Blackhawks 2006-07 rookie review

By John Jaeckel

The Chicago Blackhawks had a league-high 16 rookies play for the team in 2006-07. Below each are reviewed, in rough order of performance.

James Wisniewski, D

Once considered a fringe NHL prospect or career AHL player, “Wiz” proved he belonged and more this past season. Like many prospects need to do, Wisniewski put in hard, dedicated work on his skating, aided by Hawk skating coach Dan Jansen. And it paid off. Paired with Duncan Keith, the Canton, Michigan product showed not only a nice offensive game, but also a
willingness to battle, both in the corners and with the gloves off, that quickly endeared him to United Center crowds (such as they were).  By mid-season, Keith and Wisniewski were arguably the Hawks most reliable pairing, often chewing up 20+ minutes in ice time and seeming to get better and more confident with each passing game.  Playing regular shifts and both special teams, Wisniewski ended up with two goals and eight assists in 50 games and was a solid plus-3 on a mediocre team. Unfortunately, Wisniewski’s season ended early due to an ACL tear. The surgery was deemed successful, and by season’s end he seemed to be getting around reasonably well. It should be noted that Wisniewski tore an ACL earlier in his career and came back well from it.

Bryan Bickell, LW

During a three-game call-up late in the season, Bickell impressed with his skating, hitting and a hard shot that earned him two goals. He averaged 11:49 in ice time. Bickell had been somewhat of an inconsistent performer at Norfolk earlier in the season. To some observers, it seemed like the NHL call-up ignited a spark within the former second-round draft pick, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to project the 21-year-old Bickell as a contender for third or fourth line minutes with the Hawks next season.

David Koci, D

Koci’s role is simple: hit people, and when necessary, drop the gloves. And during a brief call-up with the Hawks, he did just that, earning 88 PIM in nine games between March 8 and March 31, averaging a predictable 4:44 ice time. Koci is not in the Georges Laraque/Bob Probert league, but he is clearly a heavyweight who can brawl. The now 28-year-old might be lucky if he scores one goal in a full NHL season, but he might have just enough “game” to go with his estimable fighting skills to play at least a part-time role with the Hawks, as necessary, next season.

Cam Barker, D

Some Hawk fans seemed disappointed in the performance of this former third overall pick (one goal, seven assists,  -12 in 35 games). But given the relatively quick development of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith in 2005-06, expectations may have been too high. Typically, defensemen take years to develop and Barker appears to be one more example. Barker would show a deft hand on the left point on the power play, until muffing a pass and allowing a short-handed breakaway. He’d throw large opponents around like rag dolls in one game and appear timid in the next. Though he can penetrate the zone and set up the power play as well anyone, his straight line skating and acceleration still need work. Barker did suffer a broken ankle early in the year which definitely slowed him down once he did return. Still, he averaged nearly 20 minutes ice time and only just turned 21. And Barker has what NFL scouts like to call a “projectable” frame, capable of carrying perhaps another 10 pounds of muscle.  The 21-year-old should still fulfill the role of a top pairing rearguard — someday.

Danny Richmond, D

It could be said Richmond defied expectations this season. In a couple of brief appearances with the Hawks in 2005-06, he appeared to be almost a purely offensive defenseman, showing great skating and passing ability. This past season, averaging 12:19 ice time in 22 games, the Chicago native compiled 48 PIM, often dropping the gloves versus much larger opponents, but getting fairly predictable results. Until Koci’s late season call-up, the Hawks lacked anything close to an enforcer. And while Richmond’s willingness to throw ‘em has to be lauded, one has to wonder if that’s the right way for him to play at 6’, 192 lbs. Still, on a youthful and mistake-prone defense, 22-year-old Richmond was a respectable minus-1, showing good positioning and responsibility in his own end.

Dustin Byfuglien, D

Byfuglien was a study in contrasts this season. An eighth-round pick in 2003, he has tantalized with occasional glimpses of immense talent, and punishing open-ice hits. During a recent interview, Norfolk head coach Mike Haviland described Byfuglien as the most skilled player at Norfolk this year, over players like Dave Bolland, Brandon Bochenski and even Cam Barker. What’s always held Byfuglien back has been his weight (which has been as high as 270) and a tendency to make positioning mistakes, often while “freelancing” outside the system. He came into camp this past year at 246 pounds and looked like a different player. Still very big and strong on his skates at 6’3, Byfuglien looked like a lock to make the Hawks and stick. But he didn’t. He played well at Norfolk, earning a few NHL call-ups, where he often appeared disoriented and out of position.

Finally, during an early April call-up, Byfuglien seemed to put it all together: playing smart, making nice, crisp outlet passes, showing his nifty power-play skills. The highlight for “Bubba” was a gorgeous goal against Nashville, where the 22-year-old used his size to hold one defender off, while using another defender to screen the goalie, finally wristing a laser over the befuddled goalie’s glove shoulder. He averaged 17:18 ice time in nine games with the parent club. Byfughlien was sent back to Norfolk on April 6. Look for him to be part of the Hawks third defense pairing next season.

