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updated: 2/14/2011 10:12 PM

Taking a peek into Blackhawks' future

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  • Nashville Predators' Joel Ward, right, and the Blackhawks' Nick Leddy battle for the puck earlier this season.

      Nashville Predators' Joel Ward, right, and the Blackhawks' Nick Leddy battle for the puck earlier this season.
    Associated Press

  • The Blackhawks' Jeremy Morin looks at the scoreboard during the third period of a game against Colorado earlier this season.

      The Blackhawks' Jeremy Morin looks at the scoreboard during the third period of a game against Colorado earlier this season.
    Associated Press

  • The Blues' B.J. Crombeen, left, and the Blackhawks' Kyle Beach fight during a preseason game last September.

      The Blues' B.J. Crombeen, left, and the Blackhawks' Kyle Beach fight during a preseason game last September.
    Associated Press

 
 

The last wave of players the Blackhawks drafted and developed helped produce a Stanley Cup.

Now the question is will the next wave help them win a few more in the coming years?

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While there might not be another Jonathan Toews on the way, general manager Stan Bowman is optimistic when he looks up and down the organizational depth chart at the prospects presently developing either in the American Hockey League, in Europe or in college.

"We're positioned well for the future," Bowman said. "Looking forward, we have a nice balance."

Even with the Hawks struggling this season, Bowman has resisted the temptation to bring up prospects and rush them to the NHL when they might not be ready.

Defenseman Nick Leddy had to go back to Rockford for more seasoning after showing early in the season he needed it. Winger Jeremy Morin was sent back after getting a taste of the NHL. Winger Kyle Beach has stayed put in Rockford all season.

"I would rather have a guy be more than ready," Bowman said. "There's a long list of players that got jammed into the lineup when they're not ready and they don't progress and improve.

"As good as all these guys are, they all need to improve and be allowed to do it without the pressure and the intensity and expectations of being in the NHL.

"Leddy has been the first one to kind of graduate here, but these other guys aren't far away.

Here is the Daily Herald's ranking of the Hawks' 11 best prospects.

1. Nick Leddy, D, 19, Chicago (NHL)

Acquired: Trade from Minnesota, February 2010

Coach Joel Quenneville says: "I like his patience he plays with the puck and his reads in the game. He just looks like he understands his positioning. You just appreciate his reads and his poise out there for a young kid."

Projection: Leddy is considered organization's top prospect even though he has played regularly with Hawks. Has potential to be a top-four defenseman for the next decade.

2. Jeremy Morin, LW, 19, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: Trade from Atlanta, June 2010

Bowman says: "He's a guy we have high hopes for. We traded for him with the expectation that he wasn't too far away from the NHL. He has impressed us with not only his offensive talent but his competitiveness.

"Our scouts, when we were talking about that trade, they said this guy is going to be a power forward kind of a player. He has really great hands, but he comes to battle. He's not afraid to fight. He'll do all the little things some guys don't want to do."

Projection: The gritty Morin is a goal scorer with a nose for the net, but in several call-ups this season impressed the Hawks with his grittiness and willingness to hit and block shots. He should make the team next fall.

3. Kyle Beach, LW, 21, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: 2008 draft, 11th overall

Bowman says: "The thing with guys (like Beach and Morin) that were big scorers in juniors is to try to adapt their game to the pro style and do some of the little things that don't show up as goals or assists in order to be effective NHL players and to be able to be used as a role player initially in the NHL.

"Kyle's numbers are down in terms of goal scoring, but there really is progress in his game. Although he's not scoring at the pace he was in the past he's doing the little things that the coaches notice in terms of defensively, getting pucks out, playing in pressure situations, being physical, consistent and blocking shots. To be an NHL player on a good team you may have to work your way up the lineup.

"We drafted Beach a couple years ago and people think, well, why hasn't he made it yet? He just turned pro. He's only played 40 games as a pro hockey player."

Projection: Hawks fans want the former No. 1 draft pick to be the next Al Secord, a guy who scores a lot of goals and fights. Maybe in time he can approach that, but right now the Hawks want him to understand being a responsible role player is his quickest path to the NHL. There could be a spot in Chicago for him next year.

