Blackhawks NCAA prospects update

By DJ Powers

With 16 currently in their system, the Chicago Blackhawks have more collegiate prospects than any other NHL team.

Chris Auger, C
Freshman, University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Drafted: 2006 (sixth round, 169th overall)

The UMass-Lowell RiverHawks are one of, if not the youngest team in D-I hockey this season. Of the 27 players who made up the opening day roster, 15 are freshmen, including centerman Chris Auger. The Belleville, ON native has not only worked his way into a regular rotation but he has done so on one of the RiverHawks’ top lines. Auger has played in 27 games thus far, recording seven points (one goal, six assists). His lone goal of the season came on Nov. 17 in UMass-Lowell’s 2-5 loss to New Hampshire.

"Chris has all of the necessary skills to be a high-level player,” said UMass-Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald. “I think his biggest strengths are his hockey IQ and his understanding of the game. He has great poise with the puck and has a low panic threshold. Chris can certainly grow into a good playmaker because he has that poise and sees the ice well. He can distribute the puck to appropriate teammates to create the best opportunities for success."

Auger is a superb skater with good speed. He has demonstrated great poise and patience with the puck and distributes it quite well. While he is still very much a work in progress, Auger has the potential to not only become a high scoring forward but also a top-flight playmaker as well. He is still learning the finer points of the collegiate game, both offensively and defensively and it’s only a matter of time before the RiverHawks reap the benefits of what Auger brings to the team.

Dan Bertram, RW
Junior, Boston College
Drafted: 2005 (second round, 54th overall)

Last month, Dan Bertram brought home another WJC gold medal with Team Canada playing in much the same capacity that he has played (and continues to play in) for Boston College – a banging and crashing forward who can energize his team. Though he is listed as a right wing, Bertram has played much of the season at center and started his junior campaign playing at left wing. One area where Bertram has been impressive this season has been on draws. He has the highest winning percentage on faceoffs on the Boston College team, winning nearly 60 percent.

The Calgary, AB native has posted 14 points (four goals, ten assists) thus far. While Bertram has struggled to put together an offensively consistent season, it isn’t due to a lack of trying. He has been one of the team’s hardest working players. If he isn’t making things happen with the puck, then chances are Bertram is doing so away from it, whether it’s checking an opposing player off of the puck or helping out in defensive zone coverage.

Bertram’s overall maturity and improvement have progressed quite well. He has become a leader on the Boston College team, often leading by example. The intensity with which he plays his game is matched by his desire to win and be the best player that he can be. If there is one area where Bertram can step it up that would benefit both his game and his team, it would be in shooting the puck more. Of Boston College’s top six forwards, Bertram has generated the fewest shots, averaging just over two per game.

Joe Charlebois, D
Sophomore, University of New Hampshire
Drafted: 2005 (seventh round, 188th overall)

The top-seeded New Hampshire Wildcats have been enjoying a successful season due to some offensive depth and a strong defensive corps. One component of the latter is Joe Charlebois. After a very solid freshman campaign, Charlebois has been able to build on it in his sophomore season. He has settled in quite well amongst the Wildcats top six defensemen, garnering not only increased ice time but gradually seeing his role expanded as well. One noticeable difference about Charlebois this year is his confidence level. At times last season, Charlebois played with a great deal of tentativeness. This season, his confidence level has given way to taking risks and playing more comfortably within his own game.

"Joe is someone who right now, is playing very consistently and plays in all situations for us,” said New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile.  “We’re starting to use him a little bit more on the power play, and he kills penalties. I think his defensive play off of the puck is something that he has to work on and just making that first pass against pressure. Last season, Joe worked himself into the lineup and ultimately ended up beating out an upperclassman. I think Joe was just trying to do his job and not make any mistakes. Now, he’s playing with a lot more confidence."

The Potsdam, NY native has played in all 26 games thus far, posting three points (all assists) along with a plus/minus rating of +11. While Charlebois possesses good puck skills, he isn’t likely to become an offensive defenseman at the next level. His strong skating ability, toughness and sound positional play already make him very good defensive defenseman who is just going to get better with development.

Simon Danis-Pepin, D
Sophomore, University of Maine
Drafted: 2006 (second round, 61st overall)

At 18 years old, he is the youngest member of the Maine Black Bears team, but if you watch Simon Danis-Pepin play this season, you’d think he was older than that. The behemoth from Vandreuil-Dorion, Quebec has made tremendous strides in his development this season. Nowhere has that been more evident than in his confidence level and play with the puck. Danis-Pepin has settled in quite nicely on the Black Bears blue line as one of the team’s top six defensemen. He has five points (one goal, four assists) playing in all 27 games thus far this season.

