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery in 2012-13. Emery was extended late last season because he provided stability during Crawford's sophomore slump. Restricted free agent Carter Hutton will be brought back and serve as the organization's number three and the primary starter in Rockford. Alexander Salak, who was surpassed on the depth chart by Hutton last season, is under contract with Chicago for another year but might seek out a bigger role overseas.
The Blackhawks prospect pool is blessed with talent and depth across the board. The organization puts a heavy emphasis on the center and defensive positions and both are well-stocked with NHL potential. Mark McNeill and Brandon Pirri could eventually settle into a second or third line center role while late first-round picks Phillip Danault (2011) and Kevin Hayes (2010) are also developing in the middle. On defense, the team has physical blueliners in the system in Stephen Johns and Michael Paliotta, safe and reliable options such as Joe Lavin and Klas Dahlbeck, and more offensively-oriented rearguards in Adam Clendening and Justin Holl.
That is just the top of the heap at two positions. The team has also developed the organizational depth over the last two seasons after losing several quality role players the summer following the Cup win. The likes of Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Shaw, Olsen, and Hayes all have NHL games under their belt and could have more of an opportunity with the big club next season.
The Blackhawks organization has lately been characterized as not having any elite prospects in the pipeline. While that may be true, they are better off now than they have been in some time with players like Saad, McNeill, and Danault poised to crack the roster over the next couple years. For all the depth in the organization, however, it is still largely made of more complementary players than anything.
The position where this lack of high-end talent is most noticeable is goaltending. The team has added three prospects to the position at the last two drafts, but none of them have the look of a surefire NHL netminder at this point in their development. Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth were both signed this summer and will have a chance to compete for an open spot behind Carter Hutton in Rockford. Hutton, coming off a season in which he was the IceHogs' team MVP, could very well get a look with the big club if either Crawford or Emery do not meet expectations, but even his potential in the NHL is still up in the air.
The Blackhawks own the 18th, 48th, 79th, 109th, 139th, 149th, 169th, and 199th pick in the Draft. They acquired the 149th from the New York Rangers in a trade for John Scott, February 2012.
After two consecutive years of six picks within the first three rounds, Chicago finds itself in the new position of holding only their own selections for much of the draft. Without the glut of high picks, the team's specific plan heading into the 2012 draft could be slightly different than in recent years.
Considering the depth and talent that is close to NHL-ready, the team's focus on NCAA prospects is likely to continue. The additional development time, particularly for defensemen, is pivotal in allowing the prospects to develop at their own pace. Of the 21 picks from the last two seasons under GM Stan Bowman, eight of those prospects have been college-bound to just seven prospects drafted out of the Canadian Major Junior leagues.
The other six picks from that span were drafted from junior and professional leagues overseas. The Swedish contingent within the Blackhawks organization was bolstered with two picks in each of the last two drafts, although the rights to winger Ludvig Rensfeldt were not retained this summer. The team has tended to use mid- and late-round picks when reaching overseas, but there could be a few highly-regarded European prospects available with the 18th overall pick that should not be written off.
The team has tended not to focus on a particular position throughout the draft, but there are some weaker spots in the organization. Right wing is the weakest in terms of numbers. Only three prospects currently in the system are developing at right wing. That two of these right wingers, Smith and Hayes, are close to securing roles in the NHL makes the position look even shallower in the long-term view. Goaltending could also be a point of emphasis despite the quantity of prospects at the position. A first or second round pick on a goaltender is not out of the question but the organization has tended to use later picks on netminders in the last two drafts.
No. 18: Sebastian Collberg, RW, Frolunda (SEL)
Based off the results of the HF Staff Mock Draft, Collberg is the best player available at this point, particularly for a team starved for prospect talent at right wing. Though his 5'11 and 176-pound frame may not be ideal for North American rinks, Collberg is a swift and elusive skater who is not afraid to battle through traffic. He also boasts one of the heaviest shots in the draft class as well as impeccable offensive instincts, instantly making him one of the top offensive players in the Chicago system.