Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen lead the way in Chicago Blackhawks’ top 20

By Brad Gardner

Teuvo Teravainen - Team Finland

The selection of talented Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen added skill and offensive flash to the depth forwards and defensemen in the Chicago system. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Three of the Blackhawks' new additions from the 2012 NHL Draft make their debut in the new edition of the team's top 20 rankings, but the most significant storylines heading into the season belong to the prospects playing at the pro level. The NHL work stoppage will lead to a bevy of talent in the Rockford IceHogs lineup, including players like Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, and Brandon Saad who would have had a good chance of breaking camp with a spot in the Blackhawks lineup.

Prospects returning to Rockford after NHL experience last season like Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, and Dylan Olsen will have to fend off challenges from the likes of third-year pros Jeremy Morin and Kyle Beach looking to regain their standing as top prospects within the organization and newcomers like Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck hoping to make a strong first impression at the pro level.

01. (02) Brandon Saad, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2011

Saad has the making of a scoring line winger with swift skating ability, a quick release on his shot, and great instincts in the offensive zone. He could be even more difficult to contain if he learns to use his strong build more aggressively and play with more consistency in the physical game. He capped off his junior career with a dominant year on the score sheet and represents the best combination of skill, upside, and NHL-readiness in the Chicago organization.

The 19-year-old winger will make his professional debut in 2012-13. As a late '92 birthday, he will be eligible to play in the AHL during the NHL work stoppage. He will be given every chance to make the Blackhawks roster when camp opens, but until then Saad will see considerable ice time in Rockford in order to adjust to the pro game.

02. (NR) Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2012

The string of defensemen taken early in the 2012 draft paid off for Chicago, which selected skilled Finnish winger Teuvo Teravainen with the club's first round pick. Considered one of the most skilled forwards in the draft class, Teravainen brings a sublime skill-set to the Chicago system with creativity, vision, and soft hands. The 18-year-old forward's lack of strength, combined with still having to make the transition to North American ice, keeps him from the top spot in this edition of the rankings.

He will look to build on a breakout rookie campaign for Jokerit in the SM-liiga, Finland's top-tier professional league. Shifty through traffic and strong on the puck, Teravainen is even more deadly with open ice on the man advantage and will be depended on as the trigger-man on the Jokerit power play. After starting out at left wing, Teravainen is expected to move to center during the upcoming season for his club in Finland.

03. (10) Phillip Danault, C/LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2011

Danault has consistently improved his game since last summer and is among the top-tier of forward prospects in the organization. His non-stop motor, versatility, and outstanding skating ability make him an ideal top-nine forward for the Chicago lineup. He is aggressive yet reliable enough to succeed in a checking role, and he also possesses the speed and skill to skate in a complimentary role on the scoring lines when the opportunity presents itself. His energy, work ethic, and leadership are the intangibles coveted at the pro level, where every night is a tough match-up.

Danault was assigned to Victoriaville, where he serves as the team's captain, but the Blackhawks may still be planning on having him attend training camp if the lockout is lifted. Any time he spends with the Tigres will see him skate significant minutes in all situations, which is never a bad situation for a developing prospect. His versatile skill set and impressive play over the last few months has vaulted him among the top prospects in the Blackhawks system.

04. (01) Mark McNeill, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2011

A pro-ready build and few weaknesses in his game make McNeill among the safer bets in the Chicago system to carve out a consistent role in the NHL. The question is whether it will be as the productive, top-six forward he has shown in stretches at the junior level or if he will ultimately settle into a checking role. The 19-year-old forward creates space for linemates with his size and is skilled enough to set-up and finish chances, but his game-to-game performances have not been consistent in his time in the WHL with the Prince Albert Raiders.

That said, few doubt McNeill's viability as an eventual NHL forward because of his understanding of the game and ability to make an impact in a variety of roles. He has another year in junior ahead of him with Prince Albert and a chance to improve his consistency while being relied on to provide offense for the Raiders. He is physically one of the more mature prospects in the organization and should be able to enforce his will this season at the WHL level. Like Danault, McNeill could also be invited back to Chicago for camp depending on the length of the lockout.

