Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Chicago Blackhawks Prospects
The Chicago Blackhawks were once again one of the NHL’s best teams, at least in the regular season. With 50 wins and 109 points, they finished in first place in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, things did not go well come playoff time. The team was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.
The loss saw general manager Stan Bowman promising an off-season of change. That is exactly what happened. The team revealed that Marian Hossa had been playing despite a painful skin disorder. He is out for next season.
The trades started with Scott Darling being shipped to the Carolina Hurricanes. Just prior to the draft the team traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Minutes later, they traded Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg. They also sent Marcus Kruger to the Vegas Golden Knights, after the Knights took Trevor van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft. The Knights traded both players to Carolina.
The Hawks also dipped into the free agent pool, signing Patrick Sharp. They also picked up Jan Rutta, Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma, Erik Gustafsson, and Jean-Francois Berube. Meanwhile, Brian Campbell retired; Dennis Rasmussen went to the Anaheim Ducks; Michael Latta went to Arizona; and Johnny Oduya signed with the Ottawa Senators.
2017 NHL Draft Picks: Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, Andrei Altybarmakyan, Evan Barratt, Tim Soderlund, Roope Laavainen, Parker Foo, Jakub Galvas, Joshua Ess
Graduates: Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Michal Kempny
Top Prospect: Alex DeBrincat
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born December 18th, 1997 — Farmington Hills, Michigan
Height 5’7″ — Weight 170 lbs [170 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd round, #39 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
DeBrincat had another magnificent season with the Erie Otters. He scored 65 goals and 127 points in just 63 games. He also had 13 goals and 38 points in 22 playoff games, leading the team to the OHL Championships. While the Erie Otters fell short in the Memorial Cup final he had two goals and ten points in five games. The individual hardware came pouring in: OHL Top Goal Scorer, OHL Points Leader, OHL Best Right Wing, OHL MVP, OHL Most Playoff Points, and Memorial Cup All-Star.
DeBrincat is a very good skater. He has the speed and acceleration to overcome his lack of size. DeBrincat has a quick first step, allowing him to be first on many loose pucks. He is very agile and good on his edges, allowing him the ability to maneuver in traffic, both with and without the puck. DeBrincat has a low centre of gravity and uses excellent leverage to be strong on the puck, as well as win board battles. He could stand to add muscle to his frame though, and this would further improve these areas.
DeBrincat is a pure sniper with an excellent wrist shot and release. He can score goals in a number of different ways. DeBrincat also has the speed and stick handling ability to beat defenders one-on-one and create offence off the rush. He goes to the net and can finish with a quick deke in close. He hangs out in the slot, battling for position and is ready to provide traffic and distraction in front of goaltenders, and to tip in pucks, or pounce on loose rebounds. DeBrincat has good hockey IQ and makes smart plays both with and without the puck.
He is also a good play maker with good vision and passing skills. DeBrincat has the poise and patience to hold on the puck waiting for a linemate to get open. When they do, he can put a tape-to-tape pass through a tight area. He is also a pest out on the ice, not afraid to throw hits, go to the net, fight in the corners, or get in the middle of scrums despite his lack of size. DeBrincat has a non-stop motor, always working to create opportunities.
DeBrincat brings his high energy and relentless work ethic to the defensive end of the ice as well. He works down low in support of the defence, and shows the same tenacious work along the boards that makes him dangerous in the defensive zone. DeBrincat’s size can be of concern though, as he can sometimes be overwhelmed in trying to defend down low against the cycle game, and the bigger and stronger forwards he encounters.
DeBrincat has nothing more to learn in the OHL. He graduates to the pro ranks this year. The only question is whether or not he is physically ready for the NHL. There are spots open in the Hawks forward group, and DeBrincat can take one with a strong camp. Even if he is sent to the AHL, expect him to get some games as an injury call-up.
#2 Prospect: Gustav Forsling
Defense — shoots Left
Born June 12th, 1996 — Linkoping, Sweden
Height 6’0 — Weight 186 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the 5th round, #126 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in January 2015
Forsling had his first season in North America last year. He played 38 games for the Blackhawks picking up two goals and five points. He also picked up a goal and eight points in 30 AHL games.
Forsling is an undersized defenceman, with great skating in both directions. He has very good speed and acceleration. Forsling has great agility, and his edge work and pivots are crisp. He can cover a lot of ice, which helps him to join the rush and get back defensively as well. He also uses his agility to walk to the line in the offensive zone, and open up passing and shooting lanes. Forsling has good balance and is strong on the puck given his size.
While he struggled to put up points last season, Forsling has some offensive talent. It may come to the surface as he has more experience on North American ice. Forsling has strong passing skills, both in starting the rush and in quarterbacking the power play. He has good stick handling skills and loves to join the rush or lead it.
