The Chicago Blackhawks are a team on the rise if you take into account the breadth of their prospect system. If you are looking for skill, strength, toughness or size at any position, the Blackhawks seem to have all areas covered. Ranking fourth in the Hockey’s Future Spring Organizational Rankings, the team has a bright future with some players already getting their first tastes of NHL action. This is even more remarkable considering the recent graduates Brent Seabrook, Rene Bourque and Duncan Keith from the prospect list to NHL players.
Hockey’s Future had the opportunity to gather some insight on the Blackhawks prospect system from Director of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman for this edition of the Top 20. Bowman is in his sixth year with the organization, and is an integral part of the scouting and development of their young players.
Top 20 at a Glance
1. Cam Barker, D
2. David Bolland C
3. Jack Skille, RW
4. Pavel Vorobiev, RW
5. Corey Crawford, G
6. Danny Richmond, D
7. Brandon Bochenski, LW
8. Michal Barinka, D
9. Mike Blunden, RW
10. Dan Bertram, RW
11. Dustin Byfuglien, D
12. James Wisniewski, D
13. Jakub Sindel, C
14. Martin St. Pierre, C
15. Petri Kontiola, C
16. Evan Brophey, C
17. Jonas Nordqvist, C
18. Troy Brouwer, RW
19. Colin Fraser, C
20. Joe Fallon, G
1. (1) Cam Barker, D — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Apr 4, 1986
Acquired: 1st round, 3rd overall, 2004
It might seem like a recurring theme, but Cam Barker will at some point have to maintain some long-term health to continue his position as the top Blackhawk prospect. At this point Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien have passed him on the depth chart in the organization, all having spent time with the Blackhawks. His top-end skill set and long-term projection as a top pairing blueliner is what gives him the nod as the No. 1 ranked prospect in the organization. This year, Barker missed a significant portion of the WHL season with an ankle injury, but did chip in with 18 points in 25 games. He also was a leader in the Under-20 World Junior Championships helping Team Canada win gold and finishing tied for second in team scoring to Blake Comeau (NYI).
“Cam had a very good camp, and did get into an exhibition game,” recounted Bowman. “We knew he wasn’t quite ready, and then his season was cut short in the WHL with an ankle injury. He is back now and performing well. We feel that Cam is a complete player and we expect that he will be a top 4 defenseman for us for a lot of years. He won’t be automatically given a job at camp next year, but we expect to see him spend time with the big club next season.”
2. (10) Dave Bolland, F — London Knights (OHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 175 lbs., DOB: May 6, 1986
Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2004
Bolland is nearing the end of his fourth OHL season with the London Knights, competing in the OHL Western Conference final. Many would consider Bolland’s 85-point campaign in 2004-05 a breakout season, but it was overtaken by a stellar season where he scored 130 points in a mere 59 games including 57 goals. Bolland also helped Team Canada win gold at the WJC as one of the offensive leaders with five points in six games, tied for first in league scoring. Bolland has an all-around game that many scouts like, but the organization sees him more as a skilled player.
“Bolland is the closest thing we have to a star in the making,” Bowman said. “He has a lot of skill and we think that is something he will be able to utilize once he adjusts to the speed of the NHL. He has great hands, and is a great stickhandler…the kind of guy that can bring you out of your seat. If he continues his development at present pace, he should be a point producer in the NHL.”
3. (3) Jack Skille, F — Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 198 lbs., DOB: May 19, 1987
Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall, 2005
Skille continues to be one of the highest-rated forwards in the Blackhawks prospect pool. The USNTDP product entered his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin and had a successful year scoring a huge goal in the WCHA final in triple overtime to send the Badgers to the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. The success didn’t end there as Skille and the Badgers won the tournament giving Wisconsin their first NCAA title in 15 years. Skille continues to round out his game as a strong skating power forward and all-around talent at both ends of the rink. He finished eighth in team scoring but third in goals.
