Blackhawks NCAA prospects update

By Tom McDowell

Scouts for the Chicago Blackhawks are spending a little more time around Western Collegiate Hockey Association rinks this season. Thanks to some quality late-round selections, the Blackhawks own the rights to five prospects playing in the WCHA with three different teams in 2004-05.

Jacob Dowell (140th overall in 2004), Matt Ford (256th overall in 2004) and Adam Burish (282nd overall in 2002) are each enjoying successful seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are in first place in the WCHA with a conference record of 14-4-0 and are ranked fifth nationally.

Dowell, a relentless forechecker, has produced solid offensive numbers this season despite a recent goal scoring slump. Although Dowell has not scored a goal since a December 10th game against Minnesota State, he has still managed 9 goals and 13 assists for 22 points and a +6 in 25 games this season. During the Badgers’ recent six-game winning streak, Dowell has produced 7 assists. He is considered a responsible two-way forward with considerable upside as a potential third or fourth line center in the National Hockey League.

Earlier this month, Dowell represented the United States squad at the World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He spent most of the tournament centering the third line for the offensively talented American team, and had 3 assists in 7 games for the tournament.

Matt Ford, from West Hills, California, has found his offensive game after returning to the line-up from a knee injury that sidelined him for the first 12 games of the season. Upon his return, Ford managed only 1 point in his first 7 games. However, a new year signified a new beginning for the 6’0 200-pound right-winger. Ford’s breakout game came on New Year’s Day in a 5-3 Wisconsin loss to Ferris State. In that game he registered 2 goals for 3 points. In 2005, Ford has 9 points in only 7 games, and has scored a point in all but one of those games.

Wisconsin captain Adam Burish has shown modest offensive improvements from 2003-04, when he scored only 6 goals for 19 points in 43 games. In this, his third year with the Badgers, Burish has 7 goals and 5 assists through 25 games. Although his numbers are not spectacular, they reflect the consistent offensive improvement of a player that recorded only 6 assists in his freshman year with the Badgers.

Although Burish’s offensive upside as an NHLer is probably limited, he is considered a fierce forward on the forecheck and a difficult player to handle in the corners. His potential is likely as a third or fourth line grinder/team leader with the Blackhawks.

Coming off a quality season in 2003-04 bigger things were expected of North Dakota’s Chris Porter (282nd overall in 2003) this year. Last season, with the Fighting Sioux, Porter amassed 25 points in 41 games, third on his team among rookies. In addition, he was named WCHA Rookie of the Week on two occasions. Although Porter is second on his team in 2004-05 with five power play goals and third on the Fighting Sioux with 9 total goals, he has yet to record an assist. This means that through 26 games this season Porter has collected only four even-strength points. Given that Porter’s upside is as a goal scorer, he’ll need to show more production from him in the second half of the season.

Colorado College freshman Scott McCulloch (165th overall in 2004) had a solid start to the year before losing the rest of his season to a shoulder injury in December. In the 11 games he played before the injury this season, McCulloch scored 4 goals for 7 points. On November 19th against Michigan Tech McCulloch registered his first collegiate hat trick and was named the game’s first star. His efforts earned him WCHA Red Baron Rookie of the Week Honors for November 22nd-28th.

McCulloch is developing as a power forward with some scoring ability. Last year, while playing for with Grand Prairie of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, McCulloch posted 23 goals and 49 points. He was also named the AJHL playoff MVP after scoring 12 goals and 20 points in only 12 games. McCulloch is a responsible two-way forward who uses his size effectively along the boards and in front of the net. His quick, accurate shot has some scouts suggesting that McCulloch has the potential to become a goal-scoring power winger in the NHL if his game continues to improve. However, season-ending shoulder surgery may impede his development. It will be interesting to see if he can manage to match his impressive start in the WCHA this year, by rebounding from his injury in 2005-06.

The lone Blackhawks NCAA prospect not playing in the WCHA is sophomore defenseman Michael Grenzy (275th overall in 2003) of the Clarkson University Golden Knights. At 6’4, 200 pounds, Grenzy is a big defenseman with some offensive ability. The most obvious weakness in Grenzy’s game is a lack of footspeed, however, according to his coaches, he has improved in this area since arriving at Clarkson in September 2003. In 22 games this season Grenzy is a +1 with 3 goals, 7 points and 14 penalty minutes.

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