The Chicago Blackhawks are ranked No. 20 on the new NHL farm system rankings published by ESPN's Corey Pronman on Monday. It's a four-spot drop from a year ago, when a group led by Artemi Panarin was ranked No. 16 among the 30 NHL teams.
This time around, Pronman offers praise for Chicago's high-end prospects, but notes that the team's depth hasn't held up over the years. With prospects being traded out, a lack of first-round picks and some disappointing progress from certain players, the Hawks have become a much more top-heavy system in 2016.
Luckily, that top four of Alex DeBrincat, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka and Nick Schmaltz is pretty solid. But as Pronman notes, there are real question marks about how deep this organization will be a couple years down the line if some mid-tier guys don't step up:
The last few years, I've made mention of the Chicago system lacking a ton of high-end talent but being quite deep in solid talent. I look at the Chicago system and ponder who is trending up, and the answer is there hasn't been a ton of guys who really shot up last season. The situation looks a lot different here than a few years ago, with a clear top echelon that includes the top four prospects in the system (Alex DeBrincat, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka and Nick Schmaltz), some decent depth in their AHL ranks and then question marks after that.
Considering the Hawks' circumstances as a win-now team, it's not too bad to be No. 20, especially when that ranking results from your best prospects. Generally speaking, I'd rather have a few elite guys who might become stars than a deeper system full of potential role player. And in this case, there's reason to be optimistic that guys like Artur Kayumov, Chad Krys and Lucas Carlsson will help fill things out down the line.
We're getting close to the Top 10 in our prospect rankings for the Blackhawks, too, so it'll be interesting to see how those respective lists compare. Pronman is obviously one of the best experts out there, and his reports greatly inform how I've organized my rankings. It appears the top of our lists will look similar -- aside from a certain guy who qualifies for our list but not Pronman's -- but it's clear the Hawks could use a really good year from their prospects to get back into the upper crust of the league rankings.