The-Rink is taking an in-depth look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect pool. However, unlike many other outlets that rank prospects in list form, The-Rink will be using tiers to express the quality of each prospect and their potential at the NHL level. Leading up to the season, The-Rink will reveal the tiers in reverse order, starting at the lowest tier and working toward the top.
Our series continues today with tier five, defined as a prospect seen as a fringe forward, fringe defenseman or AHL goalie with a chance to play in the NHL.
As explained in the introduction piece, each eligible prospect in the system was rated by our staff panel before ultimately being debated to agree on a tier. Each prospect’s original rating average is listed in parentheses after their name, along with a brief synopsis of why they fell in the tier they did.
Players are listed in order of original rating average, with any ties being sorted alphabetically by last name.
Brandon Hagel (4.333)
The majority of our panel agreed Hagel would be a fringe NHL player who has the capabilities needed to contribute in a depth role, but one member felt Hagel’s upside could be as high as a middle-six role. The most valuable player of the Blackhawks’ development camp scrimmage possesses a variety of skills in his game, but will need to fine tune them to get to the next level. Hagel will likely spend the 2019–20 season with the Rockford IceHogs after a breakout 2018–19 campaign with the Red Deer Rebels.
Antti Saarela (4.333)
The 2019 fourth-round pick will be a project, but showed flashes of his ability in development camp. The younger brother of fellow Blackhawk prospect Aleksi Saarela possesses a good shot, but will need to improve his skating to be effective in the NHL. Saarela will stay in Finland for the 2019–20 season, where he will join Ilves after spending his entire career thus far with Lukko.
Dominic Basse (4.5)
Basse adds impressive size to the Blackhawks’ prospect pool in the blue paint, measuring 6-foot-6 at just 18 years of age. Basse dominated in 2018–19 for the Selects Hockey Academy 18U team, compiling a 1.91 goals against average and .924 save percentage in 42 games played. The Colorado College commit has not yet announced his plans on where he will play in 2019–20, but perhaps the most likely scenario would see him join the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL, as the Phantoms hold his USHL rights. Basse will be an interesting project to keep an eye on in the future.
Artur Kayumov (4.5)
Kayumov is among the most polarizing prospects in the Blackhawks’ system. A skilled and passionate left winger, Kayumov has yet to break out in his time playing in the KHL in his native Russia, tallying just 13 points in 46 games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2018–19. Despite this, his skill set would likely allow him to be a contributor in the NHL, though this looks less and less likely with each passing season for the 2016 second-round pick. Kayumov will return to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for 2019–20.
Josh Ess (4.667)
Ess has made strides since being selected in the seventh round in 2017. In his time since being drafted, Ess has established himself as a steady presence on Wisconsin’s blue line. The Minnesota native moves the puck well, but needs to keep working on his overall game to have a chance at playing in the NHL. Even if Ess can take the next step in his development with a big year for what is expected to be a potent Badger lineup in 2019–20, he would need to jump over a slew of other young defensemen in the system to don the Indian head down the road.
Jakub Galvas (4.833)
Galvas is known as a puck-moving defenseman, something the Blackhawks have plenty of in their system. Despite having others ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, Galvas could break through for NHL playing time if he rounds out his game. The 2017 fifth-rounder has become a mainstay on international tournament teams for his native Czech Republic, including a pair of appearances in the World Junior Championships. A longtime member of the HC Olomouc organization, Galvas will head to Finland to play for Jukurit for the next step of his development.
Mikael Hakkarainen (4.833)
Hakkarainen dominated the USHL last season, tallying 19 goals and 28 assists in 42 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks after leaving Providence College following just one game at the beginning of the season. With little left to prove at the junior level, the 2018 fifth-rounder will turn pro to likely join the Rockford IceHogs for the 2019–20 season. At times, the Finn looks like he has a promising future in a depth role, but he will need to transfer his scoring ability at the junior level to the pro ranks—or adjust his style of play—in order to earn a regular NHL spot.
Reese Johnson (4.833)
After spending the majority of the 2018–19 season as the captain for the Red Deer Rebels, Johnson finished the year in Rockford. Johnson improved his offensive numbers in his final year playing juniors, nearing a point-per-game pace with 27 goals and 26 assists in 67 games. The undrafted free agent signing then posted four assists in his six games with the IceHogs. Though Johnson finally started showing his offensive ability last season, he will likely be relied on as a more defensive forward should he make it to the NHL. Johnson will return to Rockford for the 2019–20 campaign.
Cole Moberg (4.833)
The 2019 seventh-round pick broke out in a big way for a bad Prince George Cougars team in 2018–19, blowing away his previous career-high marks with 13 goals, 27 assists and 40 points. Our panel was relatively split on the 6-foot-3 defender, as some felt he could become a regular bottom-pairing option in the NHL down the road, while some feel it is too early in his development to project a ceiling of that nature. Moberg will return to the Cougars for 2019–20, where he will be relied upon as a leader on and off the ice for Prince George.
Andrei Altybarmakyan (5.167)
Another wildcard within the Blackhawks’ system, Altybarmakyan boasts an impressive offensive skill set. However, the 2017 third-rounder has yet to put it together in the KHL, posting just six points in 38 games last season with HK Sochi. Of course, the Russian factor is also in effect here, as Altybarmakyan may very well never play in North America. Even if Altybarmakyan does play in North America, he would likely need to prove he can be somewhat reliable defensively to earn a chance at regular NHL ice time.
Ivan Nalimov (5.167)
Another Russian with dwindling likelihood of playing in North America, Nalimov has been the ultimate hit-or-miss goaltender in the KHL. At times looking like a legitimate NHL goaltender while resembling a headcase piece of Swiss cheese at others, the 2014 sixth-round pick will enter his sixth KHL season in 2019–20 with his sixth team. While Nalimov has expressed an interest to come play in North America in the past, the Blackhawks have not reciprocated the desire. It appears likely at this point Nalimov will not have a future in the NHL unless his rights are dealt and another team gives him a chance.
Joni Tuulola (5.167)
Tuulola played his first full season of North American hockey for the IceHogs in 2018–19, posting four goals and 10 assists in 52 games. The 2015 sixth-round selection has generally been a defense-first blueliner, but has shown an ability to chip in offensively as well. However, with as many offensive defensemen as the Blackhawks have in their system already, Tuulola will need to focus on being rock-solid in his own end if he wants a chance to play in the NHL. Tuulola will return to Rockford’s defensive core for the 2019–20 season.