Blackhawks 2010 draft preview

By Brad Gardner

Top 10 prospects

1. Dylan Olsen, D
2. Kyle Beach, LW
3. Nick Leddy, D
4. Akim Aliu, RW
5. Shawn Lalonde, D
6. Marcus Kruger, C
7. Jack Skille, RW
8. Billy Sweatt, LW
9. Brandon Pirri, C
10. Igor Makarov, RW

Coming off their first Stanley Cup victory since 1961, the Blackhawks hold the 30th overall selection in the first round. The team also has a pair of second-round picks at 43rd and 60th overall. The 2010 draft will be the organization’s first with General Manager Stan Bowman at the helm.

Team Needs

The cap crunch in Chicago will mean several new faces, and cheap contracts, in the line-up next season. Winger prospects like Jack Skille and Bryan Bickell have a few AHL seasons under their belt while rookies Kyle Beach and Ben Smith might also challenge for roster spots on the wings. On defense, Brian Connelly and Shawn Lalonde could provide more offensive punch, while rookie Ryan Stanton or Simon Danis-Pepin could be available to add more size. There are options within the organization at those positions, but one of Chicago’s most pressing needs this offseason will be at the center position.

The team is likely to lose veteran John Madden to free agency and Patrick Sharp, normally a left winger, was used at center at times during the season and throughout the playoff run. That leaves at least one spot open up the middle but there are few options ready to take that next step in the system. Colin Fraser, a restricted free agent, and Jake Dowell are the leading candidates to take Madden’s fourth-line center spot, but there is little depth at the pro level behind them. 

Another major concern this offseason will be goaltending. Playoff starter Antti Niemi is a restricted free agent and Cristobal Huet and his $5.6 million cap hit were benched for the last couple months of the season. While Niemi is expected to be back next year, that could depend on Bowman’s ability to get Huet’s contract off the books, either via trade, minor league assignment, or buyout.

If Huet is not in Chicago, it could mean Corey Crawford finally gets a real shot to stick with the team, albeit in a back-up role behind Niemi. Behind Crawford, the organization has only Alec Richards signed for next year and one more restricted free agent in Hannu Toivonen. The team may also be interested in signing a cheap veteran backup, leaving a lot of shuffling still to be done in Chicago’s crease.

Organizational Strengths

The organization’s main strength is on defense, with Dylan Olsen, Shawn Lalonde, and Nick Leddy all being potential impact players at the NHL level. Brian Connelly had an impressive rookie season with Rockford while Danis-Pepin and Jonathan Carlsson showed improvement over the course of their first pro seasons. The offensive abilities of Lalonde, Leddy, and Connelly would fit well with Chicago’s style that depends on blueliners to get the offense moving. The size of Danis-Pepin and physical play of Olsen also provide some balance within the group.

While the system lacks any blue chip prospects, Chicago has at least begun to restock at forward after graduating many prospects to the NHL over the past few years. 2008 first-round pick Kyle Beach led the WHL with 52 goals this year and is poised to play his first full professional season. The 2009 draft brought Brandon Pirri in the second round and Marcus Kruger in the fifth round, a pair of pivots with exceptional passing ability and hockey sense. Both had sensational seasons for their respective clubs and have the potential to replenish the offensive skill in Chicago’s top six down the road.

Organizational Weaknesses

The crease is the biggest trouble spot within the Blackhawks organization. Only Alec Richards qualifies as a prospect by Hockey’s Future’s criteria, though Corey Crawford and Hannu Toivonen were also in the system last season. The emergence of Niemi might have stabilized the top of the ladder, but the team will need to flesh out the pipeline through the draft and might even need affordable short term options from free agency.

The system as a whole is lacking premier prospects, a trend that should continue now that the team is picking near the end of the first round. There is top-six potential among the forwards and potential first or second-pair blueliners in the system, but the organization will have to continue developing that talent to fit around the Blackhawks core.

Draft Tendencies

The Blackhawks have leaned heavily towards college prospects in recent drafts. In the five drafts since the lockout, the team has selected 21 NCAA players out of 43 total draft picks from the Junior A level, high schools, and directly from college.

The team has drafted 14 players from the CHL over the last five drafts, with eight of those players coming from the OHL. Recently, however, Chicago has leaned towards the West, having drafted three of their last five CHLers out of the WHL.

European prospects have been fewer in numbers recently, with a total of eight taken by the Hawks in the past five drafts. Only two European players have been drafted by Chicago in the last two years in Marcus Kruger and Jonathan Carlsson, both Swedes. The team has instead tapped into the free agent market overseas for players like Antti Niemi and the recently-acquired Norwegian Mathis Olimb.

The team has had an obvious positional focus in the past two draft classes, with five defensemen drafted in 2008 and six centers drafted in 2009. That focus could be in net this year as multiple goalie selections would address the weakest spot in the system.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result
at No. 30: Calvin Pickard, G

The Winnipeg-born netminder not only fills the most glaring need for Chicago heading into the draft but is also a good value pick for a prospect widely considered one of the top two goalies in this class. His sound technique and strong mental game would make him an intriguing prospect for Chicago.