The Pittsburgh Penguins were the most-talked about young group of forwards last year with guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal playing beyond their years. In 2007-08, it appears the Blackhawks are ready to roll out their own crop of kids. Before suffering a broken finger in the preseason, Jonathan Toews, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 Draft, was atop the depth chart centering the top line between high-scoring right wing Martin Havlat and pot-stirring left wing Tuomo Ruutu. Toews had also seen time playing with 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick Patrick Kane as part of a dynamic duo that could anchor the franchise for years to come.
For now, though, Kane may wind up playing on the second line with Robert Lang, who signed as a free agent from Detroit this summer, and Russian speedster Sergei Samsonov. That is, of course, if Kane makes the team coming out of camp. Rene Bourque is a hard-hitting third-liner, Yanic Perreault is one of the best faceoff guys around, and Jason Williams scored 32 points in 78 games last season.
Jack Skille, drafted No. 7 overall in 2005, and 20-year-old Michael Blunden should also challenge for roster spots as part of Chicago’s youth movement.
Havlat is one of the great offensive talents in the game and will be the lifeblood of Chicago’s power play this year. Havlat had more trouble with injuries than opponents last season, putting up 57 goals in 56 games but missing 26 contests with an assortment of physical problems. Despite missing nearly a third of the schedule, Havlat led the Blackhawks with 25 goals and tied with four other Hawks for the team lead with five power-play goals. Toews, when healthy, is a gifted playmaker who should see time on the unit at some point, while Lang was a power-play regular in Detroit.
Up and Coming
David Koci -- Accumulated a whopping 88 penalty minutes in only nine NHL games last season. The 26-year-old is huge at 6-foot-6, but has been in the minors for the better part of the last six years. How could be the Blackhawks’ enforcer of the future, but will have to prove he can play, too.
Evan Brophey -- Drafted in the third round in 2005, the 20-year-old was signed to a three-year entry-level contract in May. Was in training camp with the Hawks this year and is expected to make his pro debut after a 107-point, plus-39 season with Plymouth of the OHL in 2006-07.
David Bolland -- A second-round pick in 2004, the 21-year-old center/right wing got into one game with the Hawks last season. He spent the majority of the season with Norfolk in the AHL, where he scored 17 goals and 49 points in his first pro season. In his last of junior hockey at London of the OHL, he had 130 points and 104 penalty minutes.
The Kids -- There has been a lot of hype surrounding the Hawks’ group of incoming youngsters, but no group of players will be under the microscope as much as those up front. Kane, Toews and Skille should make hockey exciting again in the Windy City, but exactly when they’ll be ready for prime time is anyone’s guess. So far, the kids are unproven commodities, yet they have the potential to be a lot like Pittsburgh’s kids by getting a taste of the NHL action at a very young age. Asking them to be the next Crosby, Malkin and Staal is a lot, but if the Chicago kids can be a fraction as exciting and dynamic as their Penguin counterparts, this season could represent a dramatic change of fortune for a proud Original Six franchise.