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Chicago's Top 25 Under 25: #25 to #15

2020-02-08

Not one to generally espouse youth, or even enjoy youth-centric articles, this writer feels like it’s finally time for the Chicago Blackhawks to have such a report.

It’s taken almost three years to get to this point, but GM Thomas Gidlow actually has more than 25 organizational players under 25 years old now, if you can believe it.

So let’s dive into spots #25 through #15 since everyone (especially here) seems to love youth articles. Here is the Chicago Blackhawks Top 25 under 25 for February 2020, Part 1 of 2.

Honorable Mentions:

Kevin Spinozzi, D; 23 years old (ECHL): 16 games, 3-4-7 (free agent, signed 4/2019)
Connor Hurley, C; 24 years old (Norway): 35 games, 10-19-29 (trade w/SJS, 3/2019)


#25: Angus Redmond – G; 24 years old, ECHL: 13 games, 11-0-0, .916, 2.44
Acquired: Signed as free agent (11/2019)

Undrafted, Redmond has been ECHL-bound since jumping from the WCHA in 2017. He’s only appeared in 58 games since then but is incredibly 11-0-0 this season with the Newfoundland Growlers. He had a cup of coffee in the AHL in 2019 and looked serviceable with a .909 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA. Generally speaking, goalies tend to blossom in their later years. But he’ll need to latch on to an AHL club at minimum if he wants to have any shot at the NHL someday.

Career Projection: AHL starter/NHL third-string

#24: Jakub Stukel – LW; 22 years old, AHL: 23, 3-3-6, +2
Acquired: Signed as free agent (12/2019)

Undrafted in the EHE (but drafted by Vancouver in round six, 154th overall, in 2016), Stukel signed with EHE-Chicago just before the regular season started this past December. After a solid first pro season in the ECHL with Wichita (57 games, 19-23-42…he also netted six points in 10 AHL games), Stukel was not retained by the NHL-Canucks and signed an AHL deal with the Bakersfield Condors. In limited action, he’s proven serviceable with six points in 25 contests. He’ll need to force his way into the lineup more consistently to provide further opportunities to rise up the career ladder.

Career Projection: Top-9 AHL’er/13th forward in the NHL

#23: Brent Gates – LW; 22 years old, AHL: 18, 4-1-5, E
Acquired: Trade w/MTL (1/2020)

Gates was another undrafted free agent EHE signee this past December after getting six AHL games under his belt following the end of his collegiate career last spring. Gates ended his run at the University of Minnesota with a 31-point campaign in 38 games. NHL-drafted by Anaheim (third round, 80th overall) in 2015, Gates has plenty of untapped potential and was given an assignment to the ECHL to begin his pro career in earnest this past fall. He earned 14 points in 20 games with the Tulsa Oilers, prompting a promotion to the AHL in San Diego where he’s chipped in four goals and an assist in 18 games. If he can continue to improve, he may be one of those late-blooming types who get his shot at the big time around the age of 23-24.

Career Projection: Top-6 AHL’er/bottom-6 NHL’er

#22: Ty Lewis – RW; 21 years old, ECHL: 32, 22-17-39, +11
Acquired: Trade w/NJD (2/2019)

Lewis somehow slipped through the NHL Entry Draft twice despite a 68-point campaign in 2016-17 and 100 points in 2017-18 with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the OHL. NHL-signed by Colorado in 2018, Lewis started off with a respectable first-year AHL campaign, netting 19 points in 50 games. But a 0-1-1 start in 12 games this season prompted a demotion to the ECHL, which may end up being the best thing for him. In 32 ECHL games, Lewis has exploded for 22 goals and 39 points, which seems to point to him being good enough to compete at the professional level. However, he’s got a long road ahead of him if he wants to crack an NHL (or EHE) roster in the next few years.

Career Projection: Middle-6 AHL’er, bottom-6 NHL’er

#21: Ostap Safin – RW; 21 years old, ECHL: 46, 14-15-29, -6
Acquired: Trade w/BOS (1/2020)

Safin’s journey thus far has been one of highs and lows. NHL-drafted by Edmonton (fourth round, 115th overall) in 2017 after a couple of seasons in the top junior league in the Czech Republic, Safin put up solid numbers with Saint John in the QMJHL in 2017-18 (26-32-58 in 61 games). He started the next season in the Q with 11 points in 15 games, including three points with the Czechs at the 2018 World Junior U-20 Championships, before suffering a season-ending hip injury. Unable to crack the AHL roster, Edmonton sent Safin to the ECHL, where he’s slowly gotten his game back on track. The future is limitless, of course, but with Safin’s track record, it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll end up when it’s all said and done. There’s little doubt, though, that he has the size (6’5”, 190 pounds) and ability to make a nice career for himself.

Career Projection: Top-line AHL’er, top-9 NHL’er

#20: Martin Pospisal – C; 20 years old, AHL: 12, 0-2-2, E
Acquired: 2019 EHE Entry Draft (fourth round, 95th overall)

Pospisal was sort of the forgotten member of the high-school-aged Team USA that was drafted a year before the ‘American craze’ players like Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, and others in 2019. Pospisal had similar high-end skill but also had a penchant for the nasty stuff, as evidenced by a February 2019 USHL suspension for jumping the penalty box glass and having an altercation with a fan. Despite over 370 PIM’s in two USHL seasons, Pospisal had 100 points in 93 games and earned a spot in the AHL with Stockton to start the 2019-20 campaign. An injury has derailed his professional debut, but if he can find a balance between being a physical presence and contributing on the score sheet, there’s still a future for the 20-year old Slovakian.

