Before we sobered up from the Blackhawks Stanley Cup Rally, and before Justin Bieber finished dancing on the sacred Indian Head logo in the Blackhawks locker room (in our minds), prospect camp came and went.
Here’s a glimpse at the Blackhawks promising future. It’ll be like you’re looking into a crystal ball, I promise.
Stephen Johns was by far, hands down the best defenseman at camp this week. He’s a true blueliner that can throw his weight around (he’s listed at 6’4” 220lbs), but also has the potential to contribute offensively. Think Brent Seabrook: a hard-hitting defensive defenseman with the ability to carry the puck and pinch when he sees fit.
The Blackhawks may not be able to hang on to one of their top defensive prospects, however. Johns is going to return to Notre Dame for his senior year, and is rumored to want to test out free agency rather than sign with the Hawks. It’s no surprise the Pennsylvania native wants to bypass the deep Chicago farm system in hopes of making his NHL debut sooner with a another defensively weak NHL team (two come to mind in Pennsylvania). This is all my speculation, of course, but Johns is the real deal, and it would be a shame if the Hawks lost him.
Mark McNeill, who was drafted in the first round (18th overall) by the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, had a very impressive camp as well. Despite being a natural center, McNeill spent a lot of time on wing during camp. Listed at 6’1” and 214lbs, McNeill isn’t easily shaken off the puck, and when he has possession, scoring opportunities come in abundance. His experience at the center position and offensive prowess may just get him a ticket to Blackhawks training camp, where he could very well be fighting for a roster spot. If not, he will only be a phone call away in Rockford.
Luke Curadi, a 6’5” 247lb free agent invitee and Cheshire, CT native, made his presence known with his size alone. He’s listed as a defensemen, but spent most of his time at camp on wing, and in the opposing goaltender’s kitchen. He’s two teeth too many to be confused for Bryan Bickell, but the similarities are most certainly there. He’s a banger on the boards, and a pest in front of the net, and his size is definitely an asset Stan Bowman should consider pocketing for a rainy day. Shout out to @puckinhostile for opening my eyes to this kid.
So Chris “The Greatest American Defensemen” Chelios had a kid. The End.
I highly doubt I would be harping on young Jake Chelios’ game so much, had he not been surrounded by media hype and the impossible-to-live-up-to name on his sweater. Chelios wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good either. He’s an average NCAA defensemen at best, and was thrown around at camp from defense to forward, and back to defense again, suggesting the coaches were desperately trying to find a place for him to shine. He didn’t.
I made the grave mistake of dismissing two little gems based on their size alone. Vinnie Hinostroza (5’9” 165lbs – I think the 5’9” is being generous) and Anthony Louis (5’7” 145lbs – this one is a little more accurate) were an offensive threat during Friday’s scrimmage. Despite being two of the smallest guys on the ice, Vinny and Tony used their speed, agility, hockey sense and puck handling skills to skate through defensemen and cause trouble in front of the net. Sure, the mighty might line got banged up a bit, and Tony was targeted a lot more than Vinny, but when they didn’t get caught on the boards, they didn’t get caught at all. Protein shakes and weights will do these two wonders in the near future.
-Viktor Svedberg aka Swedish Chara, is a 6’9” Swedish defensemen that looked like Bambi on skates last season, and like a solid, developing d-man this time around. His skating and puck control skills have vastly improved over the course of the year, and he even displayed some fighting skills when he nearly killed Philip Danault (God bless his little heart) in a bout.
-Philip Danault is another promising center in the Blackhawks farm system. And this one likes to mix it up (see above). Danault may not be on the same skill level as McNeill, but he’s definitely a pest to play against with those intangibles.
-Alex Broadhurst is a fun hockey player to watch. He has good vision, and makes responsible offensive plays with a dash of flashiness. It’s clear he’s confident, borderline cocky even, but he’s got the stuff to back it up.
-Maxim Shalunov caught my eye with a wicked shot. The Russian forward is 6’3” and shows signs of potential at the face off circle. I’m not making any promises, but it may be worthwhile to keep an eye on him.
-Dillon Fournier has some silky mits for a defensemen. He can dance with the puck, and even had a nice little shift with McNeill.
-Zach Loesch is another noteworthy defensemen. He has a very similar style to Stephen Johns and he’s a free agent.
-Another free agent invitee wearing a sweater with a familiar name was Nolan Zajac, Travis Zajac’s little brother. He’s a natural defenseman that was converted to winger during camp, and had some success with nifty passes, including a no-look back pass that led to a goal.
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