Blackhawk prospect camp starts with six omissions

By Bill Placzek

The Chicago Blackhawks boast the number one organizational rating from Hockey’s Future, so one would expect a full house of prospects ready and willing to show themselves off to the new proud parents.

Camp opened on the ice on Friday June 27th and ends with a mini tournament on July 5th.

Missing were Tomas Ruuttu, Pavel Vorobiev, Anton Babchuk, Alexander Barkunov, Oleg Minakov, and tardy was Brent Seabrook. Seabrook had a high school graduation to attend, his own. He arrived on Sunday. As far as the Russian prospects, the problems were one that their agents should have remediated. General Manager Mike Smith said, “We sent Vorobiev’s paperwork to his agent in November, Babchuk a little bit later but within enough time that they should be here. Can we blame them? No, they are 18-year-olds whose agents should be taking care of these things.”

The Blackhawks want to give Vorobiev a good opportunity to make the squad and the Hawks would like to get Babchuk over for good also. Barkunov was offered a contract last season and Mike Smith felt a good performance in this camp might have solidify his chances of making the club. Oleg Minakov, a good prospect in his own right, missed an opportunity to show off his wares.

Ruuttu, of course, is in the middle of a contract dispute about incentives.

Camp started with three days of conditioning and drills. The players gave a look at their skating speed, agility, maneuverability, and shooting skill.
Little Duncan Keith displayed world class skating ability but little else.

Mattias Wennerberg showed he has a major league shot, good strength and enough to get a shot in the NHL if he wanted it.

The big surprise sleeper was Lasse Kukkonen, the almost 22-year-old defenseman who the Blackhawks selected in the fifth round this year’s Entry Draft. He displayed every quality you want to have in an NHL defensemen in these short displays of hockey ability. To be a captain of a Finnish Elite team (Karpat) at 22 is also a sign that he brings leadership to the ice to go along with his skill and toughness, and a league leading plus/minus at +43 is quite an accomplishment.

Left wing Alexander Kozevnikov may have showed more ability than any player present, as he was fluid in all phases of the drills displaying a major league shot and skating ability to get open to use it. Selected in the European part of the QMJHL draft by Val-d’Or, he now has a way to come to North America and develop his game.

Jonas Nordqvist really didn’t show much of what he does on a regular basis: play like a number two center. The camp is still young and many of these players might have never had to do many of these practice drills.

Matt Keith did not handle the puck very well, but really stood out with his work along the boards. He did display a hard accurate shot but didn’t score on the Hawk camp goalies much in the practice sessions.

Adam Burish surprised with an excellent quick burst when going to the net.

Swedish players Mattias Wennerberg and Johan Andersson displayed plenty of skill with Wennerberg scoring on hard forehands and a great backhand, and, Andersson scoring twice in the first scrimmage on Sunday.

The three giant defensemen, Olli Malminaara, Petr Puncohar, and Teemu Jaaskelainen all had trouble in drills that required short quick steps in backward skating moving diagonally across the center zone to catch an attacking player already on the other side of the ice. Maybe they were unaccustomed to this drill, but each fell in attempts to get there the fastest. There has been no actual game play, so the observer didn’t get to see how they use the rest of their assets in a real game situation. The drill does put emphasis on what they would encounter against NHL forwards: speed. So it was a humbling fall for each.

On the other hand, Vladimir Gusev showed decent all around skill and plenty of good balance as he used the boards with authority. He was selected by Val-d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in import draft.

Also invited were Nicolas Corbeil, a 5-11 177 lb. 20-year-old forward who scored 31 goals and 63 assist with Sherbrooke of the QMJHL.

Rob Millar a 6-2 191 lb. 26-year-old center who played four years at Harvard and in the ECHL, UHL, and last year played for Villard de Lans Les Ours of the French league, where he scored 16 goals and 4 assists in 25 games.

Warren Peters a 20-year-old 6 foot 207 left handed center who from 1997-2003 played for Saskatoon of the WHL and one pro game at Portland in the AHL. He scored 31 times with 44 helpers and 108 pims in his last year of junior.

Giullio Scandella, a 20-year-old 6-1 180 lb. left wing who played the last three season first with Halifax and last season with Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL, where he scored 29 goals and 37 assists and 85 PIMs. In three days of camp, he has showed enough to warrant to keeping an eye on him.

Greg Williams, 6-2 208 lb. 18-year-old right wing who played the last two seasons for Peterborough of the OHL, scoring 9 goals, 3 assists, and 64 PIMs in the 2002-03 season.