The Swedish defensemen platoon continues for Chicago with Robin Norell coming in next on our Top 25 Under 25 list. Norell was once an afterthought, but given an exodus and lack of young defensive depth the Hawks have shown recently, the former fourth-round pick is now firmly in the organization's plans. He signed an entry-level deal with the team earlier this year. Hence, he comes in at No. 20 in our rankings.
Birth date: Feb. 18, 1995
Acquired via: Fourth round (111th overall) in 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Most recent stop: Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Size: 5'11, 190 pounds
Contract: Entry-level contract ($715,833 cap hit)
Highest ranking: No. 17
Lowest ranking: Not ranked
Given the logjam Chicago used to have defensively (prospects wise), it was reasonable to assume Norell would never have a real shot of breaking through to the big leagues. However, with a new entry-level deal and the pipeline looking thinner up top, Norell could be a player to make the most of his opportunity soon. Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver recently spoke glowingly to Scott Powers of The Athletic of the 21-year-old:
"I think Norell kind of reminds us a little of Johnny Oduya in the fact he's an excellent skater," Maciver said. "He's not a real big guy, but he competes really hard defensively. He really competes for 50/50 pucks in terms of battling in the defensive zone, solid defensive player. His ability to move the puck quickly is something we really like. Is he a future power-play guy? Maybe not. But there's a lot of things we like about his game. The one is the compete, the skating and his ability to defend. It's something he just continues to improve on. Again, it's just a matter of coming in and getting used to the North American game and getting better at all those little things we like about his game."
Norell is strictly a defensive defenseman from the looks of it, albeit one who can move the puck and himself well. After appearing in a few games in the playoffs for Rockford in the 2015 playoffs, he spent the 2015-16 season playing in the best Swedish league last year before signing an entry-level deal with Chicago.
This is a guy that, like several others on our list, is very raw in how he'll translate his skill set over to the NHL. He's going to have to overcome a lot given his size deficiency, but he's proven to be able to make up for that lack of size with superb and smooth skating ability. Norell covers a lot of ice well, is rarely out of position and will still put his body on the line working against the forecheck or blocking a shot regardless of his limitations.
Yeah, that sounds exactly like Johnny Oduya, which, of course, the Hawks would be ecstatic if he panned out that way. Still, he'll probably have to add a bit to his frame to play and have success here. If he continues to grow and develop the way the Hawks think he can, maybe there's a full on Swedish defense brigade.
What's next in 2016-17
With Norell now under contract by the Blackhawks, he'll spend the season with Rockford, tuning up his skills to the North American game. If Norell adds some strength and shows he can cover the ice and lock down players the way he's done in Sweden, then expect him to eventually challenge for a bottom or possibly second pair role among other young guys. He's going to need patience, though, as that opportunity will likely not come for at least a couple seasons while the Blackhawks still have their defensive core largely intact.
Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings
No. 20: Robin Norell
No. 21: Robin Press
No. 22: Dylan Sikura
No. 23: Graham Knott
No. 24: Anthony Louis
No. 25: Roy Radke
Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson