Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring 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.
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 2016-17 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 my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Chicago Blackhawks Prospects
The Chicago Blackhawks experienced a great deal of individual success in 2015-16. Star winger Patrick Kane took home the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and the Hart Trophy. Russian rookie Artemi Panarin also took home hardware, winning the Calder Trophy.
It didn’t lead to team success though. Even after making a blockbuster move to acquire Andrew Ladd, as well as picking up Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann; the Blackhawks fell to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The off-season saw more change. Ladd left as a free agent. Cost-cutting moves saw Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, and Andrew Shaw traded to the Montreal Canadiens. They did make a big add on the blue line though, bringing back Brian Campbell. The Blackhawks will again look to their system to replenish the depth that was lost.
Draft Picks: Alex DeBrincat, Chad Krys, Artur Kayumov, Wouter Peeters, Lucas Carlsson, Nathan Noel, Mathias From, Blake Hillman, Jake Ryczek
Graduates: Artemi Panarin, Erik Gustafsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk,
Chicago Blackhawks Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Nick Schmaltz
Centre/Wing — Shoots Right
Born Feb 23 1996 — Verona, WI
Height 6’1 — Weight 181 lbs [185 cm/82 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in round 1, 20th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Schmaltz was part of the “CBS line” that led the University of North Dakota to the NCAA Frozen Four Championship this season. He put up 11 goals and 35 assists for 46 points in just 37 games. He also played for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Schmaltz scored eight points in seven games and helped the team to a Bronze Medal.
Schmaltz is a strong skater, who has a very good first step and excellent acceleration. He could stand to be a little bit better in his top end speed though, it is above average, but could improve with a lengthening of his stride. He has very good lateral agility and edge work and this makes him extremely elusive. Schmaltz has good balance and is difficult to knock off the puck.
Schmaltz’s best assets are his hockey sense and ability to read the play. He seems to be one step ahead of other players on this ice. Couple this with with his great vision and play making skills in the offensive zone and it is easy to see how he has become an elite play maker in the NCAA. He is very hard to knock off the puck and controls the game in the cycle waiting for teammates to get open and thread those great passes onto their tape. His quick hands and good stick handling ability also help him to protect the puck and control the game on his stick.
Schmaltz is also willing to take the puck to the net himself if he sees an opening, but is much more of a play maker than a goal scorer. He’s not afraid to fight for pucks along the boards and to play in traffic, but would benefit from adding more muscle to his frame. Schmaltz has a very good wrist shot, and one-timer, but he just doesn’t use these assets enough.
Schmaltz defensive has really improved since going to college. He has shown himself to be a committed back checker, getting in lanes, and playing a strong game in his own end. However there are times when you can see he is thinking the game well and anticipating what he needs to do, but just simply isn’t moving his feet enough, which can cause him to be flat footed and lose his assignments. This is something that should come with time and good coaching.
There is an opening amongst the Blackhawks top six forwards for next season. Expect Shmaltz to make a real push for the spot in training camp. It is just his first pro season though, so it would not be that surprising if he doesn’t win the job, and needs some time to develop in the AHL either. His performance in preseason is something to keep an eye on.
#2 Prospect: Ville Pokka
Defense — shoots Right
Born Mar 6 1994 — Tornio, Finland
Height 6’0 — Weight 200 lbs [183 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in round 2, #34 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to Chicago, October 2014
Pokka had another solid season with the Rockford IceHogs, scoring 10 goals and 35 assists for 45 points. He also appeared for Finland in the World Championships, and named to Finland’s squad for the World Cup of Hockey.
Pokka is a decent skater, but not great. His top end speed is good, and his balance is also adequate. He has improved his pivots, agility and changes of direction; but they can continue to get better.
