A breakout season for Nick Schmaltz has landed the young forward at No. 36 on the new Top 50 NHL prospects list released by ESPN's Corey Pronman on Thursday. Schmaltz, the Blackhawks' 2014 first-round pick, is the only member of the organization included in the rankings.
It's been a strong year for Schmaltz, who has played well in both college and international play. The 19-year-old forward is in the middle of a big sophomore year at the University of North Dakota and put up solid numbers for Team USA at the World Junior Championship.
Schmaltz is a highly skilled player, which explains why he was drafted with the No. 20 overall pick in 2014. It's taken him some time to round out his game and improve his pacing. Now that we're seeing some progress, he's starting to make noise. Here's Pronman's breakdown of the forward:
Schmaltz is a hard prospect for me to get a read on. His skill level is high-end, and he's one of the best pure playmakers on this list. Any time Schmaltz is a near a puck he can make a great play happen with his patience, hands and vision. He used to be horror show away from the puck, and while you still see moments that are less than good from him in that respect, he showed notable improvement in his defensive play at the WJC.
We recently ranked Schmaltz as the No. 2 prospect in the Hawks' organization. Marko Dano was the only player ranked ahead of Schmaltz. He's not eligible for Pronman's rankings, however, because of his extended stint with the Blue Jackets last season. So it's possible that Dano would've ranked higher than Schmaltz had he qualified, although it's fairly clear those are the top two prospects for the franchise right now.
In August, Pronman's Top 100 list had three Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin (No. 34), Ryan Hartman (No. 61) and Ville Pokka (No. 64). Gustav Forsling was also listed as an honorable mention. Obviously Panarin has graduated from the prospect rankings, but the other three players apparently haven't impressed enough to crack the top-50. Hartman and Pokka are currently playing in Rockford, while Forsling is in the SHL.