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

After taking another step forward in his development in Rockford, Brandon Pirri is knocking on the door to the NHL heading into the 2012-13 season. An excellent playmaker at the center position, the 21-year-old Pirri assumed the top-line center role in Rockford last season and led the team in scoring with 56 points in 66 games. His physical development and ability to find open space in the offensive zone made a big impact in his breakout season offensively.

He was able to withstand the length and physicality of the pro season better in his second year, but still fell off somewhat towards the end of the season. The defensive zone remains an area in need of improvement, but he has improved in that area with experience and added strength since turning pro. With Kruger assigned to Rockford due to the work stoppage and Martin St. Pierre added on an AHL contract, Pirri will have more competition in Rockford at the center position than previously expected. It will be the first test of the 2012-13 season for a prospect who has the skills to potentially fill the open second-line center spot for the Blackhawks.

06. (04) Dylan Olsen, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2009

Olsen performed admirably in his first taste of NHL action with the Blackhawks in 2011-12, but he will head back to Rockford to open the season. With good size and a strong build at 6'2” and 214 pounds, the 21-year-old defenseman did fairly well to provide the physical presence and steady defensive zone play that the 'Hawks needed out of him late in the year after injuries to Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson exposed the team's depth on the blue line.

His acceleration is still in need of improvement as is his decision-making with the puck against the fierce forechecks he faced in the NHL. At the start of the season, he will get plenty of ice time in a prominent role for the IceHogs to work on those areas. Despite the depth signings on the Chicago blue line, Olsen's next opportunity in the NHL is not far off.

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

Despite ranking fourth on this list out of Chicago's top four picks from the 2011 class, Adam Clendening is by no means a lesser prospect. He is as talented an offensive-defenseman as Chicago has in the system but is more of a boom-or-bust prospect than the three 2011 forwards that precede him in the rankings. Not quite an intimidating presence on the ice at 5'11” and 187 pounds, Clendening nonetheless plays a hard-nosed game and does not shy away from taking the body. His strength is still in the offensive end, where he is consistent in getting pucks to the net and effective when cycling the puck.

The 19-year-old Clendening chose to forgo his final two years of college eligibility in favor of a pro contract with Chicago. He will make his professional debut in Rockford and have an opportunity to play a significant role on the power play and provide an offensive-minded presence to the team's blue line.

08. (11) Andrew Shaw, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 5th round, 159th overall, 2011

Andrew Shaw's hard-nosed and steady play filled a need for the Chicago Blackhawks last season after Daniel Carcillo went down with a knee injury and players like Bryan Bickell struggled to keep step on the scoring lines. The 21-year-old Shaw's versatility allowed him to play in any situation asked and he responded to the considerable role for a rookie pro with 12 goals, 23 points in 37 games.

Never the biggest player on the ice at 5'10” and 180 pounds, Shaw does not back down from the physical game and was one of the Blackhawks' more effective players around the net. He knows where to go to score goals, displaying a nose for the net and good hands in close during his first season. Despite the success of his rookie season, Shaw will have competition for his roster spot once training camp opens. Until then, he will be back in Rockford where his versatility and tough-to-play against mentality should earn him adequate ice time.

09. (07) Jimmy Hayes, RW, 7.0C
Trade from Toronto Maple Leafs, June 26th, 2010

Like Shaw, Jimmy Hayes received an opportunity to skate in Chicago during his rookie pro campaign. He scored nine points in 23 NHL games during three separate stints with the big club. His inconsistency led to a more limited role and he ultimately fell short of duplicating Shaw's initial success. Hayes nonetheless displayed a pretty good pair of hands for a 6'6" and 221-pound winger.

Expected to be in the mix for a roster spot in Chicago at training camp, Hayes may benefit from having to open the season in Rockford where he could potentially skate on a scoring line and be relied on in important situations. He has the potential to be a top-nine forward that can play a complimentary role on scoring lines or provide some punch in a checking role, but he must play with more consistency.

