Chicago Blackhawks 2011 draft review

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Michael Paliotta was taken in the third round by the Chicago Blackhawks. The American-born defender is headed to the University of Vermont in the fall. (Photo courtesy of DJ Powers/HF)

The Blackhawks further bolstered their prospect depth with 11 picks at the 2011 draft, including four selections among the first 43 picks. The organization added character and work ethic with their first round forwards, a pair of high upside offensive performers in the second round, and even more depth at the two most important positions, center and defense, in later rounds.

The team's Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Kelley, thought the draft went better than he expected. "When you're picking 18th, you kind of tease yourself you're going to get one of those top players," Kelley said, "So we went in thinking there was a top two tiers, then we thought there was a group that was all together. The first two players we got were in our top two tiers, so probably the last six picks before we were able to make the McNeill pick and then waiting for the Danault pick, we were sweating them out pretty good."

Chicago had a rather balanced draft, with four players from the CHL, four players from the college and Junior A level, and three European prospects. Sweden continues to be a focal point for the 'Hawks European scouting department as the team added two more Swedish prospects to the system. The United States National Team Development Program has also been a primary source of talent for Chicago in recent years with three more prospects who have played in Ann Arbor selected in 2011.

Mark McNeill, C – Prince Albert (WHL)
1st round, 18th overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 211 lbs

Chicago made Mark McNeill a very happy person with his selection in the first round. A Blackhawks fan growing up, the center was considered one of the more pro-ready prospects in the draft from a physical standpoint and presented himself as a mature, hard-working skater to the press.

McNeill's strongest asset is his hockey sense, which contributed to his success at both ends of the rink last season with Prince Albert. His soft hands and hard shot made him an offensive threat all season, ranking second on the team with 32 goals and 81 points in 70 regular season games, but his real value is in his versatility. Generally playing against opponent's top lines, McNeill succeeded in any role he was asked to play and was a fixture on the Raider's special teams units.

A native of Edmonton, AB, McNeill suffered through some periods of inconsistency last year. At his best, though, he is difficult to contain because he is a powerful skater, strong on the puck, and not shy about going to the dirty areas of the ice. The 18-year-old also lets his fists fly when the gloves come off.

The right-handed center has a well-rounded game with very few holes, which should only help his eventual adjustment to the pro level. As one of the more mature 2011 picks both physically and mentally, McNeill will not be rushed but could still push for a roster spot with the 'Hawks out of his first training camp.

Phillip Danault, LW – Victoriaville (QMJHL)
1st round, 26th overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 181 lbs

With RFA Troy Brouwer expected to get a raise this summer, he was shopped around by the Blackhawks at draft weekend. Though other teams were interested, Chicago GM Stan Bowman was able to land Washington's 26th pick overall and used it to select Phillip Danault from the QMJHL. The winger is another prospect with excellent character and work ethic. A strong showing in the Quebec league playoffs certainly helped his stock as he led the Tigres in scoring with 15 points in nine games and was one of the team's lone bright spots in their second round matchup against eventual Memorial Cup champion Saint John.

According to Kelley, Danault's, "best games of the year were when he had to go right up against Saint John and [Sea Dogs’ forward Jonathan] Huberdeau and he thrived in that kind of role when you challenge him and make him compete."

Danault was named captain of his hometown Victoriaville Tigres team at the age of 17. His hard work on and off the ice contributed to his massive improvement in his second junior season, which included appearances representing the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series as well as the Top Prospect Game. He was also awarded with the QMJHL's Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the league's best defensive forward.

"I play with a lot of character and I can bring energy to the team," Danault said when asked to describe his game, "I play with a lot of emotion and with my game I can bring speed."

The 18-year-old Danault can play both wing and center, bringing maximum effort to each and every shift. He skates well and plays with good awareness at both ends of the rink. He will need to add more strength to his 6'0 and 181-pound frame before jumping to the pros. The forward does not project as a major point-producer at the NHL level, but his effort and willingness to work will certainly lead to points and contributions off the score sheet at the pro level.

Adam Clendening, D – Boston University (H-East)
2nd round, 36th overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 187 lbs

Though few draft resources had him pegged in the early second round, Adam Clendening's offensive potential makes him a great fit for the Blackhawks. He led all Boston University blueliners with 26 points in 39 games, was named to Hockey East's All-Rookie Team, and was an Honorable Mention Hockey East All-Star.

At 5'11, Clendening is a bit undersized for a defender at the NHL level, but he may be able to make up for that with impressive puck skills and vision. He is poised with the puck and makes good decisions, with noticeable improvement in his shot selection over the course of his freshman year. He can carry the puck and push the offensive pace while still holding his own on defense.

