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2015 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

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2015 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

The NHL Draft is officially over, which means it's time to take an early look at how each team in the Central Division fared. Rather than breaking down and projecting how each player will turn out, we took each team's circumstance under consideration and based our grades by looking at the big picture.

Chicago Blackhawks: C

The Blackhawks cashed in their 2015 first-round pick for Antoine Vermette — who scored three game-winning goals in the final two rounds of the postseason — meaning they had to wait until pick No. 54 to make their first selection of the draft. It's difficult to make a big splash when you don't have a first-rounder, which general manager Stan Bowman would have liked to acquire, and are handcuffed due to salary cap restraints, so it was a quiet weekend for the Blackhawks. The most important part about it was, Bowman didn't make any impulse decisions, and rarely ever does, knowing he has the rest of the summer to shed salary. Second-round pick Graham Knott, a physical, skilled defensive player, highlights the class.

[MORE: Blackhawks make seven picks in 2015 NHL Draft]

Colorado Avalanche: B-

The Avalanche traded away center Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo minutes after the NHL Draft began on Friday, gaining an extra second round pick (which eventually turned into pick No. 39) and three other young players in return. While you'd rather have a guy like O'Reilly on a team looking to take the next step, the Avalanche feared the two sides wouldn't have been able to reach a long-term agreement when his contract expires next season so they got what they could for him before it was too late. The Avalanche quickly shifted their attention to the No. 10 overall pick, where they selected one of the more intriguing prospects in 18-year-old Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen, the best European skater in the draft. He may get a chance to compete for a roster spot as early as next season, adding to the collection of young studs developing in Colorado.

Dallas Stars: C+

The Stars only had five draft picks, but wisely sacrificed their seventh-rounder for the negotiating rights to goaltender Antti Niemi. That alone addresses a gaping hole. The problem is, the Stars may be spending close to $10 million on their goaltenders alone — assuming Niemi signs — with Kari Lehtonen already carrying a $5.9 million cap hit for three more years, so it certainly comes at a steep price. But the Stars are also excited about their No. 12 overall pick, Denis Guryanov, a talented Russian forward who may need a year to develop.

Minnesota Wild: B-

The best news over the weekend for the Wild was the six-year contract extension goaltender Devan Dubnyk signed to stay in Minnesota. It solidifies they can officially move forward with their long-term plan rather than approach free agency trying to stay above water by looking to replace a goaltender who played his way into the Hart Trophy discussion last season. The Wild strengthened their roster by selecting center Joel Eriksson EK, a highly-touted European player, at No. 20 overall and snagged a couple decent value picks in the later rounds.

Nashville Predators: C+

Like the Blackhawks, the Predators didn't have a first-round selection after they traded it to Toronto for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli before the trade deadline last year. And they could've used one this year to continue adding young talent with 2012 first-round pick Filip Forsberg, who led the team in scoring. The Predators are looking to prove that last year wasn't a fluke and the only way to build a consistent winner is through the draft. It's no secret they're also looking to improve up the middle, and they addressed that by taking three centers with their first three picks. But they'll need time to develop.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Blackhawks Stanley Cup champs gear right here]

St. Louis Blues: D

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Blues, on paper, looked like a complete team from top to bottom. But after another early playoff exit, rumors have swirled all offseason about the possibility of the Blues moving a big name such as David Backes or T.J. Oshie, making it difficult to assess their draft without having a clear sense of direction. Are the Blues looking to sacrifice picks for a chance to go all-in next season or stockpile them to plan for the future? If it's the latter, they're not off to a good start considering they only had one selection in the first three rounds, which didn't include a first.

Winnipeg Jets: A

The Jets easily had the best draft out of any team in the Central Division. While the Blackhawks, Predators, and Blues watched the first round pass without making a pick, the Jets made two of them: winger Kyle Connor at No. 17 and center Jack Roslovic at No. 25. The one Winnipeg has to be excited about is Connor, who fell into their laps. The 18-year-old who was named MVP of the United States Hockey League will give the Jets a much-needed boost on offense whenever they feel he's ready to be on their NHL roster full-time, which may take a year or two. Great value pick as the Jets continue their rise.

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."