Ryan Stanton. Adam Clendening. Klas Dahlbeck. Heck, throw Nick Leddy on there.
Now you can add Stephen Johns to the list of highly touted, next-generation young defensemen the Blackhawks have lost in the last two years. Johns was overshadowed in the deal with Dallas by Patrick Sharp, of course, but Sharp was long expected to be moved. Nobody saw Johns coming.
How highly did the Hawks think of Johns? After Michal Rozsival broke his ankle in Game 4 of the second round against Minnesota, the Hawks seriously considered calling up and playing Johns in the Western Conference final until he broke his forearm in the Rockford IceHogs’ postseason finale. The bruising Notre Dame graduate was expected to play a significant role next season as a Hawks rookie. Now, he’ll try to make the team in Dallas.
Johns, in the Brent Seabrook mold at 6-4, 233 pounds, had a breakout season in Rockford this past year, greatly improving his offense without sacrificing his defense or physicality. He had four goals and 17 assists and was a plus-30 for the IceHogs. He added three goals and four assists in just eight playoff games. A second-round pick in 2010, he had been in the Hawks’ system for five full seasons.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman hinted that the Sharp deal wouldn’t have happened without Johns involved.
“I don’t know if you can ever get too locked in one player, one prospect, or one grouping of players because you may acquire some other young assets, and until everything plays itself out, it’s hard to judge things on a one-off basis,” Bowman said. “It’s all about managing your assets in today’s game. You can’t be too rigid and just say, ‘Only this is a player I’ll move, that player I can’t move.’ There are a lot of discussions that go on. We’re looking forward, we’re not looking backward at previous moves. We’re looking at the team we have on the ice in Chicago. We want to maintain a high level of performance and we felt this deal gave us that right combination.”
The Hawks’ defensive corps isn’t getting any younger. Duncan Keith turns 32 next week, Seabrook is 30, Niklas Hjalmarsson is 28, and newcomer Trevor Daley will be 32 when the season begins. Trevor van Riemsdyk (23) and David Rundblad (24) provide some youth on what could be the bottom pairing. The Hawks have had opportunities to integrate more young players on the back end, but have stuck with mostly veterans, such as Rozsival and Kimmo Timonen.
The Hawks lost Stanton on waivers to Vancouver before the start of the 2013-14 season, and after three full seasons buried on the Hawks’ depth chart, he played 118 games with the Canucks in the past two years. The Hawks traded Clendening to Vancouver during this past season, and he played 17 games with the Canucks. Klas Dahlbeck went to Arizona in the Antoine Vermette deal. And the Nick Leddy trade last October, a salary-cap move, netted three prospects, two of whom already have been traded away.
What had been a position of strength in the Hawks’ system, is now looking a lot thinner. But Bowman said you have to look farther away.
“It’s always tough to give up young defensemen, but sometimes it’s required to make a deal,” he said. “We do have a number of prospects in our system that we’re still very high on. We havea number of Swedish defensemen; they’re not over here in North America so perhaps they don’t get as much attention toward their development, but they’re coming along very nicely. We have other players that are over here that have made a positive impact on us. It’s an ever-changing game.”