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Panarin, Dano among Blackhawks' top five prospects

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Knowing a salary-cap crunch was coming in the offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks signed several free agent prospects in the spring to add some depth to their system.

They tapped into the international and collegiate markets to bring in young talent, and the end result is a prospect base that's expected to help Chicago move past the departures of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and others this summer.

Here is a look at the Blackhawks' top five prospects, according to

1. Artemi Panarin, LW

How acquired: Agreed to terms on two-year contract on May 1, 2015

Last season: SKA St. Petersburg, KHL: 54 GP, 26-36-62

Panarin, 23, is the most skilled among the impressive group of free agent prospects the Blackhawks signed this spring. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound forward is also closest to playing in the NHL.

Much like 20-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, the highly touted forward who stepped up to help the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2015, Panarin has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane with his playing style and talent.

Panarin has a clause in his contract that allows him to head back to the Kontinental Hockey League if he doesn't make the Blackhawks roster, but general manager Stan Bowman doesn't think that will be an issue.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Marko Dano, LW

How acquired: Trade with Columbus Blue Jackets on June 30, 2015

Last season: Blue Jackets: 35 GP, 8-13-21; Springfield, AHL: 39 GP, 11-8-19

The Blackhawks got their first look at Dano at their development camp in July after acquiring him in the June 30 trade that sent Saad to the Blue Jackets. What they saw was impressive.

Dano (5-foot-11, 183 pounds) has added muscle the past couple years and could turn out to be the steal of the trade. He's skilled enough to warrant consideration for a role among the Blackhawks' top six forwards, but the 20-year-old Slovakian isn't afraid to muck it up around the net to score goals.

There has already been talk that Dano, who Columbus selected in the first round (No. 27) of the 2013 NHL Draft, might take Saad's spot at left wing on the top line with captain Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Nick Schmaltz, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 20), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: University of North Dakota, NCHC: 38 GP, 5-21-26

Schmaltz (6-foot, 177) has a ceiling the Blackhawks would love for him to reach, but his problem has been finding consistency. He was named to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's 2014-15 All-Rookie Team after he was second among freshmen in points per game (0.68) and assists (21), but seven of his 26 points came during a five-game point streak early in the season.

The knock was that Schmaltz, 19, got lost in the shuffle at times and did not take advantage of his impressive array of skills. The upside is that he has shown flashes of talent that have him projected as a top-six forward in the NHL.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

4. Ville Pokka, D

How acquired: Trade with New York Islanders on Oct. 4, 2014

Last season: Rockford, AHL: 68 GP, 8-22-30

Pokka (6-foot, 214) was the key piece of the trade that sent defenseman Nick Leddy to the Islanders days before the beginning of last season.

The 21-year-old puck-moving defenseman probably needs another season of development in the American Hockey League, but the talent is there. It's just a matter of Pokka, who New York selected in the second round (No. 34) of the 2012 draft, avoiding some of the defensive lapses that hindered him last season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

5. Ryan Hartman, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 30), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Blackhawks: 5 GP, 0-0-0; Rockford, AHL: 69 GP, 13-24-37

Hartman, 20, has been compared to scrappy Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw since the day he was drafted, and nothing has changed in that regard. Hartman got his first taste of the League last season and added some instant energy with a huge hit on his very first shift.

At 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, Hartman is a little bigger than Shaw but has similar offensive skills. He'll swarm the net and play in the hard areas of the ice; in other words, he won't back down from the game's physical side. There are spots on the Blackhawks roster he could fill, but in a system packed with similar prospects looking to do the same, it won't be easy to earn one.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

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