Saturday, July 21, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks, you're up!

Brandon Saad - Saginaw Spirit
Saad had an absolute monster year. He might have been the best player in the OHL this year, he was that good. It's just too bad that he missed a good month of action with an "upper body injury" and then more time with the U.S. WJC team. Otherwise, he could have been in line for some hardware. Saad had the best point per game average in the league at 1.73. Next closest was Nail Yakupov at 1.64. Saad finally worked out those consistency issues this year and brought it every single night, and every single shift. He was a flat out beast for the opposition to contain. He took the puck to the net with conviction. His shot also improved, as did his confidence in using it. Saad also made the players around him better. It should come as no co-incidence that the Spirit didn't start to heat up until Saad returned from his injury and the WJC's. His play in all three zones also gained consistency. He worked hard in his own end and became one of the league's elite penalty killers. I definitely think he took steps forward in learning to use his size to his advantage away from the puck too, in winning more battles along the boards and being active on the forecheck. All in all, a true breakthrough season. His OHL career is surely finished now, which means it's on to Rockford or Chicago. The Hawks have a lot of depth at the forward position, so Saad will likely have to really turn some heads in camp to earn a spot. Regardless of where he plays in 2012-2013, I'd expect big things from him. It seems like he's finally put everything together in order to utilize the terrific skill set he has.

Johan Mattsson - Sudbury Wolves
I was very impressed by what I saw from Mattsson this year. When he played, he gave Sudbury quality goaltending, something the Wolves haven't had a lot of in recent seasons. He's a big guy, but very sound technically. Quite often, you'll find big goaltenders having trouble controlling their rebounds, but I found him to be very solid in this area. He looked comfortable and confident in his crease. Mattsson also has some agility for a bigger guy and looks good moving post to post. At this point, the only thing I'd be concerned about would be the nagging injuries that plagued him this year and limited his game action. Injury prone goaltenders can be quite frustrating. The Hawks have another year to sign Mattsson, even though he's a '92. But his OHL days are finished after Sudbury gave up his rights before this year's import draft. Looks like he'll head back to Sweden for a year, where hopefully he can get some playing time at a high level.

Garret Ross - Saginaw Spirit
No doubt the Hawks came away impressed with Ross after watching Saad play all year. Ross did see some time on Saad's line this year, which was a breakout campaign for him. He's a very hard nosed winger who can do all the dirty work on a line, but who also has a good enough skating ability, good enough puck skill, and good enough hands to put up some offensive numbers. When playing with Saad and Vincent Trocheck, Ross certainly didn't look out of place. Ross is the type of guy who'll do anything to help his team win, be it score a goal, drop the mitts, or make a solid play defensively. I loved the fact that the Hawks took him in the draft. A lot of Hawks fans are probably equating this to the Andrew Shaw selection. However, I'd say Ross is not quite as ready as Shaw was for the next level. Chicago could definitely have Ross play in the AHL next year (as a '92), but I think he'd be better off returning to the OHL for his overage season where he'd have a legit shot at a 30+ goal season, replacing Saad as Trocheck's go to trigger man. With only one season of true offensive output under his belt, sending him back to continue to build his confidence would be the best course of action IMO.

*of note, it looks like Hawks 7th rounder in 2011, Alex Broadhurst could be suiting up for the London Knights this year. He was among the USHL's leading scorers this year and if he comes to London, should find a lot of opportunity to put up some points. But they do have a very deep lineup, so he'll have to bring his A-game if he wants to play for the Hunters full time.

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