Martin St. Pierre, C

St. Pierre had a great season at Norfolk. Centering Brouwer and Bochenski, he racked up 27 goals and 72 assists to finish third in league scoring. During his brief Hawk call-ups, like fellow Admirals Brouwer, Byfuglien and Pierre Parenteau, he struggled to even come close to his AHL production. Still he did seem to adapt, finally earning the opportunity to briefly center the Hawks top line with Martin Havlat on his wing, and getting a goal and three assists in 14 games, averaging 12:29 ice time over a series of brief call-ups. Small, but physical, St. Pierre is a terrific passer. And the Hawks seem to believe he has an NHL future. What will be interesting to see is where the 23-year-old fits in with other upcoming centers like Jonathan Toews, Bolland, Nathan Davis and Evan Brophey.

Troy Brouwer, RW

Through a series of mid-season call-ups, 21-year-old Brouwer appeared in 10 games, with no points and was -7. Brouwer played less than 10 minutes a game and mostly on the third and fourth lines, although that is not the role the Hawks project for him. And Brouwer might still be the great revelation of this past season. Sure, he had a phenomenal 2005-06 as an overage junior at Moose Jaw, leading the WHL in scoring.  But did anyone expect him to nearly equal those numbers in his first full year of professional hockey? Brouwer scored 41 goals and 38 assists at Norfolk. And the skills that got him those goals— a tremendous shot and a willingness to do the dirty work around the net— should translate to the NHL level. In fact, during his call-ups, Brouwer did flash the great shot and an edge to his game. And the 6’3 215-pounder can handle himself in a scrap as well. Brouwer knows he needs to work on his skating to fill an NHL top-six role. With the work ethic that’s carried him from an obscure seventh-round pick to second place in AHL rookie of the year voting, there’s no reason to believe Brouwer won’t continue to progress.

Michael Blunden, LW

The former second-round pick out of the OHL didn’t score in nine games during a November call-up with the Hawks, but showed great energy, averaging 11:23 on the third and fourth lines and delivered a lot of big hits. A big man and a good skater who is always around the action, Blunden suffered a season-ending shoulder injury about halfway through the year. While the 20-year-old  appears to have an NHL future, a history of fairly serious injuries going back to his junior career has to be a concern.

Adam Burish, C

The former Wisconsin Badger is purely an energy player. A good penalty killer and a bit of an agitator who always plays with an edge, he is really not an offensive threat. In nine games with the Hawks, mostly early in the season, Burish collected no points, averaging 11:08 in ice time. The 24-year-old did show a great deal of utility on the penalty kill. Burish’s exceptional effort and heart might earn him an NHL future as a fourth line center and penalty killer.

Pierre Parenteau, LW

Quebec native Parenteau was acquired in a trade with Anaheim along with defenseman Bruno St. Jacques for right wing Matt Keith and goaltender Sebastien Caron. Parenteau is an above-average offensive player at the AHL level. He has decent size and skating ability and he played with a lot of energy during his five games with the Hawks, averaging 11:05 ice time and earning one assist. It remains to be seen if the 24-year-old Parenteau has enough overall skill to earn a regular role at
the NHL level.

Dave Bolland, C

Often compared to a young Doug Gilmour, Bolland had an up and down year.  He only played one regular season game with the Hawks with just over 11 minutes ice time. The soon to be 21-year-old battled a nagging shoulder injury early in the season at Norfolk, finally coming on strong, averaging nearly a point a game down the stretch for the Admirals.

Jonas Nordqvist, C

During a brief late-season call-up, Nordqvist showed some nice chemistry with Bickell, picking up a couple of assists. The 25-year-old averaged 13:54 ice time over three games. The knock on Nordqvist, who is a nifty passer with nice vision in the offensive zone, has always been a lack of speed.

Colin Fraser, C

Fraser was played 3:18 in one January game with the Hawks. Always a character player, the 22-year-old is probably limited to an AHL career if he stays with the Chicago organization, due to the depth chart ahead of him.

Tony Salmelainen, LW

GM Dale Tallon has made some good and even great trades in his tenure. But sending Jaroslav Spacek to Edmonton for Salmelainen in 2005-06 was not one of them. Salmelainen led the top Finnish league in scoring that season, but failed to come remotely close to that kind of production in the NHL. He is blazing fast, but doesn’t finish well and gets knocked off the puck very easily. Often a healthy scratch, Salmelainen ended up with 17 points in 57 games, even though he was often given first and second line minutes, playing with fellow Finn Tuomo Ruutu. In spite of the lofty early expectations, the 25-year-old played the most games of rookies, but played less than 10 minutes a game.

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