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Blackhawks Flyover: Forwards

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
As the NHL and the Blackhawks look ahead to the NHL Draft in June and the beginning of free agency starting July 1, it’s important to look back on the season that was and analyze the possibilities for next season. After a year of growth and change for the Hawks, there is bound to be lots more for the young team.

In this three-part series, will look position by position at the prospective roster and depth chart for the 2008-09 Chicago Blackhawks, beginning with forwards, and defensemen, and finally goaltenders.

Contract Status of Blackhawks Forwards, 2008 Off-Season:

Signed (9): Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien, Martin Havlat, Robert Lang, Adam Burish, Andrew Ladd

Restricted FA (3): Rene Bourque, Colin Fraser, Martin St. Pierre

Unrestricted FA (4): Kevyn Adams, David Koci, Yanic Perreault, Jason Williams

Prospects in the system: Jack Skille, Ben Eager, Petri Kontiola, Dave Bolland, Adam Berti, Jacob Dowell, Akim Aliu, Troy Brouwer

At the moment: The Blackhawks enter the 2008-09 Season with their top 5 scorers (Kane, Sharp, Toews, Lang, Byfuglien) under contract. While the team struggled to control the puck in years past, 2007-08 marked a distinct change of pace, and the Hawks have depth at the position that few other organizations can match.

Moreover, the team will have control over Bourque, Fraser and St. Pierre, all of whom will most likely be back with the team or in Rockford next year. Adding in Byfuglien, who should make the permanent move to forward this season, the offensive lines are crammed with talented players, all of whom will deserve significant playing time. It’s quite possible that the Hawks could enter the off-season with 10 of 12 spots in their forward rotation in place.

Ladd had a breakthrough season last year, scoring 30 points in just over 60 games. His progression will continue, and, assuming he can stay on the ice for 82 games, the expectation of raising that point total is reasonable.

Where the team could stand to improve, however, is on the power play; the Blackhawks were only 58 of 365 with the man advantage last year, which was 24th best in the league. Hopefully, with a year of experience playing together, and a second full year with Head Coach Denis Savard, the team can improve significantly.

The team will rely heavily on Kane, Toews and Sharp once again to spark the offense, and their combined 188 points last season may be just the beginning to their potential, especially the from the two rookies. It may not be reasonable to expect another 36-goal season from Sharp, but sharing a line with Kane and Toews will mean he gets plenty of open looks at the net.

The biggest jump in point production could come from full seasons from Toews, and Havlat, both of whom missed significant time with injuries, and Byfuglien, who split time between the AHL and NHL.

GM Dale Tallon has made no secret of the fact that he will be looking for another productive forward in free agency. The move that makes the most sense would be to move an older player, like Lang, down a line and put the incoming free agent into the second line. Another veteran presence with playoff experience in the dressing room could also benefit younger players, as the Blackhawks will contend for a playoff spot this season.

The future/prospects: Havlat and Lang both enter the final year of their respective contracts, and both could see offers from other teams next off-season, so it will be important for the Hawks to plan for every scenario.

Most likely, the Blackhawks’ wealth of prospects skating in Rockford has another season to wait before making the mass migration to the NHL. Skille, Bolland, Brouwer, Eager, Blunden and Versteeg, as well as Jacob Dowell, might all make a push for limited playing time this season, and all should be able to come in and contribute in case of injury.

Named the organization’s top prospect in 2008 by The Hockey News, Skille who scored 5 points in limited time with the Blackhawks, will be a likely candidate for a call-up when a regular goes down with injuries.

If he doesn't start the season with the Hawks (the most-probable scenario), Kyle Beach will be a year or two away from contributing. Most freshly-drafted prospects need at least a year or two of seasoning before entering the NHL, so look for Beach to be back with the OHL's Everett next year.

Jack Skille

If he’s doesn’t start with the team, St. Pierre will certainly get his chance assuming he’s re-signed. He registered 67 assists in Rockford last season, is a quality puck distributor and could be a good facilitator for the Blackhawks in the near future.

Eager has the build and ability to be an enforcer on the ice, and but his limited NHL experience means he still has to grow into his role. How much time he gets in the Hawks’ lineup will depend on how quickly he can grow into that role.

Recently-signed prospects Nathan Davis and Dan Bertram have high expectations, but will begin the season in Rockford with the IceHogs. Highly-touted prospects Kontiola and Aliu will most likely start in AHL Rockford, but could see some action in ’08-09.

Recently-drafted winger Ben Smith will return to Boston College next year, where he scored 50 points on the team's top line in 2007-08. He'll be several years of development away, but has shown talent to eventually make his way to the NHL.

Analysis: With outstanding depth, don’t expect the Blackhawks to overspend for a top-flight forward, but a top-six acquisition capable of playing on the second line certainly is possible. Another quality center or winger, whose able to distribute the puck or take the lead on power plays would be a plus. However, the future is bright for a talented group of young players led by Kane and Toews, who are still growing into their roles as leaders and faces of a franchise.

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