Blackhawks Top 20 prospects

By Phil Laugher

The Chicago Blackhawks have amassed a stellar group of prospects in recent years, moving them to third in the Hockey’s Future Organizational Rankings. One factor that makes the Blackhawks group of prospects unique is that a large number of them are playing key roles already with the big club. With the recent acquisition of Patrick Sharp from the Philadelphia Flyers, six of Chicago’s top 20 prospects will have seen at least one game with the club this season, without counting forward Matt Ellison who had played in every game before being traded for Sharp. Chicago has so many quality prospects in their system due to strong drafting and shrewd free agent hunting in recent years, that players who miss out on Chicago’s top 20 could very easily fit into the top 15 (and in some cases, top 10) of half of the other teams in the league.

With not only great prospect depth, but impact prospects at all positions — many of them already playing at the highest level — the Blackhawks appear to have a very bright future.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Cam Barker
2. Brent Seabrook
3. Jack Skille
4. Pavel Vorobiev
5. Rene Bourque
6. Anton Babchuk
7. Corey Crawford
8. Patrick Sharp
9. Duncan Keith
10. Dave Bolland
11. Michal Barinka
12. Michael Blunden
13. Martin St. Pierre
14. Mikhail Yakubov
15. Daniel Bertram
16. Dustin Byfuglien
17. James Wisniewski
18. Colin Fraser
19. Jakub Sindel
20. Adam Berti

1. (1) Cam Barker, D — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Apr 04, 1986
Acquired: 1st round, 3rd overall, 2004

Medicine Hat defenseman Barker maintains his No. 1 ranking on the Chicago prospect depth chart, despite suffering through an injury-plagued 2004-05 season. Barker suffered from bouts of mononucleosis during the second half of the season, beginning in the World Junior Championships, which hampered the remainder of his season, though he persevered through those hardships to have an excellent playoff for Medicine Hat. Barker stayed with the Blackhawks at the start of the season after a strong training camp, but he appeared in only one game before being returned to the Western Hockey League. In 21 games, the 6’3 defenseman has picked up 16 points for the Tigers. A lock to make Canada’s World Junior team once again, Barker will get his chance to shine as one of the top players and few returnees. Strong at both ends of the ice, a smooth skater, and a crushing hitter, Barker brings plenty of intangibles that make him one of the top defensive prospects in the league.

2. (2) Brent Seabrook, D — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’2, Weight: 215 lbs., DOB: Apr 20, 1985
Acquired: 1st round, 14th overall, 2003

Barker is not alone amid the impact defensive prospects. Seabrook, another strong two-way defenseman with great offensive instincts, is already making important contributions with the big club. After a cup of coffee with AHL affiliate Norfolk in 2004-05 at the end of his last junior season, Seabrook began his first professional season with a bang by making the Blackhawks roster out of training camp. He got off to a torrid start, posting five assists in the first week of the season, including an impressive four-point outing in only his second game of his career. Seabrook’s strong offensive game is complemented by great play in his own end, and a mean physical game. Seabrook leads by example, hitting hard and regularly, and doesn’t mind dropping the mitts from time to time either. He leads Chicago in scoring by defensemen, and has flirted with the top ten rookie scoring rankings. A core of Seabrook and Barker promises that Chicago’s defensive issues should be few and far between in the future.

3. (NR) Jack Skille, F — Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 198 lbs., DOB: May 19, 1987
Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall, 2005

Skille is the top forward prospect in the Blackhawks system. Chicago chose the immensely talented product of the United States National Team Developmental Program with the seventh overall pick in last June’s Entry Draft. Skille’s selection made good sense for Chicago, who sought a banging, mucking winger. They got that and then some with Skille, who also brings a great skill set with good finish along with a tireless work ethic and high-energy play. After playing for the USNTDP last season, the native of Minnesota has made the jump to the NCAA this season, playing for the Wisconsin Badgers. While his physical play has not wholly come around as of yet in the college game, he has plenty of time to hone it, and good size for it. He currently sits fifth on the Wisconsin squad in scoring with nine points in 15 games, most amongst Badger freshmen.

