Leddy remains number one in Blackhawks top 20

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Phillip Danault was one of six prospects the Blackhawks drafted in the first three rounds of the 2011 NHL draft. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Blackhawks' pipeline has an incredible amount of depth and balance despite the club being just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010. The dismantling of that 2010 team has allowed GM Stan Bowman to stockpile draft picks over the last two summers, giving the club 22 total selections at the 2010 and 2011 drafts combined. Nine of those selections came from the top 60 picks of their respective drafts. Though it is a headache for anyone trying to make sense out of the system, the sheer number of good, if not great, prospects has to be encouraging for Chicago's fans.

1. (1) Nick Leddy, D, 7.5B
Acquired via trade with Minnesota, February 2010

Chicago's top prospect is coming off a promising rookie year that included 46 NHL games with the Blackhawks. Though Nick Leddy did not make a big dent in the score sheet while averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time per night, his skating ability and poise were well beyond what would normally be expected from a rookie playing in the NHL at 19 years old.

Acquired by Chicago in the Cam Barker trade, Leddy has quickly climbed up the organizational ladder. His debut with the Blackhawks was not perfect, as the defenseman was pushed around by bigger forwards and struggled at times in his own zone. Adding more strength will help in that regard, but the 5'11 and 179-pound Leddy will likely continue to be paired with someone more capable in the defensive zone.

Chicago's trade of Brian Campbell opened up more minutes on the Blackhawks blue line, but the now 20-year-old Leddy cannot be expected to completely fill that void. It does mean that the former winner of Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award will likely have more opportunity on the power play and much higher expectations heading into his first full NHL season.

2. (3) Jeremy Morin, LW, 7.0B
Acquired via trade with Atlanta, June 2010

Jeremy Morin's rookie season was cut short by injury, first at the WJC and then again in his third game after returning to the Rockford line-up. The winger will be looking to bounce back this season after flashing plenty of offensive promise in the AHL and in his nine-game stint in Chicago early last year.

Goal-scoring has always been the biggest part of Morin's game, but a willingness to battle and engage in aggressive physical play assures he can be effective even when the puck isn't going in the net. Skating has never been a strong suit but was far from a detriment in his NHL trial. With a strong effort on the forecheck and even a few fights during the season, Morin was willing to do anything asked of him to help the team.

The 20-year-old forward could use more time to improve his defensive game and add more bulk to help him compete against the size at the pro level. He will likely be in Rockford to start the season, but do not be surprised if Morin gets another look in Chicago at some point during the season.

3. (6) Marcus Kruger, C, 7.0B
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2009

Following Djurgarden's elimination from the SEL playoffs last season, Marcus Kruger was immediately brought to Chicago and thrown into the midst of a playoff run. The Swedish forward skated in seven regular season games and five playoff games in his first taste of North American hockey. He did not score much in his NHL debut, but he that should change this season as he becomes more comfortable in the league.

He is a very cerebral player with outstanding hockey sense and the ability to thread passes to his teammates. The Swede also showed he is responsible in his own end and was rarely out of position. Last season, he was used mostly on the left wing for Chicago, but came up as a center in Sweden.

Already penciled into the Blackhawks' opening night lineup, Kruger's immediate role will still be decided at training camp. The best case scenario for the pivot, if he can produce out of the gate, would see him claim the second line center role. It is more likely he opens the season in a bottom six checking role. The forward's slight frame at 5'11 and 172 pounds did not help his adjustment to the smaller rink, so time in the minors is a possibility if he takes some time to get his game on track.

4. (NR) Mark McNeill, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2011

The Blackhawks were ecstatic to get a prospect of Mark McNeill's caliber at the 18th pick of this summer's draft, especially because the 18-year-old pivot added some size and a right-handed shot to the team's center pipeline. Considered one of the more physically-prepared prospects for the pro game heading into the draft, Chicago will be patient with him because of the big role he is slated to play with Prince Albert of the WHL.

A well-rounded center prospect, McNeill can skate well and carries the puck with confidence. Though he is often stoic on the ice, he leads by example and wore an 'A' for the Raiders as a 17-year-old last year. The main knock on the 6'1 211lbs center was due to bouts of inconsistency, so he will look to bring a more steady effort as he prepares to be one of the Raider's go-to forwards in all situations.

McNeill has the upside to be a top six, do-it-all center and will be in the discussion of potential successors to the vacant second line center spot. His ability at the dot and his responsible play in all three zones make him at the very least a safe bet to develop into a strong checking line pivot at the pro level.

