Not only are the Chicago Blackhawks the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, but they also have a rather deep prospect pool. Most successful teams pick late in the draft on a yearly basis, and the Blackhawks are no exception. However, savvy picks from General Manager Stan Bowman where he has them, combined with shrewd international signings and sneaky trades have allowed the Blackhawks to maintain an above average farm system.
I’ll start by ranking the players who are in my mind, the 10th through 6th best prospects in Chicago’s pipeline. Tomorrow, I’ll follow it up with my thoughts on who the top five are.
The five players on this list make up the top end of the Blackhawks’ group of depth prospects that, if they pan out, will grow to become the support players for the next generation of Blackhawks hockey in Chicago. As their recent championship teams have demonstrated, depth throughout the lineup is a crucial element for any team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
10. Phillip Danault, C
Selected 26th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Danault is a player who has already gotten his feet wet at the NHL level. He played two regular season games with the Hawks this season without recording a point.
At the AHL level, Danault put up 38 points in 70 games with Rockford of the AHL during this past season. That’s solid production for what was his 21/22-year-old season, and it’s a step up from the from the 26 points in 70 games he was good for the year before.
Danault projects solidly as a future checking line center. Whether he’s going to fit in better on a third or a fourth line remains to be seen. That is likely subject to whether or not Danault can take the next step with regards to his offensive ability. He’s six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, and that coupled with his above average instincts in all three zones are all signs that point to Danault having a career at the NHL level.
9. John Hayden, C
Hayden was selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and to this point he is looking to be a complete and utter steal. His first two seasons of post-draft development have been spent in the NCAA playing for Yale University.
In 2013-2014, he put up 16 points in 33 games as a freshman. Then as a sophomore, he took on a larger role and watched his production improve to the tune of 18 points in 29 games. He also took on a leadership role for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. He was named an alternate captain, and put up one goal in five games throughout the tournament.
Hayden’s upside as a player isn’t terribly high, but it’s easy to see him carving out a role for himself as a third line right winger or fourth line center down the line. His skating ability is not a weakness, and at six feet and three inches tall, he has the size to be somewhat of a bruiser with reasonable offensive ability.
8. Trevor van Riemsdyk, D
TVR would not be on this list if not for the severe injury that limited him to just 18 regular season games this year. In the early going, it certainly looked like he was going to be a mainstay on Chicago’s bottom pairing this season. The early returns definitely on this player look pretty good.
He’s already 24 years of age, so there isn’t much more room left for him to grow, but he’s already pretty much proven himself as a capable NHL defenseman. He’s practically a lock to be in the top six defensemen come opening night, and if he can stay healthy this time around I have a hard time imagining him losing a spot, especially given the lack of depth Chicago has on the back end. This is definitely supported by the fact that he was recently signed to a two-year contract that runs through 2017-2018.
7. Ryan Hartman, RW
Hartman is yet another player on this list who has NHL experience under his belt already, having made his NHL debut in February. The former first-round pick is another forward in Chicago’s system with a strong all-around skill set. That certainly seems to be a trend throughout the Blackhawks’ pipeline.
Hartman has garnered a reputation as an agitator at pretty much every level at which he has played. This past season, he had 120 PIM in the AHL. On the other hand, he also had a strong offensive campaign with 37 points in 69 games. His two seasons in the OHL saw him spend 120 and 91 minutes in the penalty box.
Hartman does play on the edge a lot, and it’s likely that he’ll need to curtail that element of his game to some degree when he makes the transition to being a full-time NHL player. Despite this, he’s yet another player whom it’s easy to see becoming a third line contributor, and maybe even a second-liner under the ideal circumstances.
6. Mark McNeill, C/RW
McNeill is the player in this part of the Blackhawks’ top prospects with the highest upside, though it does not seem to be as likely that he fulfills that potential as it did once upon a time. He was selected 18th overall in 2011, and hopes were high for his future.
He has yet to make his NHL debut, but the consensus seems to be that 2015-2016 will be the year in which that happens. He had a very successful 2014-2015 campaign in Rockford this season. His 23 goals and 44 points in 63 games both led the team.
When he was drafted, his top-end potential was seen as roughly being a Jonathan Toews lite. It doesn’t look like that will come to pass, but the potential remains for McNeill to develop into a second line center at the NHL level with time.