By Chris Block
On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks will open their annual summer prospect camp over at Johnny’s Ice House West on Madison Street west of the United Center.
Blackhawks draft picks such as Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Stephen Johns, Mac Carruth, Dillon Fournier and Carl Dahlstrom among others will draw most of the attention. However, filling out the practice groups and intra-squad scrimmages are a host of undrafted free agents from across the globe.
With 2012 first round pick Teuvo Teravainen skipping this year’s camp and 2013 first-rounder Ryan Hartman missing out while on the mend from a recent shoulder surgery, more opportunity for other less recognizable names and faces to leave an impression on Blackhawks management now exists.
In the past some of these camp invitees have gone on to earn contracts with the Blackhawks, Rockford IceHogs or other organizations in the NHL and AHL. This year’s crop is likely to be no different.
Today we’ll be profiling some of the more interesting names attending this year’s prospect camp under invitation.
JACKSON WHISTLE, 18 – Goaltender – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Perhaps the most intriguing name on the list of free agent invitees at this summer’s prospect camp is Kelowna Rockets goaltender Jackson Whistle.
While its typically the rule that goaltenders don’t mature until they reach their mid-20’s, 18-year old Whistle posted massive numbers in a backup role this past season for his hometown Kelowna Rockets and is poised to take over the majority of starts for the WHL club in the upcoming year.
Jackson Whistle was ranked by Future Considerations scouting as the 15th best available goaltender in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Central Scouting wasn’t as high on Whistle, ranking him 27th just among North American netminders available in the draft in their final rankings.
The McKeen’s Hockey 2013 draft guide, which also had Whistle ranked high enough that they expected he’d be taken in the draft, wrote “(Whistle) flourished upon being traded to his hometown Kelowna club, developing a structured approach. (He’s become) more composed and learning to rely on sound positioning and timing rather than his hair-trigger reflexes and convoluted, messy stance… A successful off season of muscle mass development and possibly a growth spurt will only solidify his stock as a legitimate NHL prospect.”
Whistle traded to Kelowna from the Vancouver Giants after Whistle struggled as a 17-year old, going 1-7-0-3 with a 3.61 GAA and 87.3% save percentage. With Kelowna in 2012-13, Whistle made drastic improvements going 15-2-1-0 with a 1.96 GAA and 93.1% save percentage for the WHL’s second best regular season team behind the Portland Winterhawks. He fell 274 minutes shy of the minimum cutoff to rank with the WHL league leaders, which his 93.1% save percentage could have ranked second among all WHL netminders.
Future Considerations notes Whistle’s rebound control “could use some work,” but that’s true of nearly all young (and many off all ages) goaltenders. He does track the puck very well and possesses great reflexes, so he is able to make the first save and recover when he gives up those big, juicy rebounds. Not to use this as a career potential comparison, but just in terms of attributes, Whistle’s scouting report reads like Carter Hutton’s – an average sized goalie, who positions himself well enough to compensate for that lack of size, does well to battle and find pucks in traffic and make the first save.
McKeen’s Hockey also wrote “still prone to shrinking up and leaving himself open to lateral passing plays or high shots.” Both areas young goaltenders tend to go through fits and stretches where they lapse into bad habits because of fatigue, maturity or the learning curve of self-discipline in their technique.
VIKTOR SVEDBERG, 22 – Defenseman – Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Technically a free agent invite to this camp although he was recruited by Blackhawks scouts and is signed under the organizational umbrella with AHL-Rockford, big 6-foot 9-inch Viktor Svedberg is making his presence known at Blackhawks prospect camp for the second-straight summer.
At 6-9 and listed at 225 pounds, Svedberg is a wiring and lanky Swedish defenseman with a freakish reach advantage. The Gothenburg native will make his North American debut this fall after two full seasons on the Frolunda Indians in the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien), which has now changed its name to the Swedish Hockey League. With Frolunda, Svedberg was a teammate of former Rockford IceHogs winger Mathis Olimb.
