While Chicago Blackhawks fans are expecting nothing less than a championship parade come June, there is another concern lingering in the back of everyone’s mind. The salary cap is projected to rise only to around $73 million for the 2015-16 season, which means fans should expect to see somebody make their way out of Chicago.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks, there are a handful of skaters who have progressed quite well, and with a handful of injuries to their roster over the past few months, Chicago has been able to get some good looks at several young players who could earn full-time roster spots next season.
Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW, 20
Despite being Chicago’s top prospect, Teravainen started his 2014-15 professional campaign at the minor league level, playing on the Rockford IceHogs’ top line in the AHL. The 20-year-old Finn hoped to make the jump to the NHL right away, but the Blackhawks’ loaded roster up front made it difficult for Teravainen to receive adequate playing time. When Kris Versteeg injured his hand against the Washington Capitals on New Year’s Day, however, a roster spot opened up, and Teravainen was recalled the very next day.
As expected, there was plenty of hype surrounding the incredibly talented center who tallied 23 points in 33 games with the IceHogs. It’s no secret Teravainen has elite-level vision, puck-handling skills and skating ability, but many were skeptical the young forward was physically and mentally prepared for the NHL. Regardless, Teravainen made his season debut on January 4th against the Dallas Stars, where he registered no points, 3 shots on goal and 10:50 of ice time. Even though his next three games would also see him absent from the scoresheet, Teravainen’s confidence was growing visibly stronger, and he was rewarded with his first NHL goal in a January 16th contest against the Winnipeg Jets. His consistent play has earned him four points (two goals and two assists) in nine games thus far, and when Versteeg returns from his hand injury, the Blackhawks may not be willing to send Teravainen back to the minors.
Joakim Nordstrom, C/LW, 22
Much like last season, Nordstrom is seeing his 2014-15 season somewhat split between the minors and the NHL. After being named captain of the IceHogs for this season’s campaign and getting off to an impressive start, the 22-year-old Swede has been called up to the Blackhawks three times thus far. An influx of talent to the top-nine forwards has led to Nordstrom slotting in on the left wing of the fourth line. He has played 20 games for the Blackhawks so far, more than any rookie for Chicago this season. While this may demonstrate the trust head coach Joel Quenneville has in Nordstrom’s responsible play, his lack of production has left many wanting more. His two assists and -3 plus/minus rating do not adequately represent the skill set Nordstrom truly possesses.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk, D, 23
It can be argued van Riemsdyk was the Blackhawks’ biggest surprise of the season. An impressive training camp and preseason earned van Riemsdyk, who signed with Chicago on March 24th, 2014, the sixth defensive spot on the Blackhawks’ roster. His solid two-way play earned him ample playing time and the praise of Quenneville, who called the young blueliner “poised and very smooth.”
The good times didn’t last long, though, as van Riemsdyk would suffer a left patella fracture in a game against Dallas on November 16th after a blocking a shot from Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. Van Riemsdyk would later have surgery to repair the injury, and he is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehabbing process, meaning we could see the defenseman back in action as early as late February.
Klas Dahlbeck, D, 23
Dahlbeck is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, shining best when in his own zone. The Swedish defenseman was recalled December 4th, and he would make his NHL debut just two days later. Dahlbeck looked solid in all aspects, even tallying his first NHL goal against the Boston Bruins on December 11th. Despite this, however, his playing time was limited (his time on ice only broke double digits once), and Dahlbeck was sent back down to Rockford on December 14th.
Phillip Danault, C, 21
After moving left winger Patrick Sharp to LTIR on November 21st, the Blackhawks brought Danault up to fill the gap. The 21-year-old center didn’t give fans a long look, only appearing in two games, where he registered two shots on goal and an average ice time of 9:30. It took Danault a few shifts to get going, but once he became comfortable on the ice, his skating and decision making improved as well. There’s still plenty of upside to Danault, and once we get a longer look at the 2011 first-round pick, his true skill set can come to fruition.
Antti Raanta, G, 25
In just his second season with the Blackhawks, Raanta continues to display his rather exceptional skill, and his stats -unlike last season- are starting to reflect his play. The Finnish netminder currently boasts a 7-3-0 record with a .938 save percentage and 1.88 goals against average. While the impressive numbers can be partially credited to the stellar defense in front of him, Raanta has been excellent when called upon. A prime example can be traced to early December, when starting goaltender Corey Crawford went down with a lower-body injury. Raanta took control of the net, earning five straight wins, one of which was his second shutout of the season.
It’s no question Crawford is the Blackhawks’ starting goaltender for the foreseeable future, but when he needs some rest or his play looks shaky, Raanta is the go-to guy.
Adam Clendening, D, 22
When Trevor van Riemsdyk went down with his leg injury, general manager Stan Bowman kept with the trend of giving young defensemen a look. This meant the offensively-gifted Clendening, who was recalled November 18th, would get his shot, and he didn’t disappoint. His first NHL game against the Calgary Flames on November 2nd also saw the 22-year-old score his first NHL goal, a power play goal in just his second shift of the game.
The former Boston University Terrier showed confidence and effectiveness at both ends of the ice, but his stint with the Blackhawks would be short-lived. Clendening was sent back down to the IceHogs on December 4th. Earning two points (a goal and an assist) in his four games with the ‘Hawks, Clendening looked like a shoe-in for a permanent roster spot next season.
In need of some contract flexibility, the Blackhawks traded Clendening to Vancouver on January 29th, receiving Gustav Forsling in exchange. The young Swedish defenseman was a tournament All-Star at the 2015 World Juniors and is playing for Linköping of the SHL. While he possesses real upside, the Blackhawks can afford to patient with his development.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
The Blackhawks had plenty of representation at the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championship, especially in regards to Team USA. Nick Schmaltz, Anthony Louis, Tyler Motte and John Hayden, who was named an alternate captain of the team, all skated for the United States during the tournament. The four forwards had trouble reaching the score sheet during the tournament. Hayden had a goal, while Motte and Schmaltz each tallied an assist. Louis was held scoreless during the five games he suited up for USA.
Although Team USA would eventually be eliminated by Russia on January 2nd in a 3-2 loss, there were still some positives to be found in Chicago’s representation for the United States. Hayden would be named the Best Player of the game for Team USA. Schmaltz was also noticeable throughout the tournament, demonstrating slick skating and impressive puck-handling skills. Motte earned top-line minutes with linemates Jack Eichel (2015) and Alex Tuch (MIN), while Louis spent time on the fourth line.
Robin Norell would be the Blackhawks’ lone Swedish representative at the WJC. In his second tournament with Team Sweden, Norell would earn an assist and four penalty minutes in seven games. The 19-year-old defenseman, who plays for Djurgarden in the SHL, skated on the third defensive pairing for Sweden, who would eventually fall to Slovakia in the bronze-medal game in a 4-2 decision.
Prospect of the Month
He may have tallied just a single assist during the WJC, but Tyler Motte has been an offensive dynamo for the University of Michigan Wolverines throughout the 2014-15 season. January has seen Motte shine especially bright. The 19-year-old center had nine points in five games for Michigan, which included a three point (two goals, one assist) night against Ohio State on January 16th. Drafted in the fourth round in 2013, Motte has 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) and a plus/minus rating of +8 in 20 games for the Wolverines, which ties him for third on the team in scoring.