4. (9) Pavel Vorobiev, F — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’0, Weight: 195 lbs., DOB: May 05, 1982
Acquired: 1st round, 11th overall, 2000

Vorobiev’s play has been one of the more pleasant surprises for Chicago thus far this season. He entered this season, his third as a professional, coming off a tough year with Norfolk but hoping to make an impact with the big club. He had played spot duty for Chicago in 2003-04 (18 games, with four points), but had been on-and-off ever since with Norfolk. He had a strong training camp, which resulted in him making Chicago’s opening night roster. Vorobiev has exceeded expectations, being a valuable offensive contributor for the Hawks, seeing plenty of time on the top two lines in the absence of young gun Tuomo Ruutu, who has been sidelined with injury. Vorobiev, who has emerged as a great playmaker for Chicago thus far, notched 15 points in his first 13 games, displaying good patience and a great shot. He entered a scoring funk in November, going pointless over a seven-game stretch before he suffered an ankle injury nearly two weeks ago, which has kept him out of the lineup ever since. Once Vorobiev returns, he will look to regain his early season form.

5. (8) Rene Bourque, F — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’2, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: Dec 10, 1981
Acquired: Free agent, 2004

Bourque, like Vorobiev, has made an unexpected contribution to the Blackhawks squad. A free-agent signee at the start of last season after playing four years at Wisconsin, Bourque put together a 33-goal, 60-point rookie season in 2004-05 with Norfolk, both figures being team highs. He made the jump to the Blackhawks this season and has been an integral part of the team’s offense, and one of their few bright spots in what has been an up-and-down season for the Chicago squad. Seeing plenty of time with Mark Bell and Kyle Calder, Bourque is learning from among the team’s best when it comes to improving his already strong offensive play. Boasting a hard shot, good vision with the puck and a great finish, Bourque will be a strong contributor down the line for the Hawks.

6. (3) Anton Babchuk, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)/Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’4, Weight: 221lbs., DOB: May 06, 1984
Acquired: 1st round, 21st overall, 2002

Babchuk is another highly-touted, big, defensive body in an already deep defensive unit, and is another example of Chicago’s smart use of first round draft picks in recent years. The ornery Russian is currently in his third full professional season, spent primarily with Norfolk. He has not brought the offensive numbers along the lines of Barker and Seabrook, but brings good defensive awareness and a mean physical game to the table. This is not to say that he does not have good offensive awareness, for he does have the ability to be a strong contributor from the back end, thanks largely to his cannonading shot, but it will be the other aspects of his game where he will be greater felt. His shot is strong enough, though, to likely ensure power play time for the big Russian when (if) he sees long-term duty with the Hawks. Recently recalled by Chicago in light of Adrian Aucoin’s injury, Babchuk will look to make his mark and earn an extended stay with the Blackhawks.

7. (4) Corey Crawford, G — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Dec 31, 1984
Acquired; 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2003

Crawford entered his first professional season this year, and is sharing time with fellow netminding prospect Adam Munro in Norfolk. Crawford is coming off of a stellar career with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, where he was not only regularly among the league’s top goaltenders in all statistical categories, but was also consistent and a big-game player. Crawford has stumbled to a poor record out of the gate thus far, with only three wins in 11 appearances, though this is due in large part to Norfolk’s relatively weak offense. He has posted a strong save percentage and a better goals against average than Munro (who has a better record). The top rated goaltender in the system after Anderson’s graduation, Crawford’s future looks bright. He will be well suited to spend a couple seasons honing is craft with the Admirals before getting a chance with the Hawks.

8. (PHI #4) Patrick Sharp, F — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’1, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Dec 27, 1981
Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, Dec 2005

Sharp was acquired from Philadelphia on Dec. 5 along with veteran Eric Meloche for prospect Matt Ellison, who had been the tenth rated Blackhawks prospect in Hockey’s Future’s last prospect ranking. Sharp, a hard-working checking forward with some good offensive upside, is currently in his fourth professional season. He had seen spot duty with the Flyers in the two non-lockout seasons, and had posted modest offensive numbers for the Phantoms in the AHL. Sharp has spent the whole season in the NHL thus far, posting 8 points in 22 games with the Flyers. He will see regular playing time with the Hawks. Strong in the face-off circle, and posting decent physical play and good all-around skill, Sharp should be a long-term contributor to the third and fourth lines in the future.

