Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Defensive Issues An Organizational Problem

By Sean Fitzgerald
Oct 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Ville Pokka (17) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Ville Pokka (17) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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When Johnny Oduya left the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason, General Manager Stan Bowman went outside the organization to find a replacement. That move, along with the poor defensive play recently, has made light of an glaring issue plaguing the Blackhawks system: The Blackhawks lack NHL-ready depth on defense. While the Blackhawks have won three championships in the last six seasons, they’ve also shipped out their previous top three defensive prospects and one young NHL defenseman in the last three years.

Remember when the Blackhawks had three-NHL ready defensemen? Adam Clendening was sold to Blackhawks fans as a defenseman of the future. He spent three seasons with the Rockford IceHogs before getting a chance with the ’Hawks. He appeared in four games before being shipped out of town for Gustav Forsling in 2014-15. Could Clendening have played for the Blackhawks? It does not appear so, as he is now in his fourth organization since leaving the Blackhawks.

Klas Dahlbeck was the second Blackhawks player to be sent packing. Dahlbeck spent three years in Rockford before getting his chance with the Blackhawks in 2014-15. He appeared in four games before being shipped over to Arizona in the Antoine Vermette trade. Dahlbeck has appeared in 62 games with Yotes this season.

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The third prospect to be traded was Stephen Johns. Johns played four seasons at Notre Dame before joining the IceHogs. He played 59 games with the IceHogs before being traded to Dallas in the Patrick Sharp deal. Johns has appeared in six games with the Stars and just signed a two-year extension. And let’s forget the young defenseman the Blackhawks dealt away in Nick Leddy.

How bad do the Blackhawks miss Leddy right now? Leddy was the Blackhawks’ youngest defenseman and had been on a Stanley Cup team. Leddy was moved to get the Blackhawks under the salary cap for the 2014-15 season. Leddy was traded to the Islanders for Ville Pokka, T.J. Brennan and the rights to Anders Nilsson. The deal was not a total wash as Pokka is now the Blackhawks’ top defensive prospect (more on Pokka in a minute).

In the present, the Blackhawks thought Trevor van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson might be able to be a top-four defensemen, but it appears that neither player is a fourth defenseman-type player. After TVR and Gustafsson, the Blackhawks have Viktor Svedberg and Pokka as NHL-ready-type players. Svedberg is not a top defenseman but could be a bottom-pairing guy in the future, which brings us to Pokka.

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Pokka spent four years with Karpat in the SM Liga before coming over to North America. He was invited to the Islanders’ training camp in 2014 before being traded to the Blackhawks. He has spent the last two seasons in the AHL. He has 37 points in 64 games. Pokka projects to be a strong skating, persistent defender who can chip in offensively. Hockey’s Future projects Pokka to be a long-term middle pairing puck-moving defenseman.

After Pokka the Blackhawks might be waiting awhile for their next NHL-ready defensive prospect. According to Hockey’s Future, the Blackhawks next highest rated defensive prospect is Dillon Fournier. Fournier has appeared in 25 games for the Rockford IceHogs and 41 games for the Indy Fuel.  The future of the Blackhawks’ defense rests solely on the shoulders of Pokka for the time being, and that is a problem.

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