Blackhawks

Evans, Weishar lead Class of 2014

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Evans, Weishar lead Class of 2014

The class of 2014 may not measure up to 1985, the gold standard of recruiting classes ever produced in the Chicago area. And it might not even compare to the class of 2013. But this year's sophomores show plenty of promise -- and they have two years to get even better.

By then, everybody -- analysts, college recruiters, media, fans -- should be able to correctly spell the first name of Parrker Westphal, Bolingbrook's outstanding cornerback. That's right, P-A-R-R-K-E-R.

"Everybody drops one of the r's, even our school's registrar," Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow said. "Nobody believes his name is spelled with two r's. We sent our roster to the Illinois High School Association for the official program in the state finals and they changed it, too."

Westphal made a name for himself -- no matter how you choose to spell it -- in Bolingbrook's victory over unbeaten and top-ranked Loyola in the Class 8A final, constantly harassing Loyola's wide receivers, and Ivlow predicts he will be a genuine Division I recruit as a senior.

But tackle Shane Evans of newly crowned Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge and wide receiver Nic Weishar of Marist already had established their reputations. They are popular choices as the 1-2 players in the class of 2014. But the list is long and distinguished.

Evans, a 6-4, 255-pound offensive tackle, was a full-time starter as a freshman and started all 14 games for Prairie Ridge's state championship team last fall.

"We always run to his side," coach Chris Schremp said. "He is a great run blocker. He can move people. As a senior, he could be the best lineman ever to come out of the Fox Valley."

Weishar, a 6-5, 205-pounder, caught 77 passes for 1,160 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall. He has been offered by Illinois and Northwestern and Notre Dame has expressed interest.

Others who already are attracting interest from Division I colleges are Glenbard North running backdefensive back Justin Jackson, Joliet Catholic tackle J.B. Butler, Kaneland quarterback Drew David, Bishop McNamara linebacker Robbie Odeneal, Naperville Central quarterback Zach Kolbe, Hinsdale Central wide receiver Ian Bunting, St. Rita defensive end Eddie Randle and Stevenson safety Matt Morrissey.

David, a 5-11, 165-pounder, could emerge as the most prolific passer in state history if he stays healthy for the next two years. As a sophomore, he passed for 3,306 yards and 39 touchdowns for a 12-1 state semifinalist. He also was academic all-state.

Rich Zinanni, Bishop McNamara's veteran coach who recorded his 300th career victory in 2011, said linebacker Robbie Odeneal is "one of the best players I have coached in 37 years," comparing him to former McNamara stars Tyjuan Hagler, Thomas Guynes and Kurt Belisle.

Two sophomores who missed the top 20 list but definitely are on the short list of the leading prospects in the class are linebacker Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and offensive lineman Logan Plantz of Providence.

Top 20 (Class of 2014)

1. Shane Evans, Prairie Ridge, OT
2. Nic Weishar, Marist, WR
3. Justin Jackson, Glenbard North, RBDB
4. J.B. Butler, Joliet Catholic, OT
5. Drew David, Kaneland, QB
6. Robbie Odeneal, Bishop McNamara, LB 7. Jake Kolbe, Naperville Central, QB 8. Ian Bunting, Hinsdale Central, WR 9. Eddie Randle, St. Rita, DE 10. Matt Morrissey, Stevenson, DB 11. Corey Davis, Wheaton Warrenville South, WR 12. Jake VandeMerkt, Riverside-Brookfield, QB 13. Nyles Morgan, Crete-Monee, LB 14. Desean Brown, Naperville North, RB 15. Ryan Graham, Wheaton Warrenville South, QB 16. Mikael Wilbon, De La Salle, RB 17. Parrker Westphal, Bolingbrook, DB 18. Jesse Balluff, Kaneland, RB 19. Tommy Mister, Richards, QB 20. Anthony Thielk, Batavia, RB

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman has had a busy last couple weeks. He pulled off a pair of trades, landing defensemen Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan from the Eastern Conference. He drafted center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft that could turn into a franchise-changing player. And now he’s in the middle of negotiations with pending restricted and unrestricted free agents.