9. (19) Duncan Keith, D — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’0, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Jul 16, 1983
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2002

Keith is another of the NHL regulars in the Blackhawks prospect list. Keith has appeared in all but one game thus far this season for Chicago, posting eight points. Not overly large, physical, nor dominating in his own end, it is the offensive game where Keith’s biggest skills lie. A good scorer in college and in junior, the Penticton, B.C.-born blueliner had only posted modest offensive numbers in his first two seasons with Norfolk. He made the jump to the Blackhawks at the start of this season, only to be plagued by bouts of inconsistency and risky play with the puck. His play has improved as of late, as he is getting better acclimated to the increased skill level of the NHL. He has a lot of work to do in his own end if he is to be a long-term contributor to the Hawks blue line, but his offensive awareness should help mask defensive concerns, at least for the time being.

10. (7) Dave Bolland, F — London Knights
Height: 6’0, Weight: 175 lbs., DOB: May 06, 1986
Acquired; 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2004

Bolland, in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League with the offensive juggernaut London Knights, is having a breakout season, at present on pace for over 170 points at his current clip. He has notched 28 goals in as many games alongside Edmonton prospect Rob Schremp, and has equaled Schremp’s total of 69 points, tied for first in league scoring. Gritty and highly skilled, Bolland is able to play in all situations. He scored 37 goals as a checking line forward, and put up 34 goals and 85 points on last year’s record-breaking Memorial Cup-winning Knights squad. A solid physical player in spite of his average size, Bolland brings plenty of desirable attributes to the table. He will make the jump to the professional game next season, bringing with him a history of winning that will be welcome in a Chicago system that has not tasted much playoff success in recent years. Bolland will participate in the Canadian World Junior camp.

11. (6) Michal Barinka, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Jun 12, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2003

Barinka provides the stay-at-home foil to the offensively gifted defensemen in Chicago’s stable of young blueliners. Barinka, who is in his third professional season, will not fill the net. He may not even find the net. What he will do is bring strong, responsible play in his own end with a physical edge to it. There are times when he does try to do more than is necessary, and has thus been prone to occasional mistakes, like any young player. He is much more effective if he plays a simple game, making those around him breathe easier. His fairly serious knee injury last season likely lowered the likelihood of him making Chicago out of camp. His knee has not been much of a problem, so his eventual call-up to the big club will come sooner rather than later. Pairing him with an offensively gifted defenseman will be essential.

12. (NR) Michael Blunden, F — Erie Otters (OHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: Dec 15, 1986
Acquired: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2005

At 6’4, Blunden is one the biggest forward prospect that Chicago has. And his size is something that he doesn’t mind using to his advantage either. A prototypical power forward who has a good set of hands and good finish, Blunden oozes potential. The Hawks nabbed Blunden with their second pick, and hope that over time he will develop into a good scorer at the professional level. He has posted modest numbers thus far in the OHL and is having a breakout season this year, with 24 goals in 29 games, so things are looking up for the big forward. Blunden will take part in the Canadian World Junior evaluation camp, and has a good chance of making the roster.

13. (NR) Martin St. Pierre, F — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)/Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 5’9, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Aug 11, 1983
Acquired: Free agent, Nov 2005

The pint-sized St. Pierre was signed up as a free agent in early November after having spent part of last season in Edmonton’s system. Undrafted out of junior due largely to his lack of size, St. Pierre has bounced around from Canadian university hockey, the ECHL, and occasional time with the Edmonton Roadrunners, before being picked up by the Hawks. St. Pierre, a scorer in junior, putting up 110 points in his final season with the Guelph Storm, has continued his torrid scoring pace, notching a point a game since arriving in Norfolk. His 21 points lead the team in scoring. Quick and smart with the puck, his career path has drawn allusions to another Martin — Martin St. Louis. St. Pierre has appeared in spot duty with the Hawks as well since the signing, but will spend some time with the Admirals to adjust to the quicker professional game. His acquisition was low-risk, but it could result in a big reward.

14. (12) Mikhail Yakubov, F — Spartak Moscow (Russia)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: Feb 16, 1982
Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall, 2000

The Russian forward recently re-signed with the Blackhawks after bolting to Russia after three relatively unproductive seasons with Norfolk in the AHL. Highly-touted when he was taken with the tenth overall selection in 2000, Yakubov’s stock has fallen after being plagued by inconsistency. Boasting great size and a solid skill level and playmaking ability, Yakubov’s most productive season was last year, where he picked up 12 goals. He had been playing – inconsistently again – on Spartak’s top line much of the year before agreeing to terms with the Hawks. This may be his last chance to make it in North America. He is highly skilled; he will just have to bring his A-game on a regular basis if he wishes to stay with the big club, or he will be back playing in Russia in no time.