PAT MULLANE, 22 – Center – Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Graduating after four seasons at Boston College, Pat Mullane is the latest in a line of B.C. alumni to join the Chicago Blackhawks organization in some form or another.
The 2012-13 Boston College captain signed a one-year AHL contract with the Rockford IceHogs in late April.
Mullane comes to the pros as a center, but joins a crowded middle in Rockford, which will see Phillip Danault, Joakim Nordstrom, perhaps a continuation of the Jimmy Hayes center ice transition, as well as Byron Froese and likely either Drew Leblanc or Brandon Pirri, or perhaps both. So, Mullane may either be forced to slide over to the wing or have a monster camp to stick at his natural position.
DARIO SIMION, 19 – Right Wing – Lugano (Swiss National League)
A free agent invite with interesting potential is Switzerland’s Dario Simion.
Simion is a decent sized (6-2, 185) recently turned 19-year old who has already skated two full seasons in the Swiss National League.
Dario Simion will also be one of Switzerland’s key players again at the World Junior Championships this winter. Simion put up 2 goals and 3 assists in 6 games for Switzerland at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championships, his second consecutive year representing his country in that tournament.
In the Swiss Elite League, Simion plays for Lugano, and was coached, albeit briefly, by Blackhawks director of player development, Barry Smith at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.
Those who watched him play at the most recent World Junior tournament would note Simion is a slick mitted, right-shooting sniper who can skate either wing.
JAKE CHELIOS, 22 – Defenseman – Michigan State (NCAA)
Likely to get as much or more attention than many of the Blackhawks actual top prospects this week because he’s the son of NHL legend and former Blackhawk great Chris Chelios, and that appeals more to the general fan base whether or not it is fair, is Michigan State senior, Jake Chelios.
Jake Chelios will be attending his second-straight Blackhawks prospect camp after going to Detroit Red Wings development camp prior to his freshman and sophomore seasons.
At 6-2, 192 pounds is filling into his frame nicely having turned 22 in March. He’s entering a pivotal season at Michigan State considering he’s yet to simply define himself as a player at the collegiate level.
In 118 games thus far as a Spartan, Chelios has 15 goals and 18 assists skating shifts at both forward and defense along the way. He’ll attend this week’s camp as a defenseman.
The legend of Jake’s father being a late-bloomer has always been a case study in anecdotal mythology. Chris Chelios arrived at the University of Wisconsin at the age of 18 and was an immediate star there after posting big numbers for two seasons at the Canadian Junior B level. Following two seasons with the Badgers, Chris Chelios bypassed the professional minor leagues and reported directly to the Montreal Canadiens. He was inserted right into the Habs’ lineup, finished the regular season and skated in all 15 of the Canadiens’ playoff games that spring.
Jake gets opportunities other players with his numbers over three seasons at the collegiate level perhaps would not receive. He started out at Michigan State as a forward but then was converted to defense in his sophomore season. Discipline, too many penalties and erratic play held him back in his junior year.
Jake’s brother Dean is participating in Red Wings prospect camp again this summer. As a forward in his junior season at Michigan State, Dean notched 8 goals and 7 assists in 34 games.
CHRIS McCARTHY, 21 – Left Wing – Vermont University (NCAA)
Slated to play a 5th season at Vermont do to having his 2011-12 season cut short and limited to 5 games due to season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, right-shooting winger Chris McCarthy is another prospect to keep your eyes on.
A Philadelphia native, McCarthy was a member of the United States U18 Developmental squads with fellow Blackhawks prospects Jeremy Morin, Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns and Nick Mattson. The latter two of those four will also be present at this week’s camp.
Returning from that shoulder surgery for the 2012-13 season, McCarthy went on to lead all Vermont players in scoring with 13 goals, 18 assists for 31 points over 36 games. He has also served as alternate captain for the Catamounts since the beginning of his third season at Vermont.
The Blackhawks have shown interest in getting McCarthy to turn pro (more likely under an AHL deal), but McCarthy applied for and obtained a medical waiver (for the shortended third season at Vermont) clearing the way for a 5th season with the Catamounts.
