The 2015-16 season is one of uncertainty for the Chicago Blackhawks. The harsh realities of the salary-cap era were quite evident during the offseason. Brandon Saad (CBJ), Patrick Sharp (DAL), Antti Raanta (NYR), Stephen Johns (DAL), Michael Paliotta (CBJ) and Alex Broadhurst (CBJ) were all parts of trades meant to add flexibility as well as talent to the organization. Furthermore, the likes of Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Antoine Vermette have found new teams through the free agency market. In other words, this year’s Blackhawks squad will look different than the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions we saw in June.
Losing Johns and Paliotta was a huge blow to Chicago’s system of defensive prospects, especially considering how NHL-ready Johns appeared to be during his time with the Rockford IceHogs. Nonetheless, the Blackhawks have some promising young talent within the organization, some of whom may be relied upon for a bigger role on the team for the 2015-16 season.
20. (NR) Radovan Bondra, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, 2015
The Blackhawks may have lacked a first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but they
have reason to believe they found a hidden gem in Bondra. The 18-year-old winger had four
points for HC Kosice in Slovakia during the 2014-15 season, and he continued to show his fine
skating and aggressiveness during the 2015 World Junior Championship for Team Slovakia.
While Bondra stands out on the ice because of his hulking 6’5 frame, he also can contribute
effectively at both ends of the ice. Bondra was selected eighth overall by the Vancouver Giants
in the CHL Import Draft, where he will work on combing his skill and size to become a two-way
threat for the Blackhawks.
19. (19) Luc Snuggerud, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2014
Despite skating on the second defensive pairing with the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the 2015-16 season, Snuggerud showed first-line potential throughout the year. The 19-year-old defenseman, who was mostly paired with captain Brian O’Rourke, tallied two goals and 14 assists in 39 games with the Mavericks, who made a surprising run all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Heading into his sophomore season, there’s reason to believe a boost in Snuggerud’s numbers is likely. He’s got a big shot and legitimate skating ability, but he’s still very raw in his abilities. At just 19 years old, though, the young blueliner has plenty of time to develop into a decent defensive prospect for the Blackhawks.
18. (NR) Kyle Baun, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2015
It’s become pretty evident Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is quite a fan of Baun, who Quenneville said was “outstanding in every game he played” during the regular season. Although the 6’2 winger didn’t register a point, Baun seemed to have adjusted to the pace of the NHL rather well. Baun signed with Chicago on March 26 after his third year with Colgate University. The 23-year-old forward collected 79 points (39 goals, 40 assists) in 113 games with the Raiders. It has been assumed Baun could be an essential checking line-type of player for the Blackhawks, mixing his big body with a scoring touch. It’s likely Baun gets a look at some point with the Blackhawks during the 2015-16 season, possibly as soon as opening night.
17. (17) Anthony Louis, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2013
Calgary Flames standout Johnny Gaudreau is a shining example why Anthony Louis shouldn’t be counted out in terms of being an NHL-caliber player. The two share a similar stature – Gaudreau is 5’9, while Louis stands at 5’7 – and have developed at the collegiate level. Gaudreau, as we know, has become a top-line player in the pros, but it remains to be seen what the future holds in store for Louis.
Louis’ sophomore season saw him post college-career highs in points (36) and plus/minus rating (+15). Louis will return to the RedHawks for his junior year, where he could see his numbers rise yet again. The 20-year-old forward has smooth puck-handling skills that make him an offensive threat every shift, and if he can get stronger and smarter in his overall game, he may be able to prove that size doesn’t matter.
16. (18) Fredrik Olofsson, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2014
Perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises last season was the standout season Olofsson had for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. While he could never find his groove during his time with the Green Bay Gamblers, Olofsson’s first full season with the Steel saw the Swede put up 60 points – 27 goals and 33 assists – in 57 games during the 2014-15 campaign, good for second on the team in points. The 19-year-old winger will continue his development with the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the 2015-16 season, and it will certainly be worth watching if Olofsson can build off this season’s success.
With the departure of Stephen Johns and Michael Paliotta during the 2015 offseason, Forsling’s value within the Blackhawks organization skyrocketed. The crafty defender knows how to chip in offensively, and his abilities were on full display during the 2015 World Junior Championships, where Forsling posted eight points in seven games during the tournament. The 19-year-old Swede is plenty capable in his own zone, but he is still a slightly raw talent overall. Another year with Linkoping in the SHL could be huge for the young blueliner, and it may take until the 2016-17 season before we see Forsling translate to North American hockey.
14. (13) John Hayden, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2013
When the Blackhawks selected John Hayden in the third round in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, it was assumed his big body – he measures at 6’3, 209 lbs. – and overall skill made him a nearly complete package as a top-nine forward. The tools are still there, and the 2014-15 season saw the Greenwich, Connecticut native attempt to bring some more consistency to his game. An injury caused Hayden to miss some of the season, but he would end up collecting seven goals and 18 assists in 29 games for Yale University. Despite moving all throughout the line-up, Hayden would go on to notch three power play goals and as many game winners.
Hayden also continues to make the most of his opportunities with the Blackhawks front office. A standout last year, Hayden also made sure to make himself noticeable during the Blackhawks’ prospect camp in July. If he can take his game to the next level with the Bulldogs during the 2015-16 season, Hayden could give Chicago something to think about regarding the 20-year-old forward’s readiness for the pros.
13. (11) Tyler Motte, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2013
Like Hayden, Motte was a 2013 draft selection by Chicago. And much like Hayden, Motte has been steadily improving during his time in the NCAA. His sophomore year with the University of Michigan saw Motte tally a whopping 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 35 games. The 20-year-old forward’s growing playmaking ability and skating made him an offensive threat every night, although playing with the likes of Dylan Larkin (DET) and J.T. Compher (COL) certainly helped. The main concern with Motte, much like with Anthony Louis, is size. At just 5’9, Motte lacks the traditional “NHL-ready physique,” but his skillset could make up for that. It will be worth watching as to what another season with the Wolverines will do for Motte.
12. (NR) Graham Knott, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2015
With the Blackhawks lacking a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft courtesy of the Antoine Vermette trade, general manager Stan Bowman needed to make his second-round selection count, and it appeared the Blackhawks got their guy in Knott. At just 18 years old, Knott’s 6’3 frame give him the big-bodied presence Chicago needs at wing. Furthermore, a decent shot and aggressive game make him a quality forward for the Niagara IceDogs, Knott’s OHL team. The winger would net 25 goals and another 18 helpers in 59 games for the IceDogs during the 2014-15 season. He still has plenty of work to do before being an NHL-regular, but with an already deep roster and system, the Blackhawks can afford to be patient with Knott.
11. (12) Vincent Hinostroza, C, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2012
After an impressive sophomore year with the University of Notre Dame that saw him tally 44 points (11 goals and 33 assists) in 42 games, Hinostroza was rewarded for his efforts. The Bartlett, Illinois native signed his entry level contract with the Blackhawks on March 21. Hinostroza appeared in five games with the IceHogs, where he registered two assists. The 21-year-old center’s primary weapon is his speed, which allows him to open up space and create opportunities for himself. While his size – Hinostroza measures at 5’9 – isn’t all that intimidating, it’s his creativity and stick-handling that make the 2012 sixth-round selection an effective offensive player. While he’ll likely spend the majority of the 2015-16 season with the IceHogs, it isn’t completely unwarranted to assume Hinostroza could get a midseason call-up should a bottom-six forward on the Blackhawks go down with an injury.