The latest rankings from ESPN's Corey Pronman are out and the Chicago Blackhawks have four players on his tally of the top 120 prospects in the NHL. Alex DeBrincat, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka and Nick Schmaltz all make the list, which is topped by Winnipeg's Patrik Laine and Toronto's Auston Matthews.
DeBrincat, the Hawks' top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, leads the way for Chicago at No. 47. He's an undersized winger -- we're talking 5'7 -- but just about everything else about his game is great. Here's the blurb from Pronman on the compact 18-year-old who Chicago drafted No. 39 overall:
The diminutive Alex DeBrincat has been one of the top scorers in the CHL the past two seasons. He's a highly skilled winger who shows above-average to high-end speed, puck skills, vision and finishing skill. DeBrincat is constantly buzzing around the ice making all sorts of offensive plays. His elite hockey sense allows him to be in the right place and control the puck with confidence. In terms of the negatives, DeBrincat is very small, but he has a real tenacity to his game.
Everything about this description makes me want him to succeed so, so badly. It sounds like fun.
After DeBrincat, there's Forsling at No. 66, Pokka at No. 77 and Schmaltz at No. 85.
The four names aren't especially surprising, but the order Pronman chooses to put them in might be to some fans. Schmaltz is widely considered the top prospect in the system right now by most people in Chicago. He's a 2014 first-round pick, just won a NCAA championship at North Dakota and is expected to play a role for the Hawks in his rookie year.
However, Pronman says he has a tough time figuring out what exactly the Hawks have in Schmaltz. A year ago, he wasn't ranked at all, then in a January update, the forward came in No. 36. He's clearly quite talented, especially as a playmaker, but that complete two-way game seems like it's still a work-in-progress.
I still don't know exactly what to make of Nick Schmaltz. There are times where I love watching him. He's an elite passer who can make really difficult plays seem easy and dominate the puck. While he has improved his play away from the puck during his time at North Dakota, even showing the ability during under-20 international play to be an OK penalty killer, he sometimes shows the same old bad tendencies, such as not engaging his checks. He has played well, but you know that he could get to that higher level and simply hasn't done it yet.
As for Forsling, Pronman says he "isn't the best when it comes to winning battles on defense," so that'll be a key area for improvement in the upcoming season. He's a talented, quarterbacking defenseman who still projects as a very good player soon. Pokka is "not the biggest or fastest player, but his great two-way hockey sense makes him a legit prospect." You have to imagine a smart, steady young d-man like that would be right up Joel Quenneville's alley, although Pokka will have a hard time cracking a deep group out of training camp.
So that's the top four in the Hawks' organization, which Pronman ranks No. 20 among NHL farm systems. We'll know the rest of the top 10 on Wednesday. As for our Top 25 Under 25 rankings, we're entering the top 10 on Wednesday, too, after Fredrik Olofsson came in at No. 11. So it'll be fun to compare those two lists and see where we differed.