Blackhawks ECHL prospects update

By Holly Gunning

The Chicago Blackhawks have had four prospects playing with their new ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Grrrowl this season, which they share with the Edmonton Oilers. Two of the players, defensemen Scott Balan and Vladimir Gusev played at least part of last year in the league with former affiliate, the Pee Dee Pride. Goaltender Mike Brodeur and forward Alexander Kojevnikov are rookies. Below is a review of how the four have been progressing with the Grrrowl this season.

Mike Brodeur had been trading games with partner Mike Morrison (EDM) for the majority of the season. When Morrison was recalled to the AHL Edmonton Road Runners, Brodeur got as much work as he could handle, and then some, until Jeff Deslauriers (EDM) was sent down in place of Morrison.

“[Brodeur]’s playing very well,” Greenville head coach John Marks told Hockey’s Future this weekend. “He’s very solid, similar style as Deslauriers here, and I think he’s got a real future. I know Chicago thinks he does too. He has a very good work ethic.”

With a record of 14-14-1, a goals against of 2.70 and save percentage of .924, the 21-year-old Brodeur has been consistent all year.

“Yeah, you look at his record and it’s not as good maybe as some, but his stats are pretty good. His goals against is pretty good, his save percentage is pretty good,” Marks reasoned. “His save percentage in the shootouts is what, second in the league. I think he’s given up two goals in close to 30 attempts in the shootout, so he’s solid.”

Brodeur has in fact made 24 of 26 saves in the shootout, for a .923 save percentage.

Alexander Kojevnikov, a 20-year-old Russian rookie out of the QMJHL, can dangle the puck with one hand on his stick, set a perfect pass, and draws penalties with his speed. He does a lot of things that you rarely see in the ECHL.

“I think he’s one of the most skilled players in the league, no question,” Marks said. “Skates, shoots, [he’s] strong, can handle the puck — he’s just got to learn how to play the game. He’s a young kid who definitely has potential.”

Given his obvious skill, Kojevnikov’s lack of scoring is troubling. Lately he’s been paired with 23-year-old Kevin Bergin and 22-year-old Edmonton prospect Ed Caron. His 15 points in 46 games places him only tenth on the team in scoring. He is -3, second lowest among active players.

“He really doesn’t know how to use his teammates very well, the give and go game,” Marks explained. “He tries to do it all by himself and you’re not going to score a lot of goals one versus five. Like I said, he’s got to learn to play the game, and defensively he’s got to improve. But he’s certainly got all the offensive tools.”

Twenty-two-year-old Russian Vladimir Gusev has 15 points, 73 penalty minutes and is +5 in 52 games with the Grrrowl.

“He really competes,” Marks remarked. “It’s only his second year and obviously it’s a culture change too. He’s adapted very well to that. I think he too has an upside because he’s a kid who is willing to mix it up.”

The smooth skating Gusev has been paired lately with Scott Balan, who he played with last year in Pee Dee. The two see time together on the power play, where Gusev has put up six of his assists.

Scott Balan played 23 games in the AHL with Norfolk last season, but has been with Greenville all of this season.

“This is Balan’s third year and he’s a big strong kid, skates well,” Marks described. “He’s still got to improve his decision-making. That’s why he’s here. But he’s still young and I think he still has an upside. I’d like to see him get a little more aggressive at times. He seems to have picked it up a little the last few games. He certainly was more aggressive tonight (Saturday).”

The 22-year-old has 13 points in 41 games and is +11. Balan missed 11 games this season with a separated shoulder.

“I think he’s going to have to have an MRI at the end of this season because it still hurts,” Marks said. “We’ll have to see what it is.”

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