It is no secret the Chicago Blackhawks are not exactly stacked with young players in the juniors. In fact, with Ryan Hartman having turned pro with the Rockford IceHogs this season, the Hawks do not have a single prospect playing in the CHL.
Despite this, however, Chicago is not completely lacking at the junior level. The 2014 NHL Draft saw general manager Stan Bowman select four forwards competing in the juniors this year. While each prospect may be a bit of a project, they will use this season to prove their worth to the organization.
Matt Iacopelli, RW, Muskegon Lumberjacks
Acquired: 3rd round (83rd overall), 2014
The natural goal-scoring ability possessed by Matt Iacopelli has been on full display in the USHL this season. The 20-year-old right winger has 11 goals this season, which has him tied for first in the league. His offensive talents became evident on Nov. 7, when Iacopelli notched his 50th career USHL goal, making him the second fastest player to reach the milestone.
Iacopelli’s remarkably strong shot makes him a dangerous offensive threat every time he steps on the ice for the Lumberjacks. His 6’2 frame make him even more seemingly ready for the pros. While he undoubtedly has the offensive firepower for the NHL, Iacopelli’s two-way game need some fine-tuning. Nonetheless, once his 2014-15 campaign with Muskegon concludes, Iacopelli will be able to develop his game further at Western Michigan University.
Fredrik Olofsson, LW, Chicago Steel
Acquired: 4th round (98th overall), 2014
Quietly having a standout season among the Blackhawks’ junior-level prospects is Fredrik Olofsson. While his first full season in the USHL saw inconsistency and some struggles, the Swedish left winger has already amassed 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 17 games.
The 18 year old’s game is still maturing, but standing at 6’1, there’s no question in his physical ability to skate. His vision on the ice, excellent playmaking ability and impressive two-way game make Olofsson a crucial part of the Steel’s success. Olofsson will require a few years to develop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but he has the potential to become an even bigger offensive threat than one may think.
Jack Ramsey, RW, Penticton Vees
Acquired: 7th round (208th overall), 2014
Although his father, Mike Ramsey, may have the bragging rights from his 1980 gold medal win in the Winter Olympics, there is little doubt Jack Ramsey will be able to create his own success. With six goals and ten assists in 23 games, the 19-year-old right winger has become an effective member of the Vees.
Ramsey prides himself on his ability to recognize a developing play and use his vision to make something happen on the ice. It will be several years before we begin to see his full potential, and he will need that time to work on his game. Despite this, Ramsey could prove to be a late hidden gem from the 2014 Draft for the Blackhawks.
Beau Starrett, C/LW, South Shore Kings
Acquired: 3rd round (88th overall), 2014
Last season, Beau Starrett was second in scoring for the Kings, tallying 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) in 48 games. A shoulder injury, however, has sidelined Starrett for the start of the 2014-15 season for South Shore, who could really use the 19 year old’s scoring touch (the Kings possess a 12-11-0 record without Starrett in the lineup).
Starrett’s 6’5 frame allow him to be a physical power forward who can dominate the play, winning battles for the puck and creating space for his linemates. Despite his size, he has decent skating ability – although there is room for improvement – along with impressive stick-handling skills. A Cornell University commit, Starrett will continue to hone his size and master how he uses it on the ice.
Chicago Blackhawks Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October
With a left patella fracture sidelining Trevor van Riemsdyk for the next 3-4 months, the Blackhawks recalled Adam Clendening from the Rockford IceHogs on Nov. 18. The 22-year-old defenseman, who has four points and a minus-two plus/minus rating in 16 games with the IceHogs, made his NHL debut two days later against the Calgary Flames, working on the third paring with Michal Rozsival. Due to his impressive offensive abilities, Clendening also saw time on Chicago’s second power play unit. The young blueliner would eventually rifle a slapshot past Flames netminder Jonas Hiller, earning his first NHL goal on the power play. Despite registering only 10:41 of ice time, Clendening was plus-two and had two blocked shots, showing an impressive start to his tenure in Chicago.
Another defenseman making the most of this season is Robin Press. The 19-year-old defenseman has been an important player for Sodertalje (Allsvenskan), leading the team in scoring with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) in 25 games. The increase in offensive production from last season makes Press a player worth keeping an eye on.
Chicago Blackhawks Prospect of the Month: October
After a disappointing 2013-14 campaign, the Rockford IceHogs are taking the AHL by storm to start the 2014-15 season. One of the driving forces behind the IceHogs’ success can be attributed to the impressive start of Mark McNeill. With 16 points in 15 games, the 21-year-old forward leads the IceHogs in goals and points. The impressive start led to McNeill earning the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 9. As long as his play remains consistent, McNeill could see himself with the Blackhawks sooner rather than later.
Follow Anthony Lyen on Twitter at @aclyen