Blackhawks draft review

By Bill Placzek

Weeks prior to the 2003 NHL Entry draft, GM Mike Smith told the press that he would be willing to trade pick no.14 in the first round if he could secure a NHL defenseman who could make the present Blackhawk club better.

By the time the Hawks were to pick at #14, defensemen Suter, Coburn, and Phaneuf were all gone. The best thing to do might have been to have used the pick in a deal to gain more picks or to acquire a veteran defenseman to patch the woeful defense that presently plays in Chicago.

Either the deal didn’t materialize, or the Hawks decided that Brent Seabrook was too good a prospect to pass up. Asked if he thought Seabrook was a reach for the Hawks, TSN commentator Pierre McGuire answered, “Absolutely not! He’s got world class skating abilities for a man his size, and his shot is as hard as they come.”

Seabrook is a natural born leader and captained Canada’s Under-18 team. He was viewed by some as a diamond in the rough, due partially to his poor play this season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Randy Maxwell, the Hurricanes assistant GM, said, “Brent is one of the most mature and coachable young kids I’ve ever been involved with. He does whatever he’s asked and puts the team ahead of himself. He can play any kind of style of game, whether it’s a physical game or a high skilled game. His physical attributes make him a very durable, effective defenseman.”

Seabrook held himself personally responsible for Lethbridge not making the playoffs this last post season. He was able to salvage some of this season to some degree by an outstanding showing in the World Under-18 tourney. He is the consummate team player. The fact that he played hurt almost the entire season, is a testimony to his dedication and guts. Seabrook played the majority of this season with a shoulder injury that never had a chance to get better due to his aggressive knock down style.
He is willing to drop the gloves in defense of a teammate or himself and projects as a two way defenseman who is a physical presence in his end with big hits and keeping the front of the net clear.

A year ago Seabrook was considered the no. 1 defenceman coming out of the Western amateur league, with Dion Phaneuf jumping over him only after Seabrook’s injuries made him susceptible to poor plays. In the Under-18 world championships, in which Seabrook anchored the Canadian defense, he was on the ice for 13 of his team’s even strength goals and only two of the oppositions.

Seabrook becomes the highest drfated player ever from the Lethbridge Hurricanes-Broncos WHL franchise.
At this point Seabrook, simply put, is a prospect. He has many of the tools necessary to be a player, but there is more polishing needed on his part for the diamond to emerge. He is truly one of the big men with super skill.

In the second round, pick no. 52 (the Amonte compensation pick) was used to select goaltender Corey Crawford of Moncton of the Quebec Junior league. He was the second goalie taken in the draft by any team.

Many might question the Blackhawks taking a goalie in the second round with Leighton, Andersson, Ayers, and Berkhoel all in the farm. But if he is the best player on your list, you have to take him as an asset further down the pike. The 170 lb. Crawford stands almost 6’2” had a stand-out season in Moncton especially in the second half where he went undefeated in the month of January and established himself as the second best goalie in the Quebec league behind Marc-Andre Fleury. His streak was similar to the one Anaheim’s Giguere had in the Stanley Cup playoffs and he also relies in a classic butterfly style, squaring up on the shooters and using positioning to make gloves saves before and after he goes down.

Bob McKenzie of Canada’s TSN told me Saturday night that “Crawford was picked right where he should have been and wouldn’t have stayed on the board more than a pick or two more. As with all goaltenders at this age, you just can’t predict how far their careers will go as they continue to reach the plateau over and over. But he was a nice pick-up for the Hawks.”

Crawford will need to improve his puck handling skills and work on positioning himself better after making the first save, but he looks like a guy who can make his way to the NHL with hard work in the rest of his amateur career. He is a goaler with ice water in his veins who wants to win.

By not signing 2001 first round draft reach Adam Munro, the Blackhawks were entitled to another compensatory second rounder at no. 59. This pick was used to take Michal Barinka, a 19-year-old defenseman from Budejovice of the Czech league, who was late in filing paperwork for the opt-in dates in the 2002 Entry draft. Some thought this was a ploy to be in a better position to be drafted a year later. This probably wasn’t the case, due to the strength of this draft and the fact that he didn’t show that he could play with intensity, game in and game out.