5. (2) Dylan Olsen, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2009

Dylan Olsen's development path took a sharp turn last season when he was ruled academically ineligible for his second semester at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and was pushed into a role at the pro level in Rockford. After a 42-game AHL stint in the second half last year, Olsen will likely have much bigger expectations next season with the IceHogs.

With good size and strength at 6'2 and 206 pounds, the Calgary-native skates well for his size and is capable of combining it all on highlight real hits. Though he did make some questionable decisions at the pro level, he also made plenty of difficult plays look easy in transition and on the breakout. More experience and consistency are the main things that will help Olsen's development at this point, so it is good he will likely see plenty of ice time in Rockford.

Olsen is not yet knocking down the door to get into the Blackhawks lineup, but he has the potential to become one of the Blackhawks' most well-rounded defensive prospects. With strength, mobility, and a heavy shot from the blue line, the 20-year-old blueliner has the potential to be a physical presence capable of playing in all situations.

6. (7) Shawn Lalonde, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2008

Shawn Lalonde put together one of the stronger rookie campaigns among Rockford's eight first year players who spent at least half the season in the AHL. An offensive-minded blueliner, the 21-year-old Lalonde ranked second among IceHogs defensemen with 32 points but was also among the worst with a minus-16 rating in 73 games as a rookie. While further developing his skills in the defensive zone will be important, his offensive abilities make him such an intriguing prospect for Blackhawk fans.

While Leddy has recently been the prospect most often compared to the recently departed Brian Campbell, Lalonde's skill-set more closely resembles that of the Florida Panthers' prize acquisition. He is a smooth skater and comfortable carrying the puck and pushing the tempo. He is not shy about getting the puck on net or about pinching in offensively. Though he does not dole out a lot of punishment, Lalonde also plays a bit of a scrappy style and likes to throw his weight around.

If Lalonde can play with more consistency in the defensive end, the Blackhawks might be more comfortable about a look at the pro level sometime in the near future. Until then, expect to see him logging top-four minutes and playing on Rockford's top power play unit.

7. (NR) Adam Clendening, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2011

Chicago added plenty of upside with their pair of second round picks at the 2011 draft, the first of which was 5'11 defenseman Adam Clendening. Yet another offensively-minded skater on the back end, the native of Wheatfield, NY has excellent instincts and skill with the puck on his stick.

Clendening has one year of college hockey under his belt already with Boston University, where he led the blue line in scoring with 26 points in 39 games. By the end of his freshman season, he was already showing improvements in shot selection and in his defensive zone coverage, where he uses an active stick and takes the body on occasion. His size might be a hindrance when he gets to the pro level, especially because he is not exactly the fleetest of foot, but he thinks the game at a high level and is in a great situation to develop at B.U.

Heading into his sophomore season, Clendening could shoulder even more of the offensive load with David Warsofsky making the jump to the pro game in the Boston system. Clendening will also get serious consideration for the WJC after a strong showing at USA Hockey's recent WJC evaluation camp.

8. (NR) Brandon Saad, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2011

The Blackhawks' next selection was power forward Brandon Saad, who was in the top 10 conversation as recently as the summer before his draft year. His stock may have taken a hit because of inconsistent play in his first OHL season, but the Pennsylvania-native has the tools to one day play in the NHL and could turn out to be a great value pick in the second round.

Saad plays with good instincts in all zones and is a skilled playmaker. He is difficult to contain at times when using his strong frame and powerful skating stride in carrying the puck or battling along the boards. Those efforts were few and far between in the second half of his season with Saginaw, partly due to a persistent groin injury as well as personnel changes that saw the Spirit struggle as a team late in the year.

Given his combination of size and skill, Saad has the potential to develop into a top six power forward and may even emerge as a possible answer for the left wing spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He still has plenty of work to do in the OHL, however, as he looks to bring a steadier effort and a more complete game for Saginaw this season.

9. (4) Kyle Beach, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2008

While opinions range widely on Kyle Beach and the kind of role he will play at the NHL level, the 21-year-old winger put together a decent rookie year with Rockford. Perhaps most importantly, apart from a handful of poorly-timed penalties, he avoided any big lapses in judgment that at times defined his junior career.

It was not a hugely successful season offensively, but Beach's 16 goals still ranked second among Rockford's rookies. He played more of a checking role on the third line for much of the season in an effort to develop his defensive game, which was apparently unsuccessful based on his team worst minus-24 rating. He remained an agitator and spent a significant amount of time in the box himself with 163 penalty minutes. Though he has a reputation as a bruiser, Beach went through long stretches of disinterest in the physical game and could be kept to the outside in the offensive zone at times.

Given his ability to get under the opposition's skin, Beach could see his first opportunity in Chicago as a bottom six checker. The Blackhawks though are likely hoping he can augment his blistering shot with a more well-rounded game and live up to his enormous potential.

