Prospect camp notebook: College prospects look to make next step

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By now every Blackhawks prospect — especially those who make their living on the blue line — should know the story of Nick Leddy, the teenaged trade acquisition from Minnesota who had a remarkable run last year.

Leddy, now 20, wowed the Hawks’ hierarchy at prospect camp, signed his entry-level contract, attended the team’s convention days later and then made the team out of training camp. After some up-and-down moments in the regular season, which included 22 games with the Rockford IceHogs, Leddy went on to play every game in playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks.

Now, general manager Stan Bowman wants Leddy’s roles and ice time to increase.

“This is what everybody works for,” defense prospect Joe Lavin said. “Everybody plays college hockey to make it to the pro level. Signing the contract is one thing, but making the big club is the next thing.”

Leddy spent one season with the Minnesota Gophers before making the big leap into the NHL. Lavin, who signed a two-year deal with the Hawks after two seasons with Notre Dame, is one of the several Hawks prospects in camp who have college experience. Former Hinsdale South student Paul Phillips (Denver), Adam Clendening (Boston), Stephen Johns (Notre Dame) and Dylan Olsen (Minnesota-Duluth) are some others.

Lavin and Olsen, the 28th overall pick in 2009, already have deals with the Hawks and should figure prominently in the Rockford IceHogs’ plans next season on their blue line after getting tastes of training camp in September. Olsen had four assists in 42 games with the IceHogs last season after leaving college early, while Lavin saw time in two games.

“This would be my third year here [at prospect camp] and I came in with a lot of confidence,” said Olsen, who has represented Canada in the World Junior Championships. “[Rockford] was a big step for me. The pace of the games was a bit faster. I got to Rockford and they slowly put me in the lineup. But after that, I felt good out there. I kept up with the speed.”

Leddy benefited from an entirely different scenario last year with the Hawks. This year, the Hawks could have eight defensemen signed if Bowman and Chris Campoli’s camp come to terms.

But Olsen, who has by far the most American Hockey League experience of any player in prospect camp, doesn’t sound discouraged.

“I’ve had the pro experience now and I’ve been here three years, so I know what to expect,” Olsen said. “This year is kind of different at camp, but I still came in here knowing what I need to do. Now, I know what it takes to be a pro hockey player. This is just another steppingstone. Come September [with] the main camp, I just have to go out there and prove to them why I deserve to be there.”

Higher learning for Johns

The absence of Johns, one of the Hawks’ biggest prospects at 6-4 and 221 pounds, was noticeable at the first day of prospect camp. But the 19-year-old defenseman had a good excuse.

“I had a final to take,” said Johns, who is taking summer classes at Notre Dame. “I actually had to take it a day early so I could come [Friday]. I’m just trying to get my education.”

It didn’t take long for Johns, the 60th overall pick in 2010, to catch up. He scored in the first scrimmage Saturday.

Johns said he’s content to going back to Notre Dame, where he’ll be counted on as one of their best defensemen.

“I’m looking to finish my sophomore year,” Johns said. “I don’t really know what happens after that. … I want to finish school eventually, but who knows what the future has in store.”

Don’t forget Phillip

Center Mark McNeill, the 18th overall pick in 2011, may be garnering most of the attention of the new draftees at camp, but center Phillip Danault, the 26th overall pick, is showing some skills as well. Danault was selected with the pick acquired from the Washington Capitals for Troy Brouwer.

“I’m so proud to be here in Chicago and I want to open eyes in the organization,” said Danault, who had assist in the first scrimmage. “I want to improve every day.”

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