2008 draft class has yielded little for Chicago Blackhawks

By Brad Gardner
Shawn Lalonde - Chicago Blackhawks

Photo: Defenseman Shawn Lalonde, the Blackhawks second pick at 68th overall, is one of several prospects from Chicago's 2008 class who is still developing at the minor league level. (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

 
Of the seven selections made by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008, only sixth-round pick Ben Smith has seen any time with the NHL club. Several prospects remain in the minor league system and college level, but none of them are surefire NHL prospects at this point in their careers.

The Blackhawks selected five defensemen in the draft, two from the junior level, one from Sweden, and two more headed towards the NCAA route. While the college defenders are still playing at the NCAA level and will both be eligible for pro contracts following this season, none of the other three defensive picks have turned out to be more than marginal AHL players at best so far in their career.

The two forwards selected in 2008 both have a chance to put together NHL careers, but Chicago’s crowded minor league system means that neither will be rushed into full-time NHL duty.

Kyle Beach, LW, Everett Silvertips (WHL) – 1st round, 11th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Chicago's only pick in the top two rounds was spent on Kyle Beach. Following a productive junior career as a goal-scorer and pest, the 23-year-old winger has yet to establish himself as more than a complimentary player at the AHL level. In 127 career AHL games, he has scored 29 goals and 59 points to go along with 323 penalty minutes.

Beach has not been able to develop into a primary scorer for Chicago's AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs or commit to a consistent, defensively reliable checking game. Even as an energy player or tough guy, he has the tendency of either disappearing for stretches or picking the wrong spot. He has shown the ability to be an impact player in the AHL during stretches, but the Blackhawks will have to be patient longer if they are intent on developing Beach into an everyday NHL winger.

A shoulder injury limited Beach during the 2011-12 season, while other prospects like Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw, and Brandon Bollig saw time in the Blackhawks lineup. Even with a healthy stretch this season, he has yet to put himself in a leading position for a call-up. He has scored eight goals and 13 points through 31 games, averaging fewer than two shots per game and over three penalty minutes per game.

Shawn Lalonde, D, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 3rd round, 68th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Blackhawks traded the 72nd pick and 102nd pick to the New York Islanders in order to move up and select offensive-defenseman Shawn Lalonde with the 68th pick. Like Beach, Lalonde has been unable to replicate at the pro level his offensive success during his decorated junior career. He has 10 goals and 56 points in 168 career AHL games to date. 

The smooth-skating blueliner often carried the puck and quarterbacked the power play during his time in Belleville, but he has yet to establish himself as more than a third pairing option so far in Rockford. Even after the club traded power-play ace Brian Connelly late in the 2011-12 season, Lalonde still has yet to step into a top role on the man advantage. His defensive zone play and decision-making are still works in progress.

A restricted free agent at the end of the season, Lalonde's time with the organization may be running thin as some of the club's NCAA prospects approach the pro level.

Teigan Zahn, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) – 5th round, 132nd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A big, rugged defenseman, Teigan Zahn was drafted in 2008 by the Blackhawks but went unsigned following the 2009-10 season. He was drafted again by Tampa Bay in 2010, this time in the seventh round, 186th overall. He served as captain in his overage season with the Saskatoon Blades in 2011-12, but instead of turning pro last season, he spent the year with the University of Calgary. He signed an AHL contract this season with the Oklahoma City Barons, but has spent a majority of his time in the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder. So far this season, Zahn has registered 11 points in 28 ECHL games.

Jonathan Carlsson, D, Brynas (SEL) – 6th round, 162nd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Swedish defenseman Jonathan Carlsson was the first pick from the 2008 draft to suit up for an entire season with the Blackhawks' minor league affiliates, but his stay in North America did not last longer than the 2009-10 season. Carlsson split time between Rockford and the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL that year, but has since skated in his native country's top professional league, the Elitserien. The stay-at-home defenseman has yet to skate in a prominent role in the SEL, but is averaging almost 13 minutes per game in his first season with Timra in 2012-13.

Ben Smith, RW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East) – 6th round, 169th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 19

The only player from the Blackhawks' 2008 draft class to skate in the NHL so far has been Ben Smith, a two-time NCAA National Champion at Boston College. Smith's splash in Chicago, although limited to only a handful of games, included three goals in the team's seven game playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.

Ill-timed injuries have forced Smith out of training camp the past two seasons, last season after a headshot from the Red Wings' Brendan Smith in a preseason game and more recently a hand injury suffered in a game against Milwaukee that included a fight and later an assist on the game-winning goal. 

As the second-leading scorer in Rockford, he should be in line for a call-up during a shortened season that promises to include plenty of bumps and bruises. Smith is not likely to develop into a top scorer in the NHL, but his versatile ability to contribute with any linemates and play a hard-working, error-free game should help him eventually carve out a role in the NHL. 

Braden Birch, D, Oakville Blades (OPJHL) – 6th round, 179th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The club's third pick in the sixth round was spent on another defenseman, this time a sizable stay-at-home blueliner from the junior 'A' level. Braden Birch has gone on to a four-year career at Cornell University, developing into a shutdown defenseman and penalty-killer for the Big Red. He was a finalist last season for the ECAC's Best Defensive Defenseman Award for a junior season that included two straight months without Birch being on the ice for an even strength goal against.

Now in his senior season, he is serving as one of Cornell's tri-captains. The defensive corps in the Blackhawks minor leagues is crowded with prospects, but Birch's size and defensive acumen should earn him a shot at the pro level, whether it is an NHL contract or AHL deal.

Joe Gleason, D, Edina High School (MN-HS) – 7th round, 192nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Blackhawks final pick in 2008 came from the Minnesota high school level. Now a senior at the University of North Dakota, Joe Gleason is finally skating consistent minutes on the blue line. The offensively-skilled Gleason lined up at forward at times as a junior, but he has remained a mainstay in the lineup for the last two campaigns at North Dakota.

The blueliner registered a career-high 15 points, all assists, as a junior and is on pace to surpass that total this season with 10 points through 21 games. At 5’9 and 171 pounds, Gleason may have trouble making an impact at the pro level but will still be eligible to sign a pro deal after finishing the 2012-13 season.

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