With the 2013 Blackhawks Prospect Camp in the books, chicagoblackhawks.com caught up with Blackhawks Director of Player Development Barry Smith to discuss the week overall, some of the standout prospects and more.
What was your impression of this week's Prospect Camp?
"I thought it was a really good week, a very competitive week. The players' skill sets were pretty close so there were even games, very intense. I thought the skill level this year was improved from last year, as well."
Obviously you try to hit a bunch of different points over the week, but what is your main focus on the week as a staff?
"Evaluation. You put them in situations where they play one-on-one or two-on-two. You put them in small groups so you can take a look at them individually, not just as a team playing five-on-five. You also have a chance to meet them, talk to them, interview them. You get to know who the kids are, what their makeup is. It’s a hands-on process.
"Then you have to assess where the guys are in their progression, so when you put the practices together they do what you want to accomplish. You put the scrimmages together with different lines and different defensive partners to see who’s going to play well with who. You can do a little bit of juggling inside your camp itself.
"Now that it's over, we’ll analyze what we could have done better. I always try to improve the program each year: is there more ice time we could have utilized; is there more individual play we could have done; could we have worked more with skill sets? Those are the things you have to look at."
One of the players who really seemed to stand out, and showed his experience well, was Notre Dame senior Stephen Johns. What did you think about his week?
"We know about his physicality and we know what to expect from him in that part of his game. We’re looking for some other aspects, like his ability to close the gaps in the neutral zone, make good defensive reads on the rush and making offensive plays. We looked at helping him improve his overall game."
Another player who stood out during scrimmages was 2013 draft pick John Hayden, who had three goals in the three games.
"What’s nice about John is that he has a physical element to his game, as well being a good skater and playmaker. He scored some nice goals, he was good on the boards, good around the net, he went to traffic that was involved physically, finished his checks, so he was a good overall player. It was a great surprise and it was good to have him as part of the camp."
Two players who didn't play in the scrimmages, but should be competing for AHL spots next year are goaltenders Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson.
"I think both of them are very talented. It worked out very well last year having Simpson go down to ECHL's Toledo and Carruth staying in the WHL with Portland. Both of those guys had a lot of games, a lot of ice time, which is necessary. This year they have a chance to battle it out to see who’s going to be in Rockford. They're both really talented, both have a great chance to play and we’re lucky to have them both as part of our organization."
2011 first-round pick Phillip Danault seemed to be everywhere during the week, and you could really see his compete level.
"He competes every shift. He’s very good along the walls, he has a great stick, good body position and loves to take it to the net. He’s not afraid of traffic and he really competes. He was involved in a battle with Viktor Svedberg who is about 6-foot-9. Having said that, he just goes after everything. I like his chances, I like his game. I think he’s really going to improve."
One of the things I really noticed about him is his skating ability. It doesn't get a lot of play, but I think it's very underrated.
"He wants to be on the puck. He skates low; his chest comes down low, he bends his knees, so that’s why it’s a little different skating motion, with his stick way out in front of him."
Mark McNeill really came to play during today's scrimmage. He didn't get on the scoresheet, but he seemed to battle.
"I thought today was Mark’s best game. He had the puck on his stick all the time, he was making plays, he was controlling the puck in the offensive zone and he moved it quite well. He used his size and his skating and his vision. He’s still on a learning curve as well, coming from major juniors. We’ll have a chance to watch his development this year in Rockford. I’m hoping for good things."
The plan right now is for a handful of the veterans from Rockford to make the NHL squad this coming season. With room in the top-6, do you think McNeill and Danault will benefit from that expanded playing time?
"I hope so. I hope the both of them can play. I think Mark might play more wing than center, possibly. Phillip has played mostly center, so Mark can play both. With a young team in Rockford the way it’s set up right now, I think they’re going to have a chance to prove themselves and get a chance to get on the ice a lot."
He was the smallest guy at camp, but 2013 pick Anthony Louis really competed and made some plays.
"He has a nose for the puck, he knows how to get open. He has very good one-on-one skills offensively, able to carry the puck through defensemen. He’s still young and underdeveloped – he’s only about 145 pounds so we’ll see how he grows."
Another one of the NCAA guys who was at camp was Justin Holl, who will be going back to Minnesota this season. He played a lot more wing in college than defense, but do you still project him to be on the blue line?
"He's a puck-moving defenseman. They had too many defensemen and they felt that he was one of the few guys who skates well enough to play forward. This year he’s going to play defense for them, so he’s back at his natural position. At our camp he played defense, too. He skates the puck well, can bring it end-to-end, he sees the ice, can make plays in the offensive blue line. We’ll see how he comes through his senior year."