Chicago, IL — This is my favorite time of the off season. Yes even more than NHL free agency. This is the time when dreams and hopes are transcended into NHL realities and destinies are forged. All that sacrifice and dedication is on the brink of paying dividends for these young men and their families.
Never has it been more imperative for the Chicago Blackhawks to have a strong amateur pipeline as it is now in the cap era and to develop young players into NHLers who one day maybe have their names engraved on a Stanley Cup. There is plenty of work to be done though first.
There are some coming in undrafted and unsigned, some currently on the Hawks’ AHL affiliated Rockford IceHogs, some still in college and some coming from overseas. Wherever their origins, they all have one common goal, that their destination will ultimately be the same-the NHL.
Returning are 2011 prospects, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill, Adam Clendening, Garrett Ross, Alex Broadhurst, Kent Simpson & 2010 draft goalie Mac Carruth along with a prospect that needs no introduction 2012 first round pick Teuvo Teravainen.
All have made the jump to the professional level whether at the AHL level or abroad which would lead one to the logical conclusion that they are the next to make the jump to the big club if not this year than very soon but they are all young with some learning yet to do which is the point of these camps. Lets take a look at the Hawks near future.
Phillip Danault – Forward – There is no question about his leadership and work ethic it is way up the charts if not off the charts. He is also flexible in that he can play either wing or center. Danault’s defensive play and penalty kill abilities may very well be NHL ready right now where Danault needs work is in the offensive zone. This year the IceHogs coaching staff needs to put Danault in all situations to get him ready including power plays. Danault needs to learn to get to the net and shoot from any angle if passes are not available. I mean it works for someone wearing 88 and if it’s good enough for him. This year in Rockford will be crucial for Danault who could project to be either a 2nd or 3rd line center.
Mark McNeill – Forward – no question McNeill is physically ready for the NHL and projects to be a power forward that can crush you along the boards. Like Danault, McNeill can play both wing and center. Where McNeill needs work is in his on ice focus which will be important in making the Hawks as coach Quenneville is always looking for his club to skate with a purpose. When in the offensive zone McNeill just needs to open up ice for himself and teammates in the defensive zone put the body on someone and close gaps. McNeill could very well make the Hawks this year.
Adam Clendening – Defensman – Clendening is an offensive defenseman that is a great skater and puck mover and we all know how much the Hawks value those attributes. He also is very good at quarterbacking power plays. The weakness of Clendening is in the defensive zone he can sometimes get knocked off the puck which if he is to make the Hawks needs to be addressed. It will be interesting to see him battle it out with Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns for a spot on the Hawks blue line and which one will get the call first.
Teuvo Teravainen – forward – It has been well documented all of Teuvo’s talents and skills of which there are many. Teuvo has a maturity beyond his years and skills wise is NHL ready the only thing holding him back is getting used to the North American hockey game and his physical stamina. Most do however expect that Teuvo will be on the Hawks roster by the end of the regular season and I’m in that camp as well. Like Danault and McNeill he can play either wing or center. I still can’t even fathom a line with him, Kane and Saad on it but if Teuvo develops the way he is projected that is a definite possible reality.
Mac Carruth – goalie – Carruth physically reminds one of Corey Crawford. He is a big athletic goalie. Carruth also has some bite to his game and is not opposed to moving out forwards. He is feisty which should endear him to the IceHog faithful. I will be keeping an eye on him to see about his positioning and angles. Carruth could be a hidden diamond in the rough.
Who I’m going to keep eyes on as well in camp are first round forward picks from 2013 & 2014 Illinois native Ryan Hartman and Wisconsin native Nick Schmaltz. Stephen Johns, Vinny Hinostroza, Trevor Van Riemsdyk & Dillion Fournier.
Vinny Hinstroza like Teravainen will surely wow the crowd with his offensive playmaking skills. He is a hard worker and battles hard. Ryan Hartman came on last year in Rockford and seemed to click with Phillip Danault late in the season. Hartman has bite to his game ala Andrew Shaw.
Stephen Johns is a defensive defenseman ala Brent Seabrook, complete with the size and physical game. He like Seabrook also has a great outlet pass to his teammates and does not mind delivering big time hits to the opposition. He also has a wicked shot from the point. Since the Hawks lack size it will be interesting to see if Johns in fact makes the Hawks this year. His weakness is sometimes he gets out of defensive positioning in trying to deliver big hits so I will be focusing on this in camp.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk is an interesting case. Yes he is one of those Van Riemsdyks, brother to JVR he was picked up by the Hawks and signed. Van Riemsdyk only played in 26 games with the Univ of NH due to an ankle injury but tallied 23 points and was a +13. This kid could be a steal for the Hawks. His skating like JVR’s is very good.
How Swede it is
We wouldn’t be at a Blackhawks camp if we did not have a great skating compliment of Swedes and this year is no different. I’m keeping a look out for Dennis Rasmussen, Carl Dahlstom, Robin Norell, Fredrik Olofsson.
I mainly though will be looking at Dennis Rasmussen who the Hawks signed as a free agent from the Sweden pro team Växjö of the Swedish Hockey League. He is 24 years old and should be NHL ready. He just needs to get used to the North American style hockey game. He is a big center at 6’3” and has good skating skills.
Youth is the hope of us seeing a better humanity reflected. The Blackhawks are hoping that they have talents waiting to explode and hidden gems waiting to be polished by the right instruction. The Blackhawks are looking to these youths as their future. These prospects are looking to make their futures now.