Blackhawks AHL prospects update

By Colleen Greene

The Norfolk Admirals are fulfilling the potential that a host of promising new prospects brought to the table when the 2006-07 season began. With a number of new faces, much of the success of this team depended on how well the 15 prospects currently on this roster were able to perform, and so far, they have certainly met, and in some cases exceeded expectations.

The Admirals are holding their own in the East Division with a record of 21-7-4-1, currently sitting in second place, one point behind of Eastern Conference powerhouse Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and tied in points (47) with the defending Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears.

Head coach Mike Haviland has lead this group of prospects — that includes nine forwards, five defensemen, and a goaltender — to a competitive record despite numerous roster shake-ups. Several of these players have seen time in Chicago, as many of them are not too far away from a job in the NHL.

Goaltending

With the departure of last year’s goaltending partner Adam Munro to play in Europe this season, the starting goaltender position in Norfolk was Corey Crawford’s for the taking. The 21-year-old, who will turn 22 on New Year’s Eve, has been a significant contributor to the Admirals’ success this season. While he’s had a very solid defense playing in front of him, Crawford has more than held his own in goal, as backed up by his numbers. In his 25 games played so far, Crawford leads the league in wins with 17, sports a 2.38 GAA, good for seventh overall in the AHL, and a .923 save percentage, which places him third.

Veteran netminder Sebastien Caron has backstopped the team to a 4-4 record in nine games played in a backup role, posting a 4.03 GAA, and a .871 save percentage.

Defense

The Blackhawks organization currently has four of their top 20 prospects playing on the blue line for the Norfolk Admirals this season. Cam Barker, Danny Richmond, Dustin Byfuglien, and James Wisniewski have all had solid seasons for the Admirals so far, with Barker, Richmond and Wisniewski even seeing some time with Chicago. Richmond, Byfuglien and Wisniewski are all looking to improve upon successful 2005-06 campaigns, while Barker, and fellow rookie blueliner Jordan Hendry are looking to make good first impressions in their initial pro campaigns. Returning veterans Steve Munn and David Koci have provided solid leadership to the defensive corps as well.

Barker, the Hawks’ third overall pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, began this season on Chicago’s roster, and spent about a month with the team before being assigned to Norfolk on Oct. 30. The 20-year-old is adjusting to the professional game after four seasons with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, and has scored three goals and added five assists for eight points and a plus-3 rating in 23 games so far with the Admirals. An offensive defenseman and terrific skater, Barker isn’t afraid to join the rush, and has been most dangerous on the Admirals’ power play.

Richmond, the 22-year-old Chicago native, is coming off an impressive 2005-06 campaign in which he scored 27 points in 63 AHL games between the Lowell Lock Monsters and the Admirals after being traded midway through the season. He also appeared in 20 NHL games last season – ten each for the Hawks and the Carolina Hurricanes. Richmond has continued his strong play in 2006-07, putting up 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 27 games while also playing in four games with Chicago. Though on the smaller side at 6’0, 185 pounds, Richmond is a strong skater who, like Barker, is a defensive threat to score, especially on the power play.

Byfuglien is currently leading the Admirals blue line in scoring with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 23 games. His totals may have been higher had it not been for a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks from Nov. 22 through Dec. 15. The 6’3, 250-pounder has been providing the Admirals with solid physical play and sound defense thus far this season as well, as evidenced by his plus-7 rating. He has continued to develop from his terrific rookie season last year, and may see some time with the Blackhawks before this year is out.

Wisniewski, a 5’11, 185-pound defenseman out of Canton, MI, tallied six assists in 10 games with the Admirals this season. His solid play earned him a call-up to the Hawks on Nov. 15, and he’s been there ever since. In 18 games with Chicago, the former Plymouth Whaler has posted four assists so far. A fiery competitor whose shot and skating ability more than make up for his lack of size, Wisniewski plays with an edge to his game and is smart on both sides of the puck, making him a valuable player for both the Admirals and the Blackhawks.

Hendry has provided a steady and solid presence in his first year pro out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The 22-year-old has played in all 33 of the Admirals games so far, scoring a goal and chipping in eight assists. A strong skater, Hendry is very capable defensively and can hold his own on the offensive end as well. He looks to have made a smooth transition from the college to the pro game and should only continue to improve, especially if he gets more ice time due to Wisniewski’s call-up. Time will tell, though, if Hendry will be able to sustain his consistent play over the course of an entire 80-game AHL schedule – and most likely a number of playoff games – as compared to the much shorter college season.