Career Projection: Top-9 AHL’er, middle-6 NHL’er

#19: Evan Cormier – G; 22 years old, ECHL: 10, 3-2-5, .901, 2.81
Acquired: Trade w/MTL (7/2019)

Cormier has had a minor setback on his journey from the OHL to the professional ranks. After improving each season with Saginaw of the OHL after being NHL-drafted by New Jersey in 2016 (fourth round, 105th overall), Cormier hit the AHL and put up solid numbers in limited action last season (15 games, .902 SP, 2.96 GAA). This season, he struggled in 11 games with a .883 SP and a 3.70 GAA, and was assigned to Adirondack of the ECHL. With the uncertainty of the goaltending situation in NHL-New Jersey, Cormier could easily find himself yo-yo-ing up and down the depth chart. But he’ll certainly need to prove his early 2019-20 AHL numbers are not indicative of his capability if he wants to emerge from the crowd.

Career Projection: AHL starter, NHL platooner

#18: Nick Baptiste – RW; 24 years old, AHL: 26, 3-5-8, +2
Acquired: Trade w/NJD (4/2019)

There’s little doubt that Baptiste has displayed enough of a presence to carve out a fourth-line role in the NHL. In 47 NHL games, the 24-year old winger has seven goals and ten points, which is more than some who currently holds a similar position. The issue with Baptiste is that he’s seemed to be forgotten among the NHL brass, and his AHL play hasn’t been much to look since the NHL-Sabres cut him loose in 2018 (close to 100 games, with 17 goals and 37 points in those contests). His age is working against him and as both the NHL and AHL get younger and younger, players like Baptiste are going to have to scramble for whatever they can get. If he does get a final look at the top level, expect him not to relinquish the opportunity, though.

Career Projection: Top-9 AHL’er, fourth-line NHL’er

#17: Daniel Audette – C; 23 years old, AHL: 46, 12-19-31, +1
Acquired: Trade w/VAN (3/2018)

The NHL-Canadiens cut ties with the 23-year old Audette after last season. The centerman had put up respectable numbers in the AHL from 2016-2019 (37 goals, 61 assists in 206 games) but never earned a game with the big club during that time. Audette signed an AHL deal with Springfield and is on pace for a career year, but it may be too little too late for the son of former NHL’er Donald Audette. His best bet is to continue producing until someone notices, as the younger Audette shows flashes of speed that even his father (a noted speedster in his own right) likely marvels at. Finishing strong and earning a PTO for the 2020 training camp season could land him another shot at an NHL contract.

Career Projection: Top-6 AHL’er, bottom-6 NHL’er

#16: Tyler Tucker – D; 20 years old, OHL: 40, 11-26-37, +2
Acquired: Trade w/VGK (7/2019)

The Blackhawks basically drafted Tucker with the last pick in the 2019 EHE Entry Draft, as they made a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights shortly afterward. GM Thomas Gidlow insisted that Tucker was at the top of their draft lists – Chicago didn’t have a pick until the third round last year – and gambled that he’d still be available late. Tucker is certainly a diamond in the rough candidate, having been NHL-drafted in the seventh round (200th overall) in 2018. But it’s expected the NHL-Blues will sign Tucker to an entry-level deal after he completes his final junior year in the OHL, having put up 96 points in 108 games since being NHL-drafted. The sky is the limit, as they say, but we won’t know just how far Tucker can go until we see him in the AHL…likely next season.

Career Projection: Top-4 AHL’er, bottom-3 NHL’er

#15: Keaton Middleton – D; 21 years old, AHL: 32, 2-8-10, E
Acquired: Trade w/EDM (11/2019)

Middleton was strangely not signed by NHL-Toronto after being drafted in the fourth round (101st overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, despite a pair of solid seasons for Saginaw in the OHL afterward (128 games, 42 points, +6). Middleton has never been a torrid point producer but plays a sound defensive game and moves well enough for his size (6’5”, 230 pounds). He’s produced 23 points and a +12 rating in 93 pro games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, with 10 of those points coming in 32 games this season. For an NHL team looking for a solid depth hand in the backend, Middleton seems to be an easy pick. Still just 21 years old (he turns 22 on Monday), there’s still a future for him…if someone grants him an opportunity.

Career Projection: Top-4 AHL’er, bottom-pair/depth NHL’er

EXTRA! EHE Commissioner Kevin Lacy (TealTownUSA hockey correspondent) on Middleton:
He’s surprisingly very mobile for being 6’5”. Pretty smart, like his brother, and makes the right reads in the d-zone and even when to pinch. His biggest obstacle is his lack of proper execution in those decisions. Needs to cut down on turnovers resulting from bad passes and needs to do a better job of boxing out and tying up opposing players in the slot. For a big guy, he is not physical AT ALL.


Stay tuned - #14 through #1 is coming shortly!