The Chicago Blackhawks’ minor league prospect pool is off to a fast start
The Chicago Blackhawks finished the 2015-16 season earlier than they wanted to, and it was evident that the core of the team was beginning to age. In the offseason, general manager Stan Bowman made it known that the franchise would make the effort to focus more on internal development and growth.
Not related to the great Peter Bondra, Radovan Bondra played his first season in North America last year with Vancouver in the WHL. Off to a tremendous start in 2016-17, Bondra is a very sizable player at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and has the makings of a prototypical power forward in the NHL.
After posting a 30-point season last year, Bondra is off to a fast start at just over a point-per-game scoring pace through the first 10 games of the ongoing WHL season.
The Blackhawks may have found a late-round steal, with Bondra falling to them in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But his talent is still on the raw side, and Bondra will need more time to develop into a productive NHL pro.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Nathan Noel – Center
Team: St. John’s Sea Dogs
Games Played: 8
Playing in his fourth season in the QMJHL, Nathan Noel has been a staple for the Sea Dogs over the past few seasons, posting back-to-back 20-plus goal seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Noel brings a ton of speed to his game and uses it to create chances for himself and teammates.
A fourth-round selection by the Blackhawks in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, Noel is off to a good start with St. John’s yet again, hoping to build upon his success of last season as he helped the Sea Dogs to the QMJHL semifinals.
Alexandre Fortin – Left Wing
Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Games Played: 2
Arguably the biggest prospect storyline this summer was the emergence of Alexandre Fortin. An undrafted rookie camp invitee, Fortin jumped at the opportunity to make an impression with the Blackhawks right away.
Playing through prospect camp, the rookie tournament and Blackhawks’ training camp, Fortin was consistently one of the most impressive young players on the ice. So impressive that the Blackhawks signed Fortin to an entry-level contract out of training camp.
(Find Fortin’s highlight at 1:40)
Fortin has only logged two games so far for the Huskies, but he has good reason, as he was one of the last cuts from the Blackhawks prior to the start of the NHL season. Throughout camp, Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville continually sang the praises of Fortin and said he continued to make it difficult for them not to keep him in camp. Expect Fortin to make an impact for the Blackhawks at the NHL level rather soon.
Coming out of Blackhawks prospect camp, Graham Knott was leaving many to wonder if the 2015 second-round NHL Entry Draft pick again would be able to find his 2014-15 scoring touch, when he notched 25 goals for Niagara.
Knott has posted back-to-back 40-plus point seasons with the Ice Dogs, but on opposite sides of the scoring columns as he tallied 25 goals in 2014-15, but just nine last season. At 6-foot-4 and just under 200 pounds, Knott has a future in the NHL as a power forward, but his game away from the net still needs development.
If Knott’s start to the 2016-17 season is any indication, he has found his game again. After signing his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks in late September, Knott has visibly been re-energized since joining Niagara and is scoring well above his OHL career average per game.
If Knott continues at his current pace and can sustain his confidence, you could hard-pressed to say that his impact at the NHL level wouldn’t be on the horizon
Alex DeBrincat – Right Wing/Center
Team: Lake Erie Otters
Games Played: 6
Along with Fortin, Alex DeBrincat is one of the most intriguing and exciting prospects the Blackhawks have in their system. Drafted in the second round of this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, DeBrincat was thought to be a product of playing alongside Connor McDavid with the Otters in 2014-15.
But last season proved that DeBrincat has skills all of his own. Posting a nearly identical season from 2014-15, DeBrincat topped both the 50-goal and 100-point marks for the second time in 2015-16, and by the looks of the start of his 2016-17 season, he’ll do it again.
At 5-foot-7, 170-pounds, DeBrincat’s only weakness seems to be his size. Many scouts believed that if he was just 3 or 4 inches taller, DeBrincat would have been a top-15 lottery pick in the draft.
Luckily for the Blackhawks, he fell to the second round. DeBrincat is off to one of the best starts in the OHL this season, scoring at nearly a 2 1/2-points-per-game pace. DeBrincat has a future with the Chicago Blackhawks at the NHL level, and it’s not too far away.
Roy Radke – Right Wing
Team: Barrie Colts
Games Played: 8
A sixth-round pick for the Blackhawks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Roy Radke faces an interesting path to the NHL with the Blackhawks.
An Illinois native, Radke plays a physical game, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing just about 200 pounds, and he possess a strong shot. His adaptation to a faster game is necessary if he is going to be able to make an impact for the Blackhawks in the future.
So far, Radke has stepped into his new role with the Colts nicely. Looked at as one of the go-to guys for Barrie in his third season of OHL hockey, Radke has shown flashes of what makes him a quality prospect for Chicago.