10. (12) Alexander Salak, G, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Florida, February 2011

Expendable last season in Florida with Tomas Vokoun entrenched as the starter and top prospect Jacob Markstrom making his debut in North America, Salak turned out to be an ideal fit for Chicago. He will have the opportunity to take over the backup role behind incumbent Corey Crawford, a spot on the roster that has seen many surprising performances over the last few seasons.

The Czech-born goalie is athletic and has quick reflexes in the crease. He has loads of professional experience between the SM-liiga, a year in the AHL with Rochester, and a strong SEL season last year with Farjestad in which he ranked second in both goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.926) during the regular season.

Compared to Crawford's calm, cool demeanor in net, the 24-year-old Czech would bring a different look to the lineup if he sticks with the Blackhawks. Ray Emery was signed to a tryout contract and will be Salak's main competition in training camp. Having already expressed his willingness to play in the AHL if he is assigned there, Salak will be important depth for Chicago in net no matter where he lands.

11. (8) Brandon Pirri, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2009

Another anticipated debut in Rockford this year was Brandon Pirri, who understandably took some time to adjust to the pro level as a 19-year-old center. He had a strong finish, like many 'Hogs, playing his best hockey alongside veteran Jeff Taffe, and has created high hopes for him leading into the upcoming season.

Pirri played a top six center role throughout the season for Rockford. He struggled to find much room to work against the size and speed of the pro level and his 160-pound frame did him no favors. By the end of the year, though, he was carrying the puck with more confidence and flashed some of his nifty skills in the puck-handling and playmaking departments.

A more complete game at the faceoff dot and in the defensive zone will be integral to Pirri's success heading forward, but he has the offensive potential and playmaking ability to develop into a top six centerman. He is penciled in as Rockford's top line center, though he could move down in the line-up if Kruger spends any time in the AHL.

12. (11) Stephen Johns, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2010

Most of Chicago's defensive pipeline is more offensively oriented, but Stephen Johns breaks that trend with a devastating physical game. He put together a strong freshman season at Notre Dame, playing among the team's top four blueliners throughout the season.

A rare combination of size at 6'3 and 215 pounds, skating ability, and skill with the puck, Johns' calling card is an extremely aggressive physical game. He can use his size well in front of the net and in winning battles along the boards as well. The 19-year-old blueliner is not shy about getting the puck on net and earned some power play time for the Irish last year.

Prone at times to picking bad spots for the big hit or making questionable decisions with the puck, Johns nonetheless was a presence at both ends of the rink for Notre Dame. He will likely be depended on further next year after the graduation of fellow Blackhawks' prospect Joe Lavin. With his emphasis on the physical game, Johns will also have a shot at representing his country at the upcoming WJC after a solid showing at the summer evaluation camp in Lake Placid.

13. (5) Kevin Hayes, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2010

Kevin Hayes' freshman year at Boston College was disrupted by a knee injury that kept him out of the line-up for a couple months. He finished the year in a checking line center role and did not get much of an opportunity to put up points in the talented Eagles' forward corps.

At 6'2 and 201 pounds, Hayes can skate well for his size and is a skilled passer. More of a finesse player than his older brother, Kevin uses his linemates well and plays with good offensive instincts. He is mindful of his defensive duties and is capable of playing a penalty killing role as well.

His safest projections at the pro level would as a responsible, two-way center with size, but he could have the chance to display more of his offensive potential this year at Boston College. With the Blackhawks planning to develop him at center, his size and reach add variety to the center position in the Chicago pipeline. Hayes was one of four American's invited to the Team USA evaluation camp but was among the mid-week cuts.

14. (17) Ben Smith, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2008

Ben Smith earned Rockford's Rookie of the Year award for his 19 goals in 63 AHL games. His late-season performance in Chicago earned him an even bigger following with a strong showing in the team's first round playoff series against Vancouver.

A Frozen Four MVP as a senior at Boston College in 2010, Smith again demonstrated his ability to step up in big games with three goals in that seven game playoff series, the biggest of which was the overtime game-winner that forced a game seven. The winger's role fluctuated throughout his stay with the Blackhawks, but he found success in just about any situation.

It is that versatility which will likely be Smith's ticket to a bigger role in the Chicago line-up this year. Though he may not have the offensive upside of others knocking on the NHL door like Kruger or Morin, the native of Avon, CT will likely have an opportunity to play up and down the lineup if he sticks with the Blackhawks. Given his work ethic and moxie, Smith is poised to be a fan favorite in Chicago for years.

