The Big Four
The Blackhawks are a young team, and that extends to the defense, where they are led by several homegrown pups who continue to develop into sturdy NHL defenders. Duncan Keith, 24, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round in 2002 and has become an offensive threat who doesn’t make many mistakes. He racked up 29 assists and 31 points in 82 games last season, his second season in the NHL. Brent Seabrook, 22, was a first-round pick in 2003 and likes to throw his 6-foot-3 frame around the rink. He had 104 penalty minutes last season to go with 24 points. James Wisniewski, 23, was a fifth-round pick in 2002 and was re-signed to a one-year deal this summer after appearing in 50 games and finishing a plus-3 in 50 games last season.
Jim Vandermeer, 27, came in a trade with Philadelphia in 2004, and the Hawks love the combination of what he can do on offense and his physical play in his own zone. He rounds out the top four, with 21-year old Cam Barker also expected to get serious minutes.
Get the point
Adrian Aucoin took his big shot and his oft-injured legs to Calgary over the summer, so the Blackhawks have an opening for someone to man the point on the power play this season — a role many of their young D-men should be able to fill. Barker scored one power-play goal last year, a total that should definitely grow this season as he gets more minutes and added responsibility. Keith is a smooth passer who plays a smart game and should also get expanded extra-man time.
In the Wings
Niklas Hjalmarsson -- Chicago’s fourth-round selection in 2005, the 20-year-old Swede was signed to a three-year entry-level contract this past spring and is expected to make his North American pro debut this season. He scored two goals in 37 games during the regular season with HV71 in the Swedish League and added two points in 14 playoff games.
Jordan Hendry -- The 23-year-old was signed as a free agent in 2006 and has spent the last two years with Norfolk. In 80 games last season, he scored 12 points and was plus-20.
Jean-Claude Sawyer -- Originally drafted in the fifth round by Minnesota, the 21-year-old fountain of offense was signed by the Hawks as a free agent this summer. A product of the Quebec League, the 6-foot-2 defenseman racked up an eye-popping 62 assists and 77 points in 68 games for Cape Breton last season and finished plus-40.
Cam Barker -- The top three defensemen are pretty young and solid in Chicago, but if Barker, a 21-year-old former No. 3 overall draft pick, can emerge as a dependable pro, the Hawks could flourish on the back end. Barker is a sharpshooter from the blue line and has great size at 6-foot-3, but he’s very young for an NHL defenseman. He spent most of the last two seasons in the AHL, but is expected to make parent club coming out of training camp. The Blackhawks have loads of gifted youngsters, and Barker is definitely one of their prized prospects, right up there with Kane, Toews and Jack Skille.