Blackhawks possess young forward depth, lack defensemen

The Chicago Blackhawks' monster trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets did more than swap a few big-name players.

Aside from most notably Brandon Saad departing Chicago and Artem Anisimov arriving, the trade provided the Blackhawks with even more young forwards and continued to drain their young defensemen from the system.

Things can change quickly in the offseason with signings and trades, and the Blackhawks certainly aren’t done, but right now they appear to have an abundance of quality forwards who are NHL ready or could be soon and are lacking defensemen of that sort.

Twenty-year-old forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Marko Dano and Artemi Panarin, 23, should be locks for the lineup next season. Dano was part of the Saad trade, and Panarin was signed recently after playing in the KHL. Depending on which current roster players are ultimately moved before the season begins, the Blackhawks could have a couple NHL openings for many players to fight for at training camp. Among the potential candidates will be Kyle Baun (23), Phillip Danault (22), Ryan Hartman (20), Tanner Kero (22), Mark McNeill (22), Jeremy Morin (24), Joakim Nordstrom (23), Garrett Ross (23) and Corey Tropp (25).

The Blackhawks’ defenseman situation is different. In the past year, they have traded defenseman prospects Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and Mike Paliotta. All three were once thought to be eventual NHL players for the Blackhawks. Clendening and Dahlbeck had short auditions in the NHL last season and were later dealt. Clendening went to the Vancouver Canucks for a younger prospect, and Dahlbeck was included in the deal to get Antoine Vermette. The Blackhawks had to really work to sign Paliotta after he finished his college career at Vermont this spring, and he was a piece in the Saad trade.

Not that Tim Erixon and T.J. Brennan had much of a NHL future with the Blackhawks, but they were also defensemen the Blackhawks acquired last season and have since parted with. The Blackhawks originally traded Morin for Erixon to the Blue Jackets last season, and Erixon was later claimed off waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brennan was acquired in the Nick Leddy trade and was solid with the Rockford IceHogs, but he was traded later to the Maple Leafs.

The Blackhawks’ system isn’t completely void of young defensemen. The Blackhawks are hopeful Trevor van Riemsdyk, 23, can continue his development. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman recently said he thought David Rundblad, 24, could handle more responsibility. Stephen Johns, 23, would have likely reached the NHL last season if it hadn't been for a variety of injuries. Ville Pokka, 21, is also highly touted and could be the saving grace of the Leddy trade.

Going into this season, though, the Blackhawks don’t possess many defensemen who are absolutely ready for the NHL if a player or two gets hurt. Johns is expected to make that NHL leap to begin the season, so he won’t be available from the AHL. Pokka played well in Rockford last season, but he may need a bit more seasoning. The Blackhawks thought enough of Viktor Svedberg, 24, to submit a qualifying offer on him, but he hasn’t been considered one of their top defenseman prospects in recent years.

The other options as of now would be Mathieu Brisebois, Dillon Fournier, and Cameron Schilling. Brisebois, 23, and Fournier, 21, spent a majority of their time in the ECHL last season. Schilling was signed Wednesday. Schilling, 26, has played in six career NHL games.

The Blackhawks have a number of Swedish defenseman prospects they like, but none of them appear to be on the horizon. Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell and Robin Press, who are all 20, and Gustav Forsling, 19, could be included in that group. Aside from Erik Gustafsson, 23, who they signed as a free agent late last season, all of their other prospects are either in college or under 20.