Chicago Blackhawks’ NHL Draft Focus Should Be Defense, Goaltending
By Colin Likas
Defensemen to watch
Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The blueliner had a breakout season in 2016-17 and is worth keeping an eye on. He checks in at No. 18 on NHL.com’s draft prospect board and piled up 69 points in 78 games from the back end.
Last Word on Sports describes Timmins as “a very good skater” whose “speed is good in both directions.” This is exactly what the Blackhawks should be looking for on their blue line, and his size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) allows him to display some physicality as well.
Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
Jokiharju is similarly sized to Timmins (6-0, 180) and had his own breakout offensive performance this season, putting up 51 points across 82 games in his first WHL campaign. He’s a past gold medalist for Finland at the World Juniors Under 18 tournament, and he ranks 19th among North American skaters on NHL.com’s draft board.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottestown (QMJHL)
The brother of Tampa Bay prospect Mathieu Joseph, this defenseman is a bit light in the ass (6-2, 161), but seems to have motivation to follow his sibling into the pro ranks. Bill Placzek of Draft Site had this to say about Joseph:
"“Displays mobility and excellent hockey sense. … A powerplay quarterback whose frame will allow him to get bigger and as he gets stronger he will add more mustard to the heat he can bring from the point.”"
This has to be appealing to the Blackhawks, who could really use all of these things on the back end. And Joseph checking in at No. 27 among North American skates on NHL.com’s board is also a good sign.
Robin Salo, Sport (Finland)
No relation to former NHLer Sami Salo. But this 6-1, 187-pounder was turning heads by holding his own as a 16-year-old in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. You can see some of the initial reaction on the Hockey’s Future boards.
Salo is 18 now, and while he doesn’t fill up the net quite as much as some of the previously mentioned players in this post (16 points in 74 career Liiga games), he’s a two-time World Juniors medalist and tallied all 16 of those points in his 2016-17 season. He’s also ranked 20th among European skaters on NHL.com’s list, so he seems to be on the rise.
Gustav Lindstrom, Almtuna (Sweden-2)
The Blackhawks have fared well with their Swedish athletes over the years, and Lindstrom is a solidly sized one at 6-2, 187. He had a tough first season in Allsvenskan (the second-highest Swedish league) in 2016-17, posting nine points and a minus-11 rating in 48 games.
But by the same token, he’s also fared really well in junior Swedish leagues (10 points in six games for J20 Elit this year) and had a nice junior tournament with Sweden’s U19 squad as well (seven points in four games). He’s rated No. 25 among European skaters on NHL.com’s board, and perhaps he could fall to the Blackhawks later in the draft.
David Kvasnicka, Plzen (Czech Republic)
This would likely be a mid- to late-round selection, but conceivably a solid one. Kvasnicka is an undersized blueliner at 5-9, 172 pounds, but the Blackhawks rarely pass up on guys who are of a smaller stature. And based on some scouting info, it’d behoove them to consider Kvasnicka.
Here’s how Prospects Hockey described Kvasnicka in summer 2016:
"A defender with a strong compete level and strong positional awareness, Kvasnicka anticipates the play well and shows impressive poise an patience for a young defender. Kvasnicka possesses quick feet and intriguing mobility while showing the ability to make a crisp and accurate first pass. … With intriguing puck moving capabilities, Kvasnicka shows intriguing vision and playmaking skills when utlized on the man advantage."
Again, this is clearly something the Blackhawks were missing from the back end. When you have a guy who can skate himself out of trouble, it minimizes the impact of his slight stature. Kvasnicka, who tallied 33 points in 51 games across three Czech HC Plezn teams this season, could be a fun guy for the Blackhawks to develop in the minors.