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Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 for 2017: Nathan Noel comes in No. 24

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Noel will look to prove in the AHL that he’s ready for the pros.

Team Cherry v Team Orr

fNathan Noel’s hockey career hasn’t gone perfectly to plan yet, but with the 20-year-old joining the Blackhawks’ organization on an entry-level deal this fall, we’ll get a chance to see just how good he can be. A fourth-round pick by Chicago in 2016 after going undrafted the year before — a day he calls the “worst of his life” — Noel has the potential to become a solid role-playing forward with the Blackhawks in the near future.

Key info

Position: Center
Birth date: June 21, 1997
Acquired via: Fourth-round pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016
Most recent stop: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Size: 5’11, 174 pounds
Contract: Three years, $775,833 cap hit, plus bonuses

Breakdown

The Blackhawks landed Noel with the No. 113 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, which was solid value in the fourth round. A year before, Noel was also draft-eligible and considered a prospect worthy of selection, but every team ultimately passed on a day he doesn’t remember fondly.

Noel continued playing with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, where his numbers have been solid, but not amazing. Usually top prospects rack up big numbers in juniors or make the NHL leap outright by the time they’re 19 years old. Noel turned 20 in June, but he never had that breakout season at the junior level.

After a nice improvement to 62 points in 66 games with Saint John in 2014-15, his production has stagnated. Last season, he was still productive with 50 points in 52 games and the team won the QMJHL championship, but you’d hope that a player who’s two years older would improve his performance against younger competition.

That’s the concern with Noel, who could prove to be a tweener at the next level without the kind of high-level speed or skill necessary to fit in the NHL. He’s a well-rounded player who could still develop into a nice third-line center, but he’ll need to show he has enough skill to be an Andrew Shaw-type rather than someone who will be stuck in the AHL for years.

He’s definitely driven, as he told The Athletic this summer: “I think moving forward I’m going to surprise a lot of people because of my past history,” Noel said. “I just want to be one of the great fourth-rounders. That’s my goal. I want to show I deserve to be there. I deserve to be drafted that year. I deserve everything that I get. I want to keep striving every day.”

What’s next in 2017-18?

Noel signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, so he’s expected to make the move from juniors to the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL this season. Back in mid-July when we projected Rockford’s lineup, we had Noel slotted as the third-line center behind Laurent Dauphin and Matthew Highmore.

That seems like a reasonable projection of where he’ll fit in Rockford to start. The bigger question is how he’ll adjust to the bigger, faster AHL after failing to make significant progress as a scorer in the QMJHL. There’s definitely still NHL upside here, but this upcoming season will be big for determining just how far Noel can go.