Forwards

There are several Blackhawk forward prospects suiting up for the Admirals this season. Brandon Bochenski, Martin St. Pierre, and Colin Fraser are all looking to build of terrific seasons in 2005-06, and they’re experiencing similar success this season. In addition to these returnees, the Admirals boast a handful of talented rookies who have shown that they too can play in the AHL.

Bochenski is in his third-year pro and fighting to be a regular in Chicago. He’s making a strong case for himself in Norfolk so far this season, as the talented right wing has scored 46 points – good enough to be the team’s leading scorer up to this point. His 22 goals, half of which have come on the power play, are tied for second place in the AHL, and his 46 total points place him fourth overall. The 6’2, 195-pound winger has improved defensively as well, upping his plus/minus rating from a minus-3 last year to a plus-10 so far this year. He’s seen eight games with the Blackhawks this year, scoring one goal.

St. Pierre is showing that his stellar 2005-06 campaign – one that saw him lead his team in scoring and be named to the AHL All-Rookie Team – was no fluke. The 5’9, 185-pound center trails Bochenski by two points for the team lead in points, netting just 12 goals, but piling up 32 assists. St. Pierre focuses more on his playmaking than his goal scoring, but is a very complete player overall. Similar to Bochenski, St. Pierre also put up one goal in seven games with Chicago this season.

Fraser, though he does not possess the natural scoring touch that St. Pierre and Bochenski do, is enjoying another successful season in Norfolk. Offensively, the Sicamous, BC native scores most of his goals digging for rebounds or searching for deflections in front of the net. However, most of his value lies in his ability to irritate the opposition, as the 6’0, 175-pounder will not back down from anyone as evidenced by his team-leading 87 penalty minutes thus far this season. Fraser is coming off a rookie season that saw the aggressive centerman score 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 75 games. This year, he is on pace to surpass those numbers, as he’s posted 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) while appearing in all 33 of the Admirals games.

Aside from these returnees, the Blackhawks have had some exciting young forwards coming out of the junior and college ranks join the Admirals, and thus far they have certainly met, and in one particular case, exceeded expectations.

Troy Brouwer was making a case for himself to be the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year in the AHL before he was recently called up to the Blackhawks. Coming off his final season with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors when he put up 102 points in 72 games (49 goals, 53 assists), Brouwer made and instant impact in Norfolk. He trailed only Bochenski and St. Pierre in team scoring before his Dec. 23 call-up, scoring 36 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 32 games, second only to Chicago’s Brett Sterling among AHL rookies. Brouwer looks to be developing nicely into a strong power forward, whose scoring prowess and physical play combine to make him a very complete hockey player.

Other notable prospects with the team this season include recent draft picks Dave Bolland, Michael Blunden, Bryan Bickell, Adam Burish, and Adam Berti. Jonas Nordqvist, a second-round draft choice in 2000, is experiencing his first taste of North American pro hockey this year, and seems to be adjusting fine so far after playing the bulk of the last six seasons in the Swedish Elite League. His 19 points so far this season rank seventh on the Admirals. A smooth-skating center with soft hands, Nordqvist could stand to improve his defensive positioning on the smaller ice surfaces of North America, as he’s registered a minus-13 rating so far, but a full season of the AHL under his belt can do nothing but good for the 24-year-old.

Bolland, Chicago’s 32nd overall draft choice in 2004, is enjoying a solid season so far. The 20-year-old has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 24 games this year. Though a glance at his numbers during his final year in juniors would suggest Bolland is all offense (his 130 points in 59 games last season with the London Knights placed him second in the OHL), the Toronto native is a complete player who kills penalties and plays a sound defensive game. Blunden, a self-proclaimed power forward, had a very strong camp this fall with the Blackhawks, and was one of the last cuts to make the big club. He’s posted nine points in 17 games so far with Norfolk, while he went scoreless during a nine-game call-up with the Blackhawks earlier this season. Bickell, another big, strong, potential power forward is also making his professional debut this season. While the 6’3, 205-pounder is also capable of throwing some heavy checks, he has some definite offensive potential, scoring 16 points so far in 23 games.

Berti and Burish round out the list of current prospects on this Norfolk roster. Berti has just four points in 16 games so far this season, while Burish has tallied three goals in 25 games. Both players should benefit from more time in the AHL as they continue to acclimate themselves to the professional game.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.

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