Blackhawks 2008-09 rookie review

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks had nine rookies dress at least one game this season. Three rookies — Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, and Kris Versteeg — played significant roles throughout the season.

Kris Versteeg , RW
Acquired from Bruins in exchange for Brandon Bochenski February, 2007
Recently announced as one of three Calder finalists for this season, Versteeg led the rookie scoring race for much of the season. In 78 games, the 22-year-old Lethbridge, AB native scored 22 goals – including three game-winners – and 31 assists for 53 points, which finished second among rookie skaters and fourth on the Blackhawks. Versteeg also added a +15 rating and 55 PIMs in seeing over 17 minutes of ice time. The versatile forward played in all situations for Chicago, contributing six power-play goals and a team-leading four shorthanded goals. After being held scoreless for the first three playoff contests, Versteeg had a goal and two assists in Game 4 at Calgary. Though much of his scoring came early in the year, Versteeg continued to help the team throughout the season. Normally a winger, he also played some center for the Hawks and moved between the top three lines as needed. Though it may have been a bit of a surprise, Versteeg turned in a stellar season to become the third Blackhawk to be a Calder finalist in the last two seasons.

Troy Brouwer, RW
Drafted 7th round, 214th overall, 2004

Brouwer spent most of his season with the Blackhawks. In 69 games, the power forward scored 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points to go along with a +7 rating. At 6’2 213 lbs, Brouwer is one of the bigger fowards on the Blackhawks and his size was used in many situations. Brouwer saw significant time on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane during the season in addition to time on the second and third lines, averaging just over 15 minutes per game. His special teams play was strong as well and the Vancouver native scored four power-play and one short-handed goal. With a healthy group of forwards, Brouwer’s minutes have declined in the playoffs as he has played mostly on the fourth line. Through four playoff contests, he has yet to crack the scoresheet. The scoring touch that Brouwer displayed in his junior and minor league careers did not translate during his first NHL season, but his willingness to play physically and battle along the boards made an important impact for the Blackhawks.

Colin Fraser, C

Acquired from Flyers via trade February, 2004

Fraser earned a spot on the big club out of camp and never let go, centering the fourth line for most of the year. In 81 games, the 24-year-old scored six goals and added 11 assists. Fraser also sustained a +3 rating and collected 55 PIMs. He played nearly 11 minutes per game and was one of the better ‘Hawks on the faceoff for much of the year, winning over 47 percent. Fraser’s energy fit perfectly on the Blackhawks’ formidable fourth line alongside Ben Eager and Adam Burish. He was also an important presence on the penalty kill and was a big part of the unit’s strong start to the season. Though he may not project as much more than a checker, Fraser has been a surprisingly steady hand on Chicago’s fourth line.

Jake Dowell, C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2004

After appearing in 19 NHL games last year, Dowell appeared in just one game with the Blackhawks during this regular season and earned a +1 rating during 13:37 of ice time. In 75 games with the Rockford IceHogs, the 6’0 197-pound center scored a career-high 20 points, including six goals and 14 assists. He also added a plus-4 rating and 128 PIMs to his AHL totals in Rockford. As a solid two-way forward and successful faceoff man, Dowell projects as a checking line center. With the organization’s weakness up the middle, Dowell is certainly in a good position to earn more NHL experience in the coming years.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, D
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2005

The Blackhawks’ top prospect on the blueline, Hjalmarsson was called up to fill the spot vacated by James Wisnewski at the trade deadline. The Swedish defenseman played well at both ends, finishing his 21-game NHL campaign with one goal, two assists, and a +4 rating with nearly 15 minutes of ice time per game. In 52 AHL games with Rockford, he scored two goals and 16 assists with a +12 rating. Just 21 years old, Hjalmarsson has already shown a solid game in both zones. He is very capable with the puck and has displayed good vision and passing in the Hawks up-tempo style. Defensively, Hjalmarsson is more than willing to play the physical game and his positioning has seemed to be greatly improved. Adding strength to his 6’2 200-pound frame will be necessary, but Hjalmarsson looks to be a fixture on the Chicago blueline for the forseeable future.

Antti Niemi, G
Signed as free agent May, 2008

The Finnish goaltender was recalled by the Blackhawks when Nikolai Khabibulin went down with injury, but spent most of the time on the bench. Niemi played in three games, starting two, and went 1-1-1 with a 3.40 goals against average and .864 save percentage. Though the numbers are less than desirable and he never seemed to be completely comfortable in the crease, the 25-year-old’s first taste of NHL action was not awful. His first game was a relief effort: entering in the third period he turned away a few challenges and carried his team into overtime before surrendering the game-deciding goal. He also turned in a good start against the Los Angeles Kings. In 38 games with Rockford, Niemi went 18-14-3 with two shutouts, a 2.43 goals against average, and .913 save percentage. In two playoff losses with Rockford, the netminder turned in a 3.65 goals against average and .897 save percentage.

Pascal Pelletier, LW

Acquired from Bruins in exchange for Martin St. Pierre July, 2008

Pelletier was an injury call-up during the season for the Blackhawks, going scoreless in seven games. The 5’11 191-pound winger played sparingly, averaging just over nine minutes a game, and came away with a -4 rating. Pelletier enjoyed a successful season while in the AHL and he was the IceHogs’ leading goal scorer with 29 goals on the season. He also added 26 assists in his 71 AHL games for a total of 55 points, which ranked second on the team. While he did not make much of an impact in his time with the Blackhawks, Pelletier – much like Brent – turned in a very good campaign for the ‘Hogs.

Jack Skille, RW
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2005

Skille began the year with the Blackhawks, but was sent to Rockford shortly after Joel Quenneville took over as coach. Including another brief call-up later in the year, Skille skated in eight NHL games this year. He scored one goal and had a -3 rating during those games. While in Rockford, Skille turned in a solid season and finished third on the team in scoring. His 20 goals and 25 assists are improved from his previous year. He also finished with a +10 rating during his 58-game season with Rockford. A late-season injury kept Skille out of playoff action this year. Considering he made the team out of camp to start this season, expect Skille to be given every opportunity to stick with the Blackhawks next year.

Tim Brent, C
Acquired from Penguins in exchange for Danny Richmond July, 2008

In his first season as part of the Blackhawks organization, Brent led the IceHogs in scoring with 20 goals and 42 assists in 64 games. Brent was important to the special teams, adding five power-play goals and a team-leading four short-handed goals. The 25-year-old center acted as the team’s captain for the season. Despite his regular season success, Brent had just one assist and a -9 rating against the Milwaukee Admirals’ in their four-game sweep of the IceHogs in the AHL playoffs. Brent played two games with the Blackhawks this season, averaging 8:20 of ice time per game, and has now played in 18 NHL games over the past three seasons.