In addition to needing more strength, the native of Wheatfield, NY does not possess the dynamic skating ability of similarly skilled blueliners. He plays an aggressive game, but there were instances where it was too much and he took ill-timed penalties.

The defenseman won gold with the U.S. U18 squad in 2010 and was a late cut from the U20 camp heading into the 2011 WJC. Clendening will have a good opportunity to make the WJC team this time around and should have a big role again at the collegiate level next year for BU.

Brandon Saad, LW – Saginaw (OHL)
2nd round, 43rd overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 203 lbs

After drafting Pittsburgh-area native Stephen Johns in the second round last summer, Chicago again mined the growing hockey hotbed in Western Pennsylvania with the selection of winger Brandon Saad. He was thought to be a high first-rounder as recently as a year ago and was still projected as a mid-to-late first round pick heading into the 2011 draft. A rather lackluster OHL season in Saginaw and failure to make the WJC team for the U.S. led to a slide into the mid-second round for the 18-year-old forward.

Saad describes himself as, "a two-way player who has a good read of the game and playmaking ability up front." He admits that there are areas of his game that are still in need of improvement, particularly in his own zone. "I'm looking to work on [adding] a bit more to my defensive game," Saad explained, "to be a well-rounded player."

The winger from Gibsonia, PA boasts a blend of size, strength, and speed. One of the top combine performers in terms of leg strength, Saad is at his best when using his powerful skating ability aggressively and finishing his checks. He was limited for much of the year in Saginaw by a lingering groin injury that only felt better once the playoffs rolled around. He also fell into the trap of playing too much of a finesse game for a player of his strengths, which limited his success as a rookie in the OHL.

Kelley also attributes Saad's falling stock to Saginaw's struggles as a team in the second half. "The first half of the year, they were without a doubt the best team in the Western Conference in the OHL," Kelley said, "He got hurt, they made a few personnel changes, and the team and Saad never really got it in gear. So I think Saad kind of mirrored what Saginaw did."

Saad still has shown great promise early on in his career, with a particularly strong 2009-10 season with the USNTDP and a gold medal at the 2010 U18 tournament with Clendening and Johns. Chicago hopes he can rediscover that spark and turn into one of the steals of the 2011 draft.

Michael Paliotta, D – USA U18 (USHL)
3rd round, 70th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 198 lbs

Chicago continued to look to the American prospect pool in the third round with the selection of 6'3 blueliner Michael Paliotta. A shutdown defenseman, the 18-year-old Paliotta skated with the USNTDP in the USHL, finishing with five assists and an even rating in 24 games, as well as with the gold-medal winning U18 team in 2011.

Paliotta was much improved in his second season with the USNTDP. He credits his coaches who, "do an unbelievable job with all the players on our team: the workouts, getting stronger, and continuing [to learn] the little things, like my defensive stick and being more physical. Little things like that I think have really helped my game."

The Westport, CT-native already possesses an NHL-size frame and will just need to continue filling out. He skates well for a big guy and has a notable work ethic. His affinity for gritty play and being tough to play against adds a little more defensive acumen to the predominantly offensive blueliners in the Blackhawks system. Paliotta is committed to the University of Vermont in the fall.

Klas Dahlbeck, D – Linkopings HC (SEL)
3rd round, 79th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 194 lbs

Chicago's third defender among their first six picks, Dahlbeck is slightly older than many of the draft-eligible players and thus has more experience at the pro level. The Swede will be 20 years old in July and skated with Linkoping in his first full Elite League season in 2010-11, skating in over 16 minutes per game and finishing the year with eight assists and a plus-eight rating in 47 games. He was also a member of Sweden's 2011 WJC squad that finished fourth.

Dahlbeck is a mobile blueliner with good size at 6'2. While he does not have a ton of offensive skill, he can make a solid first pass and is a smart player at both ends of the rink. He does not play with much edge to his game, but instead relies on positioning and effort. Due to his age and professional experience, Dahlbeck is likely closer to getting a shot in North America than any of the other defenders that Chicago added at the draft.

Maxim Shalunov, RW – Chelyabinsk 2 (Rus Jr)
4th round, 109th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 185 lbs

The highly-skilled Russian winger Maxim Shalunov could turn out to be a great value pick for the 'Hawks. He had a solid but inconsistent junior season in Russia and was underwhelming at the U18 tournament, collecting only two goals and tying the team low with a minus-three rating. His stock may have taken a further hit when he backed up his commitment to his KHL team, Chelyabinsk, which could affect his availability down the line.

