Brian Connelly a Player Chicago Blackhawks Fans Should Keep Their Eye On

Michael WagnerSenior Analyst IJune 16, 2010

With the draft fast approaching and free agency looming, the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to move a few of their players to get under the cap for next season.

The names that have been mentioned most often in trade discussions are the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp.

However one name not getting as much attention in the media and on the "rumor" sites is shot blocker extraordinaire Brent Sopel. It seems to be a forgone conclusion that Sopel will be one of those players who will be trade bait because of his high cap hit relative to his place on the Blackhawks depth chart.

Sopel is the type of player who you love to have on your team, as he is great in his own end and sacrifices his body for the team.

With Sopel's departure from the 'Hawks to be a forgone conclusion, the Blackhawks need find a replacement for him, and with their cap constraints, a replacement will likely need to come internally.

A lot of Blackhawks fans, including myself, have thought with Sopel on his way out, this would be the perfect time for the likes of Shawn Lalonde to make the jump into the Chicago lineup.

Lalonde, the 'Hawks 2008 third round pick, has excelled at the junior level accumulating 167 points in his four seasons with the OHL's Belleville Bulls.

However Lalonde has very little experience in the professional game with only eight regular season games and three playoff games in the American Hockey League.

Although Lalonde could come to camp, play well and impress the Blackhawks brass, it would likely be in his best interest to play some time in the AHL and adapt to the professional game.

So with Lalonde crossed off my list and him being the furthest along amongst the Chicago Blackhawks top defensive prospect, you must move on to their defenseman already in the AHL.

The player who I think might have the inside track to make the leap from the Rockford Ice Hogs to the Chicago Blackhawks is Brian Connelly.

Connelly signed a free agent contract with the Blackhawks following his 2008-2009 season with Colorado College.

The 2009-2010 season would be Connelly's first full professional season, with all of his time coming with the Ice Hogs in which he appeared in 78 games, scoring 35 points and a plus-3 rating.

He isn't the shot blocker or defensive rock that Sopel is, but he is player that likes to join the rush, and is a puck moving defenseman; the type of defenseman that the Blackhawks love to have in their lineup.

The problem facing Connelly and making the Blackhawks roster is his size. Standing at only 5' 11',' he is a very small player that might not fit in a defense core that is not one of the biggest or most physical group.

Although he isn't as physical and quite short for a defenseman, he does have great defensive zone awareness and his speed allows him to make good plays in his own zone.

Let us not forget that even under sized defensemen can be successful in the NHL; just look at: Dan Boyle, Tobias Enstrom, Lumbomir Visnovsky and Brian Rafalski.

Connelly is small in statue, but at every level in his hockey career, he has excelled. I wouldn't bet against him and think he is a player that Blackhawks fans must keep their eye on.