"We’re very pleased with Simon and in my discussions with a few of the guys in Chicago, they’re very pleased too,” Maine head coach Tim Whitehead told Hockey’s Future. “Simon has improved not just defensively but his confidence with the puck. He makes very good decisions with the puck and is working on being able to do things quicker and make quicker decisions. I think the other big area that Simon has really emerged for us has been from a penalty kill and defensive situation. He’s using his size and wingspan a lot more effectively this year."

While Danis-Pepin is still a work in progress, the immense potential that he has is just now being tapped into. He has been thrust into a variety of situations with Maine this season, including the power play. Danis-Pepin has begun to put all of his tools together and is now learning to use them effectively along with his enormous size and long reach. His confidence level has allowed him to be more comfortable and willing to take risks. If Danis-Pepin can continue to mature and develop all aspects of his game and bring it all to the next level, he’ll become a top-flight defenseman.

Nathan Davis, C
Junior, Miami University
Drafted: 2005 (fourth round, 113th overall)

Nathan Davis is having an outstanding junior season that has made him one of the early favorites to win the 2007 Hobey Baker Award. He, along with linemate Ryan Jones (MIN), has provided the RedHawks with one of the most potent duos in all of college hockey. Davis currently ranks tied for fifth in the nation with 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists). As good as Davis has been in even strength situations, he has been absolutely lethal on special teams. Of his 16 goals, eight have come on the power play and three have come short-handed.

Those who closely follow the RedHawks are not really surprised by Davis’ consistent and abundant offensive output this season because he’s been doing that since he arrived in Oxford, OH. What the Rocky River, OH native has done during the course of his illustrious collegiate career is simply matured and developed into a more complete player. Davis’ constant attention to the details of the game and his team-before-self attitude have made him an invaluable asset to his team in every respect.

Perhaps the most evident attribute of Davis’ that has really blossomed this season has been in the strong leadership that he has provided. The skills with which he is blessed with have grown with him, and as good as he is now, the best is still yet to come. His superb skating, tremendous offensive capabilities, great hockey sense and versatility could all make Davis a first or second line center at the next level.

"Nate has really evolved into trying to become a complete player,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi.  “I think there’s a misconception out there that Nate has just kind of evolved into this offensive player and that’s not entirely true. He’s out in critical situations and he continues to mature in every aspect of his game. Those are some of the things that he takes pride in. Nate and I don’t believe that he’s even begun to scratch the surface of where he can be, and that’s a great sign and a positive for us."

Jake Dowell, C
Senior, University of Wisconsin
Drafted: 2004 (fifth round, 140th overall)

Senior Jake Dowell has established himself as one of the Wisconsin Badgers best defensive forwards. This season however, he has proven to be a capable goal scorer as well. With the loss of last season’s top scorers, Wisconsin has struggled on offense this season, but Dowell has been able to replace some of the scoring. Dowell is currently second on the team with 19 points (14 goals, five assists). His 15 goals lead the team. Nowhere has Dowell’s increased offensive production been more noticeable than on the Badgers power play. Of his 19 points, 10 have come on the man-advantage including his team-high eight power play tallies.

"For a guy like Jake, he needs to establish himself in front of the net,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves. “He needs to get there, be there and be willing to take kind of a beating to have pucks go in on tip-ins and rebounds. Jake has played that almost to perfection. Most of his goals have been right around the net, establishing his physical presence. He’s a very strong, physical player and what Jake has done is played to his strengths. He has established a physical presence on our power play and playing to those strengths have allowed him to contribute offensively."

The Eau Claire, WI native has gradually brought all of the facets of his together and done so quite effectively as his collegiate career has progressed. Dowell isn’t known as a razzle-dazzle type of player but rather a strong, hard-working defensive-minded forward who has developed a knack for scoring timely goals. One area where Dowell has significantly improved this season has been his skating. He is faster and now moves up and down the ice well with his linemates.

Joe Fallon, G
Junior, University of Vermont
Drafted: 2005 (sixth round, 163rd overall)

Right now, the Vermont Catamounts find themselves right in the middle of the Hockey East race thanks in large part to the stellar goaltending of junior Joe Fallon. The Bemidji, MN native has already garnered attention for the Hobey Baker Award and has the numbers to back it up. His miniscule 1.66 goals against average currently leads the nation while his five shutouts co-lead the nation. Fallon sports a 14-8-3 record with a .927 save percentage that ranks tied for tenth in the nation.

