Chicago Blackhawks’ Defensive Prospects Must Make Impact Soon

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Luc Snuggerud
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Luc Snuggerud /

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in rough shape on defense, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the near future

It’s no secret the Chicago Blackhawks are weak on the back end this season. Duncan Keith is the bona fide No. 1, but has lost a step and is hampered by nearly anyone he plays with. Brent Seabrook has been pretty rough, Gustav Forsling hasn’t looked great, Michal Kempny has just been “there” and Connor Muphy is already losing coach Joel Quenneville‘s trust.

While Jan Rutta has been off to a nice start in his first season on North American ice, it’s clear the blue line is a point of obvious weakness for the Blackhawks. And outside of a midseason trade, that may not be remedied at any point this season (unless the players just get better).

It doesn’t have to be that way for long, though. The Blackhawks have started replenishing their defensive prospect pool of late, years after emptying it out in trades to push the team toward Stanley Cup contention. Now, the emphasis must be put on making sure that talent succeeds and becomes NHL-ready.

Let’s take a look at some guys the Blackhawks can hopefully turn to in the not-so-far future.

Luc Snuggerud

Snuggerud was getting some extra looks in training camp before he suffered an upper-body injury during a preseason game. The Blackhawks may have tabbed Snuggerud as their top defensive prospect last month.

Snuggerud is a left-handed shot who the Blackhawks signed last year after drafting him in 2014, and he’s in the midst of what could be his first full season in Rockford. I say “could” because he may be a February call-up for the Blackhawks, should the defense continue down this road.

The big draw for Snuggerud is the fact he’s a strong skater who knows how to move the puck. These are elements the Blackhawks are light on right now in the defensive end, so Snuggerud would be a major plus should he be able to handle the NHL grind.

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Robin Norell

Norell is a left-handed shot who was drafted in 2013, and he’s currently in his second full season with Rockford. He posted just nine points in 65 games last season, but points are the big draw for Norell.

Hockey’s Future notes Norell “does not have the prototypical size of an NHL defenseman, but he makes up for it with mobility and moxie. He is a smooth-skater that can cover a lot of the ice.” Again, this is a huge draw for the Blackhawks, whose defense does not move well, currently.

Norell does have a negative in the form of his size (5-foot-11, 189 pounds), but not being big is far from the end of the world on defense. Plenty of guys have learned to play around their slight stature.

Carl Dahlstrom

Now, Dahlstrom is not in the mold of Snuggerud and Norell. Hockey’s Future describes Dahlstrom as more of a stay-at-home defenseman. But there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Dahlstrom is a left-handed shot, a 2013 draftee and a big body at 6-4, 223 pounds. He’s also not a bad skater for his size. The Blackhawks could use someone like Dahlstrom to be the safety net for one of their more offensively-inclined defenseman, so that player can jump in on plays.

Dahlstrom is also in the midst of his second full AHL season, so he’s probably closer than not to getting to the NHL level, if he ever will.

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Younger options

The aforementioned three defensemen are pretty close to seeing NHL time, if they ever will. But the Blackhawks have some even younger guys who need to develop into NHL-caliber players in the near future.

Names that come to mind are Henri Jokiharju, Chad Krys, Lucas Carlsson and Blake Hillman, though those wouldn’t be the only ones. Jokiharju was a first-round pick in this year’s draft, and though he’s already dealt with an injury, the Blackhawks clearly expect big things from him.

Krys was a second-round pick in 2016, Carlsson was taken in that year’s fourth round and Hillman was selected in 2016’s sixth round. None of them is at the AHL level yet, with Krys and Hillman in college and Carlsson overseas.

These guys offer different things. Jokiharju is described as a “shifty two-way forward,” Krys has been called a quick skater who handles the puck well, Carlsson is noted as a solid two-way blueliner and Hillman held his own alongside now-Devil Will Butcher as the University of Denver won the NCAA title last season.

The Blackhawks will be hopeful these four, among others, can develop into viable NHL options. Keith and Seabrook are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, while guys like Rutta and Kempny may not be around forever. Forsling and Jordan Oesterle haven’t proven to be completely viable options yet, and Murphy could get shipped out if the coaching staff’s trust in him continues to wane.

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All these youngsters are guys we should be hopeful the Blackhawks are considering putting on the ice somewhere between very soon and in the near future.