Blackhawks Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Brad Gardner

Dylan Olsen takes over the top spot and the recently-acquired Nick Leddy enters the rankings at third, giving Chicago a strong defensive presence near the top. Strong seasons so far from Marcus Kruger, Brian Connelly, and David Pacan help those skaters jump into the top 20.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (3) Dylan Olsen, D 7.5C
2. (1) Kyle Beach 7.5C
3. (NR) Nick Leddy 7.5D
4. (2) Akim Aliu 7.5D
5. (4) Shawn Lalonde 7.0C
6. (NR) Marcus Kruger 7.0C
7. (6) Jack Skille 7.0C
8. (5) Billy Sweatt 7.0C
9. (9) Brandon Pirri 7.0C
10. (10) Joe Fallon 7.0C
11. (7) Igor Makarov 7.0D
12. (12) Simon Danis-Pepin 6.5C
13. (NR) Brian Connelly 6.5C
14. (18) Alec Richards 6.5C
15. (8) Evan Brophey 6.5C
16. (NR) David Pacan 6.5C
17. (NR) Bryan Bickell 6.0C
18. (14) Jake Dowell 6.0C
19. (NR) Byron Froese 6.0C
20. (NR) Joe Lavin 6.5D

1. Dylan Olsen, D – University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, WCHA
Drafted 2009, 1st round, 28th overall

Any questions about Dylan Olsen’s ability to jump from Junior A hockey to the NCAA have been answered. The 19-year-old blueliner has already stepped into the top pairing for the Bulldogs as a freshman. His play in both zones has been a big part of the squad being ranked nationally for much of the season and currently sitting at fourth in the WCHA.

In 28 games on the year, Olsen has scored one goal and 10 assists. The 6’2 206 lbs defender has registered five of his assists on the power play where he is a smart puck-mover with a big shot. He also plays a tough, physical game and projects as a balanced, two-way defenseman. He earned an invite to Team Canada’s WJC try-outs but was among the final cuts. Olsen will likely spend another year or two in Duluth.

2. Kyle Beach, LW – Spokane Chiefs, WHL
Drafted 2008, 1st round, 11th overall

The new ranking doesn’t discount the successful season that Kyle Beach is having. The winger has been one of Spokane’s leaders offensively all season long next to playmaking center Mitch Wahl (CAL). With 46 goals through 59 games, the 6’3 power forward has already crushed his previous career-high of 29 goals with Everett in the 2006-07 season. In addition to his 73 points, which is also a career-high, Beach has added 160 PIMs. But Olsen’s upside is probably a bit higher than Beach.

The Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot in the WHL‘s Western Conference and could be in for a long run if their top players continue to produce. The 20-year-old will likely be assigned to Rockford after his junior season and will compete for a roster spot in Chicago next season.

3. Nick Leddy, D – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, WCHA
Drafted by Minnesota 2009, 1st round, 16th overall
Acquired via trade February, 2010

Chicago’s trade of Cam Barker to Minnesota not only addressed the team’s immediate needs for a third-pairing defenseman in Kim Johnsson but also started to replenish a prospect pool that has graduated a lot of talent in the last few years. The addition of Nick Leddy gives the ‘Hawks organization a dynamic group of defensive prospects. The 18-year-old is highly-skilled blueliner and projects as an offensive-defenseman.

In his freshman season at Minnesota he has two goals and seven assists in 23 games, including a goal and two assists against conference rival Colorado College February 20th.

A native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, his greatest asset is his excellent skating, while his smart play with the puck and quick, hard shot help him get pucks on net. Leddy is a responsible defender and this area will continue to improve as the 5’11 179 lbs prospect fills out his frame and gains more experience with the Gophers.

4. Akim Aliu, RW – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2007, 2nd round, 56th overall

While it hasn’t been an explosive debut so far for Akim Aliu, the power forward has had a solid showing in Rockford. THe 6’3 224 lbs power forward has shown more confidence with the puck of late and has been able to get the puck to the net more consistently. The recent improvements have shown up on the scoresheet as the 20-year-old has 10 points in his last 19 games since January 1st. Through 45 games on the season, Aliu has 11 goals, all at even strength, and six assists.

He has been eased into a power-play role and should continue to see more ice time as the adjustment to the pro game continues. Expect Aliu to battle for a roster spot in Chicago next fall.

5. Shawn Lalonde, D – Belleville Bulls, OHL
Drafted 2008, 3rd round, 68th overall

Lalonde entered the season as the unquestioned leader on Belleville’s blue line and wears an ‘A’ on his chest. However, the 19-year-old defenseman probably did not plan on leading the team on the scoresheet as well. Despite playing in only 49 of the team’s 58 games, Lalonde leads the team with 44 points, including 12 goals and 32 assists. His minus-16 rating doesn’t inspire much confidence in his defensive play but that rating is par for the course on a disappointing Belleville team.

