2006 Draft paved way for current success of Chicago Blackhawks

By Brad Gardner
Photo: 2006 second round pick Igor Makarov is currently in his first season of North American play. Through 42 games, he has five goals and 10 assists. (Photo courtesy of www.RussianProspects.com)

The Blackhawks stumbled to a 26-43-0-13 record in the first season back from the lockout, led for much of the season by the ABC line of Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell, and Kyle Calder. The result was the third overall pick in the draft, used to select current Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

The rest of the class brought speed, hockey smarts, and skill to an already loaded prospect system. Chicago GM Dale Tallon showed a willingness to build patiently, selecting five prospects who would go on to develop at the collegiate level as well as a couple longer-term projects in the second around. No one besides Toews has laced them up at the NHL level, however, and only three of nine picks are under contract with the Blackhawks.

Jonathan Toews, C, University of North Dakota (WCHA) – 1st round, 3rd overall
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 270

The drafting of Jonathan Toews was an important step in the Blackhawks’ resurrection over the last few years. The Winnipeg-native was Chicago’s primary target with the third pick coming off a strong freshman season and excellent tournament performance helping the University of North Dakota to the Frozen Four. His arrival in Chicago in 2007 not only improved the Blackhawks on the ice but also marked a change in the culture of the team.

Toews spent one more year at the University of North Dakota after being drafted, finishing with 40 goals and 45 assists in 76 career games for the Sioux. The next season he, along with 2007 first overall pick Patrick Kane, would suit up for the Blackhawks and help carry the team within three points of their first playoff appearance since 2002. The squad has made the postseason each of the two years since, capturing Chicago’s fourth Stanley Cup over this past summer.

Toews has scored 100 goals and 231 points in 270 career NHL games, topping out so far at 69 points in 82 games in 2008-09. What does not show up on the score sheet is what is left on the ice, as the Chicago captain’s grit, determination, and competitiveness. With another gold medal coming with Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics last year as well, Toews has more than justified Chicago’s selection.

Igor Makarov, RW, Krylja (Rus2) – 2nd round, 33rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The organization went with a couple high-risk/high-reward picks in the second round, selecting Igor Makarov with the third pick of the round. The Russian winger was known for his bloodlines and his father, Sergei Makarov, as much as his own play heading into the draft. He notched 16 points in 35 games in his draft year at Russia‘s second tier level.

After being drafted, Makarov skated four seasons in Russia‘s pro league. A majority of his time was spent with SKA St. Petersburg before a midseason trade sent him to Dynamo Moscow in December, 2009. While his 26 points in 93 regular season KHL games is not all that impressive, Makarov played in a rather limited role throughout his career in his native country, averaging around 11 minutes per game in his last two KHL seasons.

The winger made his much-anticipated North American debut this season, making an immediate impression in training camp with his quickness and solid offensive skills. That sort of effort has not been seen consistently from Makarov, however, as has played up and down Rockford’s lineup along with time on both special teams units. The 23-year-old is still adjusting to North America, both on and off the ice, and could still be a bottom six player for Chicago in the near future.

Simon Danis-Pepin, D, University of Maine (Hockey East) – 2nd round, 61st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Labeled a project pick on draft day in 2006, Simon Danis-Pepin has still not yet shed the project label. The defenseman possessed an intriguing package for GM Dale Tallon and the Blackhawks at 6’6 229 pounds and possessing a decent set of hands. He has not developed as expected, however, and has been bouncing between the AHL and ECHL in the last two seasons.

Over the course of his four-year career at the University of Maine, Danis-Pepin scored six goals and added 36 assists in 133 career games. The blueliner grew into a leadership role for the Black Bears, serving as a co-captain in his senior season.

His pro career has not been as successful. He has had a limited role in the AHL when with Rockford, having been a healthy scratch for several games and playing on the third pairing and penalty kill when he has gotten in this season.

The Blackhawks organization was forced to show their hand in January with 2009 first round pick Dylan Olsen facing academic ineligibility at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With Olsen joining the fold in Rockford, Danis-Pepin was the odd man out and is currently skating with Toledo in the ECHL. The giant defenseman is able to get more ice time along with a bit more of an offensive role, which can only help as he continues developing his game. Expectations should be tempered for the second round pick, though, as he still has not shown he can be a dependable, everyday AHLer.

Tony Lagerstrom, C, Sodertalje Jr (Swe Jr) – 3rd round, 76th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Chicago went back to the center position in the third round with Tony Lagerstrom. The team traded two fourth round picks in order to move up for the Swedish pivot who has been unable to even make the Elitserien so far in his career.

A solid, two-way centerman, Lagerstrom has spent the last three seasons with Mora in the Allsvenskan, Sweden‘s second tier league. He scored a career-high 30 points in 45 games for the squad in 2008-09, offering up fairly consistent but unspectacular production since.

