By Chris Block
The annual summer Chicago Blackhawks Prospect and development camp opens this Sunday at Johnny’s IceHouse West in Chicago and continues through Friday July 17th.
The full roster of attendees will be released by the team soon. Virtually all recent Blackhawks unsigned draft picks will participate as well as many current Rockford IceHogs players.
As always, the organization will lure many free agents from the NCAA, junior hockey and Europe for the six day camp.
Goaltending, perhaps, has become the most intriguing position of all now for the team with the front office moving Antti Raanta last month and honoring Anders Nilsson’s trade request last week.
Kyle Hayton (21, St. Lawrence-NCAA), Connor LaCouvee (21, Boston University-NCAA) and Stefan Steen (22, Vaxjo Lakers-Swedish Hockey League) are three goaltenders who have accepted free agent invites and are expected to be in camp on Sunday.
As of last month, Ken Appleby, the 20-year old 6’4” netminder who won the Ontario Hockey League and CHL Memorial Cup championship with the Oshawa Generals this past May was expected to take part in camp as well. Appleby participated in last summer’s camp in Chicago, as well as Arizona’s. This week Appleby has been in St. Louis for their prospect camp. There’s nothing preventing Appleby from doing both, unless the Blues should sign Appleby to a contract before Sunday.
Connor LaCouvee was Matt O’Connor’s backup at BU last season, LaCouvee’s freshman season. He’s expected to compete for a larger role as a sophomore. LaCouvee is participating in New York Rangers development camp this week.
Hayton may be the most exciting of the four aforementioned netminders. Hayton is undersized (6’0”) for today’s goaltending standards, but was St. Lawrence’s best player for large stretches as a freshman. He’s a Denver native who spent four years in the Shattuck St. Mary’s prep program in Minnesota. He played one season with Mike Reilly there. Hayton spent two seasons in Sioux City (USHL) prior to joining St. Lawrence in 2014-15.
Steen has a contract with Vaxjo but he’s another one to watch next week. He’s 6’2” and at 22 years of age, he’s getting nearer to that age the Blackhawks evaluate goalies a lot more closely. Stefan Steen plays with forward Josh Hennessy on the Vaxjo Lakers. That name may be familiar to some. Hennessy was one of the players (along with Tom Preissing) sent from San Jose in the three-way trade that sent Mark Bell to the Sharks and brought Martin Havlat to the Blackhawks from Ottawa. That trade went down 9 years ago today.
Aside from goaltenders, there are some other free agent invites we know of.
From Europe, Anton Bengtsson (C/LW, 22, HV71) and Kirill Semyonov (C, 20, Omsk Avangard) have been invited to camp.
Bengtsson is the cousin of New York Rangers’ prospect Jesper Fasth. Bengtsson plays with Chris Campoli on HV71. He had a coming out season this past year, posting 13 goals and 19 points in 52 games in the Swedish Hockey League.
Semyonov had a great playoff for Omsk after giving 2 goals and 4 assists in 49 KHL regular season games as a rookie there. The season prior in the junior divison, Semyonov had 15 goals and 33 assists in 45 regular season games. He’s a skilled player but Russians have been hit and miss at these Chicago prospect camps.
But the player who’ll perhaps be the most talked about unsigned invite at 2015 Blackhawks prospect camp will be Japanese forward Yushiroh Hirano.
Hirano, 19, has competed internationally for his home country and starred for the Japan National Team at the U18 and U20 Worlds.
This past season, Hirano moved to Sweden where he finished second in scoring for the Tingsryds AIF J20 league team. Hirano posted 12 goals and 14 assists in 37 regular season contests for Tingsryds. He notched another goal and assist in three playoff games as well.
Hirano is listed at 6’0.” He’s quick and has a nice set of hands on him as well, so he’ll be a player who could impress some people next week. Hirano turns 20 in August.
Here’s a video of Hirano’s game-winning tally to beat Italy at the D1A block World Championships in April.
Two other players from St. Lawrence will be in camp. Defenseman Matt Purmal (21, 6’3”) and forward Woodruff “Woody” Hudson (22, 6’3”) have been invited per their university.
Purmal skated with Nick Schmaltz for a season at Green Bay. Hudson played a half season with the Chicago Steel in 2013 before heading to St. Lawrence. Hudson has 12 goals and 11 assists in 73 NCAA games.
Kevin Rooney (C/LW, 22, 6’2”) of the defending NCAA Champion Providence Friars has been invited by the Hawks. Rooney won the faceoff that led to Brandon Tanev’s goal that beat Matt O’Connor and Boston University in the Frozen Four Final. Rooney will be a senior. His uncle played for the Montreal Canadiens and was a member of the 1986 Stanley Cup Champions.
Jacob Henderson (RW, 18, 6’2”) was a 2015 Draft eligible player who was passed over. Henderson will join the Providence Friars in the fall. A year ago he was seen as a player who was sure to be drafted but he had a disappointing season with the Omaha Lancers, scoring 7 goals and 13 assists in 57 games. That was just a 6 point improvement from his previous season in Omaha, and he played six more games in 2014-15. Henderson is still seen as a raw talent with room to improve, however. He’s a St. Louis native who projects as a power forward.
We’ll have more on all the free agent prospect camp invites after the Blackhawks release full list of confirmed players.
Gustav Forsling, who the Blackhawks acquired in late January from Vancouver in the trade of Adam Clendening should also be in camp. Forsling suffered an upper arm injury two weeks after the trade that ended his season.
Forsling was cleared and returned to full training in May, however. So, he should be good to go next week for full participation in camp.