Blackhawks 2006 draft review

By Bill Martin

Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon wanted to acquire speed, hockey smarts and skill in this year’s draft. With Jonathan Toews and Igor Makarov, the Hawks picked up needed skill up front. They also took a monstrously tall defenseman in Simon Danis-Pepin, who played for the University of Maine. Later in the draft, they went with smarts and quickness.

The Hawks have one of the top rated groups of future talent (ranked 4th by Hockey’s Future) and this class should help build on an already talented core.

Jonathan Toews, C/W – Univ of North Dakota (NCAA)
3rd overall, 6’1 195

In picking Jonathan Toews, the Hawks made a ‘safe’ pick of a player who was the most complete forward in the draft, eschewing the flashier Phil Kessel and Niklas Backstrom. The youngest player in college hockey (born April 29, 1988), the 6’1, 195 lb center was second among all college freshmen in scoring with 22 goals, including nine goals on the power play. He also finished third on the team with a plus/minus of +20. Before North Dakota, he played with the highly-regarded Shattuck-St. Mary’s program.

Toews’ stock skyrocketed in the second half of the season as he helped the Fighting Sioux capture the Broadmoor Cup (WCHA Playoff Championship) as well as earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in his final 24 games of the season. Toews’ memorable performance in the NCAA Tournament West Regional earned MVP honors, as his two goals and three assists helped lead North Dakota to their second consecutive Frozen Four appearance.

In 2005, he captained Canada’s Team Western to a gold medal at the World U-17 Tournament in Lethbridge, AB as well as earned tournament’s MVP honor. In 2003, Toews was the top selection in the WHL Bantam Draft, taken by the Tri-City Americans. But he opted to go the NCAA route rather than the major junior route.

Toews will continue with North Dakota in 2006-07.

Igor Makarov, RW – Krylja (Russia)
33rd overall, 6’1 183

It wouldn’t be a Blackhawks draft without selecting a Russian, even with a new GM at the helm.

Igor Makarov was born September 19, 1987, making him just four days too young for the 2005 draft.

Makarov played the last two seasons for Krylja, in the Russian Junior League, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists in 2005-06 and in limited action in 2004-05, he had two goals and two assists in only six games. A very good skater with good skill, he did not make the 2006 WJC team, however.

Makarov was drafted into the QMJHL in 2005, but has not yet made it across the pond.

Simon Danis-Pepin, D – Univ. of Maine (NCAA)
61st overall, 6’7 208

The Blackhawks other second round pick (61st overall), Simon Danis-Pepin, charged up the draft charts with his combination of size and good improvement. In 23 games for the University of Maine, the 6’7 208 lb right-handed defenseman had 5 assists and 14 penalty minutes after playing the season before at the Midget AAA level. A project player, Danis-Pepin was the second youngest player (born April 11, 1988) in college hockey.

Although already a good skater for his size, he could become a dominating physical presence if he gains quickness, strength and confidence. Two areas that have been impressive are his great hockey sense and his understanding of how to play his position effectively. He has good offensive capabilities and a keen awareness of his surroundings, particularly in the defensive zone. His skating should improve further as he continues to mature and develop.

Danis-Pepin will continue with Maine in 2006-07.

Tony Lagerstrom, C – Sodertalje Jr (Swe Jr)
76th overall, 6’1 189

The Hawks traded two fourth round picks to move up to take center Tony Lagerstrom in the third round, 76th overall. The Hawks like his on-ice intelligence and he is projected to be a solid two-way player who needs to work on his skating.

He has been among the top players on the team and in the age group. A natural leader who is an all-round forward with very good leadership skills, Langerstrom served as captain of Swedish Under-18 team. He played the last two seasons for Swedish junior team Sodertalje, he scored 14 goals and added 21 assists with a robust 73 penalty minutes in 40 games during the 2005-06 season, after a 13-goal, 11-assist performance in 2004-05.

Lagerstrom is an all-round forward with very good leadership skills. He plays with a lot of authority and expresses a great attitude and winner’s instinct. Lagerstrom skates hard, but could still use some extra speed, and has decent technical skills and hockey sense. He has scored some pretty important goals in the past and is a valuable player to have on the ice in heated situations. He is defensively very responsible and a good penalty killer.

Lagerstrom has signed a contract to play in the Swedish Elite League for the 2006-07 season.

