The NHL Draft is still over a month away, but the awareness of prospects to be on the lookout for is always on the rise. Especially for a team like the Chicago Blackhawks, who don’t have any Stanley Cup Playoffs to worry about this summer. In an attempt to actually have playoff hockey to consider in future months of April, May, and June, Chicago needs to not only hit on their top draft picks, like this year’s 11th overall pick, but also their subsequent picks beyond that. Remember, not all Stanley Cup contenders are built with only first-round picks.
This July, the Blackhawks have a big opportunity to add at least three higher-end prospects in the first two rounds of the NHL Draft. Currently, Chicago holds the 11th, 43rd and 63rd overall picks through the first and second rounds of the draft. They do not hold a third-round pick currently.
Earlier this month we looked at a player that the Blackhawks should know a lot about that could be available to them in the second round, Colton Dach, the younger brother of 2019 first-round pick Kirby Dach. While Colton is still 100% on the shortlist of players who the Blackhawks should be targeting in the second round, here are four more players Chicago should have on their radar for picks 43 and 63.
Cameron Whynot, Defense – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
• 34 games played – six goals, 17 assists
What the scouts are saying: “Whynot fits the mold of a modern day, two-way defender with his smooth skating stride and ability to defend in transition. He appears more rangy than his height would suggest, employing a long stride to cover lots of ice in a short time and using his good reach to break up plays on the defensive side of the puck…he has been a very efficient passer who makes quick decisions to turn play in his team’s favor in short order. Perhaps the most underappreciated parts of his game are his spatial awareness and off-puck reads in the offensive zone. Whynot displays a strong understanding of not only where he needs to be, but where he needs to go, and can cause problems for defensive zone coverages with the way he activates inside the offensive blue line, pulsing in and out of space to create passing lanes.” – Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects
Mario’s Couch Scouting: Besides having a very pun-friendly name, Cameron Whynot fits a big need that the Blackhawks have defensively in their prospect system: size AND skill. The Blackhawks at the NHL level were one of the smallest and lightest teams in the league last season and their top, NHL-ready prospects on defense are all on the smaller-side. While Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula, and Isaak Phillips all possess desirable size on defense, none of them have shown so far in their development that they will be effective both offensively as well as defensively at the NHL level, if/when they get there.
Jack Bar, Defense – Chicago Steel (USHL)
• 34 games played – five goals, 10 assists
What the scouts are saying: “Bar has an intriguing combination of size, skating ability, and offensive skill. He has good mobility for his size, able to elude forecheckers before firing a clean breakout pass or skating the puck out on his own and he likes to join the rush to create odd-man situations for his team. One of Bar’s greatest attributes is his proficiency on puck retrievals in the defensive zone…He can try to do too much at times, however, and will skate himself into trouble on occasion. Still a raw prospect, Bar has potential as a second pairing puck mover but his floor as a solid number five or six defensemen at the NHL level feels pretty safe.” – Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects
Mario’s Couch Scouting: A theme with this batch of potential second-round targets are defensemen with combinations of size and skill. Bar, a 2021 Clark Cup Champion with the Chicago Steel, is another defenseman in that same mold. Looking at the teams that have been at the top of the NHL the past few seasons since the Blackhawks last made a significant impact in the postseason, sizable defensemen who can be effective in all three zones can be found on all of them. Since players like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have slowed in their careers, a player of that caliber with the combination of size and reliability across a 200-foot game has not stepped up in Chicago’s prospect pipeline.
Samu Salminen, Forward – Jokerit U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
• 17 games played – 10 goals, 16 assists / 7 U18 World Junior Championships games played – seven goals, two assists
What the scouts are saying: “A 6-foot-3 forward with some power and puck skills, Salminen appeared in just 17 games at the U20 level this season but managed to lead all U18 players in Finland’s top junior league with a 1.53 points-per-game average. Salminen has good soft-touch skills for a player his size and has the vision to find teammates. His skating needs to improve, but he’s got room to fill out and as long as he maintains skill with a little bit of edge, he’s going to become an even more intriguing player.” – Chris Peters, Hockey Sense
Mario’s Couch Scouting: A non-defenseman in this group, Salminen still brings to the table something the Blackhawks lack up-front…you guessed it, size AND skill. Having yet to play against professionals, Salminen has been dominant against players of his age group at the U18 and U20 levels in the Finnish Junior leagues. This past May, Salminen was the Captain of Finland’s U18 World Junior Championships team and finished with seven goals and nine points in seven games as the Finns lost to Sweden in the Bronze Medal game. Chicago’s need to supplement their smaller, energy-driven forwards could be addressed with a player like Salminen, or Colton Dach, in the second round. Outside of players like Kirby Dach and Michal Teply, the Blackhawks prospect system doesn’t have a forward that has top-tier scoring ability to produce points in the NHL or AHL that measures above 6’2″ and around 180-pounds, and we’re not counting Max Shalunov as a prospect anymore, they guy is almost 30-years-old.
Evan Nause, Defense – Québec Remparts (QMJHL)
• 32 games played – four goals, 18 assists / 6 postseason games played – one goal, one assist
What the scouts are saying: “Nause’s game is not defined by points and flash but more via awareness, decision making and general hockey sense. He understands the game, the position, and all game situations. The sum of all his parts is what makes Nause an effective player. He is a smooth skater who moves effortlessly throughout all zones. This combined with a high IQ allows him to move around without being caught out of position or flat footed. His movements are subtle and effective. Nause has the knack to know when to slide back to support his partner or move to an open area to provide an outlet for a teammate…He generally stays within himself and avoids trying to act like Cale Makar in terms of end-to-end rushes, nor is a Shea Weber type with a booming shot. Nause simply is player with a complete understanding of how to play the position of defense and should be considered a potential asset to any organization.” – Danny McGillicuddy, The Draft Analyst
Mario’s Couch Scouting: Another skilled defenseman who measures favorably at the NHL level, Nause is a player that could pair well with top-end prospects already in the future plans for the Blackhawks like Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, or Wyatt Kalynuk. Not a player who will light-up the scoresheet, Nause could be the type of unsung defenseman that championship-caliber teams always need to have to supplement the attention-getters. While point production is not the top asset to his game, it’s worth nothing that Nause finished second in points (22) among 2021 draft-eligible defensemen in the QMJHL, behind only Cameron Whynot (23).