Pokka plays a simple, but very effective game. He has great vision and hockey IQ which help him to quarterback the powerplay. A very good passer, Pokka can make effective tape to tape passes to teammates both from the blue line in the offensive zone and in his own zone to start the breakout. Pokka’s slap shot has greatly improved in recent years. He has add strength and power. He has also worked on getting it through traffic and on net. Pokka keeps his shot low and creates opportunities for teammates to get rebounds and deflections. He also has a good wrist shot, and can often be seen sneaking in from the point on the power play in an attempt to receive a pass and unleash it.
Pokka has proven to be a generally solid defender. He is very difficult to beat off the rush as he uses excellent positioning and good quickness to always keep the forward in front of him. He has a quick stick and is good at poke checking opponents. Pokka has shown that he can be physical and throw a hard hit if he catches a forward in a vulnerable position. He is also willing to battle hard in the corners and in front of the net, however Pokka is sometimes overwhelmed by big, physical forwards. He could use a bit more work on getting better at getting leverage, and strengthening his lower body for these battles.
Pokka is NHL ready. Expect to see him gain a role on the Blackhawks blue line this season. With Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith ahead of him, it is unlikely he sees first unit power play time, but there is a good chance he can be on the second unit.
#3 Prospect: Gustav Forsling
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jun 12 1996 — Linkoping, Sweden
Height 5’11 — Weight 172 lbs [180 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in round 5, #126 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to Chicago, January 2015
Forsling had a solid year, playing against men in the SHL. He scored six goals and 21 points in 48 games for Linkoping HC. He also added three points in six playoff games, and five points in five Champions Hockey League games. Forsling also played for Sweden at the World Juniors. Forsling’s strong season saw him named Sweden’s junior player of the year.
Forsling is an undersized offensive 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.
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 before he is NHL ready. He can have issues with bigger forwards.
Forsling signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks. He will compete for a spot in training camp, but may need some more development time. It is expected that Forsling will return to Sweden for the year, if he does not make the big club.
#4 Prospect: Alex DeBrincat
The Blackhawks drafted DeBrincat with the 39th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on DeBrincat. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Vince Hinostroza
Center — shoots Right
Born Apr 3 1994 — Bartlett, IL
Height 5’10 — Weight 180 lbs [178 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in round 6, #169 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Hinostroza went pro and had a solid first season with 18 goals and 51 points in 66 games for Rockford. He also got a short call-up to the NHL, playing seven games, but very limited minutes. Hinostroza also played for Team USA in the World Championships.
Hinostroza is a very good skater with good top end speed and acceleration. He can beat defenders to the outside on the rush and gets in very quickly on the fore check. His agility allows Hinostroza to be very shifty and avoid defenders in the offensive zone. He also has the balance and low centre of gravity necessary to play his gritty game.
Hinostroza is a high-energy player who is always moving his feet and always involved in the play. Despite his small size, he is not afraid to get his nose dirty on the fore check, or to battle for pucks on the boards or in front of the net. Once he gets the puck, Hinostroza, has shown slick stick handling and the ability to extend plays allowing his line mates the time to get open. He has excellent vision and can make strong passes through very small openings to create plays. Hinostroza has shown an ability to score goals with his quick hands on rebounds, tip-ins, and dekes in close. He has gotten stronger, and added power to his wrist shot, but could still use a bit more.
Hinostroza’s defensive game has been developed over the last several years. He back checks well and is not afraid to block shots to help the team. His biggest detriment though is his size, as he simply can’t contain bigger forwards in the cycle.
Hinostroza will also go to training camp with a legitimate chance to make the Blackhawks on a full-time basis. He has certainly proven to
#6 Prospect: Ryan Hartman
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Sep 20 1994 — Hilton Head Island, SC
Height 5’11 — Weight 191 lbs [180 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in round 1, #30 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Hartman played his second full season with the Rockford Ice Hogs, putting up 15 goals and 20 assists in 35 games. He was also named an AHL All-Star. While the numbers are not mind blowing, he showed off a strong two-way game.
