Blackhawks Top 20 prospects

By Eric Forest

Top 20 at a glance

1.Cam Barker, D
2.Jonathan Toews, C
3.Dave Bolland, C
4.Jack Skille, RW
5.Corey Crawford, G
6.Danny Richmond, D
7.Dustin Byfuglien, D
8.Jakub Sindel, C
9.Mike Blunden, RW
10.Dan Bertram, RW
11.Brandon Bochenski, LW
12.James Wisniewski, D
13.Troy Brouwer, RW
14.Nathan Davis, RW
15.Igor Makarov, RW
16.Martin St. Pierre, C
17.Colin Fraser, C
18.Simon Danis-Pepin, D
19.Bryan Bickell, LW
20.Tony Lagerstrom, C

1.Cam Barker, D
1st round, 3rd overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Barker remains atop the Blackhawks’ deep prospect system. The Winnipeg native played in his first and only, NHL game on Oct. 14, 2005 in Colorado. He also played 26 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers last year, tallying 18 points in 26 games. His best season in junior came in 2003-04 when he registered 65 points in 69 games.

Barker was the best Canadian defenseman in the 2006 World Junior Championship, dominating the tournament with six points in six games. He came back on the ice stronger after a 2004-05 season that saw him miss a lot of games because of an illness. He only played 53 games with Medicine Hat that year and had to miss the end of the 2005 WJC.

Barker was to start this new season in Chicago, but he had to undergo a surgery on a fractured ankle. He will probably spend some time rehabbing in Norfolk but will return to the Blackhawks when healthy.

Barker has the potential to be a power play quarterback, and a good one at that. He is solid both offensively and defensively, and sufficiently physical. He will need to stay away from injuries, however. Barker has never played more than 65 games in one season.

2. Jonathan Toews, C
1st round, 3rd overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Toews was a consensus top-five pick before the 2006 draft and there was no doubt that Chicago would take him when their turn came. A native of Manitoba, the young player excelled in his first season with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, playing with Blackhawks’ prospect Chris Porter and first rounders Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, T.J. Oshie and Brian Lee. Toews scored 21 goals and assisted on 17 for 38 points in 41 games, all the while the youngest player in the NCAA.

Like many Chicago draftees, Toews helped Team Canada’s quest for the gold medal in the 2006 WJC. He will once again play for the red and white in the upcoming tournament, and will be a pivotal player.

Toews has been described as an agile skater and tough player to be up against. He loves to control the game and is not afraid of doing the dirty work. He’s earned the respect of his teammates by showing strong leadership and helping the club defensively. He could give up his college eligibility early and suit up for the Blackhawks in the near future.

For now, he will try to win a second gold medal for Team Canada and lead the Fighting Sioux to a national championship.

3. Dave Bolland, C
2nd round, 32nd overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Bolland had a highlight career with the dangerous London Knights, along the likes of Rob Schremp, Corey Perry and Danny Syvret. He spent four seasons with the Ontario team, his best in 2005-06, finishing second on his team with 130 points. Bolland was a key element in the 2005 Memorial Cup and is known to be a clutch player in the postseason.

He helped Canada win the 2006 WJC with a performance of three goals and two assists in only five games. Bolland is an exceptional player who can do it all on his own. No matter the situation, Bolland can make a good play and create a scoring chance. He is also sound defensively and used a lot in penalty-killing situations.

Bolland has moved on to the American Hockey League, playing for the Blackhawks’ affiliate. With Norfolk, he will have the chance to adjust to the quicker game while developing his offensive potential. He has played just one game so far due to a shoulder sprain.

4. Jack Skille, RW
1st round, 7th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

A product of the US National Team Development Program, Skille played his first NCAA season with the Wisconsin Badgers, scoring 20 points in 39 games, including 13 goals. A power forward in the making, the American played a big role in the 2006 WJC after a young career with a lot of international experience.

Skille is a few years away from the NHL, but he will probably find himself rather quickly on a top six line with the Blackhawks. He will get more ice time in 2006-07 and should duplicate his numbers. He is dangerous on the power play and can forecheck and shows an excellent defensive awareness without the puck. There is no doubt that Skille has all the tools to become a successful player in the big league.

Skille has played just three games this year, out four to six weeks with an elbow injury.

5. Corey Crawford, G
Acquired: 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2003

The Chicago Blackhawks expected Corey Crawford sharing time in Norfolk with Adam Munro last season, but with an injury to Nikolai Khabibulin with the big club, Crawford saw the bulk of the workload in Norfolk in the American Hockey League. He finished the season one game under .500 with a 22-23-1 record in 48 appearances, though with a .898 save percentage. The Chicago brass was very happy with his performance.

As expected, Crawford is back with the Admirals this season and off to a good start, with two wins in two games and a .941 save percentage.

6. Danny Richmond, D
Acquired in a trade with Carolina for Anton Babchuk

Richmond was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003, after an impressive season with the Michigan Wolverines. He then joined the powerful OHL London Knights and amassed 35 points in 59 games and was also a member of the gold winning Team USA at the 2004 WJC. A highly-touted prospect for Carolina, he played his first professional season with the Lowell Lock Monsters in 2004-05, recoding 14 points in 63 games.

