Chicago Blackhawks flush with prospects developing at the junior level

By Brad Gardner

Alex Broadhurst - London Knights

Photo: OHL rookie Alex Broadhurst is already making an impact with his new team as a key piece to the London Knights winning streak, which now stands at 18 games. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks have 12 prospects developing in major junior and junior 'A' leagues across North America. Led by 2011 first round picks Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, the group is largely made up of late round draft picks fighting to prove they are deserving of a pro contract.

WHL

Mark McNeill, C, Prince Albert Raiders
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall) in 2011

The Prince Albert Raiders' turnaround in the standings in 2012-13 is one of the top stories in the WHL. After finishing a distant last in the Eastern Division last season, the club is already pulling away from the rest of the division in 2012-13 with a 21-10-2 record.

Top line center Mark McNeill has been a key factor in the team's fortunes as he leads the team with 38 points and is tied for the lead with 13 goals in 33 games. The center’s consistency, not only the score sheet but also in his effort from shift to shift, has brought a stable, productive presence to the top of the Raiders’ lineup. His presence has also been felt on special teams, although neither unit has been especially potent for the Raiders through the early-going of the season.

McNeill will attend Team Canada's selection camp in Calgary with a chance to make the team in his final year of World Junior Championship eligibility. Regardless of his fortunes at Team Canada camp, McNeill is poised to be playing meaningful hockey well into the spring as the Raiders try to head back to the playoffs.

Travis Brown, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 5th round (149th overall) in 2012

Although his opportunities in Moose Jaw rose exponentially when the team's top player, Morgan Rielly (TOR), went down to injury, even with a healthy blue line Travis Brown has not faded into the shadows. He has instead found himself paired more often than not alongside the dynamic fifth-overall pick and managed to nearly keep pace with Rielly on the score sheet as well. Through 31 games, Brown has scored five goals and 21 points, including a seven-game point streak from late October into November.

Playing in all situations, Brown has found success on the power play because of his passing ability in the cycle and even leads the team with a pair of shorthanded goals. His offense is not the only way he impacts a game, however, because he plays on the edge in the physical game. With three fights and a two-game suspension for a head shot on his resume already this season, the 6’2 blueliner's presence on the ice keeps the opposition on their toes. That physical aspect of his game may be called upon more as the season progresses now that the Warriors have traded big bruiser Joel Edmundson (STL) to Kamloops.

Mac Carruth, G, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall) in 2010

Forced back to the junior level due to a numbers game with the Blackhawks' minor league affiliates, Mac Carruth's return to Portland was triumphant. The goaltender won his first nine starts and currently leads the WHL with a .936 save percentage and ranks second with a 1.69 goals against average. Carruth has been bested only twice on the year and has a stellar 13-2 record for the Winterhawks.

Although he will yield starts to draft eligible goalie Brendan Burke, Carruth should receive the lion's share of the playing time if he continues to play at a high level. The Winterhawks have again reloaded up front and are tied atop the league with a 25-5-1 record, meaning Carruth and the rest of the squad are poised for another run at the WHL title.

OHL

Alex Broadhurst, C, London Knights
Acquired: 7th round (199th overall) in 2011

Illinois native Alex Broadhurst is in his first season of OHL hockey. He has worked his way up the London Knights' lineup in the opening months of the season and spent time skating on the team's top line and first power play unit with Seth Griffith (BOS) and draft-eligible Max Domi. 

Broadhurst now ranks third on the team in scoring behind those two big guns with 12 goals and 30 points in 33 games. With 12 multi-point games, the 5'11 center has not strung together too many point streaks, but November was a turning point. He committed to the defensive game and requested time on the penalty kill to prove it to head coach Dale Hunter. The result was his best season from a production standpoint with seven goals and nine assists in 14 games. Although the consistency may not be there yet, Broadhurst has shown that he can be an impact player for the Knights as they fend off the rest of the OHL's Midwest Division.

Garret Ross, LW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 5th round (139th overall) in 2012

Not much of a scorer in his first two OHL seasons, Garret Ross is proving so far in 2012-13 that last season's near point-per-game production is sustainable. In fact, his offensive role with the club as an overager has resulted in a slight uptick in production. The rugged winger ranks third on the team in both goals (15) and points (33) through 27 games and has been among the top contributors in the penalty minutes department with 56.

The 20-year-old winger was drafted last summer, but the lockout thwarted any hopes of signing on at the pro level with the Chicago organization. Ross has at least made the most of another season in Saginaw, and he will be counted on as the Spirit battle for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

QMJHL

Phillip Danault, C, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 1st round (26th overall) in 2011

The NHL lockout forced Danault to miss out on attending training camp, but that has not kept him from another decorated season. He currently leads Victoriaville in scoring, was selected to play for Team QMJHL in the Subway Super Series, and has a decent shot of cracking Team Canada's roster for the WJC.

