Last November, 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman became the first prospect from his draft class to join the Blackhawks’ farm system, which includes 12 other players currently signed to entry-level contracts. The West Dundee, Ill., native spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers before making his American Hockey League debut with the Rockford IceHogs at the end of the season.
Hartman’s quick development is a bit atypical, helped along partly by his experience and quickly maturing game, but not uncommon for recent first-round picks across the NHL. Further down the draft board, Hartman’s fellow 2013 selections spent last season elevating their game—and thus their stock. Their rapid improvement as a class was put on display during Prospect Camp earlier this summer, where several stood out from the pack after finishing impressive seasons in college and abroad.
John Hayden, a third-rounder in 2013 who left a strong impression during camp, said he experienced a sharp learning curve when he entered Yale as a freshman last fall, but settled into a groove later in the season.
“Everything slows down as you get used to the college game,” he said. “You see everything, you get used to the pace, and you have more time to make plays. I thought I excelled as the year went on and ended up finishing pretty strong.”
Hayden posted 16 points (6G, 10A) in 33 games during his inaugural college campaign, second among team freshmen and tied for sixth overall on the team. Although the Bulldogs fell short of defending their 2012 national title, Hayden took plenty of positives from his first taste of the NCAA.
“The best experience was learning from the older guys—Kenny Agostino, my linemate, actually played in the NHL at the end of the year, so just learning from those guys and Coach [Keith] Allain was awesome.”
Likewise, Anthony Louis, a Chicago-area native who was drafted in the sixth round in 2013, enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign with the University of Miami (Ohio).
“I knew it was going to be stronger, bigger [competition] all around,” he said. “I knew I had to go in being a grittier player, but still play my game in order to be at my best.”
Indeed, Louis was one of the RedHawks’ best offensive threats all season, ranking fifth on the team with 25 points (12G, 13A) in 36 games; setting his sights higher, he’s aiming to finish among the NCAA’s top scorers in his sophomore campaign.
Rounding out the quartet of Blackhawks prospects in the NCAA last season were fourth-round pick and University of Michigan center Tyler Motte, a shutdown specialist who notched 18 points (9G, 9A) in 34 games during his freshman year, and fifth-rounder Luke Johnson, for whom the college game was all about improving his skills. That the center gets to play in front of a personal cheering section at the University of North Dakota is just an added bonus.
“My dad and uncle played [at North Dakota] as well, so it’s kind of a family tradition,” he said. “It was great to play in front of my family and friends.”
Johnson contributed 21 points (8G, 13A), ranking second on the team with five power-play goals, as UND fell just short of reaching the NCAA championship game. After attending his first Prospect Camp and “just acting like a sponge and absorbing as much information as you can,” Johnson knows the next step to improving his game: “The speed and the strength—you’re playing with a lot of older guys, so I’m just trying to work on strength and speed every day.”
Although Louis, Johnson and Hayden all proved themselves during July’s annual week of drills and scrimmages, Hayden perhaps left the deepest impression after leading all players at with four goals in three scrimmages and finding instant chemistry with Louis and 2014 first-round selection Nick Schmaltz. This week, the trio is trying to harness the same creative energy at Team USA’s World Juniors camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., along with Motte, who was unable to attend Prospect Camp and narrowly missed out on making the 2013 WJC squad.
For Hayden and Louis, who previously played together in the U.S. National Team Development Program, making the 2014 tournament would represent a significant personal achievement.
“I want to go and prove to the whole staff that I belong in that tournament,” Hayden said at Prospect Camp. “It’s motivation that it’s in Montreal and Toronto because those are unbelievable venues. I think if I go there and play my game, I can definitely help the team. It’s obviously an honor to have a chance to go and play for your country.”
Louis added: “Everyone wants to [go to World Juniors]; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I know a lot of guys from playing in the NTDP, and it’s going to be good catching up with them and getting another chance to play with them on a national stage.”
Making World Juniors is also a major goal for a couple of Swedish draft picks from the 2013 class, second-rounder Carl Dahlstrom and fourth-rounder Robin Norell, who are also stationed in Lake Placid with their countrymen this week. For Norell, it would be a return trip after a memorable 2013 tournament in front of throngs of home fans.
“I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was really exciting—12,000 fans screaming ‘Sweden, Sweden, Sweden,’” he recalled. “It just felt amazing. Of course, we didn’t win, but we won the people’s hearts, so that felt awesome.”
In the final, Sweden fell 3-2 in overtime to neighboring foes Finland, led by a prodigal talent in Teuvo Teravainen, who made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in late March after guiding Jokerit into the Finnish league playoffs.
“I haven’t talked about the final much, but of course it was special. He’s a really good player,” Norell said of his potential future teammate.
The Stockholm native, who says he worked mostly on improving his defensive game, will likely be one of Sweden’s top blueliners this winter, while Dahlstrom hopes to showcase his two-way game on an international stage after an injury limited his 2013-14 season.
Should these six players make the tournament for their respective countries, it would create an exciting scouting opportunity for Blackhawks scouts and development coaches, who are always keeping a close eye on the next generation of potential stars. But whether it’s on an international stage, in the increasingly competitive NCAA or overseas in the Swedish Hockey League, Chicago’s 2013 draft selections are looking forward to putting in the work and improving their games, one stride at a time.
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