Ben Shutron, D – Kingston (OHL)
95th overall, 5’11 186

The Blackhawks were surprised that the highly skilled Ben Shutron was available in the fourth round (95th overall). Shutron has great vision and gets the puck out of the zone very well often with his accurate passing ability. However a drawback is that he gets beaten to the puck on one-on-ones too often and ends up taking too many penalties because of it. Shutron is definitely benefiting from no red line, as he takes advantage of the long passes. He loves to join in on the rush, is a great stickhandler, and has a really good shot from the point.

Last season, for Kingston of the OHL, Shutron had 10 goals and added 29 assists in 67 games. In 2004-05, he had 7 goals and 20 assists.

Shutron was named to the 2004-2005 OHL Second All Rookie Team and won a gold medal with Team Canada at both the Under-17s and Under-18 squads. He was a member of Team Canada for the 2005 Under-18 Junior World Cup and was selected to the 2006 CHL Top Prospects game in Ottawa. He will continue with Kingston next season.

Joe Palmer, G – USNTDP
96th overall, 6’1 205

Another product of the very successful U.S. National Development Team program, Joe Palmer was another highly rated player who fell to the Hawks in the fourth round, 96th overall. Born February 19, 1988, the 6’1 205 lb left catching Palmer had a sparkling GAA of 2.57 last season. In 47 games, recording 29 wins against 14 losses with a save percentage of .906 last season.

Palmer is an athletic, competitive, quick goalie who never gives up on the play. He made his debut for the NTDP in 2004-05, playing 25 games for the U.S. National Under-17 team and two games for the U.S. National Under-18 team. He finished the campaign with a 3.22 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. Palmer helped lead Team USA to a first-place finish at the Four Nations Cup in Rochester, N.Y.

Jan-Mikael Juutilainen, C – Jokerit Jr (Fin Jr.)
156th overall, 5’11 183

In the sixth round with the 156th selection, the Hawks picked the Captain of the Finnish U-18 team, Jan-Mikael Juutilainen. The 5’11 183 lb center was born January 5, 1988.

The creative, hard working center played in all situations and is very creative and quick with the puck. Juutilainen is a traditional finesse center, and he can go from the team’s top finisher to the No. 1 playmaker. He can make and receive difficult passes and is rather adept at handling the puck in small spaces. His offensive instinct is undeniable, but at this point he is physically immature and average in the realm of defensive play. His skating isn’t on par with most skill-oriented forwards of the NHL, but physical training alone may enable him to move faster more consistently. Juutilainen has a fair bit of leadership in him, which also helps him push himself to become a better player. Not many players have talent like his.

This past season, the Juutilainen played for Jokerit Jr. in the Finnish Junior League where in 36 games, he scored 3 goals and had 12 assists while recording 35 minutes in penalties. He hopes to play in the USHL, finish his high school diploma and then play at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2007.

Chris Auger, C – Wellington (OPJRA)
169th overall, 5’10 160

Drafted out of Wellington Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League in the sixth round, Chris Auger is a smallish center with good speed. He was of the top scorers in the OPJHL and has excellent puck skills, with good passing skills as exhibited by his league-leading assists total. However, Auger will need to build strength, size and power to become an NHL prospect.

In 2004-05 he scored 25 goals and had 30 assists. Last year, he improved to 41 goals and 51 assists for 92 points – third best in the league. He was Wellington’s team MVP, OPJHL East Conference Most Valuable Player and Most Sportsmanlike Player for the 2005-06 season.

Auger will develop at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Peter Leblanc, C/LW – Hamilton (OPJRA)
186th overall, 5’10 175

The Blackhawks final pick was also drafted out of the OPJHL. The 5’10 175 lb left shooting Leblanc had an excellent showing at the Chowder Cup Pre-Draft Tournament while playing for Team Ontario, which helped his position in the draft. He was also invited to the 2006 CJAHL All-Star Game.

Coming off a rookie of the year in 2004-05 in the OPJHL where he scored 14 goals and had 22 assists, Leblanc missed half of the 2005-06 season with mononucleosis. He still managed 10 goals and 12 assists in 22 games. He has excellent quickness and has a good head for the game.

Leblanc will attend University of New Hampshire this fall.

DJ Powers, Johan Nilsson, Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article.