“The development in the NCAA is a bit different for a young player like Skille. You are playing as an 18-year-old versus 24-year-olds,” Bowman told Hockey’s Future. “As time went on during the season, you could see that his play came on. He is a prototypical power winger that goes up and down with good speed, and has a great shot. We are very happy with his development and he is in a good program. With some graduations, he is going to see a more prominent role in Wisconsin next season, and that will also be positive for him.”
4. (4) Pavel Vorobiev, F — Chicago Blackhawks
Height: 6’0, Weight: 195 lbs., DOB: May 5, 1982
Acquired: 1st round, 11th overall, 2000
This was a year that Pavel Vorobiev and the Blackhawks hoped to see him turn the corner and begin on his NHL career. After a tough year in 2004-05 with Norfolk, Vorobiev was looking forward to rebound year. With a strong camp and a great start to the campaign, Vorobiev was showing that he could be an offensive catalyst for the Blackhawks. Scoring 15 points in his first 13 games Vorobiev was near the pace of other top rookies but an ankle injury from blocking a shot derailed a fine start.
“It was disappointing to see Pavel get injured after such a hot start. It was an ankle and he attempted to get back as quick as possible and probably pushed himself to come back a little too early. Things weren’t working well for him so we had to send him down. As the year progressed, he was getting better and better,” Bowman stated.
Vorobiev did put up solid numbers in Norfolk registering 25 points in 32 games. “The thing about Vorobiev is that he has improved every year as a professional. He works very hard in the offseason and we expect this year won’t be an exception.”
5. (7) Corey Crawford, G — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Dec 31, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2003
The Chicago Blackhawks expected Corey Crawford sharing time in Norfolk with Adam Munro, but with an injury to Nikolai Khabibulin with the big club, Crawford saw the bulk of the workload in Norfolk in the American Hockey League. He finished the season one game under .500 with a 22-23-1 record in 48 appearances.
“That wasn’t our intention,” Bowman told Hockey’s Future. “It was a pretty tough job as a first-year pro for Corey to come in and have more work and pressure than we expected. Overall we thought he played well. He has all the makings of a franchise goaltender.”
Crawford is still expected to continue his development in Norfolk next season.
6. (NR) Danny Richmond, D – Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 197 lbs., DOB: Aug 1, 1984
Acquired: Trade with Carolina January 20, 2006.
When the Chicago Blackhawks traded former first rounder Anton Babchuk to the Carolina Hurricanes for Danny Richmond, it wasn’t necessarily a damning of Babchuk, but a realization that certain players might be a better fit for your organization.
“I like Danny, he plays more of an aggressive style, and is more mobile and gives us a little more speed on the back end,” said Bowman. “He does need to work on his strength and round out his frame, but he has a good nose for the offensive play.”
Richmond will be competing with a number of young blueliners for a spot on the Blackhawks blue line next fall.
7. (NR) Brandon Bochenski, F — Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight 197 lbs., DOB Apr 4, 1982
Acquired: March 9, 2006 in Trade with Ottawa
The Blackhawks decided that it was time to part ways with talented but enigmatic center Tyler Arnason at the trade deadline and found a deal to their liking with the Ottawa Senators bringing in left winger Brandon Bochenski and a second round pick. Bochenski has been a point producer and goal scorer wherever he has played, including 154 points in 120 NCAA games for the University of North Dakota.
This season after a slow start in Ottawa on the top two lines, Bochenski was returned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League. Bochenski had a confidence problem and the trip to the minors helped him immensely. He earned a call-up on Nov. 30, but was then knocked out of action for 15 games with a shoulder injury and was reassigned to Binghamton. Maybe his last game as Senator property on March 8 sealed his fate, scoring five points in a 7-4 win against his future team’s farm club, Norfolk. Chicago acquired him the next day.
“Bochenski is a really talented guy,” stated Bowman. “He is a good finisher but needs someone that can feed him the puck. A true sniper. We need to find a center that can do that. It didn’t work out late in the season but hopefully we can find someone to play with him next season.”
