If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Chicago’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
It’s always interesting taking a look at the latest draft class of a new division rival. Chicago’s 2013 draft class is no different. With eight picks in seven rounds, the Blackhawks took right winger Ryan Hartman (30th overall), defenseman Carl Dahlstrom (51st overall), center John Hayden (74th overall), defenseman Robin Norell (111th overall), center Tyler Motte (121st overall), center Luke Johnson (134th overall), center Anthony Louis (181st overall) and defenseman Robin Press (211th overall). If you take a close look at the list found here, there are a few things that pop out at you.
1. There is one right wing (Hartman) on the list, compared to four centers and three defensemen, and he was Chicago’s top selection.
2. All five forwards are from the United States, and all three defensemen are from Sweden.
3. All four centers were drafted out of the United States Hockey League.
4. Rather inconsequential compared to the other observations listed above, two of the defensemen are named Robin. (What, Batman wasn’t eligible for the draft?)
If you take a look at Chicago’s prospect depth chart, things get even more interesting. All four centers instantly jump in as 3rd-6th centers on the chart. Obviously, Chicago addressed a major need down the center with June’s draft. The fact that they’re all from the USHL only goes to prove how highly the league is thought of in the eyes of many NHL franchises.
Top pick Ryan Hartman also jumps in as No. 3 right wing on the depth chart, earning a first round selection after an incredible rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League. After two seasons in the USHL (another USHL product, I think we’re seeing a pattern here), Hartman departed for Plymouth last year, scoring 23 goals and 37 assists for 60 points and a plus-29 rating in 56 games with the Whalers. He would add four goals and two assists for six points and a plus-4 rating in nine games of postseason action.
He caught the attention of the hockey world, however, playing a key role in helping lead the United States U-20 team to gold at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ufa, Russia. In seven games, Hartman would score two goals and an assist for three points and a plus-4 rating, establishing himself as a legitimate first round pick in the eyes of many, including Chicago.
Where things get very interesting is when it comes to the Swedish defensemen Chicago selected in 2013. Dahlstrom and Norell jump in as No. 6 on the Blackhawks’ prospect depth chart on left and right defense, respectively. The big 6’4″ 212-pound Dahlstrom is especially intriguing.
According to Elite Prospects, Chicago’s top defensive selection in the 2013 draft is described as:
A solid defensive player with a good understanding of the game and impressive positioning. Dahlström has great size and reach, which he uses to his advantage although not being an overly physical player. Handles the puck well and is a capable passer. (EP, 2012)
In nine games with Sweden’s U-18 team, Dahlstrom notched a goal and an even plus-minus rating. Last season with Linkoping J20 of the SuperElit, he scored five goals and eight assists for 13 points and a plus-18 rating in 37 games. He stands an excellent chance of representing his country alongside fellow Chicago 2013 pick Robin Norell on home ice in the 2014 U-20 WJHC.
Norell, at 5’11” 192-pounds, is no slouch, either, having earned the recognition of being one of Sweden’s top-3 players at the 2013 U-18 WJC while notching no points and a plus-2 rating in five games. It’s easy to assume he plays a stay-at-home, shutdown style of game, and that is by no means something to look down upon.
Chicago’s final pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft was another young Swedish blue liner named Robin Press. Press is a sizeable defenseman at 6’2″ 187-pounds that appears to be able to chip in on the offense. What’s more, of Chicago’s trio of defensive Swedes, Press is the only right-shot. His play in 24 games with Almtuna of Sweden’s J20 Elit in 2011-12 may have hinted at his potential when he scored 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points and a plus-12 rating. Last season, Press split his time between the Allsvenskan and SuperElit with Sodertalje and its junior team, scoring a combined nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points and an even plus-minus rating in 67 games.
Now, let’s be clear–it’s very unlikely any of these three blue liners will jump into Chicago’s roster anytime soon and be the next Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Jonas Brodin. However, Chicago’s deep roster and prospect pool will allow these three time to develop properly and let them jump in only when they’re ready. Bottom line, there’s something in the water in Sweden, and the NHL has realized that drafting Swedish defensemen is almost as good as (or better than) investing in gold. Chicago just invested in a gold mine, they better hope it doesn’t dry up.