Last night, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Vancouver Canucks to advance to their first Western Conference Final showdown since 1995 in a seven to five, high scoring affair. Chicago, a team considered to be too young to compete, managed to prove everyone wrong by emerging as a Stanley Cup favorite from the beginning of the season. How is the NHL's youngest team within four wins of a Stanley Cup appearance? Let's take a look at how the Blackhawks have paved their way from basement dwellers to Stanley Cup contenders.
Martin Havlat, RW
2008-2009 GVT: + 16.7
2008-2009 RPM: + 17.9
ďMach 9,Ē as called by his teammates for his blazing speed and the number worn on his jersey while with the Ottawa Senators, played his first two seasons at the ages of 18 and 19 for the Trinec Ocelari HC of the Czech Republic League, which is considered the fifth most difficult hockey league around. In 1999, Havlat was drafted in the 1st round, 26th overall, by the Ottawa Senators. The 1999 draft, held at the FleetCenter in Boston, was widely considered one of the deepest talent drafts in years, headed by the Sedin twins and Patrik Stefan. Ironically, the 1999 NHL Entry Draft was one of the worst in decades. Only three stars emerged from that 1999 class: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Martin Havlat. Arguably the best player in the draft retrospectively, Left Winger Henrik Zetterberg was taken in the 7th round, 210 overall, by the Detroit Red Wings.
Over the course of four seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Havlatís PPG totals subsequently increased every year from 0.58 in 2000-2001 to 1.00 for 2003-2004. Marty would most likely have stayed in Ottawa if it werenít for his injury concerns. Havlat has had numerous injuries over the course of his career, including hamstring, shoulder and elbow issues along with groin strains. After experiencing two injury plagued seasons and becoming a restricted free agent in 2006, Havlat informed the Senators front office that he would only accept a one year deal as he would test free agency after the 2006-2007 season. After hearing this, Ottawa started looking for a trade partner for Havlat and found two in the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks. In a three way deal, the Blackhawks acquired "Mach 9" along with Bryan Smolinski, the Sharks acquired Mark Bell and the Senators acquired Tom Preissing and Josh Hennessy. Only one player has impressed his new team in this deal: Marty Havlat.
While injured on and off from 2006-2008, Havlat has emerged as a star in the Blackhawks run for a Stanley Cup. He has objectively contributed the most to his team this season and has managed to accumulate 29 Goals, 24 Even Strength Goals, 48 Assists and 77 Points in 81 Games Played. His 77 Points rank as the 7th highest point total in the National Hockey League. While Center Josh Hennessy has appeared to be a success, keep in mind that the QMJHL has a 1.17 PPG threshold for NHL success as opposed to the standard 1.00 PPG threshold as the result of the lesser quality of talent. In his age 17 and 18 years in the QMJHL playing for the Quebec Remparts, Hennessy failed to meet the 1.17 PPG mark. Though that doesnít mean that heís wonít make it in the NHL as he has been fairly formidable in the AHL. If Havlat can stay healthy, Chicago has a star on their hands for seasons to come.
Duncan Keith, D
2008-2009 GVT: + 14.8
2008-2009 RPM: + 15.3
Duncan Keith, selected 54th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago between Right Winger Barry Tallackson and Defenseman Denis Grot, has been the lone All Star representation for the 2nd round of that particular draft class. Keith started his career at the age of 16 playing for the Penticton Panthers in British Columbia. After scoring 226 Points in 163 Games Played for the Panthers, Michigan State recruited Keith to come play in the NCAA. Despite defenders only having to post a 0.50 PPG total to be projected as reasonably offensive defensemen, Keith struggled to score, but managed to score in the ĎCold Warí game against the University of Michigan in the outdoors of Spartan Stadium. The Blackhawks decided to take a flyer on Keith in hopes that he could become a bigger threat on the ice, and there hopes came true after Duncan left the NCAA after only two season to go play for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, WHL. In one season in the WHL, he posted a 1.62 PPG in a breakout year, a very impressive total even accounting for the lower quality of play in the league. After one season in the WHL and two in the AHL, Keith finally made the Blackhawks team out of the 2006 training camp. The Manitoba native has been one of the best defenders in the game since the 2006 season and was recognized for his abilities by being chosen for the 2008 All Star game. This season, Keith has had a 2nd best in the NHL + 8.5 Defensive GVT, behind only Mike Greenís + 9.0 Defensive GVT.
Jonathan Toews, C
2008-2009 GVT: + 12.9
2008-2009 RPM: + 3.9
NHL Central Scouting ranked the Winnipeg native as the third best overall prospect in North America among skaters in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft behind Defenseman Erik Johnson and Center Jordan Staal. Itís unclear who the Blackhawks had at one and two, but they followed the NHL Central Scouting rankings in selecting Jonathan Toews with the third overall pick. In his first draft eligible year at the age of 17 for Shattuck-St. Maryís high school, a boarding school in Minnesota, where he averaged 1.72 PPG. Toews had been drafted out of high school following his sensational season in 2005 by the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, but decided to continue balancing hockey and the academic world for several more seasons. Electing to enroll at the University of North Dakota, Toews took the Fighting Sioux to consecutive Frozen Fourís by posting totals of 0.92 PPG and 1.35 PPG in 2006 and 2007. Deciding that he was finally ready to compete in the NHL a year after being drafted by the Blackhawks, Toews signed with a three year, entry level contract. In July of 2008 at the age of 20, Toews became the third youngest team captain in the history of the NHL behind only Vincent Lecavalier and Sidney Crosby and the Blackhawks have been on the road to greatness ever since. The 2009 All Star has contributed a remarkable 12.9 goals above replacement level and has posted a + 3.9 Relative Plus/Minus rating on the year.
Kris Versteeg, RW
2008-2009 GVT: + 11.1
2008-2009 RPM: + 5.3
The soon to be 23 year old, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, was more of an under the radar move than selecting Jonathan Toews, who was beloved by all scouts. Versteeg spent four years in the Western Hockey League, WHL, where he scored over 20 Goals in only one season. In his first eligible draft year, Versteeg scored 0.72 PPG for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and was swooped up in the fifth round, 134th overall, by the Boston Bruins. The winger didnít last long with the Boston organization, only playing the final 13 games of the 2005-2006 season and the first half of the 2006-2007 season in posting a respectable 0.98 PPG that, at the age of 20, didnít indicate Versteeg would be talented enough to be anything more than a marginal hockey player. On February 3, 2007, Versteeg was dealt to another Original Six team, the Chicago Blackhawks, in exchange for Brandon Bochenski and a conditional draft pick. Since this trade of a little over two years ago, Bochenski has been dealt to the Anaheim Ducks for Shane Hnidy and a 6th round draft pick and to the Nashville Predators for future considerations. On the other hand, Versteeg was called up at the end of the 2007-2008 season, and has looked good ever since. Second in rookie scoring only to Anaheimís Bobby Ryan, Versteeg has been named a Calder Memorial Trophy finalist for rookie of the year along with Bobby Ryan and goaltender Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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