Chicago Blackhawks’ Prospect Camp Players To Watch


With Chicago Blackhawks Prospect Camp underway, you’re probably wondering which players are worth watching

The Chicago Blackhawks today opened their annual Prospect Camp, which runs through Friday at Johnny’s IceHouse West not far from the United Center. The event will feature three “teams” of young athletes showing of their game before a scrimmage Friday.

(By the way, Blackhawk Up writer Mario Tirabassi is live from Johnny’s, tweeting updates on the first day of camp here.)

As is the norm, the teams are decided by the letters A, B and C, with the last of those three containing the players typically viewed as closest to reaching the NHL level. This year, that includes defenseman Michal Kempny, who many think won’t spend a moment in the AHL after coming over from the KHL in the offseason.

Kempny is certainly a player fans will want to get a closer look at, as he was touted as the team’s next No. 4 defenseman before Brian Campbell was brought on board. Considering how rough the blue line was last season in Chicago, fans should rightly be concerned with how Kempny looks as the Prospect Camp.

But what about some other faces worth getting to know? I’m here to help with that. I’m going to take a look at seven prospects worth watching this week on West Madison St. You can view the camp’s full roster and schedule here.

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G Jack Burgart, Team A

For the foreseeable future, I’m going to be concerned with how the Blackhawks are developing goaltender talent. After Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, the team’s goaltending cabinet is disturbingly barren, with Mac Carruth pretty much the only legitimate backup to those two.

So while Burgart is on Team A and not even a Blackhawks prospect (he was invited to the camp), I’m still interested to see what he displays. Burgart is a 6-foot-5, 207-pound 20-year-old who has spent his last three seasons in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He’s gotten better and better with each season, posting a .935 save percentage and 1.97 goals-allowed average in 43 games last regular season.

He’s heading to Bemidji State University for his first taste of collegiate hockey later this year. My guess is, with the Blackhawks so interested in college players over the last few years, that they’ll keep close tabs on Burgart should he perform well in this camp. The Blackhawks could certainly use a strong goaltender of that size.

F Graham Knott, Team A

If you look at the Blackhawks’ 2015 draft selections and where they fall in this year’s camp, it’s a strange scene. The later picks (D Ryan Shea, 121st overall; F Roy Radke, 164th overall; D Joni Tuulola, 181st overall; F John Dahlstrom, 211th overall) are on Team B, but the earlier picks are on Team A — typically further from the NHL.

That includes Knott, who was the Blackhawks’ top 2015 pick at No. 54th overall. Knott took a bit of a step back last season in the Ontario Hockey League, posting 42 points in 68 regular-season games and five more in 17 playoff contests after 43 points in 59 regular-season games and three more in 11 playoff tilts the season prior.

Knott is still just 19 years old, and he’s a forward bigger than the Blackhawks typically scout — 6-4, 195. The Blackhawks would certainly like to see him make some big strides next season, and that starts in this camp.

F Alex DeBrincat, Team B

DeBrincat was a guy who many thought could go in the 2016 NHL Draft’s first round, but he slipped to the Blackhawks at No. 39 overall. DeBrincat is more of the blueprint the Blackhawks shoot for in their forwards, as he stands at just 5-7 and 165 pounds. And, boy, can he score.

DeBrincat has posted more than 100 points in each of his last two regular seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters. He had 35 more points in 33 postseason games each of the last two years. And he’s just 18 years old.

DeBrincat skates really well, has great sniping ability and also has no problem crashing the net. Netting 205 points in two regular seasons’ worth of play in the OHL would indicate he gets his offense in many ways. This is a guy the Blackhawks would love to see develop quickly and become an impact NHL player in the semi-near future.

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D Chad Krys, Team B

Another 2016 draft selection, Krys immediately rocketed toward the top of the Blackhawks’ beleaguered defensive prospect ranks when the team took him at No. 45 overall. The 18U World Junior Hockey gold medalist should certainly feel that way after opening his first Prospect Camp on Team B, not Team A.

Krys provides a nice spark from the blue line (29 points in 53 games last season with the U.S. National U18 Team) and is a great puck-moving defenseman, from all reports. He’s not a big guy (5-11, 185), but he’s touted as a strong player on both ends of the ice and in all three phases of the game.

Krys will be heading to Boston University this fall for his first collegiate action, but he has a chance to be one of those guys the Blackhawks try to lure out of college early by giving him opportunities for big-league play. How he fares in his first camp will have some say in that.

Fs Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte, Team C

I’m putting these two together because it’s widely believed they have the best chance among newer signees to crack the Blackhawks’ opening night roster this year. With what they bring to the table, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Schmaltz finished his collegiate career at North Dakota with an NCAA title, then signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Chicago. A first-round draft pick in 2014, Schmaltz posted 46 points in 37 games with North Dakota last season, then put up eight points in seven games at the World Junior Championships this year.

Motte, a fourth-round selection in 2013, notched 56 points in 38 games at Michigan last year before joining the Rockford IceHogs for eight games (seven points) and playing in the World Junior Championships (three points) alongside Schmaltz.

Both of these guys are strong puckhandlers and playmakers, something the Blackhawks really need in the immediate future. They both have strong skating skills as well. They could both start in Rockford this year, but they offer multiple things the Blackhawks need in their current forwards crop.

G Wouter Peeters, Team C

We started with a goaltender, and we finish with a goaltender. Peeters was considered a bit of a stretch by some when the Blackhawks took him at No. 83 overall in this year’s draft, and I personally would’ve preferred the Blackhawks grabbed a goalie with one of their three picks prior to this.

But due to the Blackhawks’ lack of system goaltending depth, the team needed to snatch at least one netminder in the draft. And it’s not surprising Peeters, as that pick, immediately found his way to the top Prospect Camp team.

Peeters struggled with RBHS U20 last regular season, hitting a 3.27 goals-against average in 24 games. But he redeemed himself a bit with a .963/0.96 slashline in two postseason games. He also had a 2.71 goals-against average last season in seven games at RBHRC-International U18.

Next: Sunday Viewing: Crawford's Big Saves

Peeters is a big (6-4, 205) and young (17) goaltender whom the Blackhawks can hopefully develop to be “the guy” down the road. That starts with his first camp, and his first chance to make an in-person impression on the Blackhawks’ brass.