Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Best Prospects in Their System

Michael Gibbons@DachicagofanCorrespondent IINovember 15, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Best Prospects in Their System

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    Some may think the Blackhawks' turnaround happened during the 2007-2008 season, but they would be very wrong.

    Many think that started when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews joined the Hawks, but it actually started in 2002.

    During the 2002 draft the Hawks drafted two members of their 2010 Stanley Cup team. In 2003 they added another two members, plus current goaltender Corey Crawford. Between the 2004 and 2007 drafts, they added six more members of the championship team as well as several other players who have played for the Hawks.

    Do you see a trend here?

    The Hawks have a great record of drafting and developing talent. Here is a list of the guys who might be helping the Hawks for years to come.

Brian Connelly

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    Brian Connelly's chances of making the Hawks were hurt greatly by Stan Bowman going out to sign veterans Steve Montador, Sami Lepisto and Sean O'Donnell.

    However Connelly's time might be running out with the Hawks. He just turned 25 over the summer and even though he is performing very well in the AHL, there isn't much room for him with the big club.

    He had a terrific season last year for the Rockford Icehogs, setting records for points and assists for a defensemen,  and he is currently leading the team's American Hockey League affiliate in assists this year.

    With the Hawks keeping eight defensemen on their active roster, there is a good chance that even if an injury occurred, Connelly still wouldn't get a call-up.

Kyle Beach

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    Kyle Beach is a frustrating prospect.

    He has the size (6'3"), skill and ability, but can't seem to put it all together. He also makes some very dumb decisions.

    However it actually looked like Beach might finally be putting thing together in Rockford before suffering an injury which may cost him the season. The stupid part was he was hurt during a fight.

    Beach, 21, was the team's first-round pick in 2008, so much was expected after the drafting of Toews and Kane the years before. Many are starting to question Beach's future with the organization as many other prospects have moved past him.

    He was given the call-up during the 2010 playoffs but did not get the call during the 2011 postseason. Ideally Beach could potentially fill a Ben Eager role for the team, but we will just have to wait and see on that one.

Alexander Salak

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    Alexander Salak, 24, could be the next goalie to come in and be the starter once Crawford's contract expires in three years.

    He was acquired along with Michael Frolik in the trade that sent Jack Skille to Florida and was undrafted.

    Salak was given a chance to win the backup job to Crawford this season but the organization decided to let Ray Emery have that job, allowing Salak to get some experience in the AHL.

    The move also gives the organization much better depth at the position.

Mark McNeill

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    When I saw Mark McNeill take the stage at this year's draft, I thought the Hawks had drafted a 22-year-old college kid instead on an 18-year-old.

    McNeill, who is 6'1" and 211 lbs, already has the body to play in the NHL, which means we might be seeing him in Chicago before too long.

    The one question with the 2011 draft class is will McNeill be the best prospect out of the group or could a later pick already be surpassing him?

The Hayes Brothers

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    I just didn't think was right to talk about one Hayes and not the other so I figured I would let them share this spot.

    Jimmy, 21, was a second-round pick by the Canucks in 2008 and traded to Chicago in 2010, while Kevin, 18, was selected by the Hawks in the first round in 2010.

    The two brothers are currently playing together for Boston College and once they decide to call it quits on their college careers, they might not have to wait long to get their call-up to the Hawks.

    Jimmy is a monster at 6'6" while Kevin has good size as well at 6'2".

    Many joked after the Hawks drafted Kevin and traded for Jimmy that this would be Chicago's answer to the Sedins, but we will have to wait and see on that one.

Brandon Pirri

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    During the preseason I had someone all excited ask me: "When did the Hawks bring Adam Burish back?"

    I pointed out that player is Brandon Pirri, and he could be centering one of the lines this season.

    Pirri, 20, started the season with the Hawks and registered a point in his one game but was then sent down and replaced by Marcus Kruger. Last season in Rockford he totaled 43 points with 12 goals and 31 assists.

    If Kruger struggles or another center goes down with an injury, Pirri will probably be the first guy on his way from Rockford to Chicago.

Ben Smith

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    Ben Smith made a big impression last spring.

    He only appeared in six regular season games, scoring one goal, but then the playoffs started.

    Smith scored three goals in the first round against Vancouver, including a game-winner and left all Hawks fans wanting more.

    Smith was expected to push for a roster spot this fall but an injury held him back, and he was eventually sent to Rockford since there wasn't much room for him in Chicago.

    I would expect Smith to reappear sometime this season, and he could be the answer to who will skate along Jonathan Toews on that top line. Not bad for a sixth-round pick.

Leddy & Kruger

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    I decided to include Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy on each together because they are both still so young and happen to both be with the Hawks at this time.

    Leddy, 20, spent more time with the Hawks last season than down in the minors. Much is expected of Leddy as he has been paired with Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith early on. He already has been placed on the second power play unit and leads all the defensemen in points this season.

    Kruger, 21, is called a mini Dave Bolland by some. The similarities are there with their size but besides that, the comparisons are very unfair to Kruger. He didn't originally start the season with the big club but has done well skating on the fourth line, tallying four points with two goals and two assists.

    If Bolland does miss some time, expect Kruger to get the first shot at manning that third line. If he is up for the task, it may result in Bolland being promoted.

Jeremy Morin

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    Jeremy Morin was the prospect that Stan Bowman targeted with the Thrashers when he decided to trade Dustin Byfuglien.

    Morin appeared in nine games for the Hawks last season, totaling three points, but had his season cut short due to a concussion.

    He was only just recently cleared to play and has already made an impact in Rockford by scoring a few goals. Morin, 20, was a second-round pick by the Thrashers in 2009 and could be the answer along with Ben Smith when trying to find players to skate on those top lines.

Brandon Saad

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    We got a small taste of Brandon Saad to start the season and that is all we are getting for this season.

    However next season might be a completely different story.

    Saad, a second-round pick this past season, might be the steal of the draft. He was one of the youngest players to ever appear in a Hawks game at the age of 18 and just had his 19th birthday a few weeks ago.

    Due to his age he could only appear in nine games before his contract would kick in and force him to stay with the team all season. Since he only appeared in two games, he was able to return to juniors.

    In his first five games he scored 13 points, including eight goals.

    He has the potential to be a very scary talent and could find himself skating alongside Toews or Kane next season.