With Belleville out of the playoff picture and his pro contract signed, the smooth-skating Lalonde may join Rockford and get his first professional games under his belt.

6. Marcus Kruger, C – Djurgardens IF, SEL
Drafted 2009, 5th round, 149th overall

Few foresaw Marcus Kruger’s exploding out of the gate with 14 points in the first eight games but the 19-year-old Swede was one hockey’s hottest prospects to begin the season. He has sinced cooled off but the playmaking pivot is still one of the top scorers for DIF with nine goals and 18 assists in 31 games.

He was especially strong alongside Jacob Josefson (NJD) at the start of the year and the pair joined Matthias Tedenby (NJD) to form the top line for Sweden at this year’s WJC. While Kruger’s performance may not have lived up to the hype generated by his torrid start, he was solid with six assists in six games. Kruger will likely remain in Sweden for at least another year as he is in a good situation where he can play and develop against men.

7. Jack Skille, RW – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2005, 1st round, 7th overall

The story with Skille the last two years has been about his cap hit and Chicago’s inability to fit him under the cap. His play at the NHL level hasn’t exactly inspired the club to make room for his cap hit either. The organization’s patience with Skille may be paying off as the 22-year-old Wisconsin native has shown some improvement at both levels.

As a top-line winger in Rockford, he is near a point-per game with 18 goals and 21 assists in 45 games. Speed is clearly his best asset and in the AHL he uses it well to find open ice in the offensive zone.

There were glimpses of this ability in his six games with Chicago where he scored one goal and an assist. Skille will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season but might be penciled into a roster spot if he is with the ‘Hawks next season.

8. Billy Sweatt, LW – Colorado College Tigers, WCHA
Drafted 2007, 2nd round, 38th overall

A senior at Colorado College, Sweatt has been one of the squad’s leaders up front this season. Appearing in all 32 of the Tigers’ games thus far, the winger has 14 goals and a team-leading 29 points. He has been used in all situations and has tallied four power-play goals and one goal short-handed.

Speed will undoubtedly be Sweatt’s first weapon at that next level. The 21-year-old has also shown a willingness to initiate contact and play a scrappy game at the lower levels. Sweatt should get plenty of ice time in Rockford next year to apply his game to the professional ranks.

9. Brandon Pirri, C – Rensselaer Engineers, ECAC
Drafted 2009, 2nd round, 59th overall

The beginning of Brandon Pirri’s college career has been excellent thus far. The 18-year-old center has been one of the go-to guys for RPI offensively along with fellow freshman and American WJC-standout Jerry D’Amigo (TOR). The first-year forwards rank second and third on the team in scoring, respectively. Pirri has appeared in all 34 of the team’s games, scoring 40 points including a team-leading 30 assists.

Pirri plays with the first power-play unit where he can utilize his excellent vision and passing. Though the ECAC may not be considered the toughest NCAA competition, Pirri has still looked impressive in making the jump from Junior A. He should continue to see plenty of ice time at RPI in order to build on his strong start.

10. Joe Fallon, G – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2005, 6th round, 167th overall

Fallon remains the top goalie prospect in these rankings. He remains behind 25-year-old Corey Crawford on the organizational depth chart due to Crawford’s professional experience but the duo have shared goaltending duties this year for Rockford. In 28 games, Fallon has a 14-10-1 record with a 2.71 goals average and .901 save percentage. The 25-year-old had the opportunity to carry the load when Crawford missed nearly two months from November into January. He did not disappoint, recording a 9-5-1 record with 2.5 goals against average in 16 starts during that stretch.

Having almost two pro seasons under his belt, the 6’4 netminder will continue to get plenty of starts for the ‘Hogs.

11. Igor Makarov, RW – Dynamo Moscow, KHL
Drafted 2006, 2nd round, 33rd overall

The Russian winger’s future in North America remains unclear. Still under contract with SKA St. Petersburg coming into the season, Makarov did not attend Chicago’s training camp. His subpar play in the KHL this year raises even more question marks. Despite being traded from the veteran-laden lineup of St. Petersburg after six points in 24 games, Makarov has just one goal and two assists in 22 games with his new club in Moscow.

While the trade and an expiring KHL contract leave the the door open that he could attend training camp next season, his desire for a one-way contract may keep the ‘Hawks from fitting him onto the roster.

12. Simon Danis-Pepin, D – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2006, 2nd round, 61st overall

Danis-Pepin has made a strong transition to the pro game from the University of Maine. He plays a steady game defensively and uses his long reach and huge body to his advantage in his own zone. While he may not play the physical style that his 6’6 229 lbs frame might suggest, the 21-year-old has proven to be a dependable player in all three zones. He has one goal, seven assists, and a +9 rating in 38 games so far as a rookie.