8. (11) Michal Barinka, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Jun 12, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2003
Michal Barinka’s profile isn’t something that will excite a reader. He is a defense-first blueliner with a limited upside with decent size. He may not be a Norris trophy-winner in the making but players of Barinka’s ilk are essential for the success of any franchise. He is a good crease clearer and is good in the corners using his strength to his advantage. After a strong start this season in Norfolk, Barinka got the call from the Blackhawks appearing in two games before being knocked out of the line-up with a concussion after being hit by Nashville’s Scott Hartnell.
After recovering he was returned to Norfolk to ensure he regained his form before being thrust into NHL action. Barinka continued his fine play and was rewarded with a call-up in March playing the final 23 games of the season with the Blackhawks.
“Barinka has a lot of upside,” according to Bowman. “He is at his best when he plays simple and utilizes his size. He is in his third year in North America and continues to improve. You could see it in his 25-game call-up.”
9. (12) Michael Blunden, F — Erie Otters (OHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: Dec 15, 1986
Acquired: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2005
Michael Blunden had a chance to be a first round pick heading into the 2005 Draft, but scouts wondered about his offensive potential with only 41 points in 61games in his draft year. The questions were whether he would be anything more than a big physical winger. Blunden answered all of his critics in the 2005-06 OHL season amassing 46 goals, 38 assists for 84 points in only 60 games for Erie. Blunden was also an offensive catalyst with the gold medal-winning Canadian Under 20 World Junior Championship, team tying for third on the team with five points in six games.
“He sure had a breakout year,” said Bowman. “We were confident we had a good player but this year he came into his own. He is a big guy that skates very well. Plays a similar power forward game to Skille. but with a larger frame. He has good skill and we are pleased he is showing it. He is going to be a good player for many years to come.”
10. (15) Daniel Bertram, F — Boston College (NCAA)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 188 lbs., DOB: Jan 14, 1987
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2005
If a scout were to go exclusively by the numbers thus far, he wouldn’t be very impressed with the progression of a player who at one time was the CSS top-rated NCAA player for the 2005 draft. The numbers have yet to endorse it, but the Blackhawks still like Bertram a lot.
“Sometimes the roles you play will dictate your numbers,” started Bowman. “We thought he was good for Canada in the World Juniors in a checking role, and was very good in the NCAA Championship game. He showed some offensive punch.”
Considering that Bertram was the top scoring first or second-year player on the Boston College Eagles with 26 points in 36 games, it would still have to be considered a successful year, and good for Bertram’s development playing in pressure situations in the NCAA and achieving gold with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.
An increased role in Boston College is most likely in Bertram’s future since the Hawks intend to let Bertram stay in school to develop.
11. (16) Dustin Byfuglien, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 250 lbs., DOB: Jan 8, 1985
Acquired: 8th round, 243rd overall, 2003
Dustin Byfuglien wasn’t really on the radar for the Blackhawks at training camp. As an eighth rounder with size but coming off a very successful WHL career, the thought was a pretty good player who would provide some depth. And weighing in at 270 lbs, his foot speed would be an issue as well.
“That is pretty much it. At training camp we had a guy that was down on the list. Maybe would get a short call-up,” Bowman opined.
But Byfuglien had other ideas. After getting sent down to Norfolk at the beginning of the season he proceeded to work hard and was very productive while shedding 25 pounds in the process. That prompted a call-up on Feb. 27 when the Blackhawks were hurting on the back end with injuries.
“We called Dustin up and he was very good,” continued Bowman. “One of the things he has is a natural ability and great hockey sense.” That not only got Byfuglien to the NHL, but kept in the Hawks line-up the rest of the season.
It is now a crowded place on the Blackhawks blue line with Byfuglien coming to camp in the fall competing for a job with Barker and the rest of the young blueliners.
12. (17) James Wisniewski, D — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 204 lbs., DOB: Feb 21, 1984
Acquired: 5th round, 156th overall, 2002
James Wisniewski over the last few years had been mentioned as an offensively skilled defenseman and that was his projected role. Over the last season and a half, he has added a toughness element that the Blackhawks hope will help him to achieve to the next level.
