2019 Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Roundtable reaction

The SCH staff analyzes their preseason ballots.

Each time Second City Hockey does its Top 25 Under 25 there are always thoughts of why a certain player did or did not make the cut or why one player was ranked above or below another. In this roundtable, the SCH staff will try to be transparent to answer questions about their respective rankings and how they’d change their rankings. Hindsight is 20-20.

The T25U25 series will never be perfect and the SCH staff doesn’t claim to be experts on evaluating players. We, just like everyone else, are influenced by information that’s available on players, games we’ve watched or not watched and, of course, media coverage. We do recognize that we do play a part in the latter, even if it’s a small part. There’s no perfect or correct way to do these rankings. It’s a good thing we have a hard time ranking T25U25 players, and we’re long past the days of Tyler Motte being a top 10 player.

Five eligible players left the organization and Collin Delia graduated due to age from the SCH’s mid-season T25U25 rankings. The Blackhawks added 15 players to the pool, including six from the NHL draft.

SCH writers’ T25U25 preseason ballots

SCH writers’ updated T25U25 ballots


Underrated: Evan Barratt/Matthew Highmore

Overrated: Carl Dahlstrom

I put too much into Barratt not picking up his play in the second half in Big 10 action after the World Junior Championship. He was injured and that should’ve played a larger role in my logic. I kept moving him in and out in the 20-25 range, but he’s better suited for the 15-20 area.

In the same line of thought with Barratt and injuries, most of us are undervaluing Highmore. If you do your best Cher impression and turn back time you’ll recall Highmore was lauded as a bottom-six option last season and leading the IceHogs in points prior to his shoulder injury. The same hype, and yes some of that is from SCH, is being done for Hagel this time around due to their similar playing style. Highmore struggled a bit in his first game back in April, but looked at ease in the next three with two helpers to close out the season.

The elephant in the room is we’re all probably too optimistic, too soon about Philipp Kurashev. I like his play and think he could be solid third-line player, but there’s room for him to be more consistent. Dahlstrom was hard to rank because he has NHL experience and the warts in his game are going to be magnified more than they would be in the AHL, plus he lacks the skill compared to other defensemen in the system. I’ll have him behind Carlsson and Krys now, but don’t worry Dahlstrom will age out of the rankings in January with the Feb. 1 age cut off deadline.


Underrated: Evan Barratt

Overrated: Joni Tuulola

My focus in the rankings was more on the players in the immediate pipeline, but Evan Barratt shouldn’t be disregarded when it comes to his offensive production. With his WJC eligibility behind him, Barratt’s sole focus will be at Penn State and another season of similar experience will see him in the 10-15 range again.

Tuulola was a top-4 defenseman on a respectable Rockford defensive corps last season in his first North American season. Tuulola and Chad Krys are players that could make a jump up the rankings at the blue line. Tuulola already seems to have the hockey smarts in the defensive zone, preventing a handful of scoring opportunities with a quick stick and good gap awareness deep in the zone. His ability to stay out of the penalty box and recognition of developing plays make him a key asset.

Tuulola could be a player that produces more offensively next season like Dennis Gilbert did last season with the additions of the more offensively-minded players. Tuulola also went from eight points to 30 points from the 2016-17 season to 2017-18 in Finland. He has an established resume with room to grow. Will Tuulola be the best defenseman in Rockford? No. But is there some dark-horse potential to see him stride forward? You betcha.


Underrated: Evan Barratt, Lucas Carlsson

Overrated: Aleksi Saarela

I wish I had a good excuse for leaving Barratt off of my top 25 list, but I do not — I just missed on that one. He’s up in the mid-teens now, which is much closer to where he belongs. Injuries aside, Barratt was one of the top offensive producers as an underclassman in college hockey. If he does that again as a junior, we could be talking about him cracking the NHL lineup in late April or out of training camp in 2020.

Every thing I read out of Rockford and every person I asked who watched the IceHogs regularly had nothing but great things to say about Lucas Carlsson. Scott Powers ranked him as Chicago’s No. 8 prospect prior to the 2019 draft and that’s good enough reason for me to Carlsson up a little bit higher than I initially had him. I swapped Carlsson with Aleksi Saarela because, while both players have strong AHL seasons on their career highlights (Saarela even moreso), I’ve come across more questioning of Saarela’s ability to translate that production to the NHL level than I have with Carlsson. It puts Carlsson over Dahlstrom and Kampf right now, even though those two players have NHL games under their belt. But there seems to be a higher ceiling with Carlsson — at least for now.


