Chicago Blackhawks 2011 draft preview

By Brad Gardner

Top 10 prospects

1. Nick Leddy, D
2. Dylan Olsen, D
3. Jeremy Morin, LW
4. Kyle Beach, LW
5. Kevin Hayes, LW
6. Marcus Kruger, C
7. Shawn Lalonde, D
8. Brandon Pirri, C
9. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
10. Jimmy Hayes, RW

The Blackhawks hold 10 total picks heading into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota, including three picks within the first 43 selections.

Team Needs

Chicago's defense of the Stanley Cup was marred by inconsistency, encapsulated by the squad's seven game first round series against the Vancouver Canucks. After being outhit and outskated by Vancouver for much of the first three games, the 'Hawks turned things around and captured three consecutive victories of their own before eventually falling to their Western Conference rivals in overtime of the seventh game.

The lack of physicality on the Chicago roster, which was brutally apparent when Vancouver came out gunning to begin the series, was a common source of fan frustration throughout the year. Losing a lot of the physical presence from the Cup-winning team took a toll on this year's 'Hawks, and incoming players like Bryan Bickell and Jake Dowell were unable to make the same consistent impact. The team also favored smaller, more mobile blueliners in Nick Leddy and Chris Campoli down the stretch. With nearly $22 million dollars committed to the top four defensemen in Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson over the next three years, major changes to the Blackhawks defensive unit are unlikely without a trade of some kind.

The forward group has the potential to undergo some changes, though cap room will again be sparse for Chicago. Contributors from the 2010-11 squad like Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, and Viktor Stalberg will be RFAs this summer while UFAs Tomas Kopecky, Fernando Pisani, and Ryan Johnson do not appear to be in the future plans of the Blackhawks at this time. Late season call-ups Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger may be penciled into the NHL lineup now, but the organization will again have some holes to fill up front with prospects and/or discount free agents. Center depth was specifically tested last season, particularly when Dave Bolland was knocked out of the lineup late in the regular season.

Organizational Strengths

Defense remains the strength of the Chicago prospect system with a number of the skilled, mobile defensemen who should be great fits for the Blackhawks down the road. Nick Leddy has already shown he fits well in Chicago and both Shawn Lalonde and Brian Connelly packed some offensive punch for Rockford last season. The group is far from one-dimensional as Dylan Olsen and Ryan Stanton provide size and physicality already at the pro level while Stephen Johns projects as an elite physical defenseman down the road.

The organization also has plenty of prototypical 'Hawk wingers coming down the pipe, with Jeremy Morin and Kyle Beach poised to break into the Chicago lineup over the next couple seasons. Both can play a power forward style and still put the puck in the back of the net, consistent with many of the wingers that Chicago has developed recently. Jimmy and Kevin Hayes, along with Philippe Paradis, also have the size and skill combination that the Blackhawks like to have in their forward group.

Organizational Weaknesses

The right wing position is shallow, though all three of Chicago's prospects at that position have a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL. Ben Smith has already suited up with the Blackhawks, while Jimmy Hayes and Igor Makarov could both be in the discussion for checking line roles as soon as next season. The forward prospect group overall does not feature a ton of talent, though there are future NHL contributors at each position.

Although the organization has improved their goaltending depth at the prospect level, the system still lacks a top flight goalie prospect. Of course, that has not held the team back recently as they have found success with Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford. The goaltending tandem at the pro level may be set already for the first time in recent memory with Crawford re-signed and Czech prospect Alexander Salak penciled in to back him up. Behind them, though, the depth is questionable. Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth, both 2010 draft picks, had strong seasons as the featured starter for their respective WHL clubs, but both have another year in junior and are still years away from proving their legitimacy as NHL netminders.

Draft Tendencies

This will be GM Stan Bowman's second draft at the helm of the Blackhawks, so it is still a little early to point to any patterns. That said, Bowman's 2010 class did not stray too much from Chicago's plan in recent history. Chicago has clearly favored college players in the last three drafts, with 12 of the last 25 selections bound for the NCAA. With NHL teams retaining the rights of college-bound picks for four years after their draft, these prospects give the organization the greatest flexibility in terms of when to bring them to the pro level as well as giving the team plenty of time before making a final judgment on their future with the club.

Eight selections in the past three drafts have been Canadian Major Junior prospects, including five from the WHL, two from the OHL, and one player, David Gilbert, drafted out of the QMJHL. Mirko Hoefflin, drafted out of Germany, would be the second Chicago prospect from recent drafts in the QMJHL.

Only five of the picks have come from Europe. The organization has focused much of their international scouting in Sweden, culminating with the fifth round steal of Marcus Kruger in 2009 as well as two more Swedish forwards, Ludvig Rensfeldt, and Joakim Nordstrom, in the 2010 draft.

Hockey's Future staff mock draft result:

No. 18: Boone Jenner, C

The Blackhawks like versatile forwards who play responsibly at both ends of the ice. Jenner plays a low-risk game predicated around hard work. Given his ability in the faceoff circle and solid two-way play, he is an ideal fit as a third-line center. However, he is versatile enough to play a complementary role in the top-six.