McCarthy is teammates at Vermont with defenseman Michael Paliotta, a bruising presence on the Catmounts blue line who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. Paliotta will be on the ice at Johnny’s Ice House as well this week.
NOLAN ZAJAC, 20 – Defense – University of Denver (NCAA)
The youngest brother of New Jersey Devils star Travis Zajac (28) and also the only defenseman of the four Zajac brothers. Travis, Darcy (27) and Kelly (25) all play within the Devils’ organization. Measuring 5’10”, the Winnipeg born Nolan certainly lacks the frame of your prototypical NHL blueliner but he does possess the offensive sensibilities to be a force from the backend at the NCAA level.
Voted to the 2013 WCHA All-Rookie team, Zajac quickly asserted himself into a top 4 blue line role at Denver in his freshman season. He was a regular defense partner of New York Islanders highly touted prospect Scott Mayfield. Zajac also was a member of Denver’s power play unit. Although, interestingly, Zajac skated at wing on the team’s top power play unit. Whether or not that indicates Zajac could still see himself transition to a forward position as his career advances into the pro ranks obviously remains to be seen.
Zajac will be coached this season by first year Denver bench boss Jim Montgomery, who leaves the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League to take reigns at Denver. Montgomery was a college teammate and won an NCAA championship with Paul Kariya at the University of Maine. He went on to play 122 games in the NHL, the majority of those coming with the St. Louis Blues during the 1993-94 season, Montgomery’s rookie campaign after being signed as an undrafted college free agent. Montgomery has also helped run the on-ice practices and scrimmages at Blackhawks prospect camp in the past.
MATTHEW O’CONNOR, 21 – Goalie – Boston University (NCAA)
BU Terriers goalie Matthew O’Connor posted solid in his freshman season, starting 18 games and appearing in one other while holding a 2.86 GAA and a save percentage of 91.0%. His record in goal was 8-8-2.
O’Connor’s season, however, was cut short when he suffered a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax) during a morning skate on March 2nd prior to planned start against Vermont.
A Toronto native, O’Connor stands an imposing presence between the pipes, standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 201 pounds.
O’Connor will have to compete for the starting job this season as his replacement in goal, fellow sophomore Sean Maguire posted two shutouts after O’Connor’s season ended and before BU bowed out of the NCAA tournament in a 1-0 loss to UMass-Lowell. Maguire overall on the 2012-13 season was 13-8-0 with a 2.54 GAA and 92.6% save percentage.
GARRETT THOMPSON, 23 – Left Wing – Ferris State Bulldogs (NCAA)
Heading into his senior year at Ferris State, Garrett Thompson was not a highly sought after recruit at the Division-I college level after completing three seasons with the Traverse City North Stars of the NAHL U.S. junior ranks. But Thompson got a shot with the Bulldogs and through perseverance and hard work he’s become one of Ferris State’s top players.
As a sophomore, Thompson had the Bulldogs’ lone goal in that 4-1 loss to Boston College in the 2012 Frozen Four championship final. He also posted Ferris State’s first goal, in the opening moments of the third period, in their 2-1 victory over Cornell to put the Bulldogs into the Frozen Four. (As a side note, a defenseman the Hawks picked up in trading Philippe Paradis to Tampa Bay this past spring, Kirill Gotovets, set up the lone Cornell tally in that game a minute after Thompson’s goal. Gotovets will also be attending this week’s prospect camp.)
The Davison, Michigan (outside of Flint, more than an hour northwest of Detroit) native posts points more by way of effort and understanding where to be on the ice than natural abilities. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, he’s good in front of the net as well.
Thompson’s teammate at Ferris State, Kyle Bonis, attended Blackhawks prospect camp last summer and went on to make his professional debut for the Norfolk Admirals in late March after completing his senior season for the Bulldogs.
SEMYON “SAM” BABINTSEV, 18 – Right Wing – Mississauga (OHL)
A hand-picked client of the Russian great Igor Larionov, Sam Babintsev has two seasons of North American hockey under his belt, one with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies and this past season as a member of the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL).