Forsling retrieves pucks quickly, and can use his strong puck skills to avoid the fore check and get the transition game going. He has strong hockey IQ, making smart plays with the puck as well as finding openings in the defence to get into shooting position when he does not have it. Forsling has an outstanding point shot, and his one-timer is an absolute rocket. He gets it on net and avoids traffic.
Forsling shows strong positioning and good instincts. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes and anticipates plays well. Once he causes a turnover, he can transition the puck up the ice quickly. Forsling must bulk up as he sometimes has issues containing bigger forwards.
Forsling played a part-time role with the Blackhawks last season. Expect him to make the NHL full-time this season, contributing as a 6th or 7th defenceman. He could move up the line-up as he gains experience.
#3 Prospect: Henri Jokiharju
The Blackhawks drafted Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Jokiharju. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect: John Hayden
Left Wing — shoots Right
Born February 14th, 1995 — Chicago, Illinois
Height 6’3″ — Weight 223 lbs [191 cm / 101 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 3rd round, #74 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Hayden finished up his college career with 21 goals and 34 points in 33 games with the Yale Bulldogs. When the season ended he signed his entry level contract with the Blackhawks. Hayden scored one goal and four points in 12 games.
Hayden’s skating is a work in progress. His stride is short and choppy, and he just doesn’t dig into the ice enough, causing him to have poor quickness and acceleration. This improved during his college career, but still needs some work. His top end speed is good, but it takes him far too long to get up to full speed in comparison to his peers. Hayden’s agility and edge work are ok, but nothing special. His big advantage is his lower body strength and balance. He is very hard to knock down or knock off the puck. Hayden wins battles in the corners and in front of the net.
Hayden is a power forward prospect. At 6’3″ tall and weighing 223 pounds, he has the perfect frame to play a robust and physical style of play. Hayden is very strong on the puck and is a load to handle in the cycle game. He wins battles in corners, protects the puck extremely well, drives to the net if an opening presents itself, or makes a decent pass to an open teammate.
Hayden knows that he needs to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score and you can often find him in front of the net. He plays a very straight line, power based game, so don’t expect many slick moves. He is a torpedo on the forecheck as his preferred method of zone entry is to chip it by his defenceman and skate in and hammer the opposing defenceman in the corner. His wrist shot is decent, and the release is good, but not elite.
Hayden is defensively responsible, and is not afraid to get his nose dirty in his own end. He continues his physical game and gets involved in containing the cycle and battling on the boards down low when necessary. He is a willing shot blocker as well, and maintains good coverage of the point. His hockey IQ is very good and he anticipates and reads the play very well.
Hayden has the opportunity to win a full-time role in Chicago. He may only be a bottom-six player, as his offensive potential seems limited. He brings a big and physical game, that the Blackhawks could use more of in their forward group. His ability to grind opponents down will be an asset to the club.
#5 Prospect: Luc Snuggerud
Defense — shoots Left
Born September 18th, 1995 — Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Height 6’0″ — Weight 187 lbs [183 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 5th round, #141 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
As a junior at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Snuggerud put up 11 goals and 31 points in 39 games. Following the season, he signed an entry-level-contract with Chicago and joined the Rockford Ice Hogs, putting up a goal and five points in 13 AHL games.
Snuggerud has good skating ability in both directions. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions. This helps Snuggerud to play a two-way game. He has good pivots, and edge work allowing Snuggerud to cover large swaths of ice and transition quickly from offence-to-defence and vice-versa. He could add lower body strength in order to increase balance and be more effective in the corners and in front of the net.
Snuggerud has excellent vision and play making skills. He starts the transition game by skating the puck out of danger and finding the open man with a pass. He can even make the long breakaway pass. Snuggerud is poised at the blue line, walking the line to open up passing and shooting lanes and setting up teammates. He has a good, but not great shot. Snuggerud picks his spots and can join the rush as a trailer, unleashing a good wrist shot with a quick release.
Snuggerud works hard in the defensive end. He maintains good gap control and funnels attackers to the outside. He also has a good stick and cuts down passing lanes. However, his lack of strength is a liability and he can be manhandled by big, physical forwards. He must get stronger.
Snuggerud likely heads back to Rockford this season. He could be called up if injuries hit the Hawks blue line. He needs a bit more AHL time to be ready to play in the NHL. Snuggerud could be a full-time NHLer in 2018-19
#6 Prospect: Dylan Sikura
Centre — shoots Left
Born June 1st, 1995 — Aurora, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 166 lbs [183 cm / 75 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 6th round, #178 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
In his third season with Northeastern, Sikura broke out offensively. He scored 21 goals and 57 points in 38 games. He was named to the Hockey East second all-star team, and the New England NCAA D1 first all-star team.
Sikura is a good skater. He has a quick first step along with good acceleration, and speed. He has a smooth stride. Good agility and quick cuts make him hard to cover in the offensive zone. He could stand to improve his lower bod strength and balance though.