The Blackhawks no longer hold the rights to Lagerstrom, though it appears unlikely he will ever skate a shift in North America. The 22-year-old pivot’s two-way skills and leadership ability still give him a shot at a pro career in Sweden.

Ben Shutron, D, Kingston Fr
ontenacs (OHL) – 4th round, 95th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A mobile, offensively-oriented blueliner, Shutron led Kingston Frontenac defensemen in scoring with 39 points in 67 games in his draft year while racking up 134 penalty minutes. He also suited up for Canada at the U18 tournament, where he notched a pair of assists in seven games.

He continued on to have a solid OHL career, spending time with the Kitchener Rangers and Windsor Spitfires in his last two seasons. He appeared in the Memorial Cup with each team, earning a Memorial Cup All-Star nod with Kitchener in 2008 and a Memorial Cup championship in his final junior season in 2009 with Windsor.

With no pro options, Shutron has taken advantage of the CHL’s collegiate program. He is in his second season at the University of New Brunswick this year after scoring at a near point-per-game in his first year with three goals and 24 assists in 28 games.

Joe Palmer, G, US National U18 – 4th round, 96th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Blackhawks added to their goalie pipeline with the selection of Joe Palmer. An athletic goalie from Yorkville, New York, Palmer was coming off two seasons with the US National Team Developmental Program as well as an excellent showing in the American’s gold medal win at the 2006 U18 Championships.

He was unable to duplicate that same success at Ohio State University, where he played only one season as the team’s unquestioned starter. By his sophomore season he was splitting starts and saw action in only three games as a junior.

The IceHogs offered him an AHL deal in 2009 and he spent the season in the Central Hockey League with the Texas Brahmas. This season, Palmer has moved up to split starts in the ECHL. He has struggled mightily, however, with a 7-9-0 record, .865 save percentage, and 4.08 goals against average. Apart from organizational depth in the minors, Palmer does not appear to have much of a future with the Blackhawks.

Jan-Mikael Juutilainen, C, Jokerit Jr (Fin Jr) – 6th round, 156th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With the Blackhawks in need of some skill late in the draft, the team opted for Finnish pivot Jan-Mikael Juutilainen. He displayed both finishing and playmaking ability at the junior levels in Finland and served as Finland‘s captain at the U18 tournament, where he scored three goals and five points in six games.

Juutilainen played two seasons following the draft in the USHL for the Waterloo Black Hawks, where he scored 32 points in 90 career games. He returned to Finland, putting in some more time at the junior ranks before graduating to Jokerit’s SM-liiga club in 2008-09. He has spent the majority of his last two seasons at the top level in Finland, but has only managed four points in 92 games for Jokerit.

Chris Auger, C, Wellington Dukes (OPJHL) – 6th round, 169th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Chris Auger was drafted following a dynamic OPJHL season with the Wellington Dukes in which the center scored 92 points and led the league with 51 assists in 47 games. The 5’10 pivot not only brought offensive skill to the ‘Hawks center selections, but also added the speed that Tallon sought.

The Bellville, Ontario-native went on to play four seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, though he missed a large portion of his junior season to injury. His senior season was his best, as his nine goals and 14 assists in 36 games both set career marks.

Auger attended the training camps for the AHL’s Worcester Sharks and the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals in his rookie season, eventually landing with the Mississippi RiverKings of the Central Hockey League. He has scored six goals and four assists through 23 games.

Peter Leblanc, C, Hamilton Red Wings (OPJHL) – 7th round, 186th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Chicago again looked to the OPJHL in the seventh round with the selection of Hamilton, Ontario-native Peter Leblanc. He was the fifth center taken by the Blackhawks as well as the fifth collegiate pick.

Leblanc skated four seasons for the University of New Hampshire, finishing his career with 85 points in 153 games. He was among the team’s leading scorers in each of his final two seasons, serving as a co-captain in his senior year.

While not offered an NHL contract following his college career, Leblanc opted to stay within the Blackhawks organization and signed an AHL deal with Rockford. The pivot spent 22 games in the ECHL with Toledo at the start of the season, registering eight goals with 14 assists and earning All-Star recognition for his efforts.

The 22-year-old was recalled to Rockford in December and came out of the gate with a ton of confidence. The speedy forward added much-needed energy to the Rockford lineup with five goals in his first six games, helping the team to their best month of the season in December. The production has slowed, unsurprisingly, but Leblanc continues to play a versatile role for the ‘Hogs. Penciled into the fourth line center spot at the start of the game, he is often mixed in at wing throughout the game at even strength and on the power play. If he can keep up his play at the AHL level, the ‘Hawks final pick may get a shot at an NHL deal.