10. (03) Jeremy Morin, LW, 7.0C
Trade from Atlanta Thrashers, June 24th, 2010

Although it took time for Morin to recover from the concussion that shortened his 2010-11 season, he was able get back into the Rockford lineup and show some of the reasons why he has been such a highly-regarded prospect. The 21-year-old winger never shied away from the physical game, even dropping the gloves six times last season, but it was the return of his confidence and aggressiveness in the offensive end towards the end of the 2011-12 season that showed Morin was beginning to rediscover his game.

Morin has always been considered a strong goal-scorer, and he managed 18 goals in 69 games last season despite scoring only five in his first 27 games after returning to the IceHogs lineup. His scrappy style and willingness to get his nose dirty can both benefit his game, particularly when he lines up in a checking role, but also leads to questions about how his durability will effect his career as he moves up to the NHL. Morin will be a player to watch when the IceHogs open their season, as a quick start could put him in position to get back to the NHL with the Blackhawks when the NHL season opens.

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

Entering his junior season at Notre Dame in 2012-13, Johns will continue to be relied upon in a shutdown role and a player that can set the tone of a game with his physical play. Standing 6'3” and 215 pounds, he is as aggressive and intimidating a presence on the blue line as there is at the college level.

Johns’ absence from the Blackhawks prospect camp in Chicago this summer was a surprise, but the reasons behind his decision were undisclosed. There is little doubt that his aggressive, physical play would bring something no other player provides on Chicago's blue line. Johns could turn pro following either his junior or senior season and open a bidding war for his services if a deal is not reached with the Blackhawks.

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

A shoulder injury limited Beach during the 2011-12 season, but he stayed on track with his recovery and returned for 11 games at the end of Rockford's season. While it was not as strong a showing as his quick start prior to the injury, Beach brought some physical play and skill back to the Rockford lineup.

While the 21-year-old winger will be healthy heading into the season, he faces more of an uphill climb than he did at this time a year ago. Players like Shaw and Jimmy Hayes were recalled last season to bring some size and a tough-to-play-against mentality to the Chicago lineup while Beach was on the shelf and unable to take advantage of Chicago's injury situation. The 2012-13 season will be a big one for Beach as heads into the final year of his entry-level contract, and like Morin, he will have tough competition among the other wingers in Rockford.

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

Kevin Hayes took advantage of increased ice time in his second season at Boston College as the team's second line center for much of the year. His production improved and he played with more confidence when the puck was on his stick. He doubled his production as a sophomore with 28 points in 44 games en route to the team's third National Championship in five years, one of which was won by Kevin's older brother Jimmy in 2010.

Although the younger Hayes made strides as a sophomore, he benefited on the score sheet from playing alongside Chris Kreider (NYR) on one of the team's scoring lines. The younger Hayes will look to keep up that level of production heading into his junior season and nail down a spot in the Eagles' top-six forwards.

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

Thought to be a contender for season-long roster spot in Chicago heading into the 2011-12 season, Ben Smith's year was instead derailed by a shot to the head from Detroit defensive prospect Brendan Smith. He returned to the Rockford lineup after missing a few weeks but he took some time to return to form and had trouble getting settled as he spent time between shifting between Chicago and Rockford. Late in the season, hip and hernia injuries limited him enough to require surgery and end his year.

Smith's versatility in playing any forward position and being able to provide stability on both scoring and checking lines gives him a good chance to stick in Chicago. There will be plenty of competition for the bottom-six spots when Chicago's training camp opens, but the 24-year-old forward's work ethic and solid overall game will put him in the mix.

15. (NR) Joe Lavin, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2007

Former Notre Dame defenseman Joe Lavin enjoyed a successful debut at the pro level in 2011-12 with Rockford. Mobile, reliable, and not afraid to initiate contact, the 23-year-old blueliner emerged as one of Rockford's steadier players on the back end and earned the team's Rookie of the Year award for his efforts.

