Summer is in full swing. Backyard barbecues are sizzling. Recreational lakes across North America are full of warm-weather visitors and weekend warriors. Daylight is plentiful. Cold beverages rarely taste better than in the heat of July. As summer reaches its peak, many wish time would stand still.
But for some, a little slice of perfection is not achievable without the best game on Earth. And make no mistake, July and August will put the most dedicated fans in the hockey doldrums. The draft, free agency and peak roster reconstruction times have come and gone. Most of the hockey world has slipped into hibernation and will re-emerge in early September as NHL training camps kick into gear.
Alas, there is a glimmer of hope for those who need their hockey fix. For Chicago Blackhawks fans, this week is likely the brightest your hockey light will burn until training camp. The organization’s prospect camp is about to get underway and will conclude with a scrimmage on Friday. The fans, coaching staff, front office and media will all get a week to watch the Blackhawks’ future take the ice.
The Blackhawks published the complete roster and schedule for prospect camp last week. Notably, 29 of Chicago’s 34 draft selections over the past four years will be in attendance. Those missing include three Russians (Andrei Altybarmakyan, Artur Kayumov and Ivan Nalimov), Nick Schmaltz (already a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ roster) and Jake Ryczek, the club’s 2016 7th round pick.
Other than those absentees, this event should paint a complete picture of what type of talent general manager Stan Bowman and his scouting staff have added to the organization over the last four drafts.
Three of Chicago’s 2013 draft picks, one 2012 draft pick and a number of other prospects acquired through trades or free agency signings will also be participating in the camp. Let’s take a look at some of the notable participants.
DeBrincat was the Blackhawks’ first selection in the 2016 draft, which came in the 2nd round at #39 overall. The hype machine surrounding this youngster is already in full gear. With one glance at his offensive statistics during his three years with the OHL’s Erie Otters, you’ll understand why.
He averaged 111 points-per-season and 1.7 points-per-game during the regular season. In each of his three seasons, he tallied no less than 50 goals and 50 assists. His 2016-17 campaign was the most impressive to date. He recorded 65 goals and 62 assists. He also recorded 13 goals and 25 assists in 22 playoff games. Over his three-year playoff career with Erie, he earned 73 points in 55 games.
DeBrincat also comes from a culture of winning. The Otters won the J. Ross Robertson Cup as the 2016-17 OHL champions. During his tenure, the team won the Midwest Division all three seasons and were the 2014-15 Western Conference champions.
So where does he go from here? For starters, let’s see how he assimilates at prospect camp this week. I expect he’ll also be part of training camp in September and have a shot at earning one of the 23 spots on Chicago’s NHL roster.
But come October, I’d expect to see DeBrincat with the Rockford IceHogs. The AHL would be a great transition from the OHL and give him time to develop as a professional. The only way I see him making the Blackhawks’ opening night roster is if his training camp performance is too much for head coach Joel Quenneville and his staff to overlook. At 19 years of age, there is no need to rush DeBrincat to the NHL unless he is ready and the Blackhawks do not have a better option.
The prospect not named Alex DeBrincat that I’m most intrigued about this week is Graham Knott. Like DeBrincat, Knott is entering the first of a three-year, entry-level contract with the Blackhawks. Knott is also an OHL product, where he spent more than three years with the Niagara IceDogs before finishing the majority of the 2016-17 season with the Windsor Spitfires. His Spitfires defeated DeBrincat’s Otters to win the 2017 Memorial Cup.
— Second City Hockey (@2ndCityHockey) May 29, 2017
Knott’s statistics don’t jump off the page like DeBrincat’s do, but they’re solid. Over the course of four OHL regular seasons, he averaged 15 goals and 25 assists. He also tallied 14 playoff points over 42 contests.
As Chicago’s top pick in the 2015 Draft (2nd round, #54 overall), Knott is almost assured to start the season with Rockford.
Perhaps due to a bit of a bias, I’m very intrigued to see how the Blackhawks’ 2017 1st round selection performs this week. Although he’ll be one of the youngest prospects at the camp, Jokiharju will also boast the highest draft position among all of those in attendance. Translation: there are future expectations for this young, talented defenseman.
Jokiharju will likely be back for his second year with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks to start the 2017-18 season. Last season he tallied nine goals and 39 assists in 71 regular season games and another three assists in 11 playoff games.
While development isn’t always linear, it’d be nice to see Jokiharju join the professional ranks by the start of the 2018-19 season, likely with Rockford. The young Fin has every opportunity to develop quickly into an NHL defenseman, and the Blackhawks roster desperately needs development at the position.
Outside of the three prospects mentioned above, there are a host of names worth watching. Each media outlet will probably profile different prospects. For me, the next name I turn to is Nathan Noel. Noel was the Blackhawks’ 4th round pick (#113 overall) in the 2016 Draft and recently signed an entry-level deal with Chicago.
At 5’11” and 179 pounds, Noel is not undersized in the same manner as DeBrincat (5’7″ and 165 pounds), but he is not a large body either. Noel does have some skating ability and offensive prowess, which could make him a fun prospect to watch develop.
He’s played the last four seasons with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. During his time with the Sea Dogs, he averaged 21 goals and 31 assists in the regular season, though he missed part of last season due to an upper-body injury. His overall regular season scoring was good for 0.86 point-per-game. Noel also tallied 29 points in 39 playoff contests.
Noel projects to start the 2017-18 season with the IceHogs, as part of the talent influx that Rockford should enjoy this season.
Outside of the excitement surrounding Jokiharju, one defenseman that bears watching this week is Luc Snuggerud. Snuggerud was selected by the Blackhawks in the 5th round of the 2014 Draft (#141 overall). He has quietly improved his game over the last three years, all of which have been spent at the collegiate level with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. His time in Omaha also included a Frozen Four appearance (2014-15).
Snuggerud’s 2016-17 offensive output was by far the best of his career to-date. He tallied 11 goals and 20 assists in 39 games with Omaha. He finished the year with Rockford, recording one goal and five assists in 13 games.
I don’t expect Snuggerud will have a good chance of making a 2017-18 roster spot with the Blackhawks. The two defensive roster spots still up for grabs will likely go to some combination of Jan Rutta, Gustav Forsling, Jordan Oesterle and Viktor Svedberg. But, Snuggerud will have an opportunity to make a real impression with the IceHogs this season and play his way into becoming one of the organization’s top defensive prospects.