Babintsev is a slight (5-11, 167), yet hard-working winger who Larionov has taken under his wing, amongst other players including Nail Yakupov.
The 2012-13 season didn’t go particular well for Babintsev, however. In 62 games, he posted 5 goals and 6 assists, struggled for playing time and finished the regular season with just 1 goal in his last 32 games. Babintsev was also held off the scoresheet in 5 playoff games.
Still, if Larionov sees something in the kid, common sense says he’s worth a look. The Scotty Bowman-Detroit link here is the presumable avenue Babintsev arrives on.
MATT LORITO, 23 – Forward – Brown University (NCAA)
An undersized, speedy winger attending Blackhawks prospect camp for the second consecutive year, Brown University’s Matt Lorito could turn some heads with his shifty skills and competitiveness.
As a sophomore, Lorito led the Brown Bears in scoring with 22 goals and 15 assists. 8 of his goals came via the power play. He did not have a single power play tally in his freshman season, a 24 game campaign that was shortened by injury, in which he posted just 4 goals and 13 assists.
Lorito is an Oakville, Ontario native who, as an 18-year old, skated for the St. Catherines Falcons in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League with now Detroit Red Wings prospect, Riley Sheahan.
Other Camp invitees not covered in depth here:
Cohen Adair, 21, a sophomore forward at Northern Michigan (NCAA)
Jason Bast, 24, a senior center at St. Francis Xavier (AUS)
Milos Bubela, 20, a Slovakian sophomore right-shooting winger at R.P.I. (NCAA). Bubela played one season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints (under Jim Montgomery) prior to joining R.P.I. Bubela posted 8 goals and 19 points for R.P.I. as a freshman.
Grayson Downing, 21, a junior center at the University of New Hampshire (NCAA). Downing is coming off a great season at UNH, scoring 15 goals, 16 assists in 38 games. He was also a plus-13.
Quinn Gould, 23, a junior forward at Merrimack College (NCAA).
Tim O’Brien, 20, a Winnetka native who will be a sophomore at Dartmouth College (NCAA). In 33 games his freshman season, O’Brien tallied 6 goals and 12 total points in 33 games played.
Luke Curadi, 22, a West Point, NY native entering his junior season at R.P.I. (NCAA), the same school as Milos Bubela attends. Brandon Pirri played one season for R.P.I. as well before turning pro. Curadi is a 6’5” 225 pound blue liner who also once skated for the Dubuque Fightning Saints under Jim Montgomery.
Gleb Koryagin, a Moscow, Russia native who will turn 19 on August 6th. The 6’0” 181 pound blue liner skates for the HC MVD junior team, which is under the Moscow Dynamo (KHL) banner.
Guy Leboeuf, 23, another R.P.I. defenseman. Before you try to make a joke about the Hawks getting a group discount on airline travel, these college players are supposed to pay their own way to these NHL camps or else risk losing their college elegibility. Leboeuf will be a senior at R.P.I. He’s from Quebec, if you couldn’t have guessed.
Zach Loesch, this White Bear Lake, Minnesota (I just like typing that. It’s really inconsequential but its terribly late and I’m getting loopy) will turn 21 on August 10th. Loesch will enter his sophomore season for Lake Superior State in the fall. The defenseman posted 4 assists in 38 games from the blue line as a freshman and was also a minus-9. At 6’5” and 195 pounds, he has a lot of time and space to fill out and get stronger.
Dan Weissenhofer, Naperville native will turn 21 on August 20th. This Air Force Academy defenseman enters his junior season this fall. He’s a right-shooting rear guard who also played for the Fargo Force and Lincoln Stars in the USHL. Picked up 13 asissts in 37 games for Air Force this past season.
Other camp notes:
Expect that we’ll find out who the Rockford IceHogs’ newest assistant coach will be this week. Rumor has it that it’s a recently fired D-1 NCAA (CCHA) collegiate coach. By league rule, Blackhawks coaches cannot participate in this week’s workouts, so the Rockford staff, Barry Smith, Kevin Delaney as well as other assorted non-coaching staff personnel will lead the workouts…