The Chicago Blackhawks will head into the 2013 NHL Draft with only one pick in the first three rounds after trading their second and third picks to Winnipeg in exchange for Johnny Oduya in 2011-12. The team has five total picks, a change of pace after having made 29 selections at the past three drafts. More than half of Chicago's picks in that time have come in the first three rounds, which has given the team several quality prospects at each position to build around.
Although the team is still competing against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Blackhawks are still likely to be an active team this summer as the lowering of the salary cap will force the team to shed some of its depth once again. With a deep 2013 draft class available, it is feasible that the Blackhawks begin making changes at the draft in an effort to acquire more picks.
Top 10 Prospects:
The impending cap crunch will have an effect on roster decisions for General Manager Stan Bowman. Restricted free agent defenseman Nick Leddy and unrestricted free agent and playoff hero Bryan Bickell are likely in line for big raises, whether in Chicago or elsewhere. RFA Marcus Kruger is likely to be retained, but unrestricted players like Viktor Stalberg, Michael Handzus, and Michal Rozsival are probably not in the team's plans moving forward. Unrestricted goalie Ray Emery, coming off a stellar season for the Blackhawks, is another player that could make more money elsewhere, but the signing of Finnish league MVP Antti Raanta may have shored up the goaltending depth in the NHL to some extent.
The center depth of the Blackhawks was tested during the lockout shortened 2013 season. Dave Bolland and Kruger had opportunities to take control of the second line center spot, but it has been mid-season trade acquisition Handzus that has played the most time there in the playoffs. All three players are likely better options in checking roles, but the cast of possible candidates for the second line pivot position in the minor leagues, which includes Brandon Pirri, Drew LeBlanc, Phillip Danault, and Mark McNeill, while talented are still unproven.
Further down the depth chart, the Blackhawks will have decisions to make that will impact the Rockford IceHogs lineup in the AHL. Restricted free agents LeBlanc, Ryan Stanton, and Joe Lavin are likely to be kept on for at least another season, but the futures of trade acquisition Max Sauve and other prospects who have been passed up on the depth chart like Kyle Beach and Shawn Lalonde are not quite as clear. In addition to Emery, goalies Carter Hutton, Henrik Karlsson, and Alec Richards are also unrestricted free agents this summer. Even with the addition of Raanta, the team is not likely to go into next season with Kent Simpson as the third goalie on the depth chart and is likely to either retain one of their free agents or bring in another experienced netminder.
Chicago's forward depth at the professional level is one of the team's strengths. Brandon Saad broke into the lineup during the 2013 season while a group of wingers led by Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, and Ben Smith have earned big-league experience and could be in line for more NHL time next season. At center, Brandon Pirri led the AHL in scoring in 2012-13 and he will be backed up by LeBlanc and first-round picks Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill in the pro ranks full-time next season.
The Blackhawks also have a number of potential NHL contributors on defense and in net. Offensive-minded blueliner Adam Clendening projects as a player capable of putting up some points in the NHL, while the likes of Ryan Stanton, Klas Dahlbeck, Joe Lavin, and Dylan Olsen provide depth and could step into a third-pairing role in the near future. In goal, the Blackhawks highest-drafted netminder, Kent Simpson, turned in a solid rookie ECHL season in a league that can be tough on goalies. He will be joined at the pro level next season by WHL Champion Mac Carruth and Finnish free agent signing Raanta.
There is even more depth beyond the pro level, although many of these prospects are likely still years away from competing for ice time in Chicago. Teuvo Teravainen, who plays in Finland's SM-liiga, is a dynamic offensive forward while power winger Chris Calnan will join center Kevin Hayes at Boston College for the 2013-14 season. Defensively, the Blackhawks have a pair of defensive-minded, physical rearguards in Stephen Johns and Michael Paliotta in the NCAA while smooth-skating Dillon Fournier plays for Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL.
Beyond Saad, very few prospects are proven at the NHL level, but the main strength of the system is the number of versatile players with NHL potential.
Although the Blackhawks pipeline has been stocked with quantity at each position, the ultimate upside of those prospects at the NHL level remains to be seen. The team has the advantage of building around a strong core of players, but with possible second and third line spots opening up as soon as next season, the forward prospects will be tested. The second line center spot, for example, could feasibly be filled by offensive-minded forwards like Pirri or LeBlanc, but whether either prospect can hold up against the physical play and contribute at both ends of the rink in the NHL remains to be seen. If a forward like Bryan Bickell is lost in the off-season, it will be a test for wingers like Morin or Hayes to develop into more consistent players in the physical game and in front of the net to help clear room for the Blackhawks skill players.
In the last three drafts, the Blackhawks have drafted an equal number of players from the CHL as they have from amateur levels like the NCAA, U.S. high school, and Junior 'A' leagues. These North American prospects make up around 75-percent of Chicago's picks in that span, and have been even more common when it comes to the first and second round. Five picks in three years have come from the USHL, while the team has drafted four players from each of the WHL, OHL, and Swedish developmental leagues.
The sheer volume of picks in recent years has allowed the 'Hawks to come away with a number of prospects at each position. Six forwards and four defensemen have been picked in either the first or second round since 2010, giving the team several quality prospects at each position. Simpson, selected 58th overall in 2010, is the only goaltending prospect to be drafted higher than the seventh round. That said, having drafted five goalies in the last three years, it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the team uses one of its five picks in 2013 on a goaltender.
The exact placement of Chicago's picks will be decided in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Blackhawks possess five picks heading into the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey: 1st round (29/30), 4th round (120/121), 5th round (150/151), 6th round (180/181), and 7th round (210/211).
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
A mobile, puck-moving defenseman is right in the Blackhawks' wheelhouse. Chicago depends a lot on their blueliners being able to carry the puck and move it out of the zone safely, so they cannot have too many players like Shea Theodore in the pipeline. Theodore has an excellent shot and is an aggressive player offensively. His skating ability and agility is what really makes him stand out on the ice. The native of Aldergrove, British Columbia was asked to do a lot for the Thunderbirds in his draft year and rose to the occasion as the season wore on, finding success on the powerplay and leading the defense in goals and points.