The months leading up to the 2015-16 season saw the Chicago Blackhawks shuffle several players. In terms of prospects, the Blackhawks sent out Stephen Johns, Michael Paliotta, Alex Broadhurst, and Joakim Nordstrom in a variety of trades. Futhermore, Matt Carey, Drew LeBlanc, and Mac Carruth were not extended qualifying offers with the team, though Carruth signed an AHL deal with the Blackhawks’ minor league affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Defenseman Sam Jardine signed a contract with the IceHogs as well, hoping he can use this opportunity to earn an NHL-contract with Chicago in the foreseeable future.
There’s still plenty of talent within the system, however. In fact, the additions of Marko Dano, Artemi Panarin, Graham Knott, and a slew of others have Blackhawks fans feeling more confident than ever in terms of the future. For the Blackhawks front office, however, it’s all about patience and seeing what 2015-16 has in store for their youth.
Top Pro Prospect
Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
There was plenty of hullabaloo among Blackhawks fans when Teravainen was sent to Rockford for the start of the 2014-15 season. At first, it didn’t seem to make sense. How could the much-hyped prospect start the year in the AHL when it appeared he already had the tools to make an impact in the NHL? Sure enough, Teravainen’s solid play earned him a pair of call-ups with the Blackhawks during the regular season, where he managed nine points in 34 games. It wasn’t until the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, that the 21-year-old forward showcased his remarkable skillset, earning four goals and six assists in 18 games.
The 2015-16 season has already seen the flashy Finn rotate between the first and third lines, but the constant remains his ability. Teravainen’s on-ice awareness and playmaking make him a consistent threat every shift. He managed to earn head coach Joel Quenneville’s trust, made evident by his deployment on the Blackhawks’ second power play unit. With his first full season in the NHL underway, Teravainen is soon to graduate from prospect status.
Marko Dano, C/RW, Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Trading Brandon Saad was a tough decision general manager Stan Bowman had no choice but to make. Many were upset by the player they lost, but others were hopeful by the player they received in return: 20-year-old forward Marko Dano. Taken by Columbus 27th overall in the 2013 draft, Dano showed plenty of promise during the 2014-15 season, earning 21 points and a +12 in 35 games with the Blue Jackets. Dano, much like Teravainen last year, was sent down to Rockford to start the 2015-16 season, and once again, many were surprised by the demotion. Nonetheless, Dano’s excellent skating, offensive instincts, and two-way play make him a valuable commodity for the Blackhawks, especially as a top-six forward. Don’t be too surprised to hear Dano get a shot with Chicago at some point during the 2015-16 season.
Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
When the Blackhawks announced the signing of Panarin on May 1, 2015, it was clear a potential-replacement for now-departed forward Patrick Sharp had been found. After all, nobody could deny the talent Panarin had on display with SKA St. Petersberg in the KHL. As if leading his team in scoring – 62 points in 54 games – wasn’t enough, Panarin continued his dominance in SKA St. Petersburg’s Gagarin Cup-winning postseason, notching 20 points in as many games.
While the 23-year-old Russian has consistently been an offensive threat throughout his career, there was still some speculation as to how he would fare on North American ice. Sure enough, though, Panarin has started off his first NHL season looking impressive, going so far as notching his first NHL goal in his first NHL game on October 7. Panarin may enter the Calder Trophy discussion should things continue to progress.
Top Junior Prospect
Graham Knott, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
The 2015 NHL Entry Draft saw the Blackhawks stock up on some talent at the junior level, and the cream of that crop was certainly Knott. The bulky winger was an effective contributor for the IceDogs during the 2014-15 season, which saw him post 43 points in 59 games. Size was clearly something Chicago was looking to add at the draft, and Knott gives them a bruising winger with a scoring punch. Consistency and strength, however, will need to develop as Knott’s junior career continues. Nonetheless, should he continue to establish himself as a skillful power forward, Knott would provide the Blackhawks with an excellent checking-line scorer.
Roy Radke, RW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
There’s more to Radke’s game than his 2014-15 point totals may lead you to believe. Despite tallying just 18 points in 64 games, Radke was solid for the Colts, especially in a bottom-six role. The 18-year-old winger really got people talking, however, during this summer’s Blackhawks Prospect Camp. The Geneva, Illinois native scored a hat trick in the first scrimmage of camp, demonstrating how creative he can be with the puck. More playing time, which Radke is sure to get, means more confidence, and that will eventually mean more production from the forward.
