Watching the Chicago Blackhawks lose to the Phoenix Coyotes in last year's playoffs was a hard pill to swallow. Raffi Torres’ unforgiving (and not forgiven) hit on Marion Hossa and Mike Smith’s thesbian antics aside, the Blackhawks were simply overmatched by the defensive-minded Coyotes. The Blackhawks top skill players failed to provide the scoring that their reputations, along with pay-grade, would lead you to expect. But fear not, the future is still very bright for a team that is still one of the last three Stanley Cup Champions.
This past June was Stan Bowman’s third draft as the General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks as he continues to try to build around the core that Dale Tallon assembled. The Blackhawks haven’t shown a willingness to part with their top prospects in the search of a big trade, which has led to the Blackhawks having one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. With the team’s first pick in this June’s draft, Bowman selected Teuvo Teräväinen from the Swedish Elite League. Teräväinen is the kind of prospect that can get a fanbase excited in a hurry. With that in mind, here are the Blackhawks top five prospects right now and a short piece on what each can bring to the Blackhawks in the coming years.
1. Teuvo Teräväinen, Forward
Teräväinen fell to the Blackhawks at No. 18 in the draft due to teams being worried about his size. He is very comparable in size to Patrick Kane, and although he doesn’t possess the kind of all-world speed that Kane does, Teräväinen is very fast and the most elusive player in his draft class. He is an extremely skilled, left-handed shot and can play all three forward positions. Teräväinen has excellent hands with a tremendous sense for offense and can find the back of the net in an instant. He also has deceptive grit to his game and can take a hit or play “dump and chase” when he needs to. He projects as a top-six forward with the team eventually, but he may end up staying another year in Sweden to get a little bit bigger while a roster spot opens up for him stateside.
2. Brandon Saad, Forward
Brandon Saad also slid in the draft. The Hawks selected him in the second round with the 43rd overall selection. Saad was seen as a potential top five pick coming into his draft, but the combination of injuries and a lack of offensive production made his stock plummet. Saad made the team out of training camp last year and although he didn’t stick around long, he certainly made an impression on the Blackhawk’s coaching staff. Size, speed and grit are the main facets of Saad’s game, but he has surprising hands for a big guy. He plays with a nasty edge that you can’t teach. With players like Milan Lucic and Dustin Brown hoisting the Cup in consecutive years, the Blackhawks will surely welcome the addition of Saad to the club this year. Immediately he could be placed in a top line with any of the stars to provide some protection, but I see his best early success as one of the better fourth line players in the league.
3. Adam Clendening, Defense
Clendening is a puck-moving defenceman which is gold in hockey. Players like Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell who can move the puck effectively and efficiently from the blue-line are imperative to building a winning team. After completing his sophomore season at Boston University, Clendening left the Terriers to sign with the Blackhawks. He will almost surely play next year in the AHL with the Rockford Icehogs. Although being an immensely talented offensive defenceman, he simply makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the ice to break even. He possesses incredible speed and is a very natural passer with a good shot from the point. Clendening needs to learn to be smarter on the defensive side of the ice.
4. Jeremy Morin, Forward
Jeremy Morin is the elder statesman of the Blackhawks top prospects. He was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft and is 21. He can play either wing and is extremely skilled with a very good shot. He projects as a sniper in the NHL with some surprising grit to his game that can keep him on the ice even when his offense falters. Morin has a good chance to make the team out of training camp this year. The goals will not come as easy as they did in juniors or even the AHL, but Morin could have a nice career as a 25 goal scorer and power-play specialist that won’t hurt you much on defense.
5. Mark McNeill, Forward
The Blackhawks selected McNeill with the 18th pick in the 2011 draft and allowed him to stay in juniors another year with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. McNeill is a big center that plays a two-way game. Sometimes McNeill can get lost on defense while trying to make a flashy play. but nonetheless he's quite a talent. McNeill has signed his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks and will begin the season in the AHL. If he can correct some of his defensive lapses in judgment, there is no reason McNeill can’t step into a contributing role immediately with the Blackhawks. The Hawks were searching for centers last year and McNeill could be the future of their checking line at the center position. These five prospects will all be in Blackhawks uniforms in the next two to three years and the patience of the organization will be rewarded in the way of productive NHL contributors.
Honorable Mentions: Dylan Olsen, Kevin Hayes, Phillip Danault, Klas Dahlback, Kyle Beach.