Blackhawks junior prospects 2008-09 review

By Brad Gardner

Four Blackhawks prospects are meeting head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs.

Akim Aliu, C (OHL – Sudbury Wolves)
Drafted Round 2, 56th overall, 2007

Aliu’s uncommon blend of size and ability has always made him an intriguing prospect and could also explain why the Sudbury Wolves re-acquired the tumultuous forward. The 6’3 220-pounder came from the London Knights in a deal prior to the OHL‘s trade deadline, which allowed the Knights to bring in Aliu’s friend and former-teammate John Tavares. Aliu kept his production consistent following the move, netting 10 goals and adding 16 assists in 29 games with the Wolves. His totals for the season were 18 goals and 26 assists with 91 PIMs in 45 games. His minus-nine rating since joining the Wolves has more to do with the team’s talent – the Wolves just managed to grab the eighth spot in the OHL’s Eastern Conference with a 26-35-3 record. The 19-year-old will continue to see time in the top-six as well as on special teams for the Wolves. Aliu will have to be a consistent force in order for Sudbury to make a series out of their first round matchup against the Belleville Bulls. Three games into the series, Belleville leads the series two games to one. Aliu has scored one goal and one assist along with 10 PIMs thus far in the series.

Kyle Beach, LW (WHL – Lethbridge Hurricanes)
Drafted Round 1, 11th overall, 2008

Another Blackhawks prospect that switched junior teams this season, Beach was traded from the Everett Silvertips to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Beach found the back of the net more often for the Hurricanes, netting 15 goals along with 18 helpers in his 24 games following the trade. Always a menace to the opposition, Beach also accumulated a total of 165 PIMs in his 54-game season. Beach totaled 24 goals and 39 assists on the season, along with a cumulative plus-four rating. Lethbridge qualified as the seventh seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and will face the second-seeded Saskatoon Blades. Beach will need to be effective both as a top-six forward as well as on the power play, where he scored seven points during the regular season. Though his regular season statistics have been impressively consistent over his three full years in the WHL, Beach was shut down in last year’s playoffs, ending with a minus-six rating after a four game sweep at the hands of the Spokane Chiefs. Beach earned a one-game suspension in the first playoff game for cross-checking the Blades’ Jiri Niemi. After sitting out game two, the series is tied at one game apiece. Beach has yet to score and will need to contribute on the ice if the Hurricanes are to win the series.

Braden Birch, D (OPJHL – Oakville Blades)

Drafted Round 6, 179th overall, 2008

One of five defenseman drafted by the Blackhawks in the 2008 draft, Birch spent this season in the OPJHL with the Oakville Blades. In 35 regular season games, the 6’3" 192-pound defenseman scored seven goals and 18 assists. He was a force on the powerplay for the Blades, scoring five goals and eight assists with the man-advantage. The Blades are currently playing in the division semi-finals of the OPJHL playoffs and are tied at one game apiece with the Wellington Dukes. Birch’s playoff production has vastly improved this season compared to his two points in 19 contests during the Blades OPJHL championship run last season. In 17 games the 19-year-old has scored three goals and six assists, including a 7-game point streak in the playoffs. Birch has committed to Cornell University and will look to further develop his size and strength in the collegiate ranks.

Joe Gleason, D (USHL – Des Moines Buccaneers)

Drafed Round 7, 192nd overall, 2008

An Edina, Minnesota native, Gleason opted to spend the season in the USHL before entering college at the University of North Dakota. The offensively-gifted defenseman is leading the team in scoring among blueliners with four goals and 16 assists in 52 games. A fixture on the Buccaneers power play, Gleason contributed one goal and 10 assists with the man-advantage. While his minus-24 rating is troubling, there are no players on the team with above minus-6. Given the team’s last-place standing and monumental 4.70 goals against average, the low plus/minus ratings are not all that surprising. The smallest defensive prospect in the Blackhawks system at 5’9 and 171 pounds, the 18-year-old Gleason will have great opportunities for development with the Fighting Sioux in the coming seasons.

Richard Greenop, RW (OHL – Windsor Spitfires)

Drafted Round 6, 156th overall, 2007

A big presence at 6’4 and 233 pounds, Greenop played in 60 games with the OHL’s top team, the Windsor Spitfires. The 20-year-old scored four goals and four assists during the regular season to go along with 156 PIMs. Greenop’s gritty style will be important come playoff time, as will his solid play in his own zone. He did not turn in a single minus-rating in 2009, eventually ending the year with a plus-three rating. After a 57-10-0 regular season, the Spitfires will play with a big target on their back in the postseason. The team will need to be strong in all aspects, from the top lines all the way down to the checking forwards like Greenop. Windsor faces the Owen Sound Attack in the opening round of the playoffs. Greenop has yet to score in three wins for the Spitfires so far in the series.