Underrated: Evan Barratt/Niklas Nordgren

Overrated: Alexis Gravel/Jake Wise

When constructing my ballot, I combined Player X’s ceiling and trade value. It was difficult, at times, to measure Player X’s ceiling, especially ones I haven’t seen live. In those cases, I used Dobber Prospects, Elite Prospects and Pick 224, highlights and scouting reports from The Athletic and TSN. I’m confident in my top 12, but the 13-25 range is where I struggled to rank a handful of players.

Barratt deserves to be in the Top 15 after an impressive offensive season with Penn State. I left him out of my Top 25, because I want to see if he can reproduce the 1.34 points-per-game pace in 2019-20. That’s not a valid reason to leave him out of the Top 25. Nordgren has lots of skill on the wing. With a healthy, full season on the horizon, Nordgren’s upward trajectory should land him in the 20-25 range. He could be a prime candidate to rise in January’s rankings with a strong start to the season with HIFK.

I placed Gravel at No. 18 because he has the most upside of the younger crop of goalies in the pipeline. However, he has only seen QMJHL-level competition and still has lots to prove. He should be moved down to the 20-25 range.

From what I’ve read about Wise, he was a steal at No. 69 overall in 2018. Corey Pronman had him ranked as the No. 22 best prospect at the draft and he’s been highly touted by scouts and former coaches. Injuries have derailed his development and he has yet to play a full season at the NCAA level. He has a chance to shine with Boston as a sophomore, but until he has a larger sample size at the NCAA level to analyze, Wise shouldn’t be in the Top 15.


Underrated: Entwistle

Overrated: Fortin

Going down the rankings, it can easy to miss MacKenzie Entwistle’s name in the jumble of names like Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist or Ian Mitchell. But let me tell you what you’re missing here.

Obviously, grit has been a missing factor in the Blackhawks’ lineup since the departure of players like Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager eons ago, and it’s been a topic of concern as the NHL has increasing been turning into a game of not only speed, but power hitting and strength. Entwistle brings both.

At 6-foot-4 and 181 pounds, Entwistle is a right-winger who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. He can produce offensively: split between Hamilton and Guelph of the OHL, the forward collected 57 regular-season points and another 21 points in the playoffs, winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup for the second straight year. While he could still use some development, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Entwistle succeed in the AHL right away. Watch for him to be aggressive on the puck, quick up the ice and heavy on the body.

On the other hand, Blackhawks fans have seen a handful of games from Alexandre Fortin, and he hasn’t necessarily left an impact. With just six points in 24 games, it’s clear he needs deeper development at the minor league level.

After his 2018-19 season was cut short due to injury, Fortin has just 33 points over two seasons in Rockford. At 22 years old, he still has time to find the level he can play at, but with an abundance of forwards in the system, the clock is ticking on making a lasting impression. His speed sets him apart from most, but his awareness on the ice and quickness in making last-minute decisions needs work. While he has had bursts of greatness, his consistency needs work. Look for him to begin his season in Rockford in 2019-20.


Underrated: Nylander

Overrated: Gravel

Here’s why I left Nylander off: every critique of him, including after development camp, focuses on the same thing - his motor and his motivation. That’s the hardest thing to change. He looks like he doesn’t care at times and that scares me. Somebody who also had the talent to be an NHL player but lacked the motor and consistent motivation was Teemu Pulkkinen, who I watched a lot of when he was with the Chicago Wolves. Pulkkinen played 83 career NHL games and scored 22 points. He had all the potential to be a top-six forward offensively, has an excellent shot, and is a continual threat. But his lack of consistent motivation, especially defensively, held him out of the NHL, and why he’s now in the KHL.

That’s what scares me about Nylander. I think he’s too much like Pulkkinen, and I think there’s a chance Pulkkinen’s stats are Nylander’s ceiling. So I left Nylander off the list in favor of guys with higher ceilings, and, well, more motivation. But I’ve replaced Fortin with him and put Nylander at No. 23. Should Nylander prove himself to be better than that, I’ll be more than happy to say I was wrong.

I’m very high on Gravel, much higher than perhaps anyone else, because his style reads very Corey Crawford to me. His last season, when he continued his excellent playoff streak (posting back to back sessions with a .917 save percentage) and improved (to a .913) in the regular season, impressed me. I put more faith in the Blackhawks’ goaltending development than perhaps anything else right now, considering how solid they’ve been in recent years (Scott Darling, Antti Raanta, Collin Delia and Carter Hutton since 2010), which could make Gravel even better. Still, goaltenders are voodoo, and until Gravel is in the pro ranks, anything could happen, so I’ve placed him outside the top 15.

If you leave a comment, whether it is positive or negative, about someone’s rankings offer your personal rankings as well for a comparison for others to understand your reasoning either way.