Despite the drawbacks, Shalunov is still an intriguing offensive prospect. He has great size at 6'3 and is a gifted skater. He is known mostly as a goal-scorer thanks to his hard shot and ability to create opportunities. Shalunov is not overly physical, but still plays a more straight-ahead game that will help his transition to North America. While he needs to continue filling out and develop his game against pro competition in Russia, the winger is one of the better offensive forwards of the draft class for Chicago and adds another prospect to the dwindling right wing ranks.

Andrew Shaw, C – Owen Sound (OHL)
5th round, 139th overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 180 lbs

Several earlier picks by Chicago had notable playoff performances, but perhaps no one raised their stock as much as Andrew Shaw did late in the season for Owen Sound. One of the better forwards for the Attack in the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, especially with Joey Hishon (COL) and Garrett Wilson (FLA) out of the lineup with injuries, Shaw really stepped up offensively. The center earned the Ed Chynoweth Award for leading the Memorial Cup scorers with seven points in four games and was also named to the tournament's All-Star Team.

Shaw's most notable attributes are his fearlessness and work ethic. Not a big forward by any means at 5'10 and 180 pounds, the Belleville, ON-native nevertheless was more than willing to drop the gloves with much larger opponents and was never shy about working in the tough areas of the ice.

The Belleville, ON-native describes himself as an, "agitator out there getting under the skin of people. [I work] hard forechecking, hard playing defensively, trying to draw a lot of penalties and just trying to get the guys going on the bench. [I] try to chip in offensively here and there."

While Shaw does not project as much of a scorer at the pro level, perhaps the more important question is how much his size will keep him from playing the pugilistic style to which he has become accustomed. Shaw will be 20 years old in July, giving Chicago the option of playing him in the AHL next year or returning him for an overage season in the OHL.

Sam Jardine, D – Camrose (AJHL)
6th round, 169th overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 190 lbs

Chicago's fourth defensive selection of the weekend was Lacombe, AB-native Sam Jardine, who skated last season with the Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL, the same Junior A team that produced former 'Hawks first round pick Dylan Olsen. Kodiaks GM/coach Boris Rybalka actually told The Pipeline Show that he thinks Jardine could become the better all-around defenseman of the two because of his hockey sense and work ethic.

Jardine's stock is another case of a player who fell down the rankings over the course of the year, projected as a mid-rounder by Central Scouting prior to the season but left off of their final rankings. He has a solid all-around game thanks to his smart play, makes the correct decisions with the puck and is able to anticipate the play well. His defense improved last season and should continue get better when he joins Ohio State University in the next year or two. Jardine's average skating is an area in need of improvement, especially as he makes the jump to the college level.

Alex Broadhurst, C – Green Bay (USHL)
7th round, 199th overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 150 lbs

While Illinois has not produced a ton of NHL talent over the years, the Blackhawks have still kept an eye on their backyard and added local skater Alex Broadhurst late in the 2011 draft. The younger brother of University of Nebraska-Omaha winger Terry, Alex was born in New Lenox, IL and has also committed to UNO.

The elder Broadhurst was a surprise hit at the Blackhawks' prospect camp in 2010, finishing among the leading scorers at the camp. That offensive promise looks to be present with the younger Alex as well, as the center put up solid numbers in his first USHL season with Green Bay, finishing the regular season with 33 points in 55 games. He played his best hockey late in the year, leading the Gamblers in playoff scoring with nine points and a plus-seven rating in 11 postseason games. Broadhurst could return for another season with Green Bay as he needs to add some strength at just 150 pounds, but he is expected to join Nebraska-Omaha either next fall or the year after.

Johan Mattsson, G – Sodertalje J20 (Swe Jr)
7th round, 211th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 200 lbs

Johan Mattsson had a strong year in Sweden's junior ranks, finishing among the leaders in save percentage at the J20 level with a .930 mark on the season. The 19-year-old Swedish netminder has the distinct pleasure of being the 2011 draft's "Mr. Irrelevant" as the last player selected.

Mattsson was also a free agent invite to Chicago's 2010 prospect camp, despite not being on many draft radars over the past two years. He turned in a solid performance and displayed a calm demeanor at that camp.

Kelley admitted that Mattsson was on the team's radar at the 2010 draft as well. "We were talking about drafting him last year," Kelly explained, "We brought him over [last summer], our goalie coaches worked with him, they liked him a lot. This year we watched him, monitored him, and we had him on the list, so we kind of had a feeling we could get him with that last pick."

Certainly his best asset is his size, which makes him an imposing presence in the crease and allows him to cover a lot of net. Another year or two in Sweden is likely for Mattsson, though Chicago currently has at least one opening in the minors next season. His arrival in North America could be expedited if he does not get more of an opportunity at the pro level in Sweden over the next couple seasons.