A standout year in Slovakia, including an impressive showing during the 2015 World Junior Championships, made Bondra a worthwhile pick in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Now, Bondra will have to translate his skill not only to a different team but a different continent as well. The 18-year-old winger was drafted eighth overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2015 CHL Import Draft, and so far, his dangerous shot and playmaking ability have been on full display. The Slovakian has already managed seven points in eight games to start of the 2015-16 season for the Giants.
Top Amateur Prospect
Nick Schmaltz, C, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
In a system flush with collegiate prospects, Schmaltz is still the top dog. Centering primarily on the second line, Schmaltz was able to put his high playmaking ability to good use throughout the 2014-15 season, earning 26 points in 38 games as a freshman. For his sophomore season, expect Schmaltz to return to second-line duties (centering the first line is fellow Blackhawks prospect Luke Johnson). At just 19 years old, he already has some superb stick-handling and smooth skating ability. With a year of college hockey already under his belt and an effective linemate in Vancouver Canucks prospect Brock Boeser, it’s likely Schmaltz sees a jump in his numbers by the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
Freshman to Watch
Fredrik Olofsson, LW, University of Nebraska–Omaha (NCHC)
Based on his performance throughout the 2014-15 season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, it’s fair to assume Olofsson will become an exciting player to observe throughout the year. The 19-year-old winger was one of the Steel’s most effective and consistent players, ending the year with 27 goals and 33 assists in 57 games. It’s apparent this fantastic campaign was noted by UNO head coach Dean Blais, who has slotted Olofsson on the top line for the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Olofsson, who is now teammates with fellow Blackhawks draft pick Luc Snuggerud, has the tools to be an important offensive weapon for the Mavericks, but it will take time to see if he can put it all together.
Beau Starrett, C/LW, Cornell University (ECAC)
An injury sidelined Starrett for most of the 2014-15 season with the South Shore Kings of the USPHL. It was an unfortunate and poorly-timed injury for the Kings, as Starrett started off the first seven games of the season with two goals and three assists. The 19-year-old winger has a knack for finding the net and making plays happen. That trend should continue at Cornell University, where Starrett will get a chance to make an impact offensively during his freshman year. With his huge frame – Starrett measures in at 6’5 – and hard shot, Starrett is going to be hungry to get back on the ice after a short 2014-15 season.
Top European Prospect
Gustav Forsling, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Once Stephen Johns and Michael Paliotta were traded during the offseason, Forsling’s value within the Blackhawks organization took a big leap forward. That’s not to say the young blueliner wasn’t a valuable player before those transactions. In fact, Forsling continues to be the most effective skater overseas for the Blackhawks organization, as made evident by the 19 year old’s strong start to the 2015-16 season. As one of Linkoping’s top defenders, the Swedish defenseman has already earned eight points and a +5 rating in ten games, showcasing both his ability to lead the rush as well as responsibility in his own zone. The real test for Forsling will be to see how he translates to North American hockey. For now, another strong year in the SHL will do.
John Dahlstrom, LW/RW, Frolunda (SHL)
The Mr. Irrelevant of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, John Dahlstrom has a lot of work ahead of him. As made clear by his 2014-15 season with Frolunda’s U20 team in the SuperElit league, which saw the 18-year-old forward tally 35 points (20 goals along with 15 assists) in just 28 games, Dahlstrom has the ability to be a reliable offensive weapon when called upon. A solid outing at the Blackhawks Prospect Camp in July can attest to that, but the Swedish winger will be focusing on taking the next step with Frolunda throughout the 2015-16 season. He’s had a slow start thus far at the SHL level, going scoreless in his first seven games, but once Dahlstrom gets more comfortable, his playing time and his numbers should see a boost.
Carl Dahlstrom, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Unlike the aforementioned John (no relation), Carl Dahlstrom was a relatively high pick, selected by the Blackhawks 51st overall in the 2013 draft. Usually, higher selections have a little more pressure to deal with, as the stigma of being a “bust” is always over their heads. The same goes for Carl Dahlstrom, who seemed to struggle during the 2014-15 season with Linkoping. He managed just six points and a –2 plus/minus rating, and a brief two-game look with the IceHogs didn’t do him any favors either.
There’s no reason to give up on the 20-year-old defenseman just yet, though. With a large frame – he measures at 6’4 – and solid awareness, Carl Dahlstrom can certainly develop into an effective bottom-four defenseman for the Blackhawks. The Swedish blueliner should look at his disappointing season last year as motivation to get his game where it needs to be, and so far, it seems to be working. In the first ten games of the 2015-16 season for Linkoping, Dahlstrom has three points and a +4 rating.