Last year, Richmond played with four teams and enjoyed his first steps in the NHL. He started the year with Lowell but was then called up by the Carolina Hurricanes. He played 10 games with the future Stanley Cup champions, notching one assist. With the Blackhawks, Richmond also played in 10 games.

The Chicago native is a strong athlete with excellent offensive skills, even if he hasn’t been much noticeable on the score-sheet in his first showings. He also plays a rough style, racking up some penalty minutes. He started the new season with Norfolk, but was recently recalled to Chicago.

7. Dustin Byfuglien, D
8th round, 245th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Byfuglien put together a 2005-06 season far beyond expectations, which resulted in his being a big mover up the Chicago depth chart. An eighth rounder, he went from the Prince George Cougars to the NHL in no time. He donned the Blackhawks jersey for 25 games after scoring 23 points in 53 games with their AHL affiliate. With the Cougars, Byfuglien elevated his scoring game year in and year out, but also got accustomed to his giant body, pulverizing his opponents and adding up time in the sin bin.

He also already scored four goals in five games with the Norfolk Admirals in his second year as a pro. Byfuglien can play both at forward and defense and is known for sticking up for his teammates. He will probably be one of the first players called up if an injury occurs in the big league.

8. Jakub Sindel, C
2nd round, 54th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

With a strong showing in the Czech Extraliga, Sindel moves up to the seventh rank. He has been described as the typical European: excellent skater, creative hands and able to capitalize on his scoring chances. Sindel has been a part of many international tournaments for Czech Republic, including two WJCs.

Sindel came over to Canada in 2004-05 for 35 games with the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings, registering 16 goals and 13 assists. But he did not play the entire year, returned to his native country and is now playing for Plzen HC. He’s off to another good start, with nine points in 16 games, including seven goals.

Sindel has good potential as a second line center, but the key factor will be attracting him to North America in order to develop his all-around game.

9. Mike Blunden, RW
2nd round, 43rd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

A second rounder in 2005, Blunden has already moved on to pro hockey with the Norfolk Admirals. He played four seasons with the OHL Erie Otters, scoring 46 goals in 60 games in his last year along with a team-leading 84 points. He was a leader on and off the ice and appeared in multiple all-star games in the last few years for Erie. He played for Team Canada in the 2006 WJC.

Blunden signed an Amateur Professional Try-Out contract last spring, joining the Norfolk Admirals for 11 games late in their season. He registered six points, proving that he could make the transition easily. He also played one playoff game with his new team.

Blunden is big at 6’4 and effectively uses his large frame to get the puck in the corners or to bang his opponents. He loves to crash the net and get the opportunistic goal. He should be able to play any scoring or role position with the Blackhawks in a near future.

10. Dan Bertram, RW
2nd round, 54th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The Calgary native will play in his third season for Boston College, after finishing fifth in points in 2005-06 with 25 in 37 games. Bertram came from the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he dominated in his first season with 55 points in 44 games with the Camrose Kodiaks. He was chosen as one of the three best players in the 2005 Under-18 tournament, picking up four goals. He continued his strong international play, playing a key role on Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior squad the same year.

Unlike Blunden, Bertram’s development will take longer with his decision to play in the NCAA, but his potential is definitely high. He is good in every aspect of the game. He has a knack for scoring goals, plays with an edge and has plenty of speed. Chicago management will keep a close eye on their young project and will be patient in order to see him perform in a Blackhawks’ jersey.

11. Brandon Bochenski, LW
Acquired in trade with Ottawa, 2006

Bochenski was acquired by Chicago in a transaction that sent Tyler Arnason to the Ottawa Senators after playing his first 20 games in the NHL. Initially given top minutes in the Canadian capital after an excellent training camp in 2005, Bochenski fell out of favor quickly after 20 games. He also appeared in 33 games with the Binghamton Senators last year, notching 46 points.

With Chicago, Bochenski played in 20 games but couldn’t achieve the same success he had with the Senators, registering only seven points. At season’s end, he was transferred to the Norfolk Admirals to help the team for their first playoff series.

Bochenski has been described as a pure gifted scorer, recording goals in bunches in his career while setting up plays for his teammates. He is an offensive-minded player who has also proved to be a clutch player with his teams. He is not the greatest skater, however, and needs to get better defensively in order to secure a spot in the NHL.

Sent down to Norfolk to start the year, he’s now been recalled thanks to an injury to Martin Havlat.

12. James Wisniewski, D
5th round, 56th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Another player with NHL experience, Wisniewski’s efforts were rewarded with a call-up to the big league last season. He played in 19 games with the Blackhawks, scoring two goals and five assists. He played four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, developing into an efficient offensive defenseman.

Wisniewski plays with energy as a small defenseman at 5’11 and is always in a learning process. He is good at starting an attack from his own zone and his first pass is usually excellent. He provides a lot of depth on a young squad.