He looks like an excellent long term prospect when he plays solid and steady and within the limitations of his game. Once he tries to take control of the flow, and make low percentage plays he looks like a a guy with little hockey sense. The same goes for when to shoot and when not to. Ditto his body checking. Although he great size and skating ability, he doesn’t come out hunting for bear with consistency. Overall, he is a decent guy in his own end who is strong in the corners and the front of the net. He has overcome a spleen removal in 2001-02 season and climbed up the depth chart from the #6 or #7 defenseman, improving considerably to leading defenseman on his team.

Bob McKenzie commented that “…the Barinka pick was an iffy one. Too little has been determined as to whether this kid can actually get it together and play.”

So with Barinka, the Hawks have a prospect that has size, skills and skating ability but not the composure to play within the limitations of his abilities and the low of the games he plays in. The quicker he is brought in and established in a North American league, the better. Once here, he will see first hand what dedication to the team concept means.

In the fifth round, no. 151 overall, the Hawks selection was Lasse Kukkonen from Karpat of the Finnish Elite league. A 22 year old defenseman stands 6 foot and weighs 189 lbs, shoots left, and the fact that the NHL headquarters needed to create a card on the spot indicates he was a personal Hawk sleeper. He scored 6 goals and 12 points along with 67 pims and captained Karpat the last two seasons.

The second fifth rounder no. 156 (acquired from Anaheim for Steve Thomas) was used to select a Russian Denis Savard in Alexei Ivanov, a disruptive pepperpot who is also considered the Yaroslav Lokomotiv Jr. team leader.
At 5’9” and 176 lbs, Ivanov is a shifty rocket who skates like the wind, and changes directions on a dime. Ivanov will suffer from the Jiri Hudler syndrome, as many feel his size will dictate failure in an NHL career.

With pick 181 in the sixth round, the Hawks selected Johan Andersson from Troja of Sweden. He is a 6 foot left handed, highly skilled centreman who scored 8 goals and 12 points and 16 pims for Troja. Mike Smith said, “We are trying right now to get him on the phone and have him here for the July 4th prospects camp.”

In the seventh round (pick no. 211 overall) was used to pick Mike Brodeur, a goaltender from Camrose of the Alberta Hockey League,who is wafer thin at 6’2″ 175 lbs. He played 48 games in the AJHL and posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA that included two shutouts. Brodeur is slated to attend Wisconsin University next fall.

The Blackhawks used their eighth rounder to select Dustin Byfuglien from Prince George of with pick no. 245. Trimmed down to 240 from a weight of 275, he stands almost 6’3” shoots right and scored 10 goals and 29 assists to go along with 78 pims. He played defense and occasionally forward for Cougars.

The Hawks did not exercise their option to obtain pick no. 259 from Dallas as payment for Lyle Odelein.

The Hawks had three ninth round selections and used no. 275 to choose Chicago Steel’s Michael Grenzy, a 6’4” 195 lb. defenseman who scored 3 goals and 16 points with 48 PIMs.Does repeated viewing help a prospect look better? That may be the case with Grenzy who at this point has serious problems with his puck moving decisions and abilities as he still has had his head catch up to the speed of the play. He is a long term project and will be monitored for improvement as he moves on to Clarkson next fall.

The Hawks added the no. 276 pick overall by sending Norfolk’s Dimtri Tolkunov to Ottawa while on the draft floor in seventh round. The Blackhawks decided to trade this ninth rounder to San Jose for San Jose’s own eighth round pick in 2004.

With no. 282, a pick the obtained from Toronto for Phil Housley, they made their final selection of Chris Porter of Lincoln of the USHL.He is centre-wing who is committed to North Dakota for college where he will get a chance in the next four years to become part of hockey’s future.

News and Notes

When asked by a fan about his trade of Andrei Nikolishin to the Colorado Avalanche for only a fourth round pick and no other future consideration, Blackhawk GM Mike Smith said that the move was to open a center spot for Tomas Ruuttu. When pressed if it was spot to work either Yakubov or Vorobiev in (as he also plays center along with wing), he emphatically repeated no, it is to show Ruuttu they have cleared a roster spot for him to fill with the parent club next year.

This might be a sign that Smith is softening on his no personal bonus edict that no other NHL team seems to be follwing.
Ruuttu’s knees will certainly be the center of his medical examinations to make sure he is completely healed from his last knee injury.