As eight Blackhawks prospects see action in the first round of the NCAA tournament this weekend, seven more will begin postseason play in the Canadian major junior leagues—two each in the WHL and the QMJHL, and three in the OHL.
|Portland's Mac Carruth (left) and Everett's Kent Simpson (right) hope to provide solid goaltending for their teams in the WHL playoffs.
Western Hockey League
Mac Carruth of the Portland Winterhawks and Kent Simpson of the Everett Silvertips, two of the Blackhawks' three goaltending prospects in the CHL playoffs this season, have started the bulk of their team’s games, with Carruth playing in 63 of 72 possible games and Simpson appearing in net 60 times.
Carruth was outstanding during the regular season for the third-seeded Winterhawks (49-19-3-1 in the Western Conference), going 42-17-2-0 with two shutouts, a 2.96 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. Portland faces the Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the WHL playoffs and will host the first two games on March 23-24.
Everett squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed with a 22-40-2-8 record and will rely on strong starts from Simpson, who was 20-31-2-5 with a 3.33 goals-allowed average and a .909 save percentage during the regular season. The Silvertips are matched up against the Tri-City Americans, the top seed in the Western Conference, and will host Games 3 and 4 on March 27-28.
PROSPECTS SEEKING PLAYOFF GLORY
(above) is one of seven Blackhawks prospects battling in the Canadian major junior playoffs. First-round matchups begin the weekend of March 23-24.
(G, Portland, WHL)Phillip Danault
(C, Victoriaville, QMJHL) Mirko Hoefflin
(C, Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL) Johan Mattsson
(G, Sudbury, OHL) Ludvig Rensfeldt
(LW, Sarnia, OHL) Brandon Saad
(LW, Saginaw, OHL) Kent Simpson
(G, Everett, WHL)
Ontario Hockey League
The Blackhawks have a third goaltending prospect seeing action in the OHL playoffs along with two forwards.
Johan Mattsson, selected by Chicago in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, has posted a solid rookie season with the Sudbury Wolves, going 23-11-2-1 with a 3.16 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 37 games played. Sudbury is the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 36-26-4-2 record and will face the Brampton Battalion in the first round. They will host Games 3 and 4 on March 27-28.
Brandon Saad, the 2011 second-round draft pick who played two games at the start of this season with the Blackhawks, has led the Saginaw Spirit this season in letter— he was named team captain in mid-January—and in a number of on-ice categories, including shorthanded goals (6), plus/minus (+35) and points per game (1.73, also the highest scoring rate in the league). In only 44 games played, Saad also ranked second on the team in goals (34), and is tied second in power-play goals (9) and points (76). The fifth-seeded Spirit finished the regular season with a 33-27-1-7 record and will face the fourth-ranked Sarnia Sting in the first round of the Western Conference.
One of Saad’s opponents on Sarnia is fellow Blackhawks prospect Ludvig Rensfeldt, who won a goal medal with Team Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championship. Rensfeldt played 58 regular-season games with the Sting and posted 43 points (22G, 21A). Sarnia will host Game 1 of the matchup on March 23, with Game 2 moving to Saginaw on March 24.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
One of Chicago’s brightest prospects is Phillip Danault, do-it-all captain of the fourth-seeded Victoriaville Tigres. Danault registered 18 goals and 53 assists in 62 appearances while leading the Tigres in faceoffs taken (1625) and won (830) and ranking second in the league in those categories. Victoriaville (44-18-1-5) faces 13th-seeded Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the first round and will host the first two games of the series on March 23-24.
The final prospect hoping to make his mark in the QMJHL playoffs is Mirko Hoefflin of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Hoefflin logged 42 points (18G, 24A) in 59 regular-season games to help his team post a 32-31-2-3 record, good for the ninth seed. Acadie-Bathurst faces the eighth-seeded Chicoutimi Saguenéens and will host Games 3 and 4 on March 27-28.