Danault currently leads Victoriaville with 44 points in 29 games and is deployed as the team's top center in all situations. After a hot start, Danault played in both Subway Super Series games for Team QMJHL, and though he was held off the score sheet, he was effective on the forecheck and in his own end. More recently, he was named the league's first star of the week for back-to-back four point performances the first week of December.

The Tigres captain will attend Team Canada's selection camp in Calgary, looking to stick with the team after being among the final cuts last year. If he does make the club, it will likely be in an energy or checking role, but he will also bring the work ethic and leadership needed out of the depth players at the tournament.

Dillon Fournier, D, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 2nd round (48th overall) in 2012

After missing a large portion of his draft year with a shoulder injury, Dillon Fournier has performed very well in 2012-13 after his name was called in the second round of last summer's draft. The mobile blueliner was selected to represent the QMJHL for the Subway Super Series and logged plenty of ice time for Team QMJHL against the Russians.

Logging significant playing time is nothing new for Fournier, who is one of the top defensemen for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and skates in all situations. He currently ranks third among the club's defense with 12 points through 26 games to go along with a plus-13 rating. While his offensive numbers may not jump off the page, it is his calm style of play and fluid skating ability that make him an effective defender and first passer. Thanks in part to their stable of defensemen, the Huskies rank fifth in the QMJHL with a 21-10-0-1 record and are within striking distance of TELUS West Division leader Blainville-Boisbriand.

Brandon Whitney, G, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall) in 2012

The first of two goaltenders taken by the Blackhawks in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, Brandon Whitney is in his first full season as the number-one goaltender for Victoriaville. He has earned a 11-10-1-4 record so far this season as the Tigres attempt to keep pace in the TELUS East Division. Although the record looks worse than his strong showing as a rookie, his 3.07 goals against average is only slightly higher and he has actually earned a better save percentage this season at .904.

Whitney's 6'5 frame and quick movements around the crease make him very difficult to beat down low. The defense in front of him is inexperienced this season; three regular defensemen are rookies and the three veteran regulars only have around 100 games played apiece. Whitney will continue to be tested down the stretch as the team battles for playoff positioning.

Junior 'A'

Vince Hinostroza, C, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
Acquired: 6th round (169th overall) in 2012

Back for a third USHL season in Waterloo, Vince Hinostroza has played a top-six role for the top-ranked Black Hawks. While the combination of Zach Stepan (NAS), Taylor Cammarata, and Justin Kloos has garnered headlines, Hinostroza's play in all situations should not go unnoticed. Through 18 games, the SIZE forward has 15 goals and 11 assists. His total of 26 points on the season ranks eighth overall in the USHL, but only fourth on the Waterloo team rankings.

The Illinois native will join Notre Dame next season, looking to continue developing his hockey game while trying to adjust to the size and speed of the next level.

Chris Calnan, RW, South Shore Kings (EJHL)
Acquired: 3rd round (79th overall) in 2012

Chris Calnan made the adjustment from prep hockey to the EJHL this season, and he was slow to start with only one point in five games. The winger exploded in the final weekend of September with six points in two games and never looked back. He rattled off six consecutive multi-point efforts after that jumpstart and now leads the team in goals (18) and is tied for the lead in points (32) through 22 games. A third of his goals have come on special teams, with three power play goals and three shorthanded goals.

Committed to Boston College next fall, Calnan will continue to see plenty of ice time and be a big part of one of the EJHL's top offensive teams.

Matt Tomkins, G, Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)
Acquired: 7th round (199th overall) in 2012

The second goaltender taken in the Blackhawks 2012 draft class was Matt Tomkins, who is now in his second season as the starter for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Another big-framed goalie at 6'2, Tomkins is another prospect that takes up a lot of net. He utilizes consistent positioning and plays with a calm presence in net. In 19 appearances this season, he has earned a record of 10-6-3, 2.82 goals against average, and .912 save percentage.

Sherwood Park is caught in a logjam in the AJHL's West Division but they are well in contention for the playoffs at 16-13-4. Tomkins is committed to join Ohio State University next season and will play alongside current freshman back-up goalie Collin Olson (CAR).

Johan Mattsson, G, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
Acquired: 7th round (211th overall) in 2011

The Tri-City Storm has managed to keep pace in the USHL's competitive Western Conference, but it has not been due to their offense. With only 58 goals on the season, the team ranks among lowest teams in scoring in the league.

Instead, it has been a solid defensive effort and steady goaltending from 20-year-old Johan Mattsson that has kept the team in the mix. In 19 appearances he has earned a 2.58 goals against average and .916 save percentage, ranking in the top ten in the USHL in both categories. The team has only managed an 10-8-1 record in his games, but Tri-City has been very tough to beat on nights where Mattsson is on his game.