This was a great year to be a fan of college hockey and the Blackhawks. Dylan Sikura finished as a Hobey Baker finalist at Northeastern. Ian Mitchell and Blake Hillman teamed up to form the top pairing at Denver. Dennis Gilbert led Notre Dame to the Frozen Four.
The Blackhawks may not have as much talent at the NCAA level a year from now, but the 2017-18 season was an encouraging one. Sikura, Hillman and Gilbert all signed NHL deals after the end of their respective college seasons. Two of them already got to suit up with Patrick Kane and company.
To continue our series looking at how the Blackhawks’ farm system fared this season, we’re focusing this article on the 14 prospects who spent most of the season in college. These names range from the best prospects in the system to fringe players who likely will never receive NHL contracts.
F Evan Barratt
School: Penn State
Acquired via: 2017 third-round pick (No. 90)
Stats: 18 points in 32 games
A lot of prospects struggle to make the adjustment to college hockey but Barratt, a 2017 third-round pick, had little trouble. He put up 11 goals and seven assists in 32 games for the Nittany Lions, who posted a 18-15-5 overall record.
Barratt won’t blow anyone away with his skills or size (5-11, 190) but he’s considered a good competitor and showed flashes of ability this season. He will likely return to Penn State for his sophomore season.
F Liam Coughlin
Acquired via: Trade with Oilers (2015)
Stats: 16 points in 34 games
Coughlin, acquired three years ago from Edmonton in exchange for goalie Anders Nilsson, had his best college season yet as a junior with six goals and 10 assists in 34 games. However, he turns 24 in September so he’s relatively old as a prospect, which makes him a long shot to factor into the Hawks’ plans.
D Joshua Ess
Acquired via: 2017 seventh-round pick (No. 215)
Stats: 4 points in 33 games
A seventh-round pick out of Minnesota, Ess is a long-term project who will likely need at least a couple more years at Wisconsin to show he’s worthy of an NHL contract.
F Parker Foo
School: Union College
Acquired via: 2017 fifth-round pick (No. 144)
Stats: 6 points in 33 games
Another 2017 draft pick who isn’t anywhere near NHL-ready, Foo had an underwhelming freshman year at Union College with just one goal in 33 games. His older brother, Spencer, is signed with the Flames and scored 20 goals in 62 AHL games this season.
D Dennis Gilbert
School: Notre Dame
Acquired via: 2015 third-round pick (No. 91)
Stats: 10 points in 39 games
Gilbert earned an NHL contract offer from the Blackhawks this spring after a quality junior season at Notre Dame. The defenseman saw his production dip from 22 points in 40 games to just 10 points in 39 games, but he was leaned on in all phases and proved to be reliable in his own end.
The Fighting Irish won the Big Ten championship and reached the national championship game with Gilbert in a key role. He recorded just eight penalties in 39 games, down from 17 in 37 games two years earlier. Expect Gilbert to compete for a depth gig at the NHL level in training camp.
D Blake Hillman
Acquired via: 2016 sixth-round pick (No. 173)
Stats: 12 points in 41 games
Blackhawks fans got their first look at Hillman in a four-game stint at the end of the regular season. He won’t blow anyone away with raw skill, as reflected by his 31 points in 123 NCAA games with the Pioneers, but he took some major steps over the past two seasons on one of the best college teams in the country.
Hillman’s style could make him a good fit in a Hawks lineup full of offensive-minded defensemen. He’ll join Gilbert and others in competing for a third-pairing role in the fall.
D Chad Krys
School: Boston University
Acquired via: 2016 second-round pick (No. 45)
Stats: 27 points in 36 games
Krys might be the most intriguing prospect in the organization right now. He’s not at the same level as Henri Jokiharju or Ian Mitchell on the ladder, but his raw skills remain so impressive that he’s putting up good numbers at BU and could blossom at any time. Nobody is more high-upside, high-risk in the farm system.
The reasons to love Krys are obvious: He can skate and play with the puck as well as any college defenseman. But the problems have been similarly present for the past few years, including a lack of awareness away from the puck and question marks about his ability to defend in his own zone.
Few defensemen can play the offensive side of the game like Krys, which is why he was a top-50 pick in 2016, but the problems that plagued his game two years ago have persisted. Some guys figure it out eventually, others don’t. We’ll have to see which category Krys ultimately falls into.
D Jake Massie
Acquired via: 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 156)
Stats: 7 points in 36 games
Yet another defenseman prospect who remains a flier at this point. Massie will return to Vermont for his junior season and doesn’t turn 22 until late January of 2019. It’s at least conceivable that a good performance next season could convince the Hawks to make him an offer.
D Ian Mitchell
Acquired via: 2017 second-round pick (No. 57)
Stats: 30 points in 41 games
All the hype being directed toward Sikura and Jokiharju this season has allowed Mitchell to operate under the radar. That may not last much longer, however, because the 2017 second-round pick blew away expectations with an incredible freshman season at University of Denver.
Mitchell led all Pioneers defensemen in assists and points despite being just one of two freshmen on the blue line. He often played on the team’s top pairing with Hillman and as the point man on the power play, a major assignment for an inexperienced player.
The Hawks aren’t expected to sign Mitchell this summer given their crowded depth chart, but it’s unlikely he gets past a second year at Denver. There’s a chance he’s in the Blackhawks’ lineup by the fall of 2019.
F Fredrik Olofsson
Acquired via: 2014 fourth-round pick (No. 98)
Stats: 20 points in 33 games
Olofsson took a step back as a junior with just 20 points in 33 games a year after recording 24 in 34. He’s likely to return to Nebraska-Omaha for his senior season, and could technically become a free agent in August 2019. The Hawks seem willing to take the risk of letting him reach the end of his college career.
F Jack Ramsey
Acquired via: 2014 seventh-round pick (No. 208)
Stats: 10 points in 38 games
It’s generally not a great sign for your NHL hopes if you can’t produce at the college level. Ramsey, a big-bodied left winger for the Golden Gophers, recorded just five goals and 15 assists in 105 games over his first three college seasons. He’s not really an NHL prospect at this point.
D Ryan Shea
Acquired via: 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 121)
Stats: 17 points in 38 games
Shea, a teammate of Sikura’s at Northeastern, has shown flashes of offensive ability with 31 points in 76 NCAA games over two seasons. He finished third among the team’s defensemen with 56 shots on goal and first among all players in plus-minus (if that’s your sort of thing).
D Dylan Sikura
Acquired via: 2014 sixth-round pick (No. 178)
Stats: 54 points in 35 games
Sikura is the beacon of hope for every teenage college hockey player wondering whether they have what it takes. The 2014 sixth-round pick had a brutal freshman year where he recorded just seven points in 25 games, but he was one of the country’s best players the past two seasons with 111 points in 73 games.
The only real concern with Sikura over the past year was whether he would sign with the Blackhawks. Now with that out of the way, he’ll be given a chance to play a top-six or -nine role right out of the gate in Chicago. Don’t be surprised if Sikura never ends up seeing Rockford.
F Beau Starrett
Acquired via: 2014 third-round pick (No. 88)
Stats: 10 points in 32 games
Starrett is an example of the Blackhawks’ failed pursuit of husky power forwards in 2014-15. The team repeatedly drafted bigger players hoping to supplement a skilled core, only for an increasingly speedy sport to render many of them irrelevant due to their lack of skating ability.
The 22-year-old has recorded just 25 points in 82 NCAA games and failed to be more than a role player.