As good as Fallon’s numbers are, they don’t begin to tell the story of just how far he has come in terms of becoming one of college hockey’s elite goaltenders. It’s been a maturation process that continues to this day. He has been relatively consistent throughout his career but it is in the finer points of playing his position and the mental side where Fallon has really grown. One notable area has been in playing the puck. This season, he has done a much better job of steering loose pucks towards the boards.

"One difference this year thus far is that Joe’s been very consistent,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon.  “I think his mental toughness this year and his focus has been better than it has been in the past. That’s made him even tougher to go against. His rebound control has certainly improved but we want him to continue to improve that so that he’s not faced with those second, third, and sometimes fourth opportunities."

Matthew Ford, RW
Junior, University of Wisconsin
Drafted: 2004 (eighth round, 256th overall)

Wisconsin junior Matthew Ford possesses a very hard shot and uses it quite effectively. The West Hills, CA native is currently tied for fifth on the team with 11 points (six goals, five assists), a new career high. Ford has seen his role expand this season, seeing time on both the Badgers power play and penalty-killing units.

"Matthew is a very strong young man and he probably has the hardest shot on our team,” said Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves.  “Those are his strengths and those are the areas that he needs to play to and be consistent in. Sometimes Matthew leaves those areas and tries to do things that are outside of that realm and as a result, he’s not as consistent in his performance. He’s better than he was in his sophomore year but we still need that to be more of a consistent factor and I think he’s going in the right direction. I think he likes to overhandle the puck at times and get cute. I would tell Matthew that if I had a shot like his, all I’m thinking about is shooting. He’s going in the right direction but again we’d like to see more consistency out of him."

Ford is a player who is at his best when he keeps his game simple. His size, strength and shot are his best attributes and ones that he utilizes greatly to his advantage. If Ford is to be successful at the next level, he’ll need to play to those strengths and keep his game simple. As great of a shot that Ford has, he also could stand to shoot more often.

Michael Grenzy, D
Senior, Clarkson University
Drafted: 2003 (ninth round, 275th overall)

After a strong start to his senior year followed by a separated shoulder that kept him out of five games, Michael Grenzy has emerged as one of Clarkson’s top defensemen this year. He and sophomore Tyrell Mason (NYI) make up the Golden Knights’ best (and biggest) defensive unit. Grenzy currently co-leads all Clarkson defensemen in scoring with 11 points (two goals, nine assists). Both of his goals this season came back on Dec. 29 versus Wisconsin in the Badger Showdown holiday tournament and on the power play.

The Lockport, NY native possesses great puck skills and a tremendous shot, but where his game has really matured has been in making smarter decisions both with the puck and knowing when to join the play. Grenzy is also quite solid in his own zone. One area where he could stand to improve in is more consistent and effective use of his 6’3 frame away from the puck. While he has demonstrated that he can finish checks and move opposing players off of the puck, it isn’t done often enough. If he can do that more consistently, it will certainly help in making him successful at the next level.

"The one thing Mike has is that he has a real good sense of the game,” said Clarkson head coach George Roll. “He understands when to jump into the play and when not to and is certainly making smarter decisions with the puck. I think the biggest thing with Mike is that he’s going to have to make a commitment off the ice in terms of his conditioning and his foot speed. I would say that his foot speed will improve as he improves his leg strength and his core."

Peter Leblanc, C
Freshman, University of New Hampshire
Drafted: 2006 (seventh round, 186th overall)

On a New Hampshire Wildcats team loaded with excellent talent up front, newcomer Peter Leblanc has been able to earn a regular spot on thanks to his speed, superb playmaking ability and hard work. Though he has been playing on the Wildcats fourth line for nearly the entire season, he has recently seen time on the Wildcats first and second lines, filling in for injured players. Leblanc is the only freshman this season that has played in all 26 games, registering four points (one goal, three assists). Leblanc’s lone goal of the season thus far came back on Jan. 19, when he tallied the game-winner in New Hampshire’s 5-1 win over UMass.

"Peter is a very skilled player who has pretty good speed,” said New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile. “He has an excellent shot and obviously moves the puck well. Defensively is where he needs to learn how to play. Peter needs to continue working on the defensive side of his game. Offensively, he does a pretty good job and defensively he’s getting better with each game that he plays. He’s in our lineup every night, centers one of our lines and does a good job for us."

