Blackhawks 2005 draft preview

By Brent Davies

Blackhawks Top Ten Prospects

1.Cam Barker, D
2.Brent Seabrook, D
3.Rene Bourque, F
4.Corey Crawford, G
5.Anton Babchuk, D
6.Pavel Vorobiev, F
7.Dave Bolland, F
8.Colin Fraser, F
9.Michael Barinka, D
10.Craig Anderson, G

Team Needs

Goal scoring, forwards with a combination of size, aggressiveness and skill and overall team speed are badly lacking for the Chicago Blackhawks. The second half emergence of Tuomo Ruutu, a health-challenged Eric Daze and a small collection of hard working, over-achieving, 20-goal “scrummers” has not been enough to get the job done.

The offseason signings of Matthew Barnaby and Curtis Brown were decent role-filling additions that will allow the Hawks to focus on more blatant needs — both in the free agency market and the upcoming draft. Picking at No. 7, they will get a quality player, but don’t expect the selection to step right in and fill an immediate need.

Organizational Strengths

The last three No. 1 draft picks for the Blackhawks have been big, skilled defensemen. Barker, Babchuk and Seabrook have the potential to be excellent NHLers given their physical attributes and tool chest. While Babchuk took a small step back in his second year at Norfolk, both Barker and Seabrook enjoyed fine seasons with their respective junior clubs.

The 2004 draft went a long way towards adding some much needed “gritty skill” at the forward position with Bolland, Bickell, Berti and Garlock as well as the acquisition of Colin Fraser in the Zhamnov deal. But with NHL defensemen getting bigger and bigger, the overall group may lack the size to intimidate. One exception, other than Bickell, might be Dustin Byflugien, a skilled giant, who is not afraid to drop the gloves and has played both forward and defense.

Organizational Weaknesses

At the very top levels of the organization, the Hawks lack snipers. Russian draft picks from the Mike Smith era — Vorobiev, Yakabov, Radulov and Kojevnikov, have either plateaued, sputtered or burned out. Rene Bourque out of the University of Wisconsin, a good free agent signing, was a great find. He enjoyed a 30+ goal, rookie campaign in 2004-05 with the Norfolk Admirals. But, NHL-ready scorers for the approaching season are few and far between.

Draft Tendencies

The Hawks are trying to recover from the “Waterloo” of the GM Mike Smith regime. Dave Tallon was given the job because he has a blue collar vision of the type of hockey and players he wants. While not completely adverse to drafting Europeans, with the exception of Finns, it will take a few more years of Russian-avoidance therapy to get over the more recent, seemingly wasted, Smith draft picks (note the exception of Tuomo Ruutu).

In terms of draft philosophy, the Hawks draft the best player available, but with a wandering eye towards filling a need. A recent example was Seabrook, who appeared to be a bit of a reach at the time, but filled the organizational need for a big, skilled defenseman.

Look for them to focus on a North American, power forward with goal-scoring upside. Otherwise, all things being equal, toughness and character will likely win out over finesse and skill.

With relatively fewer top-end, Euro players in this year’s draft, the Hawks strategy of focusing on players who compete and play physically should be rewarded and Chicago fans — concerned about a front office that is overzealous about hard-nosed players, should be a little less paranoid.

With some of the high offensive talent off the board, the Hawks
could fill the void of a strong skating, solidly built, big-shooting forward. US prospect Jack Skille competes and plays hard, traits Tallon places a premium on.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Jack Skille, D, USNDTP.

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