Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). 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 in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking 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 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
It was a dream season for the Chicago Blackhawks, whether it was their record setting point streak to start the season, winning the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season, and then capping it all off with the award they really wanted, the 2013 Stanley Cup, everything went perfectly to plan for the Hawks this year. The strong core that led to the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup had been kept intact despite a salary cap crisis following that win, and as soon as the depth around Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp was restored, the team rose right back up to the top of the league. Full credit to Stan Bowman and his staff who rebuilt the Hawks through the draft and solid trades, and still have a farm system full of young, promising talent that along with the strong core, should keep the Hawks in the mix for many years to come.
Top Prospect, Teuvo Teravainen, Centre/RW,
Born Sep 11 1994 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 5.10 — Weight 165 — Shoots L
Drafted in the 1st round, #18 Overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 NHL Draft
Teravainen burst onto the scene in the second half of the 2011-12 season. Once though of as a 2nd or 3rd round pick, he rocketed up draft boards with a strong showing in the second half of the SM-Liiga season, a scintillating five nations tournament, and another strong perforance at the 2012 World Under 18s. After being drafted in the first round by Chicago, he’s carried that over to the 2012-13 season having a nice year playing as an 18 year old against men in the SM-Liiga and being one of the few bright spots for a disappointing Finnish team at the World Juniors with 11 points in 6 games. This summer he played in the invitational four nation junior tune-up tournament in Lake Placid where he led the tourney in scoring and was seen by many as the best player on the ice. Expect him to take the first line centre role for Finland again in the 2014 World Juniors.
Teravainen is one of my favorite prospects to watch play. He has incredible hockey sense and vision, and is an extremely creative playmaker. Teravainen will attempt passes that most forwards don’t even dream about, feathering pucks through sticks and legs and putting them on the tape of his teammates. He shows incredible vision and passing skills in making these dynamic plays. Teravainen prefers to control the play in the offensive zone often working as a setup man working off the half boards. The has very good hands, and excellent stickhandling leading to a strong puck protection game despite his size. Teravainen also possesses a very hard and accurate one timer and often unleashes it from the top of the circle. He is especially effective on the Power Play. He has shown that he is willing to take a hit to make a play, despite the fact he is often facing larger opponents. He could use increased upper body strength however, in order to help him win more battles.
Over the last two years, Teravainen has really worked to improve his skating. He has always had good top end speed, but he’s made great strides in improving his first step, his acceleration and his agility. He’s surprisingly strong in his lower body, giving him good balance and allowing him to fight through checks, and to remain strong on the puck.
Teravainen is a bit undersized and this can cause him problems in the defensive zone. He can be overpowered by bigger, stronger opponents, and this may mean that his future is as a Right Wing (where he has spent some time when playing for Jokerit) instead of playing Centre (where he’s been used almost exclusively when playing on the Finnish National Squad). He certainly shows going positioning in the defensive zone, and solid anticipation though, and this should help him going forward.
Teravainen is expected to spend one more season in Finland before coming to North America. If he can bulk up over the next year, he could be NHL read for the 2014-15 season. If not he will need AHL time once he comes over. Either way though, he appears to be destined for a role in the Blackhawks top 6, its just a matter of when.
#2 Prospect: Mark McNeill, Centre
Born Feb 22 1993 — Edmonton, ALTA
Height 6.02 — Weight 210 — Shoots Right
Selected by Chicago Blackhawks in round 1, #18 overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
This past season was another solid one for McNeill as he was better than a point per game for the Prince Albert Raiders. As captain, and their best player, he helped the Raiders to a second place finish in the WHL’s East Division. However, despite McNeill’s best efforts and scoring at a point per game pace in the playoffs, the Raiders were upset in a first round sweep at the hands of the Red Deer Rebels. During the year, McNeill would also play for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Originally one of the team’s final cuts, he’d be recalled after Charles Hudon was injured in a pretournament practice. McNeill would mainly be thrust into a defensive role at the world junior tourney and didn’t manage to score a point. McNeill would finish his season getting in five more games of pro experience with Rockford in the AHL.