Like so many rookies in college hockey, Leblanc’s continued development in all areas, specifically the physical and defensive sides, will be key to being able to play at the next level. The Hamilton, ON native is a very smart player with good offensive capabilities that have yet to show up on the scoresheet. Leblanc will likely blossom into more of the playmaker rather than the goal scorer, though that certainly doesn’t mean he can’t score goals himself.

Scott McCulloch, LW
Junior, Colorado College
Drafted: 2004 (sixth round, 165th overall)

With the graduations of their top three scorers, one of the questions surrounding Colorado College coming into the 2006-07 season was who was going to pick up the goal scoring. Junior Scott McCulloch answered the call. McCulloch currently ranks third on the team in scoring with 20 points (15 goals, five assists) playing in all 28 games.  Where McCulloch has effectively made his mark this season has been in scoring timely goals, especially on the Tigers power play. Of his 15 goals, eight have come on the power play and four are game-winners.

"Scott’s overall defensive game has really improved,” Colorado College head coach Scott Owens told Hockey’s Future.  “He’s made tremendous strides in breaking out the puck along the wall and also defending the point coverage. Right now, we’re actually using Scott on the penalty kill as well. He’s a good shot blocker and he reads situations well. He has the capability and the willingness to be assertive and aggressive but it’s not on a consistent basis yet. There are some games where he’ll have five hits and other games he’ll have one. We’d like to see that be more consistent. Scott is definitely capable of doing that and has done that, but we’d like to see a string of 10 games where he’s got three to six hits."

McCulloch is the prototypical power forward. He is a powerful skater who excels around the net. He uses his size and strength to great advantage, making him a difficult body to move. If he’s not banging home the loose pucks then chances are he’s wreaking havoc on the opposing goaltender. McCulloch has made his collegiate career out of scoring the so-called "garbage" goals. While McCulloch possesses the size, strength and grit, interestingly enough, he is not a consistent physical player. If McCulloch can utilize his toughness more consistently to go along with the skills that he has been blessed with and his rock-solid frame, he could become a dominant force at the next level.

Joseph Palmer, G
Freshman, The Ohio State University
Drafted: 2006 (fourth round, 96th overall)

Freshman Joseph Palmer and his Ohio State team got off to a less than stellar start to the season. But in recent weeks, both have started to get things back on track. As one of, if not the most highly-touted incoming goaltender this season, the expectations bestowed on Palmer were very high. The adjustment took longer than anticipated but now that Palmer has settled in, he is beginning to live up to those expectations. The situation into which Palmer was thrust into at Ohio State was an unusual one in that both Buckeyes goaltenders this season are freshmen. The Yorkville, NY native currently has a 10-11-4 record that includes one shutout. The stretch between mid-December and mid-January, where he backstopped the Buckeyes to a 4-0-2 record that included winning the Ohio Holiday Classic Tournament was his best of the season thus far.

Despite a rocky start to his collegiate career, Palmer has kept his composure intact remarkably well. While he brings a number of outstanding qualities to his position, Palmer is also very much a project. Two areas that he’ll need to improve as his collegiate career goes along will be his rebound control and willingness to challenge shooters more often. Palmer’s lateral movement is quite good but he needs to be quicker.

"I’ve given Joe a number of opportunities to respond to some, what I guess we could call bad games and his response to them has been good,” Ohio State head coach John Markell told Hockey’s Future.  “The bad games are being further and further apart and I like the maturing factor that he is having and he’ll continue to grow in that. I would like to see Joe challenge shooters more. As with any young goaltender, you have to get more aggressive. That’s all part of growing within this league. As he continues to get quicker, stronger, smarter and so forth, he’ll be more aggressive at the right point."

Chris Porter, C
Senior, University of North Dakota
Drafted: 2003 (ninth round, 282nd overall)

He may be one of the least-known players outside of the Grand Forks community, but the contributions that Chris Porter has made to the team have been crucial to its success, particularly this season. He is one of the three seniors on a predominantly young Fighting Sioux team. Porter has established himself as a hard-hitting support player but now in his final year, his game has come full circle with strong leadership and the various aspects of his game all coming together. Throughout his career, Porter has demonstrated a knack for scoring timely goals and this season is no different.  Thus far, Porter has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists). Of his five goals, two are game-winners and one is a game-tying goal. He also holds the distinction of being NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Iron Man. To date, Porter has never missed a game in his collegiate career, playing in 160 consecutive games.

