Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One To Watch: Chicago Blackhawks

You have to respect an organization that just keeps turning prospects into players year after year. Chicago is one of them. The most recent example is Brandon Saad, a player that slipped out of the first round in 2011 and right into their lap; a year later he's in the NHL. 

This past June was another example of the Hawks selecting highly regarded players that, for some reason, were available later than expected but didn't slide past Chicago. John Hayden, Ryan Hartman and Tyler Motte come to mind. 

2012 Choice: Kyle Beach - The former 1st round pick had fallen on hard time due to injury. I wondered if Beach could stay healthy and return to his offensively productive power forward role that he played as an AHL rookie. While his 26 points in 66 games won't excite anyone, he did score 16 times and recorded 204 PIMs and that's still a rare combination that Beach brings to the table. 

My Chicago pick for One To Watch in 2013 is after the jump. 

Matt Tomkins (G)
Ohio State Buckeyes
6'2, 180 lbs
Drafted 199th overall in 2012

Photo: Sherwood Park Crusaders
Chicago is very deep in goaltending prospects; there are four of them currently in camp that are between the ages of 19-24 and Matt Tomkins isn't included. The OSU freshman has been on campus for a couple of months already and will make his NCAA hockey debut this season. 

There is no rush for Tomkins so expect he'll be a Buckeye for some time. Even if he was ready for pro hockey in a year, there is no where for him to play in the Hawks' system so he'll be at OSU for some time. And as a goalie, that's not a bad thing. 

The former Sherwood Park Crusader is coming off a strong year in the AJHL having won the Pro Hockey Life Award for being named a game star more often than anyone else in the league. He posted a 2.56 GAA and impressive .924 SV% with the Crusaders through 44 games after coming back from an early season injury. 

At OSU Tomkins will compete for the starting job but could find himself sharing duties with Carolina prospect Collin Olson, a sophomore with the program who played just 9 games, winning only twice.

Photo: Sherwood Park Crusaders
Tomkins has the size and athleticism of the modern day goaltender. He had WHL opportunities but felt going the NCAA route, which can allow him to play until he is 23 before turning pro, was best for him. 

What interests me is how he'll respond when he has to compete for playing time as he was in a similar scenario in 2011-12 and stole the job. Physically he is still maturing - filling out his frame surely but is he done growing vertically? And lastly, how will he perform at a higher level facing an increased caliber of competition? 

My gut tells me he becomes Ohio State's starter by the end of the season and puts together a freshman campaign not unlike some of the first year collegiate goalies from 2012-13. But that's just my expectation and the reason why Matt Tomkins is my Chicago choice for One to Watch.    

Next Up: Detroit Red Wings       

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