He is back with Norfolk this season, where he has two assists in four games.

13. Troy Brouwer, RW
7th round, 214th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

The Vancouver native began his professional career this season, and he started it just like he finished his time in juniors, on the scoring sheet. In five games with the Norfolk Admirals, he has registered three goals, four assists and 17 PIMs.

After two good seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Brouwer exploded offensively last year finishing as the league’s scoring leader and the Bob Clarke Award recipient, recording 102 points in 72 games. Even though he can score a bunch, he also likes to play tough. He is developing into a power forward and tends to be often be penalized for his rough hockey style.

14. Nathan Davis, RW
4th round, 113th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Davis has been enjoying two impressive seasons with Miami University in Ohio, scoring 65 points in 75 games. In his sophomore season, he had 20 goals and 20 assists in 37 games, first in scoring for the RedHawks. The Ohio native also took part in the 2005 WJC for Team USA, tallying one assist in seven games.

Davis has been extremely successful on special teams in his college career. He plays hard every shift, generating offensive chances at every opportunity. His speed is excellent and he loves to fight for the puck in corners and along the boards. He will need some seasoning in the AHL before suiting up for Chicago, but he has everything a talented hockey player needs to make it.

15. Igor Makarov, RW
2nd round, 33rd overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

The slick Russian was selected by Chicago in the last entry draft, 33rd overall. He played in 35 games with Krylja of the RUS-2 league in 2005-06, where he potted nine goals and added seven assists. He was effective in the playoffs, scoring three goals and four helpers in 17 games. He was a member of Team Russia in the 2005 Under-18 WJC, registering a team-leading five goals in six games. He has moved on into the SuperLiga and is currently playing with St. Petersburg SKA, notching three goals in six games so far.

Makarov is a strong skater and possesses excellent offensive potential. He can handle the puck and create scoring opportunities. He might lack size and aggressiveness, but he can throw his body around. He didn’t make the 2005 WJC team, but went on to be picked in the second round.

It is not known when Makarov will cross the ocean to play in North America.

16. Martin St. Pierre, C
Signed as a free agent, 2005

Hard work put St. Pierre on the map last year for the Blackhawks. The Ontario native played in two games for the Hawks after an impressive first complete season with the Norfolk Admirals. He set franchise records for most points (73) and assists (50). Undrafted, he was previously signed by the Edmonton Oilers, where he started with the ECHL Greenville Grrrowl before finishing the season with the AHL Edmonton Roadrunners.

St. Pierre may be small, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. He is a very creative player with a nose for the net, developing plays beginning even in his own end. With two NHL games in hand, he will definitely want to live the experience again and should a game-breaker in his second season with the Admirals. He already has eight points in five games.

17. Colin Fraser, C
Acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, 2004

Fraser stays in the same spot after playing his first full season with the Norfolk Admirals where he registered 25 points and 145 penalty minutes. He spent four years with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, developing into one of the best agitator in the league. While not known for his scoring touch, Fraser can still contribute on the scoreboard with his “in-your-face” style and his hard work. He was Philadelphia’s third-round selection in 2003 but was later traded to Chicago in a deal for forward Alexei Zhamnov.

Fraser will have the opportunity to develop into a role player with the Blackhawks and could see some ice time in the big league in a year or two. The young center has two points in five games with Norfolk in 2006-07 along with 14 PIMs.

18. Simon Danis-Pepin, D
2nd round, 61st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

A big and strong defenseman hailing from Gatineau, Quebec, Danis-Pepin decided to play in the NCAA with the University of Maine. Even though he didn’t suit up in a lot of games with the Black Bears last year, he turned a lot of heads over the season with his defensive awareness and his body presence. He played in 23 games, assisting on five goals. A work in progress, Danis-Pepin knows how to use his size and has good offensive capabilities. He was the Black Bears’ Jack Semler Award recipient as the most improved player.

He will be given more responsibilities in his sophomore season this year.

19. Bryan Bickell, LW
2nd round, 41st overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Bickell signed a three-year entry-level contract in June with the Blackhawks. He’s off to a great start with Norfolk, with seven points already in three games. He had a successful career in the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s and the Windsor Spitfires. He enjoyed his best season in 2005-06 with 45 goals and 85 points, 18th in scoring in the league.

Bickell has a lot of potential. He has always had the ability to take over shifts since he is a huge, strong and powerful hitter, a good skater with a heavy shot. However, his effort and interest levels have also been questionable over the years. He will need some seasoning in the AHL, but he could become a reliable player in professional hockey.

20. Tony Lagerstrom, C
3rd round, 76th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Lagerstrom has been playing with Sodertalje, moving up from junior team in 2005-06 to play his first professional game with the Swedish team. He is a solid skater, known for his two-way game and his defensive awareness. He was the captain of Team Sweden in the U-18 WJC. Lagerstrom likes to handle the puck in the offensive zone, creating plays for his teammates.

Missing the cut

Joe Fallon
Evan Brophey
Petri Kontiola
Jonas Nordqvist

Phil Laugher, Sean Keogh and DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.