“Jim played in 19 games for us [at the NHL level], so obviously we have some belief in his ability as a player,” Bowman explained. “He has some offensive skill and we like that but he is also stronger and tougher than you would expect. He handles himself well and has the potential to be a good NHLer.”
That said, Wisniewski is also part of a very talented young blue line with only so many spots at the NHL level. He will look to earn a spot in training camp in the fall.
13. (19) Jakub Sindel, F — Plzen HC (Czech)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 172 lbs., DOB: Jan 24, 1986
Acquired; 2nd round, 54th overall, 2004
As mentioned previously on Hockey’s Future, Sindel returned to the Czech Republic this season after spending half a season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Although successful in North America, Sindel decided that a year back in the Czech Republic would be best.
It wasn’t a great start to the season for Sindel scoring only two points in his first 12 games and was transferred to HC Plzen from HC Sparta Praha. Sindel performed much better for Plzen scoring 19 points in the last 31 games of the season.
Sindel has some obvious top-end skill that makes him very enticing to a team that could use more skill on the top two lines.
“Sindel and Bolland are the two most skilled prospects we have,” Bowman said. “[Sindel] has great hands and a great shot but he will need to physically develop before he can reach the next level.”
Bowman and the Blackhawks are hoping that development can come in North America.
“We will be talking to his agent to discuss the possibility of Jakub coming back over. We will see.”
14. (13) Martin St. Pierre, F — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 5’9, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Aug 11, 1983
Acquired: Free agent, Nov 2005
When you consider that the expectations weren’t extremely high for Martin St. Pierre when the Hawks signed him, Norfolk Admirals head coach Mike Haviland had a lot of praise.
“We got him as a depth guy who we knew could put up points,” Haviland told HF in March. “But to have 60-some points this year as a first-year guy in the American League — and he’s deserved every one of them. He’s certainly become a major part of our team.”
That will get an organization a little bit excited about a player. Stan Bowman concurred. “We signed St. Pierre to get a little offensive boost on the farm but he developed into the go-to guy. He is such a great passer and is very good on the power play.”
That being the case, St. Pierre still has to get over the small player stigma. The Hawks have hopes for him but remain realistic. “We have him signed for another year,” said Bowman “If he continues to improve you never know what might happen.”
15. (NR) Petri Kontiola, C — Tappara Tampere (SM Liga)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 197 lbs., DOB: Oct 4, 1984
Acquired: 7th round 196th overall, 2004
When asked about players within the Blackhawks system who might be flying under the radar, Stan Bowman brought up a few European prospects. Petri Kontiola was near the top of the list.
Calling him “an excellent playmaker,” Bowman noted that “He was near the league lead in assists. We certainly have high expectations for him.”
The impressive year in the Finnish Elite League has the Hawks wondering about a trip across the pond. With Kontiola’s vision and passing ability, that trip might come sooner rather than later.
“We are going to look at it, but if it doesn’t work out, we will leave him to continue his development one more year and then bring him over,” stated Bowman.
16. (NR) Evan Brophey, F – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 194 lbs., DOB: Jan 28, 1985
Acquired: 3rd round 68th overall, 2005
Another player the Hawks seem bullish on is Evan Brophey. He’s a solid skating center with a good all-around skill set. A mid-season trade that sent Brophey to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL from the Belleville Bulls didn’t stop his production with the opportunity to be the No. 1 center on a contending team. Brophey finished the regular season with 61 points in 62 games.
“We think that Brophey is a kid that often gets overlooked. He has great hands and sees the ice very well. He has lots of ability and the only question is consistency. If he puts it all together then we have a really good player here.”
17. (NR) Jonas Nordqvist, F — Lulea (SEL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 201 lbs., DOB: Apr 26, 1982
Acquired: 2nd round 49th overall, 2000
Jonas Nordqvist is another European player that is still high on the radar of the Blackhawks organization but might be overlooked by some in North America. Nordqvist has been quietly improving every year posting seasons of 24, 32 and this year 41 points in Sweden’s highest league. His solid season put him sixth in Sweden in scoring.