4. Marcus Kruger, C, 20, Djurgarden (Sweden)

Acquired: 2009 draft, 149th overall

Bowman says: "He's a guy we signed last summer and we actually tried to convince him to stay because I think he would have made our team. He's a bit of a later bloomer. He wasn't drafted as an 18-year-old and we drafted him in mid rounds as a 19-year-old. Right after we drafted him he became the rookie of the year in the Swedish League.

"He didn't think he was ready (this year). You see this sometimes with the Swedes. They want to come right to the NHL. We had a hard time convincing (Niklas) Hjalmarsson to come over.

"We expect him to come over next year and be on our team. He's a very smart player, in the Dave Bolland mold, if you were going to compare him. He does all the little things. He just knows how to play hockey. A coach would feel very safe with him on the ice, and he's only 20."

Projection: As Bowman said, there's a spot for him on next season's roster.

5. Dylan Olsen, D, 20, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: 2009 draft, 28th overall

Bowman says: "If you know nothing about hockey and just watched him, he looks the part. He's 6-3, he's mobile, and he handles the puck. He's got the size to be an all-around defenseman.

"He can move the puck pretty well, but he has to work on that a little bit under pressure. Considering his youth, he's got all the skill set there to be a very good NHL defenseman."

Projection: Olsen probably needs at least another season in the minors.

6. Brandon Pirri, C, 19, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: 2009 draft, 59th overall

Bowman says: "He's a kid who had a great season as a freshman at RPI then decided college wasn't the route for him. The biggest strengths he brings are his playmaking, his vision and his offensive side. He's going to hopefully turn into an offensive-type center who can make plays.

"His strength is something that's tough. He's not a really big kid, and he has to work on that this summer. If he can come in to camp stronger he has a chance to push some guys."

Projection: The Hawks' need for a help at center after Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland could fast track Pirri to the NHL.

7. Kevin Hayes, C, 18, Boston College

Acquired: 2010 draft, 24th overall

Bowman says: "They're using him at center at BC as a freshman and he has played a pretty big role. He can play wing or center, but it's nice to see they're using him in the middle because we'd like to use him as a center as well.

"He's a big man with good skating ability, but he has really soft hands. He can make plays in tight spaces. He has high-end talent with the puck, and he has the size and the skating. He's just so young; he hasn't filled out yet. If you fast forward a year or two, he's going to be a nice package of size and skill."

Projection: Two or three years down the road, he could be No. 2 center.

8. Shawn Lalonde, D, 20, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: 2008 draft, 68th overall

Bowman says: "He's really taken some strides over the last six weeks. Last year in Belleville, they didn't have a great team and in some ways he got some bad habits.

"He's such a good skater and has such good offensive instincts, but we had to kind of back him up this year. He tried to do a lot of things by himself because he was accustomed to getting it and going and outskating everyone in junior, but he's not able to outskate everybody any longer. We've tried to teach him defense first because we know he can rush the puck."

Projection: A mobile defenseman with good puck skills, he probably is still a year or two away.

9. Igor Makarov, RW, 23, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: 2006 draft, 33rd overall

Bowman says: "He's going to be an energy kind of player in terms of his style. If you didn't know he was Russian, he plays like a North American, hard-nosed kid.

"He's plays hard. He's a big kid, he skates very well, and he's very physical. He's a disruptive force and he has decent skill. He's going to be a role player, and I think he's going to be a good one."

Projection: The Hawks need what he does, so next season it's very possible he makes the team.

10. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, 22, Rockford (AHL)

Acquired: Trade with Atlanta, July 2010

Bowman says: "He's an offensive-type defenseman in the mold of (Brian) Campbell and (Duncan) Keith in terms of his ability to rush the puck up the ice. He's got a very big shot, but his skating ability is probably the thing that stands out the most.

"It's just his consistency. There's some nights I've seen him this year where he's been like an NHL all-star in the American League and there are other nights he's in and out. His best game is NHL caliber right now. We've just got to try to get it on a more consistent basis."

Projection: He could be in the mix for a roster spot next season as a fifth, sixth or seventh guy.

11. Alexander Salak, G, 24, Farjestad BK (Sweden)

Acquired: Trade with Florida, February 2011

Bowman says: "He's an interesting development. He's really come along this season and he had a great year in the American Hockey League last season. He's at that age where goaltenders start to show their capability, and we think he has a really bright future."

Projection: It's not off base to think he could be Corey Crawford's backup next season.

•Follow Tim's Hawks reports via Twitter@TimSassone and join the conversation with fans on his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.

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