Blackhawks

2016 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

2016 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

The 2016 NHL Draft has officially come and gone, and it's time to assess how each team in the Central Division fared. Taking each team's circumstance under consideration, grades were determined by the execution of their big picture plan. 

Chicago Blackhawks: B+

For the second straight year, the Blackhawks didn't own a first-round pick after trading it at the deadline for Andrew Ladd. They did, however, have the most draft picks out of any team in the Central Division (nine), including three second-rounders after acquiring two of them in a deal that sent Andrew Shaw to Montreal.

The first one, No. 39 overall, was used to select Alex DeBrincat, who was projected to go in the first round but slipped because of his size (5-foo-7, 165 lbs). Scouts are already comparing this pick to Brandon Saad in a sense that it's a player with high upside and has the potential to be a second-round steal.

One thing we do know is, DeBrincat can score and he does a lot of it. The 18-year-old winger registered two consecutive 51-goal seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hocky League, where he compiled 104 points in 2014-15 and 101 points in 2015-16.

The Blackhawks added some defensive depth by drafting defenseman Chad Krys, who played with DeBrincat on Team USA at the 2016 World Junior Championship, at No. 45 overall and Russian winger Artur Kayumov with pick No. 50 to cap off the trio of second-round selections. 

Along the way, the Blackhawks stockpiled a pair of 2017 draft picks, giving them 10 total when they host the draft in Chicago for the first time ever.

Colorado Avalanche: B

The Avalanche are quietly gathering a young and skilled forward group in Colorado. While defense has been an issue since Patrick Roy took over as head coach, they've been near the bottom of the league in puck possession numbers as well, and the selection of Tyson Jost at No. 10 overall is a step in the right direction to patch up both areas.

Draft experts are comparing Jost to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a two-way centerman who has the ability to play against top competition on a nightly basis.

Already with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog as the franchise cornerstones, Jost figures to draw into the lineup at some point over the next couple seasons, along with offensively-gifted Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen, who they drafted at No. 10 overall last year.

The Avalanche also selected two defensemen, Josh Anderson in the third round and Nathan Clurman in the sixth round, addressing a glaring need.

Dallas Stars: C

The Stars have created an identity in Dallas built on speed and strong puck possession numbers, and their first-round selection of Riley Tufte is an interesting one. He's one of the tallest forwards in this year's draft at 6-foot-5, but scouts say he's a strong skater with great hands for his size.

While he may not blend in with the fast-paced style, he's a versatile player that can play up and down the lineup, the type of hockey player every team needs.

To address their goaltending situation, the Stars drafted Colton Point in the fifth round as a potential long-term project and solution in the crease. This came shortly after the Stars officially gave up on and parted ways with netminder Jack Campbell, who was once thought to be the next big thing, after he was shipped to Los Angeles for defenseman Nick Ebert.

Minnesota Wild: C

The best move of the weekend for the Wild was, hands down, the decision to buy out the final year of Thomas Vanek's contract and the $6.5 million cap hit that came with it. While the penalty will be $1.5 million this year and $2.5 million in 2017-18, it opened up $5 million in cap space for a team that currently has just seven forwards under contract in 2016-17 and wants to contend before the championship window starts to close.

As for the draft itself, the Wild had only one pick in the first three rounds — and four total — but luckily for them it was a first-rounder used on forward Luke Kunin at No. 15.

He's regarded as a solid two-way player who plays with high energy, something the Wild could use as they transition into the Bruce Boudreau era.

Nashville Predators: B+

The Predators had eight draft picks this year (with at least one in each round), and — surprise, surprise — they used five of them on a defenseman, including their first-round pick (No. 17 overall) Dante Fabbro and second-round selection (No. 47 overall) Samuel Girard.

Fabbro is expected to play next season at Boston University, but with Shea Weber on the back-nine of his career and Seth Jones being traded to Columbus in exchange for Ryan Johansen, the Predators are hoping Fabbro can be their next young stud on the blue line.

St. Louis Blues: B

The Blues owned only one draft pick in the first three rounds last season, but this year they had three in the first two, and eight overall.

Tage Thompson fits the crop of the Blues as a versatile power forward with offensive skill, and they liked him enough to trade up two spots to take him at No. 26 overall. Jordan Kyrou, their second-round selection, drew some positive reaction as a guy that jumps off your television screen. 

Thompson and Kyrou were two of seven forwards drafted by the Blues, with the other being a goaltender, Evan Fizpatrick, with the 59th overall pick.

Speaking of goaltenders, the Blues also made one of the biggest trades of the weekend by dealing Brian Elliott to Calgary for a second-round pick (which turned out to be Kyrou at No. 35) and a conditional third-rounder in 2017, with the caveat that Elliott re-signs with the Flames.

With Jake Allen ready to take on the full-time role in net and the Flames desperately needing a starter, it's a deal that made sense for both sides, but perhaps the Blues could've gotten more for Elliott given his 2016 success, both in the regular season and postseason, and great value at $2.5 million.

Winnipeg Jets: A-

The Jets are building something special in Winnipeg after owning two first-round picks for the second straight year.

Auston Matthews, who went No. 1 overall to Toronto, is certainly the most well-rounded player in this year's draft, but the Jets arguably drafted the player with the highest ceiling with the second overall pick: Patrik Laine, who compared himself to Alex Ovechkin, a six-time Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner.

Laine will make an immediate impact on the Jets in his first season. Factor that in with the possibility of Kyle Connor, who was named USA Hockey's College Player of the Year and left college early to sign his entry-level contract in April, joining the Jets at the same time as Laine and Winnipeg's future is almost here.

Logan Stanley, a 6-foot-7 defenseman, may have been a reach at No. 18 overall, but the growing threat of losing Jacob Trouba, who's a restricted free agent on July 1, via a trade or an offer sheet may have forced their hand to keep that blue line stocked with young, promising talent. 

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."