Nordqvist possesses fine offensive skills and has very good hockey sense. His knock has been his skating, but the Blackhawks don’t see it as a hurdle that can’t be overcome.
“Sure we would like him to work on his quickness but he has really come into his own over the last year and a half,” began Bowman. “This year playing with former NHLer Mikael Renberg he put up a very strong year. The thing about Nordqvist is that he is an intelligent player and also a very good passer. We are going to assess bringing him over this offseason.”
18. (NR) Troy Brouwer, F – Moose Jaw (WHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 212 lbs., DOB: Aug 27, 1985
Acquired: 7th round, 214th overall, 2004
It is tough not to get excited about a player who scores over 100 points in the Canadian Hockey League. But caution should be taken when the player is showing their offensive outburst at 20 years old. After decent years of 49 and 47 points with the Moose Jaw Warriors, this season Brouwer has exploded for 102 points in 72 games and won the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s top scorer.
“I’ve always looked at myself as a power forward who can score, but not a pure goal scorer,” Brouwer said in an interview on WHL.ca. “This year, with going to Blackhawks camp for so long, it showed me what I need to do to get to the next level, and, coming back to Moose Jaw, I didn’t want to give (the Blackhawks) a reason not to sign me or send me home next year.
Brouwer is also a solid leader being named the Warriors captain and thought very highly of by his teammates.
“It was his breakout year,” Bowman told Hockey’s Future. “He ended up with the scoring title.” Bowman also reiterated that it was the first season in which Brouwer had shown such an offensive explosion. “But that wasn’t all. He was good enough at our training camp that we kept him near the end. He is a big strong kid that has some finish. We hope he keeps it up.”
19. (18) Colin Fraser, F — Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Jan 28, 1985
Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, February 2004
Not every player is designed to become a prolific scorer and it appears that Colin Fraser after four years in the WHL and his first in the AHL with Norfolk will not be one. What he will be though is a player who will give everything he has on the ice and drive other teams crazy with his agitating play.
“We thought he had a pretty good year as a rookie in the AHL. We used him primarily as a checking center and he did well in that role. He is also a hard-nosed kid but he has a lot of character and is a leader, even at a young age. He will have to develop physically and work on his foot speed to get to the next level.”
20. (NR) Joe Fallon, G — Vermont (NCAA)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Feb 1, 1985
Acquired: 6th round, 167th overall, 2005
Joe Fallon is the type of goalie that might be remembered as a late-round steal. After back-to-back standout seasons for the University of Vermont with GAA of 1.96 and 2.02 and equally impressive save percentages, Fallon has proved that he isn’t a fluke.
With the different development of goaltenders it may take several years to determine if Fallon can succeed at hockey’s highest level.
“Our goalie coach Stephane Waite really likes Fallon. He has really good size and athletic ability. He has some minor technique issues to work on but overall we like what we have.”
Fallon will continue at the University of Vermont in 2006-07.
Missing the cut
Nathan Davis, Adam Berti, and Brian Bickell.
Missing the cut isn’t necessarily a reflection of the play of the play of these three, but the increased quality and depth of the players within the franchise. Stan Bowman offered some insight on the three players.
On Nathan Davis: “He played for the US WJC team and performed very well. He is a good skater that is good at both ends of the ice.”
On Adam Berti: “Had some injury problems and didn’t produce as well after he was traded from Oshawa to Erie. He is a big kid that can skate well and has a pretty good future.”
On Brian Bickell: “Another big kid that can skate. Played better as the year went on but there was more good than bad this year. If he can be consistent and put it all together, he will be a very good player for us.”
The Chicago Blackhawks continue their strong development of prospects from within and expect to see more young players cracking the NHL lineup soon. There is strength and depth at all positions from offensive centers to checkers and between the pipes. With continued quality drafting the Blackhawks should expect the impact to be felt at the NHL level sometime in the near future.
Colleen Greene contributed to this report. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.