By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) Since the moment the Blackhawks’ season ended, rumors of change have swirled around the organization. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that a piece of the “main roster” will be moved to clear up cap space and/or add talent elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether that piece will be a “core” player like Patrick Sharp or Brent Seabrook or players along the lines of Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival or Nick Leddy.
If a move is made, the Blackhawks have a number of prospects who could contribute as soon as next season. Let’s take a look at some of the Blackhawks’ most NHL-ready youngsters.
Teuvo Teravainen (center)
Teuvo-mania hit Chicago in March, and while the Blackhawks never hyped the move as much as the fans and media, expectations were high. In his three games with the Hawks, Teravainen showed glimpses of brilliance. He clearly has a great feel for the offensive side of the game. He did well in the face-off circle and even made a couple of nice defensive plays. There were other moments where his lack of size looked like an issue and where the game appeared to be moving too quickly for the young Finn.
The Hawks haven’t changed their feelings, one way or the other, on Tervainen after those three games. He will get a good look at the second-line center position during training camp and the preseason. If he struggles, though, there really isn’t a role for him on the bottom six. He’ll never be a checker or shutdown center. He has to succeed in a top-six role if he’s going to make an impact next season.
Phillip Danault (center)
Heading in to last season, Danault looked like a sure thing. He’s a strong two-way center who had shown elite scoring ability in his career. Last season, though, was a different story. In his 72 games in Rockford, Danault only managed to record six goals and 26 points. That’s not to say that he can’t find his scoring touch again, but his performance must have caused a bit of concern in the organization.
Ryan Hartman (wing)
Chicago’s 2013’s first-round pick, Hartman spent most of last season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. After scoring 26 goals and adding 28 assists in 52 games, he was called up to Rockford to finish the season. He recorded seven points in those nine games.
Hartman has been compared to Andrew Shaw by many. He can score, he’s feisty and physical and he’s undersized. His NHL scoring prospects are probably in the 20-goal/50-point range, but he brings a physical and grating element to his game. He’s played center in the past but spent most of his time last season playing on the right wing.
Clendening led all Rockford scorers last season with 59 points. He’s another in a long line of Blackhawk puck-moving defensemen. Offense won’t be a concern, but size and strength might be. He’s knocked off the puck too easily from time to time and lacks the size of a Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson. Listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Clendening may have to add some size to log major NHL minutes.
Unlike Clendening, Dahlbeck does have a physical/shot-blocking element to his game. Dahlbeck was one of the last prospects sent down during last preseason. His offensive game also jumped up a notch last season with Rockford. In 2012-’13, he recorded six points. In 2013-’14, he scored 35 points.
Close to my heart because he played at Notre Dame, Johns is the big, physical defenseman the Hawks have lacked. At 22, he’s a bit older than a typical draft prospect. He was impressive in his brief stint in Rockford when Notre Dame’s season ended but is still a bit raw. He’ll get a long look in the preseason, but he could benefit from a full season in the AHL.
Which defenseman is most likely to play next season likely depends on who the Hawks move in the offseason. If it’s Leddy, Clendening would seem like the natural replacement. If it’s Oduya, Rozsival or Seabrook, it would most likely be Dahlbeck, who is less of a specialist and more of a potential big-minute guy. Keep in mind that David Rundblad (remember him?) is still on the roster and will get a look as well. Sheldon Brookbank could be back to solidify the sixth/seventh spot.
In a salary cap league, the Hawks need to keep the line moving with prospects. As vets price themselves off the team, they’ll need kids to fill the void. It’s going to be a busy offseason for the Blackhawks.
Buckle up for a long, exciting summer.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the McNeil and Spiegel Show and covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.