McNeill was the Blackhawks’ first selection in the 2011 Entry Draft. He is a big talented centre, who can play an effective game in both ends of the ice. McNeill is at his best working the puck down low on the cycle game. He has excellent size, and very good puck protection skills. He is able to control the puck below the goal line and then use his excellent vision to create a scoring chance for a teammate, or use his strength to cut to the net and bury the puck with his soft hands in tight. McNeill also has a decent wrist shot and a good release, which he uses to rack up the goals.
McNeill also has a well developed defensive game. He is a conscientious back checker, and understands positioning in his own end of the rink. He has shown the ability to help his defence and contain opponents down low and in front of the net. A good penalty killer as well, McNeill cuts down passing lanes, and is willing to block shots.
McNeill has been questioned about his intensity and consistency, during his time with Prince Albert. When hot he is amongst the best players in the WHL, but also has some real down periods. For a player his size he can still play the game with more of a physical edge than he currently shows, and needs to learn to bring his best effort every night. The talent is definitely there, though. With Dave Bolland gone have an opening at Centre, so if McNeill comes into training camp and blows everyone away, he might make the team. However, it is far, far more likely that he is sent back to the AHL for at least a year to work on his game.
Super Sleeper Prospect, Drew Leblanc, Centre
Born Jun 29 1989 — Hermantown, MN
Height 6’0″ Weight 195 lbs — Shoots Right
Signed as a Free Agent in April 2013 with the Chicago Blackhawks.
After a broken leg cost Drew Leblanc much of his junior season (limiting him to just 10 games), he came back strong in his senior campaign with 13 goals and 50 points in 42 games. It was enough to lead St. Cloud State to the Frozen Four where they lost to Quinnipac in the semi-finals. Still Leblanc did enough to win the Hobey Baker, and to get a free agent contract with the Blackhawks last spring. He even got in a couple of NHL games before the end of the regular season. He finished the year with 3 assists for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships, helping the team to a Bronze Medal.
Leblanc has great hands, and excellent stick handling, and puck protection skills. He extends plays with his quick feints giving his teammates time to get open and then he hits them with an excellent pass to create scoring opportunities. Blessed with great hockey sense, Leblanc almost always seems to make the smart play, and to be in the right place in the offensive zone. Leblanc also has a very good wrist shot, however he doesn’t use it enough.
He does need some work on his skating, as this is the one area that holds him back from being a sure fire NHLer. His speed and acceleration are merely average, and his stride is a little short and choppy. He should work on lengthening the stride and becoming smoother in his early steps in order to generate more speed and power. Leblanc does have good agility and edgwork in his turns, and a powerful lower body helps him to have good balance and be strong on the puck.
He also needs a little polish in his defensive game. He has a tendency to puck watch and stop moving his feet in the defensive zone at times, and will need to correct this before he will be a full time NHLer.
Leblanc will likely be in the battle for the opening at centre that I’ve talked about already, but I believe that he is unlikely to win it, and that some AHL time will be needed. However, if Leblanc can become slightly quicker on his feet, and round out his defensive game, he has the offensive skills to be in the NHL in time.
The Hawks pipeline is producing real talent. I didn’t mention Brandon Pirri as I don’t think his upside is as high as those I did profile, but he seems to be NHL ready now, and is the front runner for taking over the centre spot vacated by the trade of Dave Bolland. He will face stiff competition for spot from Philip Danault, Leblanc, and McNeill. Other forwards looking to make the Hawks on a full-time basis in the near future include Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes who have all experienced the NHL game over the last two years. One forward who is facing a now or never situation is Kyle Beach. The 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Beach has not lived up to the hype in the five years since being drafted. The 23-year-old may never make the top lines, but he’s a physical player and a decent skater who could add something to the bottom 6. He must learn to play a more disciplined game to make that a reality though. On Defence the Hawks have decent depth in Adam Clendening, Dylan Olsen, Stephen Johns, and Shawn Lalonde. With the Hawks current core looking to be around for a while, they will provide the depth the Hawks will need to compliment a core of Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, and Leddy.In goal the Hawks are excited to see Antti Raanta, a big free agent signing out of Finland, along with Brandon Whitney and Mac Carruth coming through the system. Overall the strong get stronger as the Hawks have an excellent group of prospects.
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