Sikura has excellent vision and passing skills. He thinks the game very well, anticipating where teammates and opponents are going to be. He is able to thread the needle on passes making plays to set up up scoring chances. Sikura gets to open ice after giving up the puck. He is deadly on the give and go, with an excellent wrist shot and one-timer. His release is quick and deceptive. Sikura also has very good stick handling skill.
Sikura’s lack of size and strength is an issue in the defensive zone. He has trouble helping to contain the cycle game. He is often pushed around by bigger and stronger forwards. Putting more muscle on his frame should be a priority.
Sikura heads back to Northeastern University for his senior season. If he puts up big numbers again, the Blackhawks will be eager to sign him as soon as his season ends. He could get some AHL or even NHL time at the end of the 2017-18 season. His future may be at left wing and not centre.
#7 Prospect: Chad Krys
Defense — shoots Left
Born April 10th, 1998 — Ridgefield, Connecticut
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd round, #45 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Krys struggled for ice time in his freshman season at Boston University. He scored just five goals and 11 points in 39 games for the Terriers.
Krys is an excellent skater. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions, powered by a fluid stride. Krys has good agility, edge work and pivots, allowing him to cover large swaths of the ice, and transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. He shows decent balance for his size, but could continue to improve this by adding more lower body strength.
Krys adds good puck handling ability to his strong skating skills. This ability allows him to avoid fore checkers, and skate the puck out of danger. He can also lead the rush, creating offensive chances with a good vision, passing skills, and an accurate wrist shot. Krys has very good agility, allowing him to walk the line and create passing and shooting lanes on the power play. He shows good instinct, knowing when to join the rush and when to hang back. He also makes good decisions when pinching to keep things in at the blue line.
Krys quarterbacks the offence from the point, making smart plays with the puck and anticipating openings before making a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. He has a hard shot, but he could stand to get it off a little quicker, and use his one-timer more often. This would prevent the defense from being able to block the shot. He has the poise to control the puck and wait for opportunities to present themselves.
Defensively Krys has good instincts, and solid positional play, but must get stronger and play more physical in his own end. He does have a quick stick which he can use to poke check opponents or to cut down passing lanes. Krys needs to put on a bit more weight in order to be able to win battles in the corners and help to clear the front of the net. The lack of size can also be an issue when trying to contain bigger forwards in the cycle game.
Krys heads back to Boston University. He is expected to take a bigger role in his sophomore season. Expect to see his point totals increase. He’s at least a couple of years away from NHL action. He needs to get stronger in order to earn trust in his defensive play.
#8 Prospect: Ian Mitchell
The Blackhawks drafted Mitchell with the 57th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Mitchell. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Lucas Carlsson
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jul 5 1997 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 187 lbs [183 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round, #110 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Lucas Carlsson put up 11 points in 41 games playing for Brynas in the SHL. He also scored four assists in 20 playoff games as Brynas went all the way to the SHL Final, before losing. It was an impressive season for a 19-year old playing in Sweden’s top men’s league. He also played for Sweden at the World Juniors, scoring one goal and two assists in seven games.
Carlsson is a very good skater. He has a long stride that generates very good speed. He also has excellent acceleration, reaching that speed quickly. Carlsson has good edge work and pivots. He plays a 200-foot-game and this helps him transition from defence to offence and vice-versa. He could stand to add some muscle to his frame.
Carlsson is willing to both lead and join the rush. He has good stick handling ability, and can avoid forecheckers to get the puck out of his end, or beat defenders in the neutral zone. He has good vision and passing skill. Carlsson has the poise to set up plays from the blue line. His shot has decent power, but is not a bomb. He understands that if he keeps it low and on net, it creates opportunities for opponents to get tips, rebounds and deflections.
Carlsson is tough to beat one-on-one. He maintains good gap control, and funnels defenders to the outside. He also cuts down passing lanes, anticipating plays and intercepting passes. While Carlsson is not a big hitter, he is not afraid to get involved in board battles and in clearing the front of the net. He needs to get stronger to win more of those battles though.
Carlsson will play another season in Sweden. Look for the Hawks to attempt to bring him to North America next summer. At this point it looks like he will need some AHL time, but a big season in the SHL could change that assessment.
Years of drafting late have hurt the Blackhawks prospect depth. The team is best set on defence, where the six prospects profiled are joined by Ville Pokka. Pokka is another undersized offensive defenceman. He needs to make the team soon, or will be passed on the depth chart. Dennis Gilbert is a sophomore at Notre Dame who has a bit more size and physical game, while still providing some offence.
Up front the Blackhawks are hoping to find a bottom line grinder in Graham Knott, or Alexander Fortin. US NTDP forward Evan Barrett adds skill and a two-way game. Andrei Altybarmakyan shows good skill. He has an excellent shot and nose for the net. Laurent Dauphin is another hard working forward. He is close to making a bottom line impact.
Anton Forsberg was acquired to fight for the Blackhawks back up goalie job. The Hawks system was really lacking a good goalie prospect before he was acquired. They also added Colin Delia as a free agent pick-up.
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