At 6'2" and 197, Lavin does enough things well that he should be on Chicago's radar if the team is in need of an injury replacement. The depth on the Blackhawks roster at the outset of the season, however, will put Lavin back in Rockford with a chance to play a significant role at even strength, on the penalty kill, and perhaps some power play time.  

16. (15) Justin Holl, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2010

Justin Holl emerged as one half of the Gophers' go-to shutdown pairing playing alongside Seth Helgeson (NJD). With the duo entering their junior and senior seasons, respectively, they should continue to see significant roles whether the pairing is left intact or not.

Skating is Holl's best asset. He is a capable puck-mover and creates chances when he pinches offensively. While his defensive zone play and strength have improved through two college seasons, those are both areas that will be heavily tested when he transitions to the pro level. Holl has yet to breakthrough on the score sheet for Minnesota, at least in part due to his checking role, but he has the tools to perform in all situations for the Gophers if the opportunity arises. 

17. (18) Nick Mattson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 180th overall, 2010

A smooth-skating defenseman, Nick Mattson's game is not unlike that of Holl. Mattson had more of an opportunity offensively as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, scoring six goals and 19 points in 42 games.  The 20-year-old blueliner is a good puck-mover whether he is retrieving the puck in his own end or working the point on the power play. Although not an overly-physical player, he has room to add strength to his 6'1” frame to help improve his ability in front of his crease and along the boards.

Mattson emerged as a productive member of a talented North Dakota defensive corps and will look to build on that success in his second year. The arrival of the dynamic Jordan Schmaltz (STL) may cut into his offensive minutes, but the graduation of Ben Blood (OTT) could lead to a more prominent shutdown role. There are still other NHL prospects to contend with for ice time like Derek Forbort (LAK) and Dillon Simpson (EDM), but Mattson has the tools to be an impact player at the college level.

18. (NR) Dillon Fournier, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2012

Dillon Fournier's initial ranking on this list could appear laughably low if he can bounce back from an injury-plagued draft year. Originally a member of the Lewiston organization, which folded in 2011, the defenseman was the first pick in the ensuing dispersal draft by Rouyn-Noranda and has benefited from a significant role on the team's top pairing and special teams units.

Skating ability is Fournier's best attribute. He is also an adept puck-mover, effective on the cycle. Adding strength and improving his physical play would add another dimension to his defensive game and help in his eventual transition to the pro game. Fournier could be in line for a breakout season for the Huskies. He may not project as a top-pairing defenseman at this point but could develop into a smooth-skating blueliner that can play both ends of the ice.

19. (NR) Chris Calnan, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2012

The Blackhawks added depth on the wings with the selection of Chris Calnan out of the high school level. The 6'2” winger's stock skyrocketed leading up to the draft following a dominant combine performance. A power forward in the making, Calnan already possesses a great combination of strength, skating, and aggressiveness for his age. Whether he can put up the numbers he did at Nobles as he advances will go a long way towards determining his likely potential at the pro level.

Committed to Boston College for the 2013-14 season, Calnan will spend the upcoming season in the Eastern Junior Hockey League with the South Shore Kings. Although drafted to Waterloo in the USHL, Calnan opted to stay close to home for his first crack at the junior level. The Blackhawks have had a lot of success with BC players in recent years and the hope is that Calnan will be able to continue that trend as develops over the next few years.

20. (14) Shawn Lalonde, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2008

Lalonde is entering a make-or-break season in the Chicago organization after an uneven 2011-12 campaign with Rockford. Turnovers and poor positioning led to Lalonde's role being scaled back under IceHogs head coach Ted Dent and the offensive-minded defenseman took a step back on the score sheet as a result.

The 22-year-old blueliner is an excellent skater who is capable of leading the rush, but he can be forced into mistakes when he retrieves pucks in his own end and cannot skate out of trouble. There are power play minutes on the table in Rockford, but Lalonde's inconsistency in his defensive zone and tendency to turn over the puck may lead to another limited role with the IceHogs.