Hartman is a very good skater, he has good top end speed, and reaches it quickly with a quick first step and good acceleration. His biggest asset is his excellent lateral agility, and good edge work which allows him to escape checkers and pull away from them in the offensive zone. Hartman has very good balance, and is strong on the puck, and difficult to knock off of it.
Listed at 5’11 and 191 pounds, many wouldn’t think of Hartman as a power forward, but that is exactly the type of game that he plays. He really is a very gritty and physical forward. He is extremely physical in all areas of the ice and especially strong on the fore check. Hartman protects the puck very well down low and is excellent in the cycle game. He fights through checks, and gets to the dirty areas of the ice.
Hartman is more a play maker than a goal scorer. He has decent passing skills and vision to set up team mates. He has very good hockey sense and often makes the smart play with the puck on his stick, and has an ability to find openings when its not. His wrist shot is heavy and has a decent release, however does not use it often enough. He also can score some goals taking the puck to the net, and using his soft hands in close. However, the offensive game is very inconsistent; and its unclear if he will ever be a top six player in the NHL.
Hartman is an agitator who loves to chirp opponents and is often in the middle of things after the whistle. He’s also been known to drop the gloves.
Defensively Hartman’s game is well advanced. He pressures the puck very well and forces his opponents to make errors. He is fearless in blocking shots and brings his physical game to the defensive end of the ice. Hartman is really solid on the penalty kill playing a great pressure game, and cutting down passing lanes very well. If there is a criticism, it is the tendency to get over-zealous at times, and that he can sometimes be undisciplined taking penalties for his stick work.
With the number of forwards who left the Blackhawks this off-season, there are some openings on the team. Hartman will attempt to earn one of the open spots. Going forward, Hartman’s offensive upside is questionable, and he seems likely to top out as a third line forward with a two-way game and a little bit of secondary scoring.
Sleeper Prospect: Tyler Motte
Center — shoots Left
Born Mar 10 1995 — St. Clair, MI
Height 5’9 — Weight 193 lbs [175 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in round 4, #121 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Motte had an outstanding season playing on the top line for the University of Michigan. He scored 32 goals and 56 points in 38 games. Following a disappointing loss in the Frozen Four tournament, he signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks. In five AHL games he put up five points. He also had two goals in three playoff games. Motte was also part of Team USA at the World Championships.
Motte is another diminutive player with excellent speed and skating ability. He has a good stride and picks up acceleration quickly. He is also extremely elusive, both with and without the puck, thanks to his good agility and edgework. Motte will probably need to add some more muscle to play at the pro level, but in college was strong on the puck and showed good balance in board battles.
Motte is pure sniper. He has a strong wrist shot and an outstanding release. Motte understands how to get open in the offensive zone and has a knack for finding the soft spots in a defence. He also has an excellent one-timer. Motte is more goal scorer than passer, though he does have good vision and the ability to thread the puck through tight areas. Motte makes up for his lack of size by being tenacious. He never stops moving his feet and is often in on the fore check, in front of the net, or battling in the corners.
Motte brings his tenacity to the defensive end. His ability to continually pressure the puck is a very effective asset in his own end. He continues to bring the tenacious, hard working style in all three zones. Motte is a smart player with good positioning as well. He was part of the Wolverines penalty kill units.
Motte likely will spend the season with Rockford in the AHL, adjusting to playing bigger and stronger players in the pro ranks.
Finishing high in the standings, trading draft picks, and moving young players have taken their toll on the Blackhawks system. We have identified a number of good projects but there are no true sure-fire blue chippers in the system. Good scouting has given the team depth though. Forwards Mark McNeill, Dennis Rasmussen, Kyle Baun, John Hayden and Graham Knott add offensive depth. 2016 draftee Chad Krys joins Viktor Svedberg, Luc Snuggerud and Dennis Gilbert on the blue line. The Blackhawks are severely lacking a high end goalie prospect.