Photo: Taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Brandon Saad looks like he could contribute right away at the NHL level. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
Chicago's reloaded prospect system will again lead the way for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2011-12 season. Rockford is an even younger team than last season and will have fewer veterans suiting up each night. Much of the team's young core is another year older though and out to prove that their strong play down the stretch last season was no fluke.
Rockford will play the upcoming season in the AHL's new Midwest Division. The league changed from four larger division into six five-team divisions for the 2011-12 season and Rockford will compete against the Charlotte Checkers, Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals, and Peoria Rivermen as they try to get back into the playoffs.
Photo: Phillip Danault was one of six prospects the Blackhawks drafted in the first three rounds of the 2011 NHL draft. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
The Blackhawks' pipeline has an incredible amount of depth and balance despite the club being just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010. The dismantling of that 2010 team has allowed GM Stan Bowman to stockpile draft picks over the last two summers, giving the club 22 total selections at the 2010 and 2011 drafts combined. Nine of those selections came from the top 60 picks of their respective drafts. Though it is a headache for anyone trying to make sense out of the system, the sheer number of good, if not great, prospects has to be encouraging for Chicago's fans.
1. (1) Nick Leddy, D, 7.5B
Acquired via trade with Minnesota, February 2010
Photo: Michael Paliotta was taken in the third round by the Chicago Blackhawks. The American-born defender is headed to the University of Vermont in the fall. (Photo courtesy of DJ Powers/HF)
The Blackhawks further bolstered their prospect depth with 11 picks at the 2011 draft, including four selections among the first 43 picks. The organization added character and work ethic with their first round forwards, a pair of high upside offensive performers in the second round, and even more depth at the two most important positions, center and defense, in later rounds.
The team's Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Kelley, thought the draft went better than he expected. "When you're picking 18th, you kind of tease yourself you're going to get one of those top players," Kelley said, "So we went in thinking there was a top two tiers, then we thought there was a group that was all together. The first two players we got were in our top two tiers, so probably the last six picks before we were able to make the McNeill pick and then waiting for the Danault pick, we were sweating them out pretty good."
Top 10 prospects
1. Nick Leddy, D
2. Dylan Olsen, D
3. Jeremy Morin, LW
4. Kyle Beach, LW
5. Kevin Hayes, LW
6. Marcus Kruger, C
7. Shawn Lalonde, D
8. Brandon Pirri, C
9. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
10. Jimmy Hayes, RW
Two weeks ago, Chicago Blackhawks ownership relieved GM Mike Smith from his duties, named Bob Pulford acting GM, and ordained long time employee Dale Tallon as the soon to be GM. Bill Wirtz followed this move by dismissing assistant general manager Nick Beverley, director of player evaluation Marshall Johnston, director of amateur scouting Bill Lesuk and amateur scout Joe Yannetti. These firings save the Blackhawks money and give them three fewer people they will have to pay during the possible lockout next year.
Beverley's assistant GM post was directly tied to Smith's, but the others, all Smith hires, were not managerial, but an integral part of locating the prospects drafted over the last three drafts. The Blackhawks say there will be no replacements for Johnston, Lesuk and Yanetti except for the fact Michal Dumas has been asked to move back up to his former job as chief scout.
Dumas headed the Hawk scouting department prior to Smith's arrival. Dumas was a Hawk draftee whose career was cut short by an eye injury. His scouting department produced few potential players and was archaic in terms of size and organization. This latest axing puts back to the good old boy network (Wirtz, Pulford, Tallon, and Dumas) which in the past produced few NHL players. It is also one person is replacing three.
Acting GM Pulford was a solid all-around player for Toronto in the 1960's and early 70’s and was brought in as a Hawk coach, then GM, and put out to pasture as a vice president in the organization until being reactivated as the temporary GM two weeks ago.