System depth and versatility apparent in Chicago Blackhawks prospect awards

By Brad Gardner

John Hayden - Yale University Bulldogs

Photo: Yale forward John Hayden, #21 right, got off to a slow start in 2013-14, but doubled his freshman year point total with eight points in the final nine games of the season (courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks had several prospects make an impact at the NHL level in 2013-14. Those players, along with others that stood out in the CHL, NCAA, and international levels, are featured below in this season’s prospect awards.

Hardest Worker – Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

While Teuvo Teravainen stole many of the headlines among Chicago prospects this season, the Blackhawks' 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman is strong all-around play with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. The 19-year-old winger rarely skates past a battle, whether fighting for puck possession on the forecheck or fighting for space around the net. Hartman does it all for Plymouth, and he does it all with a maximum amount of effort. With a late 1994 birth date, he will be eligible to ply his trade in the AHL in 2014-15 and can add yet another versatile forward to the Blackhawks professional ranks.

Joakim Nordstrom, who split 2013-14 between Chicago and AHL Rockford, and Garret Ross are two more prospects that work hard to play a 200-foot game and are willing to pay the price for their team.

Best Defensive Prospect – Stephen Johns, D, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)

Stephen Johns' name has long been known in college hockey circles due to his nasty physical game, but 2013-14 saw the blueliner emerge as one of the best all-around defenders in the country. While leading Notre Dame against stiffer competition in their first season in Hockey East, Johns managed to not only quiet the opposition's best on a nightly basis, but also chip in offensively at times for his own team. His skating stride and first step have improved in recent years, which has added a new dimension to his game in his own zone and on the breakout. Chicago will return six of the seven defensemen that spent their entire 2013-14 with the club, likely slotting Johns into a top-four role in Rockford to kick off his pro career in 2014-15.

Adam Clendening's offensive production in the AHL has yet to yield a look in the NHL, but he remains the Blackhawks top offensive-minded blueliner.

Fastest Skater – Phillip Danault, C/LW, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)

The Blackhawks system is full of good skaters that should be able to transition to the NHL club's up-tempo style of play. Phillip Danault is one player whose speed is capable of quickly changing the complexion of a play. He is lethal in transition and can use his speed to use the outside line in finding the angle to make a play on the rush. His skating and effort level also mean that he can cover a lot of space in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill.

Prospect of the Year – Teuvo Teravainen, C, Jokerit Helsinki (Liiga)

Teravainen could have been a candidate for a half-dozen other awards, but there were no challengers to his hold on Prospect of the Year. At 19, Teravainen put together another strong professional season in Finland for Jokerit in Liiga. He raised his stock significantly at the international level, serving as captain for gold-medal winning Finland at the 2014 World Junior Championships and leading all scorers in the tournament with 15 points in seven games. Following another quick playoff exit for Jokerit, he crossed the Atlantic, appearing in three NHL games and five AHL games in his first taste of North American pro hockey. The Blackhawks will give Teravainen a chance to make the club in training camp, but there will not be any pressure for him to immediately step into a top-six role. Some time in Rockford is not out of the question, but it appears to be only a matter of time before the Finn is showcasing his offensive talents and hockey sense on the NHL stage.

Breakout Player for 2014-15 – John Hayden, C, Yale University Bulldogs (ECAC)

One of four centers from Chicago's 2013 draft class to make his collegiate debut in 2013-14, John Hayden skated in his freshman season for Yale University. Hayden, selected 74th overall, was outscored by all three of the players drafted behind him in his first year. Bigger players often take longer to develop, and despite having the look of a pro player already, Hayden took some time to adjust to the NCAA. The big pivot finished with 16 points in 33 games on the season, with half of those points coming in his strong finish to the year. With an increased opportunity at even strength and the man advantage as a sophomore, Hayden is poised to make a more consistent impact for Yale in 2014-15 and begin to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with at the NCAA level.

Most Improved Prospect – Joakim Nordstrom, C/LW, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)

Joakim Nordstrom was never a prolific player in his professional seasons in Sweden's top pro league, but he proved to be Rockford's most complete forward in his time with the AHL club in 2013-14. Nordstrom more often than not anchored the IceHogs' best line and also played on both special teams units. In addition to his strong play in the AHL, the Swede skated a fourth line role in Chicago for 16 regular season and seven playoff games. Filling a role similar to that of Michael Frolik two years ago, Nordstrom spent some time killing penalties with fellow Swede Marcus Kruger while adding an element of speed and responsible two-way play to the Blackhawks energy line.

Overachiever – Antti Raanta, G, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)

The 2013-14 NHL season saw a number of breakout performances in net, and when Corey Crawford was injured mid-season, Finnish goalie Antti Raanta was part of that wave of goaltending prospects. He earned a 12-1-3 record in his first 17 NHL appearances for the Blackhawks, and was especially strong while Crawford was out and the club needed him the most. Raanta's late season showings, however, suggest that there were still some areas in need of improvement. A restricted free agent, Raanta is a solid bet to remain Crawford's backup, but a more established acquisition may not be out of the question.

Underachiever – David Rundblad, D, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)

The Blackhawks traded a 2014 second-round pick to Phoenix for defensemen David Rundblad, a supremely talented offensive defenseman and former first-round pick, along with Mathieu Brisebois, an offensive-minded defenseman and former teammate of Dillon Fournier with Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL. Rundblad, eligible to be claimed off waivers, spent most of the season in the NHL, but he saw more game action from the press box than he did on the ice. The Swede made a three-man rotation for the right side on Chicago's third defensive pairing, but he struggled to establish a role compared to the veterans Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival. Rundblad is currently in position to split ice time on the third pairing again next year, but he could face some competition from other right-side options like Stephen Johns and Adam Clendening.

Rundblad was not the only prospect to struggle making an impact given new opportunities in 2013-14. Jeremy Morin managed 24 goals and 47 points in 47 AHL games, but struggled to generate chances consistently in his 24 NHL games in 2013-14. Drew LeBlanc, a free-agent signing in 2013 and member of Team USA at the 2013 World Championships, had trouble carving out a significant role in Rockford, finishing with 22 points in 76 games.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect – Teuvo Teravainen, C, Jokerit Helsinki (Liiga)

Coming off a career year, expectations are high for Teravainen going into 2014-15. He may be, in the long-term, a suitable second line center for the Blackhawks, but it may not happen immediately. Mikael Granlund's transition to North America got off to a rocky start before his 41-point second season with Minnesota, and it would not be a surprise to see Teravainen go through a similar gestation period. That said there is no question which prospect has the skating, skills, and hockey sense to potentially make the biggest impact for the Blackhawks.