Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Future Fuel? Scouting the Blackhawks system

With the 2013-14 ECHL season still ongoing -- and other minor pro and junior loops in the process of finishing their seasons -- the Indy Fuel still has some time to put together its roster.

But with the Fuel announcing an affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks, we know the source of some of the team's players -- the Chicago system. The rest will be made up of free agents who will be contracted to the Fuel this summer and fall. While we wait for the announcement of a coaching staff and free-agent signings to come in, we can scour the Chicago system to keep an eye on the potential players coming to play at the Fairgrounds Coliseum this fall.

ECHL teams often get between one and five players from the NHL affiliate to be a part of their 20-man roster. Often, one of those players is a goaltender, as a team's NHL and AHL affiliates often only carry two goaltenders each at a time. Those are also often the players on the fastest track to the NHL -- the ECHL's list of alumni in the "show" is littered with goaltenders.

The Blackhawks also have a lot of organizational depth at defense, and it's likely some of that depth will be seen at the Coliseum this fall. Also, the fact that teams like to be patient with the development of defensemen, the ECHL becomes a haven for young players to get ice time and develop.

So, here is a peek at the Blackhawks' organization to see who might make up that part of the Fuel roster.

Sources of players: Capgeek and the Chicago Blackhawks' prospects page 

The first place to look, as ECHL teams nearly always end up with at least one goaltender. With a Stanley Cup ring, and another deep playoff run ongoing, Corey Crawford is entrenched as the Blackhawks' starter, and Finnish prospect Antti Raanta appears to be set as his long-term backup, having played well in his time in Chicago. 2010 second-round pick Kent Simpson played one game in Chicago, but spent much of the year in the AHL with Rockford. It is likely we'll see one or both of the following in Indy this year:
  • Mac Carruth. A seventh-round pick in 2010, he split time this past season with Rockford and two ECHL teams. He had a 3.38 GAA and an .892 save percentage in 32 ECHL games this past year, his rookie season. He also played seven games in the AHL, with a 3.45 GAA and an .874 save percentage. 
  • Brandon Whitney. The Blackhawks' seventh-round pick in 2012, he turns 20 this year. He had a 3.25 GAA and a .906 save percentage for Victoriaville in the QMJHL -- a notoriously offense-heavy junior league. He is completing his fourth year of junior and would be pro eligible next season. 
After separating out players in Chicago and those who are signed to Chicago and currently playing in Rockford (Mathieu Briesbois, Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns, Viktor Svedberg), there is a roster of several D who could see time on the Fuel. Chicago has only one free-agent defenseman on the NHL roster (Sheldon Brookbank). Among the prospects that could be making pro debuts in Indy are:
  • Dillon Fournier. A second-round pick in 2012, he just finished his fourth QMJHL season with Rouyn-Noranda. He had 13 goals, 19 assists and was a +10. He has signed an entry-level deal with Chicago. As a high-round pick, expect to see him to debut in Rockford this fall.
  • Trevor Van Riemsdyk. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of New Hampshire this spring, he had 23 points in 26 games. He is the younger brother of the Maple Leafs' James Van Riemsdyk. Left college a year early. Often, early college UFAs also go directly to the NHL or AHL.
  • Travis Brown. Fifth-round pick in 2012, he is finishing his third full season in the WHL with the Victoria Royals. He has 14 goals and 39 assists in 61 games this year. A 1994 birth-year player, Brown is a likely candidate for the AHL Rockford or ECHL Fuel roster in the fall.
  • Kirill Gotovets. Seventh-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2009, he was acquired by Chicago in a trade in April 2013. He recently finished his college career at Cornell, where he had one goal and three assists in 32 games. He played one game for AHL Milwaukee this spring. 
  • Justin Holl. Second-round pick in 2010, he recently finished his senior season at the University of Minnesota, the NCAA runner-up. He had one goal and 12 assists in 39 games for the Gophers this season. 
  • Also, three players currently in Sweden -- Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell and Robin Press -- were drafted in 2013. All three are 19 years old and playing professionally in their home country. If any sign with Chicago, it's possible they could play in Indy. 
  • Looking ahead to future seasons: former Indiana Ice defenseman Nick Mattson has one year left at North Dakota (2010 6th round), and 2011 third-round pick Michael Paliotta has a year left at Vermont (2011 3rd round). 2011 sixth-round pick Sam Jardine recently completed his sophomore year at Ohio State. The seniors-to-be could sign at the end of their college seasons and play a few games at the end of the year in the AHL or ECHL.
The Blackhawks again will have few openings on their NHL roster for forwards -- especially with Teuvo Teravainen likely taking one. Alex Broadhurst, Phillip Danault, Ryan Hartman, Drew LeBlanc, Brandon Mashinter, Mark McNeill and Garret Ross played for AHL Rockford last year. Teravainen and college free agent Matt Carey saw time in the NHL with the Blackhawks.

Players to keep an eye on:
  • Maxim Shalunov. The Blackhawks' fourth-round pick in 2011, he has played two years in Russia's top league, the KHL. This past season, he played 20 games in Rockford (4 assists) and 43 games for ECHL Toledo (18 goals, 16 assists). 
  • Looking ahead: The Blackhawks picked a number of players in the 2012 and 2013 drafts who are just completing their freshman years in college: Chris Calnan (2012 round 3, Boston College), John Hayden (2013 round 3, Yale), Vince Hinostroza (2012 round 6, Notre Dame), Luke Johnson (2013 round 5, North Dakota), Anthony Louis (2013 round 6, Miami) and Tyler Motte (2013 round 4, Michigan). The other prospect on the list is Boston College senior-to-be Kevin Hayes, a 2010 first-round pick, who again could be signed at the end of his college season. 
Minor league free agents? Terry Broadhurst, Bryan Froese, David Gilbert, Philippe Lefebvre and Theo Peckham are restricted free agents next season, meaning the Blackhawks would have the right to match any offer from another team. All played in Rockford last year. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Bryan Connelly, Brad Mills and goaltender Jason LaBarbera are unrestricted free agents next season and free to play anywhere.

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