Chicago Blackhawks CHL prospects made the most of playoff opportunities

By Brad Gardner
Alex Broadhurst - London Knights

Photo: Alex Broadhurst, who skated in his first OHL season with the London Knights in 2012-13, was one of two Blackhawks prospects to skate in the 2013 Memorial Cup (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 
There were not many Chicago Blackhawks prospects skating in playoff action after the 2012-13 season. Between the Rockford IceHogs just missing the cut in the AHL and only Brandon Saad skating in Chicago during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the pro level prospects were not very well-represented his postseason. Several prospects stood out at lower levels in their respective leagues, including two CHL prospects who played prominent roles on Memorial Cup teams.

NHL

Brandon Saad is the most notable pro prospect in the postseason, skating with the top-seeded Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Saad's play during the regular season improved as the year wore on, but he has been less consistent in the playoffs. He struggled against the top defensive assignments while skating alongside Jonathan Toews during the team's first round series against Minnesota and the beginning of the second round series against Detroit. Even after Chicago's head coach Joel Quenneville shook up the line combinations, the 20-year-old winger had trouble finding the same level of dynamic play that he brought consistently in the second half of the regular season.

Saad is averaging 16:05 of ice time through 12 playoff games, which is not far off from his regular season average, but he has contributed only two assists in that time. He was limited to bottom-six minutes in the second half of the Detroit series, but continued to create some havoc in the offensive zone with Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg. The Blackhawks will need all hands on deck, especially from their fourth-highest scoring forward during the regular season, if they are to get past Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.

WHL

The Portland Winterhawks have experienced fairly constant turnover in their lineup over the last two seasons, but the team has yet to take a step back. The return of Mac Carruth for an overage season gave the team an experienced goaltender to play behind the squad's talented defensive corps. Carruth and the Winterhawks set a new team record for the fewest goals allowed in club history during the regular season and earned the top seed in the league's Western Conference.

After coming up short in each of the past two WHL finals series, they went 12-3 through the first three rounds in 2013 to force a rematch with the 2012 champs, the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Winterhawks finally captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup, with Carruth playing all but 10 minutes along the way. Carruth held the Oil Kings to one goal or less in each of Portland's four wins during the finals series, running his playoff numbers this season to a 16-4-1 record with a 1.63 goals against average and .937 save percentage. The 21-year-old goaltender capped off one of the best playoff resumes in WHL history, including the most playoff wins in league history with 49 victories in his 75 career WHL playoff starts.

The Winterhawks made the Memorial Cup for the first time since 1998. Carruth played well in their games against London and Saskatoon, allowing an average of two goals in those three games, but his two starts against Halifax did not go very well. Carruth gave up 12 goals to Halifax in two games and five of those goals game in Portland's 6-4 loss to the Mooseheads in the final. He finished the tournament with a 3-2 record, 3.61 goals against average, and .894 save percentage.

OHL

The London Knights were amongst the elite teams in the OHL all season long, but it took a monumental comeback against the Barrie Colts in the finals for the Knights to make the Memorial Cup for a second consecutive season. New Lenox, Illinois native Alex Broadhurst played a key offensive role for the club, skating on a scoring line role at even strength and playing significant minutes on each special teams unit. In 21 OHL playoff games, he scored 10 goals and 18 assists while earning a plus-eight rating. His 28 points ranked second on the team, and he led the Knights with five powerplay goals during their OHL playoff run. At the Memorial Cup, Broadhurst added one goal and three assists, tying for third on the team in points, but the Knights lost 2-1 to Carruth and the Portland Winterhawks in the semi-final game.

QMJHL

The Moncton Wildcats made one of the biggest splashes at the QMJHL trade deadline by acquiring the services of center Phillip Danault from Victoriaville. The two teams faced off against each other in the first round, with Danault scoring one goal, four assists in five games against his hometown club, which was backstopped by Blackhawks prospect Brandon Whitney. The sixth-seeded Moncton team was upset in the first round of the playoffs by 11th-seeded Victoriaville, which rode hot goaltending from Whitney to a 4-1 series victory. Whitney earned two shutouts in the first round with a .951 save percentage and 1.87 goals against average in the five-game series. The Tigres did not fare as well in the second round, as they were swept by Baie-Comeau. Whitney finished the postseason with a 4-4-1 record, .928 save percentage, and 2.92 goals against average.

One of the most improved teams in the Quebec league was the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, which included Blackhawks defensive prospect Dillon Fournier. The Huskies beat Drummondville and Quebec in their first two playoff series before running into eventual league and Memorial Cup champs, the Halifax Mooseheads. Fournier led the team's blueliners with four goals and tied for the team lead with a plus-eight rating to go along with his 12 points in 14 games.

NCAA

Chicago prospects playing for the University of Minnesota, North Dakota University, Notre Dame University, and the University of Denver all made the NCAA Tournament, however none of those teams made it out of the regionals. Drew LeBlanc, only signed after the finish of his senior season at St. Cloud State, was the only Blackhawks prospect to skate at the Frozen Four. LeBlanc registered one goal and four assists in the Huskies two-game rout of Alaska-Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA Tournament, but he was held off the score sheet in the final four games of his college season. St. Cloud State lost their semi-final game at the Frozen Four to Quinnipiac.

Junior 'A'

Matt Tomkins, Sherwood Park Crusaders made it to the second round of the AJHL playoffs but fell to the eventual North Division champs, the Spruce Grove Saints. Tomkins played in all 10 games with the team in the postseason, finishing with a 5-5-0 record in the playoffs with a 3.26 goals against average and .899 save percentage.

Vince Hinostroza and the Waterloo Black Hawks fell in the first round of the USHL playoffs to the Fargo Force. Hinostroza, along with the rest of the team's potent offense, played a big part in extending the series to the five-game limit, with the third-year USHL player leading the team in goals (4) and points (7) in five postseason games.

Europe

Teuvo Teravainen and Jokerit finished the SM-liiga regular season as the league's top team, earning a bye to the quarter-finals of the playoffs. Jokerit was unable to get past Lukko in their first playoff match-up however, as the best regular season team made an early playoff exit. Teravainen picked up his only goal of the playoffs in the first game of the series, but was limited to just one assist the rest of the way as his team fell in six games.

Notes and Signings

The Blackhawks made one free agent acquisition late in the regular season, signing 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner Drew LeBlanc from the St. Cloud State Huskies. LeBlanc finished his NCAA season with 50 points in 42 games before turning pro and finishing the regular season with the Chicago Blackhawks. He appeared in two NHL games down the stretch, looking more comfortable with each shift, but did not crack the score sheet. The 23-year-old playmaking center then suited up for Team USA at the World Championships, where he scored three assists as part of the bronze medal team.

The team also signed 2012 fifth round draft pick Garret Ross to an entry-level contract after Saginaw was knocked out in the first round of the OHL playoffs. Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill, and Joakim Nordstrom, all three already signed to entry-level contracts, also joined Ross in Rockford late in the season.

On May 31st, the Blackhawks signed Alex Broadhurst to a three-year entry-level contract. The 20-year-old winger will join his older brother, Terry, in competing for a roster spot with the Rockford IceHogs next season.

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