15. (NR) Phillip Danault, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2011

Though he was not seen as having huge offensive upside heading into the draft, the Blackhawks liked what they saw late in the season from Phillip Danault and selected him with their second pick of the first round. He was named captain for his hometown Victoriaville squad as a 17-year-old and stepped up to a whole new level down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Tigres.

A hard-working, forward who is good at everything but specializes in nothing, Danault played in all situations for Victoriaville in his second year in the Quebec league. He was the team's leader in terms of points per game by the end of the regular season and went on to score five goals and 15 points in nine playoff games, emerging as one of the team's only viable offensive options when they ran into the juggernaut from Saint John in the second round. If he can carry over his dynamic play from the postseason, Danault could be one of the breakout players in the QMJHL this season.

16. (13) Ludvig Rensfeldt, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2010

Part of Chicago's recent emphasis in scouting the Swedish ranks, Ludvig Rensfeldt is one of the most talented goal scorers in the Blackhawks' system. A prospect who has struggled to get ice time at the SEL level in the last couple years, the winger will have the opportunity to fly up these rankings if he can make a successful adjustment to the OHL with Sarnia next season.

Rensfeldt boasts a sizable frame at 6'3 that helps him protect the puck and he can skate well for his size. His best attribute is a hard shot which he releases very quickly. He was one of Sweden's top offensive performers in their scrimmages at the U.S. evaluation camp, and with his ability to play on either wing, has a good chance at finding a top six role on Sweden's WJC entry. After being selected 49th overall in the CHL Import Draft by Sarnia, Rensfeldt is another breakout candidate as he prepares for his first North American season.

17. (10) Jimmy Hayes, RW, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Toronto, June 2010

After a three-year career at Boston College, Jimmy Hayes will turn pro with Rockford for the 2011-12 season. The elder Hayes brother was held without a point in his seven game stint with the 'Hogs at the end of last season, but is a big forward with the ability to contribute in the offensive end and in the physical game.

At 6'5 and 210 pounds, Hayes is an imposing presence on the ice, but does not always use his size to his advantage. He has a soft pair of hands for a big man and a pretty good wrister, which could land him a heavy workload in all situations for Rockford. He projects as more of a bottom six player at the NHL level with the ability to chip in offensively, so developing his defensive game and more consistency on the physical side will be important for Hayes in his rookie year. The IceHogs boast significantly more depth on the left wing, so the 21-year-old Hayes could immediately step into a big role on the right side.

18. (14) Justin Holl, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2010

Justin Holl is another high-upside prospect who is buried by the depth and talent of the Blackhawks' prospect pool. Though he was limited to more of a checking role as a freshman at the University of Minnesota last year, he will have the opportunity to step into a much bigger role next year with the Gophers losing two regulars on the blue line to graduation and one, Aaron Ness, a pro contract with the Islanders.

A smooth-skating rearguard, Holl is skilled in handling and distributing the puck. He is excellent on the breakout and capable of making clean, long-distance passes to quickly get his team going on offense. Though his defensive game is still an area in which he could improve, his mobility and puck-moving ability make him yet another intriguing prospect on the blue line. The 19-year-old Minnesota-native was invited to the evaluation camp for Team USA, but was one of the players cut from the camp.

19. (20) Philippe Paradis, LW, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Toronto, June 2010

Another talented power forward turning pro this season, Philippe Paradis was one of the prospects acquired from Toronto in the Kris Versteeg deal. Though he was unable to put it all together for a dominant season in the Quebec league, he is coming off a solid junior career and will likely open the season in a checking role in Rockford with the opportunity to move up if he transitions well.

More than willing to throw his 6'2 and 205 pound frame around whenever possible, Paradis can also make some surprising plays with the puck on his stick. The 20-year-old forward is a strong skater and reliable defensively, so he could be the type of prospect that is even more successful at the pro level than in junior. His likely projection at the pro level is on a checking line, but he has the tools to develop into a player who could help out in stretches as a complementary player higher in the lineup.

20. (NR) Joakim Nordstrom, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2010

Joakim Nordstrom is another Swedish prospect who is poised to break onto the scene this season. Though he did not get much of an opportunity in the SEL last year, he could finally get his chance with AIK for the 2011-12 season.

The 19-year-old center is steady in all three zones and is a good puck-carrier and distributor. He has a solid frame at 6'1, but at just 160 pounds, he still has some filling out to do. His well-rounded game bodes well should he transition to the North American ice in the next couple years.

Another big performer for Sweden at the USA evaluation camp this summer, Nordstrom played in all situations and showed off a nose for the net for Tres Kronor. He will be playing for a pro contract for Chicago this year based on the recent transfer agreement, so he will certainly be a prospect to watch in the SEL and at the WJC.