Shawn Lalonde, D (OHL – Belleville Bulls)
Drafted Round 3, 68th overall, 2008

Lalonde wrapped up his most productive season to date with his Bulls squad grabbing the top seed in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. The 6’1” 186-pound defenseman finished fourth on the team in scoring with 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points. He also had career-highs with 73 PIMs and a plus-29 rating. All of his success, including a spot in the OHL All-Star Classic, may unfortunately be overshadowed by his decision to not travel with the team for the February 22nd game in Brampton. The decision was supposedly made because Lalonde was unhappy with the role given to him by the Bulls coach, George Burnett. Lalonde apologized and rejoined the team after missing just one game and all indications are that the 19-year-old handled the situation correctly after the initial lapse in judgment. Lalonde will look to improve on his nine points in 21 playoff games last season as the Bulls, sporting one of the most potent blueline attacks in the league with Lalonde and Canadiens prospect P.K. Subban, look to once again represent the OHL in the Memorial Cup playoffs. The Bulls lead the series two games to one, but Lalonde, who has seven PIMs and was ejected for slashing in game two, has not been able to crack the scoresheet yet.

Joe Lavin, D (USHL – Omaha Lancers)

Drafted Round 5, 126th overall, 2007

The USNTDP product left Providence College after the fall semester, joining the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. In 28 games with the Lancers, Lavin has six goals, 10 assists, 24 PIMs, and a plus-five rating. Six of those points have come on the power play. These numbers are a positive sign considering he had only one point in 12 games at the start of the year with the Friars. The 6’1 199-pound defenseman will return to the NCAA ranks next season by transferring to Notre Dame. Perhaps his success with the Lancers this season can carry over as he tries to establish his puck-moving game in collegiate hockey.

Maxime Tanguay, C (QMJHL – Victoriaville Tigers)

Drafted Round 3, 69th overall, 2007

Tanguay turned in another solid year in the Quebec league, putting up 26 goals and 40 assists in 62 games. The 20-year-old forward’s 66 points were enough to lead the team. He also had a plus-2 rating, along with 46 PIMs. The Tigers will play the Shawinigan Cataractes in the opening round of the QMJHL playoffs. Tanguay was especially potent on special teams in the regular season, putting up 15 power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. He will need to continue to provide offense in all situations for the Tigers in the playoffs. Tanguay has one assist and four PIMs after Victoriaville dropped their first two games in their opening series against Shawinigan.

Josh Unice, G (OHL – Windsor Spitfires)

Drafted Round 3, 86th overall, 2007

After a disappointing start to the season with the Kitchener Rangers, Unice was acquired by the Windsor Spitfires to add depth and playoff experience in net. Unice responded by earning seven wins in his first eight games with the Spits, certainly benefitting from an improved team in front of him. Unice dropped his final four starts of the year, however, including surrendering the hat trick to John Tavares that made him the OHL’s all-time leading scorer. Unice finished his season with an 11-15-0 record to go along with a 3.33 goals against average and .891 save percentage. Unice will likely backup Andrew Engelage, who has not lost since December, as the Spitfires head into the OHL playoffs as the league’s top team. Unice won the second of the Spitfires’ three wins thus far after Engelage was chased in the first period. Unice earned the win, allowing two goals on 28 shots in just under 55 minutes of action.

Teigan Zahn, D (WHL – Saskatoon Blades)
Drafted Round 5, 132nd overall, 2008

In 62 games this season, Zahn scored five goals and 11 assists while keeping a plus-five rating. The 19-year-old defenseman also contributed 160 PIMs, a much higher number than his 102 PIMs from last season. An alternate captain for the Blades this year, Zahn was given the award for the team’s Best Defenseman. He also earned the Star Phoenix Fans’ Choice Award from the local newspaper. Though he has been hampered by an injured hand late in the season, Zahn is expected to return for the playoffs where his Blades squad will match up against Beach and the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Zahn’s defensive prowess and leadership will be needed as the Blades look to make their presence known in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. After splitting the first two games of the series, Zahn has kept an even rating and earned six PIMs.