15. (NR) Daniel Bertram, F — Boston College (NCAA)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 188 lbs., DOB: Jan 14, 1987
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2005

Bertram was Chicago’s third selection in last year’s draft. Highly-touted initially as a gifted goal scorer, his stock fell over the course of his freshman season at Boston College, as his offensive production was not to the expected level. In his sophomore season, Bertram has not brought the higher offense that was hoped, but is contributing in other ways. His quickness is generating opportunities, and his gritty play wins battles along the boards. His finish will come over time given his exceptional skill set. A safe player with good skating ability, he will have a long career if his scoring comes around. He was given an invite to Canada’s World Junior selection camp, and has an outside chance of making the squad. Making Team Canada would go a long way in boosting Bertram’s confidence, and putting the underrated prospect on the map.

16. (NR) Dustin Byfuglien, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 250 lbs., DOB: Jan 08, 1985
Acquired: 8th round, 243rd overall, 2003

Simply put, Dustin Byfuglien is massive. Drafted originally at 275 pounds, Byfuglien has trimmed down and grown a couple inches. He’s a physical player who hits to hurt. A very versatile player, who can play in all situations and in all positions (save goaltender, though that has not been tested), Byfuglien can contribute in numerous ways. Strong in his own end, mean along the boards, highly skilled, and a good finisher to boot, he is still a bit of an enigma in regards to his motivation. He made the jump to the professional ranks this season, playing both on the point and on the wing, and has picked up six points in 20 games.

17. (9) James Wisniewski, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 204 lbs., DOB: Feb 21, 1984
Acquired: 5th round, 156th overall, 2002

Wisniewski is yet another solid, all-around defenseman in Chicago’s system. A valuable offensive player in junior, he has begun to translate that offensive ability into the professional game as well. He compiled 25 points in his rookie season last year with Norfolk, and has already matched half of that through just 22 games this season. The big difference this year is in regards to Wisniewski’s defensive zone coverage. He has been able to tighten up his game considerably over the past several months. A key contributor to Norfolk’s power play this season, Wisniewski would probably garner a look at a potential late-season call-up if it were not for the defensive depth ahead of him. He will have to bide his time, but he does have the skill to make the NHL one day down the line.

18. (17) Colin Fraser, F — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Jan 28, 1985
Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, February 2004

Fraser is another solid checking line player in the Blackhawks forward crop, though his offensive upside is less than that of Bolland or Bertram. Fraser excels as an agitator, very easily able to get underneath the skin of the opposition’s top players. It is what he excelled at in junior, and it has translated to the professional ranks. Though Fraser was much more of a scorer in the WHL, he has still compiled a modest seven points in this, his first professional season, playing on Norfolk’s third and fourth lines. Fraser’s in-your-face attitude will be highly welcomed on Chicago’s fourth line, though he will have to work on his discipline, to know when and how to use his antagonistic ability before he can think about making the jump to Chicago.

19. (20) Jakub Sindel, F — Plzen HC (Czech)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 172 lbs., DOB: Jan 24, 1986
Acquired; 2nd round, 54th overall, 2004

Sindel returned to the Czech Republic this season after spending half a season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, in which the talented Czech notched nearly a point a game. A strong skater, a skilled playmaker and a quiet leader, Sindel brings many great attributes to the table along with his slight frame. In 26 games with Plzen HC, he has put up seven points, playing primarily on the third line. Sindel has a good chance of once again making the Czech squad for the World Junior Championships in Vancouver.

20. (NR) Adam Berti, F — Erie Otters (OHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 192 lbs., DOB: Jul 01, 1986
Acquired; 3rd round, 68th overall, 2004

Berti was Chicago’s third round selection in 2004 after a strong first full season with Oshawa. The power forward in the making showed solid offensive progression last season, bettering all of his offensive totals, and was on the verge of a breakout season for Oshawa this year, in spite of the Generals abysmal play as a whole. Berti was traded recently to a much better Erie Otters squad, where he will play alongside fellow Blackhawks prospect Blunden. Despite his size, Berti hasn’t used it to his advantage efficiently enough in recent seasons, and he will have to get meaner to complement his strength with the puck.

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