The Thunder Bay, ON native’s physical style combined with his great skating and cannon-like shot are attributes that have served him quite well at the collegiate level. While it isn’t likely that he’ll become a high-scoring forward, he could become a reliable, contributing support player. For Porter, being able to keep things simple will be one of the keys to being successful at the next level.

"Chris is not going to be effective when he starts playing a little too fancy and instead of just playing that power game,” said North Dakota assistant coach Dane Jackson. “In order for his game to be good, he has to play that power hockey style. He has to be powerful, simple and straight ahead."

Jack Skille, RW
Sophomore, University of Wisconsin
Drafted: 2005 (first round, seventh overall)

It has been a season of highs and lows thus far for sophomore Jack Skille. He helped lead Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2007 WJC in Sweden but not before battling a hyper-extended elbow that kept him out of the Badgers lineup for over a month. Through it all, Skille has brought a level of skill, excitement and toughness as only he can. Despite playing in just 13 games to date this season, Skille has been able to put together a relatively consistent offensive year. He currently ranks tied for fifth on the team with 11 points (six goals, five assists).

The Madison, WI native has made great strides in the developmental process of his game. He is the prototypical power forward who brings an excellent combination of size, strength, mobility and brilliant puck skills. One area where Skille has thrived this season has been in assuming the offensive leadership role. While he doesn’t lead the team in scoring due to time missed, Skille is averaging nearly a point per game right now. He has proven to be a reliable offensive threat that can deliver at the most critical times.
"Jack is a physical force,” said Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves.  “He’s a classic power forward with his speed, size, shot and reach. He is a go-to guy for us and plays at a level that draws his teammates up to that level. Jack and I have talked about his ability to read and see the ice and make decisions based upon what he sees and adjusting to those readings that he makes is an area where I think he can grow. Jack wants to be an elite player and he has all of the tools to become an elite player, but it’s his ability to continue to grow and develop that part of his game that will take him to that elite level."

Jonathan Toews, C
Sophomore, University of North Dakota
Drafted: 2006 (first round, third overall)

After getting off to slow start with his North Dakota team to start the season, Jonathan Toews emerged with a vengeance at the recent WJC in Sweden, helping Canada capture its second consecutive gold medal. The Winnipeg, MB native led the Canadians in scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists) in the tournament.

One of the noticeable contributing factors to Toews’ struggles early on were the demands that he placed upon himself in trying to live up to exceedingly high expectations to the point where it was impacting how he played his game.

"Jon is a conscientious, hard-working kid that we felt was putting a lot of pressure on himself with the high draft status and everything," said North Dakota’s Dane Jackson. "He wasn’t quite scoring as much as he wanted to and because he demands a lot of himself, he was placing that expectation on himself."

In addition to a gold medal, Toews also brought back a renewed sense of confidence and enthusiasm to Grand Forks. The result was a more relaxed Toews, who regained his offensive touch. Since his return from the WJC, Toews has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) and has led North Dakota to a near-perfect 5-0-1 record. Overall on the season, Toews has 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) and is third on the team in scoring.

Toews is the complete package and can perhaps best be described as a multi-dimensional player. While there are very few holes in Toews’ game, it is his continued maturation and development as both an individual and player along with mastering the finer points of the defensive side of the game that will make him a highly successful player at the next level in the not-so-distant future.

Brennan Turner, D
Sophomore, Yale University
Drafted: 2005 (fifth round, 134th overall)

The rugged, sophomore defensive defenseman can often be seen delivering bone-crushing checks to the opposition from Yale’s blue line. At 6’3/220, Turner is a player with size and considerable strength that is only going to increase as he physically matures. One area where he has been successful this year has been on the Elis’ penalty-killing unit. Turner is an outstanding shot-blocker and is always willing to sacrifice his body when necessary. He has played in 20 games thus far and has yet to register a point. Turner is third on the team with 49 penalty minutes.

The Winnipeg, MB native is a work in progress. While he possesses the physical make-up, toughness and solid defensive side, it is putting all of his tools together effectively that will be vital to his success at the next level. Two notable areas that will need to improve are his transitioning and effective play with the puck.

"Brennan needs to continue to work on making that good first pass coming out of the zone,” Yale associate head coach C.J. Marottolo told Hockey’s Future.  “We’re always working with him on his feet to try and get him as quick as he can be on his pivots because it’s crucial for him to be able to make a pivot, get the puck, and get it out of the defensive zone as quickly as he can. Brennan is also working hard on his transition game, going both ways, whether it’s from defense to offense or vice versa."

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