With the defensemen group starting to take shape, it appears free agency will be used to fill out the forward group. That could come via trades, also, but it really depends on the market.

So let’s identify five potential UFA targets for the Blackhawks ahead of Monday, when players are officially able to sign contracts:

1. Ryan Dzingel, LW

When Dzingel was with the Ottawa Senators, he was playing top-six minutes and earning power-play time because the Senators weren’t very deep. After getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline, he struggled to be a fit there, didn't play much on the power play and was healthy scratched for one game in the playoffs.

But he still has value, although it may not be in an area that the Blackhawks need (penalty kill).

Dzingel, a Wheaton native, set a career high in goals (26), assists (30) and points (56) in 78 games this past season with the Senators and Blue Jackets. He can play in the top-six but might be more effective as a middle-six winger on a good team.

According to Evolving Wild, Dzingel is projected to earn a contract of four years with a $4.25 million cap hit. 

2. Anders Lee, LW

It’s a little surprising that the New York Islanders and their captain haven’t made any progress on a long-term extension. At the same time, it’s pretty clear that Lou Lamoriello is looking to make a big splash this summer in his pursuit of Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, and needs financial flexibility to negotiate.

Lee is a perfect complementary top-six left winger who would look great next to Jonathan Toews or opposite Patrick Kane. He’s got size at 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, is reliable, scored 40 goals in 2017-18 and has a strong work ethic. Those qualities check a lot of boxes the Blackhawks are looking for.

Where it gets tricky is what his contract may look like. He's projected to receive in the range of a seven-year deal that carries a $6.5 million cap hit. The dollar amount is doable, but the term could scare the Blackhawks away as they prepare to sign Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome to long-term extensions next summer.

3. Gustav Nyquist, LW

The Blackhawks have been interested in Nyquist's services in the past, so they'll certainly look into him as a possibility now that he hits the open market.

Nyquist has scored at least 20 goals in four of his past six seasons, with 28 being his career high. But he's not known to be a goal scorer. He's a pass-first, playmaking-type winger and makes players around him better because of it. Nyquist is a consistent 45-55-point player.

His next contract is projected to be in the six-year, $5.6 million range, which — like Lee — is a fair dollar amount but the term may not be something the Blackhawks are crazy about. Bowman appears to be focused on free-agent forwards who can be signed on shorter-term deals.

4. Joe Pavelski, C/RW

Perhaps the most intriguing player on the free-agent market for the Blackhawks is Pavelski, who’s served as the San Jose Sharks captain but may not fit into their plans going forward because of their cap crunch.

Yes, he will turn 35 in July. And yes, he has a ton of mileage on his body. But he’s showing no signs of slowing down. 

Pavelski is a five-time 30-goal scorer who’s coming off a 38-goal season, can play both center and wing, and is an absolute gamer, a leader on and off the ice who shows up when the lights are shining brightest. He’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas and is widely considered to be one of the best at deflecting pucks, which comes in handy on the power play.

What makes him an attractive piece is that Pavelski could be a player that makes an immediate impact but wouldn't require a long-term deal. He's projected to earn a three-year contract with a cap hit of $7.4 million. If the Blackhawks can get him at two years, that would be ideal. But like Patrick Marleau a few years ago in Toronto, his camp is probably looking for that third year.

5. Corey Perry, LW

Days after he was bought out by the Ducks, Perry’s name surfaced as a possibility for the Blackhawks. And it makes sense because the Blackhawks aren't looking to hand out long-term contracts.

Perry is 34 years old, a former Hart Trophy winner and 50-goal scorer, and is still a productive player when healthy. But that's the biggest concern. He missed 51 games this season with a knee injury, returned ahead of schedule and never looked the same on the ice.

Per the CBA, Perry can sign a one-year, bonus-laden deal and it appears that's what he'll do. A one-year contract in the $2-3 million with bonuses would be a low risk, high reward move for the Blackhawks.

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Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."