His smart play with the puck has earned him some power-play time, leading to a boost in production recently with six assists in 15 games since January 1st. He’ll continue to see plenty of ice time in Rockford and could be in position for a call-up as soon as next year.

13. Brian Connelly, D – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Signed as a free agent March, 2009

In his first full pro season out of Colorado College, Brian Connelly’s play has been one of the key’s to Rockford’s season. The offensive defenseman is not only a good puck-mover but he is a good skater and can lead the rush. He has scored four goals and 25 assists through 61 games this season.

He has played a role on the power play where he has more freedom to pinch or get his hard shot on net to create chances. Though not exactly intimidating defensively at 5’10 167 lbs, the 23-year-old uses his speed and awareness well in his own zone. Given his success offensively, Connelly may be poised to make his Blackhawks debut sooner rather than later.

14. Alec Richards, G – Toledo Walleye, ECHL
Signed as a free agent June, 2009

Following a four-year career at Yale, the free agent goaltender has had a solid start to his pro career in the ECHL. Splitting starts with Jordan Pearce (DET), Richards has appeared in 25 games with a 14-8-3 record, 3.37 goals against average, and .895 save percentage. He has earned a few starts in Rockford as well with a 3-2-0 record to go along with 3.12 goals against average and .895 save percentage.

The 6’4 210 lbs goalie uses his size very well to take away a lot of net. He is also poised in net, evidenced by the consistency he has demonstrated in his rookie season. Richards will continue to work his way up through the minors and likely see more time in Rockford over the next year.

15. Evan Brophey, C – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2005, 3rd round, 68th overall

After a much improved second half last season, Brophey had a relatively quiet first half for the ‘Hogs. Still a dependable two-way center, the 23-year-old has 11 goals and 24 points through 60 games. A chunk of that production has come recently as the 6’2 center has three goals and four assists through nine February games.

His hockey IQ and playmaking ability have earned him time with the second power-play unit where he recorded a pair of goals. Though center may be an area of need for the ‘Hawks next season, Brophey will need to play with more consistency to challenge for a roster spot.

16. David Pacan, C – University of Vermont Catamounts, Hockey East
Drafted 2009, 6th round, 177th overall

After a slow start to the year for Vermont and Pacan himself, the 18-year-old pivot has stepped into a secondary scoring role for the squad. Through 30 games the 6’3 freshman has six goals and six assists, bolstered by an 11-game stretch in which he scored 10 points.

As impressive as the hot streak was, Pacan has also struggled with consistency at times. He is a smart forward who can make the right pass as well as find the back of the net. Likely a four-year college player, Pacan will have time to develop a larger role in the Catamounts line-up.

17. Bryan Bickell, LW – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2004, 2nd round, 41st overall

Bickell has gotten several call-ups to the big club this season. The bruising power forward has brought a physical style to the ‘Hawks’ fourth line when given the opportunity. He has also provided some skill with a game-winner among his two goals and one assist in 14 NHL games. He has spent most of the year in Rockford, where he has put up 11 goals and 11 assists in 48 games.

A restricted free agent at season’s end, the 23-year-old Bickell is a leading candidate for any openings in the bottom six next year.

18. Jake Dowell, C – Rockford IceHogs, AHL
Drafted 2004, 5th round, 140th overall

Like Bickell, two-way center Dowell has also earned a couple call-ups to Chicago. He has been solid in his three games in the ‘Hawks lineup, playing responsibly in both ends. The 24-year-old Dowell also brought a little offense with him as he registered a goal and an assist in Chicago’s final game before the Olympic break. The IceHogs’ captain has played in 59 AHL games with six goals, 19 points, and 68 PIMs.

Dowell’s all-around game and leadership qualities will certainly have him in the mix for a forward spot next season.

19. Byron Froese, C – Everett Silvertips, WHL
Drafted 2009, 4th round, 119th overall

In his second junior season, Froese is enjoying another successful year in Everett. After 19 goals in his rookie season, the talented center has scored 25 already this year. Overall, the 18-year-old has 54 points in 60 games and ranks fourth on the team in points.

The ‘Tips top-line center has played in every situation this year for a club that has clinched a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. He even carried the offense for a time during a six-game goal streak in January. Froese’s versatility and consistent production in the WHL make him yet another intriguing center prospect for Chicago.

20. Joe Lavin, D – University of Notre Dame, CCHA
Drafted 2007, 5th round, 126th overall

Lavin played 24 games with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL to start the year, registering five goals and 12 assists during that stretch. Lavin joined Notre Dame in January having sat out of the NCAA for one year in order to transfer. Since joining the Irish, Lavin has played in all 14 of the team’s games with two goals and five assists. His seven points already ranks fourth among the team’s blueliners despite playing about half the games.

While Notre Dame has struggled this season and currently ranks 10th in the 12-team CCHA, Lavin’s solid play has been a bright spot for the Irish in the second half.