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Chicago Blackhawks: Prospects Worth Watching

By Colin Likas
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The Chicago Blackhawks’ annual prospect camp gets underway Sunday at Johnny’s IceHouse West in Chicago. Fifty-seven individuals will be put through six days of practices and scrimmages in hopes of being noticed by the Blackhawks brass.

Of the 57 men involved in this event, 35 were not on the 2014 prospect camp roster. Some spaces opened up as the result of trades (Alex Broadhurst, Adam Clendening, Michael Paliotta), and some spots became free when last year’s attendees moved up to the big show (Teuvo Teravainen, Trevor van Riemsdyk).

Overall, 32 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goaltenders are listed on this year’s prospect camp roster. Which ones are most worth paying attention to? Here are a few you’ll want to keep an eye on once camp opens:

Note: The Blackhawks divide participating athletes into three teams for the events: A, B and C. Just looking at the rosters for each squad, it appears the C team is for those closest to cracking the big-league roster.

Marko Dano, forward, Team C

Basic stats: 20-years-old; 6-foot-4, 214 pounds

How he got here: Acquired in Brandon Saad trade last month

Why we should watch him: Some fans have likely been left with a bitter taste from the Saad deal, but Dano could well be the newest key cog in another championship-caliber Blackhawks team. It’s highly likely Dano starts the 2015-16 season in Chicago, so the prospect camp is a platform for fans, coaches and front office personnel to see exactly what they got from once piece of that trade.

Dano will play alongside five forwards who were in the AHL last season — guys who are all looking to make an impression on Blackhawks coaches and earn a promotion. So you can bet we’ll see some good activity from Dano during the sessions.

Stephen Johns, defenseman, Team C

Basic stats: 23-years-old, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds

How he got here: Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2010

Why we should watch him: Chicago’s blue line situation is in flux at the time of this post, with Johnny Oduya waiting for a contract offer from Stan Bowman and only Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson as the team’s truly dependable back-end guys. That’s expected to change once Johns lands on the big-league roster — and he will in 2015-16, perhaps for the season’s opening game.

Johns has been the prized jewel of the Blackhawks’ crop of young defensemen for some time. He completed his first full season of professional hockey in 2014-15, compiling 21 points in 51 regular-season games and seven points — including three goals — in eight playoff games for the IceHogs. Johns is the guy who can step in to replace Oduya should he not be re-signed, and even if Oduya does come back, Johns will still see time in Chicago this season. This prospect camp — Johns’ sixth — is a chance to see what the Blackhawks are about to get.

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  • Mark McNeill, forward, Team C

    Basic stats: 22-years-old, 6-foot-1, 214 pounds

    How he got here: Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2011

    Why we should watch him: McNeill was the organization’s first-round pick in 2011, going at No. 18 overall. He is more or less the club’s top minor-league forward at this point, and with more forward departures likely on the big-league club before the 2015-16 season starts, McNeill will get his chance to shine in Chicago very soon.

    He has played part or all of four seasons in Rockford, including two full campaigns in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He tallied 37 points in 76 games two seasons ago and followed that up with 44 in 63 last season. He appears to be a solid two-way player, and maybe the future answer to the eternal No. 2 center problem. This should be the last prospect camp McNeill participates in, so get a glimpse before he goes big time.

    Graham Knott, forward, Team B

    Basic stats: 18-years-old, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds

    How he got here: Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2015

    Why we should watch him: Let’s shift our focus from Team C to guys on the other two teams. They’re unlikely to see time in Chicago this season, but we hope they’re the future of the organization. Knott was the Blackhawks’ top pick in the recent draft, going 54th overall in the second round. The left wing has played two seasons with Niagara in the Ontario Hockey League, compiling 22 points in 2013-14 and 43 in 2014-15.

    He’s a big kid who probably needs to put on some more bulk, but he has characteristics that the Blackhawks desire in a forward. An analysis from LastWordOnSports describes Knott as a power forward who “gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into turnovers and finishing his checks.” The analysis also notes Knott needs to work on his skating. But it sounds like there’s something great for the Blackhawks to work with here, and the prospect camp will offer a first glance. With work, maybe a mini-Marian Hossa in the pipeline?

    Nick Schmaltz, forward, Team A

    Basic stats: 19-years-old, 6-foot-0, 172 pounds

    How he got here: Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2014

    Why we should watch him: Another of Chicago’s top overall picks, Schmaltz was taken 20th overall in 2014’s draft. He’s obviously very young, and he recently completed his first season of college hokey in North Dakota. He compiled 26 points in 38 games, with 21 of the points coming on assists. Schmaltz has proven to be an assist machine at lower levels, tallying between 31 and 45 four times Chicago Mission Bantam Major play and time with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers.

    Of course, the NHL and even the AHL are big steps up from all those destinations, so it will be interesting to see how Schmaltz fares in the prospect camp. This is his second one, so he should know what to expect to some degree. Like Knott, Schmaltz will need to put on some bulk over time, but he seems like a through-and-through scorer down the line. Looking at all his assists in recent action reminds of Ryan Getzlaf, especially since Schmaltz is also a center. Few would complain about having a Getzlaf type on the Blackhawks in the future, so long as it doesn’t come with an ill temper and inability to perform in the postseason.

    Which Blackhawks prospects are you most looking forward to watching at the prospect camp? Let us know in the comments.

    Next: Oduya Rejects Sabres; Seabrook Could Move

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