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Chicago Blackhawks Mid-Season Prospect Check-In

Chicago Blackhawks

With a 14-18-5 record (as of January 14, 2022), eight points out of a playoff spot, and in the sixth spot in the 2022 NHL Draft lottery (if they owned their first-round pick), the Blackhawks are not really in a position that you want to be in. They’re not good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but not bad enough to bottom-out. Or at least they are not trying to bottom-out as of this moment. This week, we saw top prospect Lukas Reichel make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks, which is a big deal even if his first stint in the NHL will be short.

It gets you thinking about what else is behind Reichel as the top prospect in the system, and it makes you realize that the depth of Chicago’s young talent pool is not that deep. Not having their first-round pick in either the 2022 or 2023 NHL Draft (because of the Seth Jones trade) doesn’t help them either. Chicago does have three second-round picks and four third-round picks in the next two upcoming drafts, along with whichever first-round pick they end up with, so adding to the farm system will be essential for whoever is the GM running the show by then.

As we approach the middle of the NHL season, now is an excellent time to catch up with the top prospects in the Blackhawks system.

North America

•   Nolan Allan (Prince Albert Raiders – WHL) – The 2021 first-round pick by the Blackhawks has been playing top-minutes in the WHL this season. He has two goals and 16 points in 29 games for the Prince Albert Raiders. After winning a Gold Medal with Team Canada at the 2021 U18 World Championships, Allan was not invited to Team Canada’s 2022 World Juniors camp. He’ll have another shot for the 2023 World Juniors. He’s not a top point-producing defenseman, but his mixture of physical play and defensive-first mentality make him a shutdown defensive project for Chicago.

•   Colton Dach (Kelowna Rockets – WHL) – Yes, the younger brother of Kirby Dach, if you didn’t figure that out yet. Colton was the 2021 second-round pick for the Blackhawks and has been producing at a decent level for the Kelowna Rockets this season, his first with Kelowna. After scoring 22 goals and 49 points in 82 WHL games with the Saskatoon Blades, Dach was traded to Kelowna before this season. In 27 games with the Rockets, Dach has 13 goals and 25 points, ranking him third in points and tied for the team-lead in goals. He’s got a good shot and great size; he probably tops out as a middle-six option at the NHL level.

•   Taige Harding (Fort McMurray Oil Barons – AJHL / Providence – NCAA) – A long-term project defensively for the Blackhawks, Harding was the 2021 third-round pick for Chicago. After being a point-per-game player in the AJHL this season (14 goals, 37 points in 37 games), Harding will be heading to the NCAA to play with Providence College for the second half of this season. Another defensive-minded blue-liner, Harding, is BIG (6’7″ and 235 pounds) but will require a lot of seasoning and patience.

•   Jalen Luypen (Edmonton Oil Kings – WHL) – Possibly the biggest steal of the 2021 NHL Draft Class for the Blackhawks, Luypen was selected in the seventh-round by Chicago but has been arguably their best performing non-professional prospect this season. With 15 goals and 38 points in 35 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL this season, Luypen ranks second on the club in points and third in goals.

•   Ethan Del Mastro (Mississauga Steelheads – OHL) – The Captain of the Steelheads, Del Mastro has been a top minutes-eater with Mississauga this season. In 31 OHL games this season, Del Mastro has four goals and 22 points, leading all defensemen on his club in both categories. He was teammates with Nolan Allan on the 2021 U18 Gold Medal-winning Canadian team.

•   Louis Crevier (Quebec Remparts – QMJHL) – Another towering defenseman (6’8″ and 220 pounds) in the Blackhawks’ system, Crevier is playing in a top-pair role in the QMJHL this season with the Quebec Remparts. After three seasons with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Crevier joined the Remparts and has five goals and 12 points in 26 games with the club this season. The 2020 seventh-round pick moves well for his size and will likely make the jump to the professional game next season.

•   Connor Kelley (Minnesota-Duluth – NCAA) – An unassuming, defense-first defenseman for Minnesota-Duluth, Kelley was a seventh-round pick by the Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Draft. In 17 NCAA games this season, Kelley has six points (all assists) in his second year with the Bulldogs. He was invited to Team USA’s World Juniors camp this winter before being cut before the tournament.

•   Ryder Rolston (Notre Dame – NCAA) – Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Carl Söderberg trade from the 2020-21 season, Rolston has been a surprise pick-up for the Blackhawks in their prospect system. Playing alongside fellow Blackhawks prospect Landon Slaggert at Notre Dame, Rolston has six goals and 17 points in 20 NCAA games this season, tied for second on the team in points.

•   Jake Wise (Ohio State – NCAA) – After injuries plagued his NCAA career at Boston University, Wise has found a resurgence in his college career after transferring to Ohio State. In 20 games this season with the Buckeyes, the former third-round pick by Chicago in 2018 has six goals and 17 points, tied for third on the team in point production.

•   Dominic Basse (Colorado College – NCAA) – The “other” goaltending prospect in Chicago’s system, Basse has been solid in his second year with Colorado College. In 15 appearances this season, the former 2019 sixth-round draft pick has a .906 save percentage and a 2.51 GAA. He was recently named the NCHC Goalie of the Week.

•   Drew Commesso (Boston University – NCAA) – The top goaltending prospect in the Blackhawks system, and maybe the best one they have had since Corey Crawford, Commesso has been a standout at Boston University in his two NCAA seasons. As a freshman, he was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team last year and has been the No. 1 goaltender this season. He has a .907 save percentage and a 2.67 GAA  in 19 appearances with Boston this season and was slated to be the top goalie for Team USA at the World Junior Championships before the tournament was canceled/postponed. Still, Commesso will be with Team USA at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

•   Alex Vlasic (Boston University – NCAA) – Teammates with Commesso at Boston University, Alex Vlasic has played top-pair minutes with the Terriers for the past two seasons. The 2019 second-round pick by the Blackhawks was supposed to be with Team USA at the 2021 World Junior Championships, but COVID restrictions kept him and Commesso off that team that year. In 21 games this season, Vlasic has one goal and seven assists, matching his NCAA career-high in points. Yet another big-bodied, shutdown-style defenseman (6’6″ and 200 pounds) in the system, Vlasic could very well make the jump to the professional ranks next season.

•   Landon Slaggert (Notre Dame – NCAA) – A player who was on the 2021 and 2022 U.S. teams at the World Junior Championships (winning Gold in 2021), Slaggert is a prospect that blue-collar fans in Chicago will love. Made in the mold of Andrew Shaw and Brandon Hagel, Slaggert was a checking/energy forward with Team USA in his two appearances at the World Junior Championships. With Notre Dame, Slaggert has provided more of an offensive pop. This season, Slaggert has six goals and 12 points for the Irish in 21 games, playing in a top-six role.

•   Wyatt Kaiser (Minnesota-Duluth – NCAA) – Kaiser was a third-round pick in 2020 by the Blackhawks, taken 81st overall and two spots behind Landon Slaggert. In his two NCAA seasons with Minnesota-Duluth, Kaiser has played top-pair minutes and recorded 17 points in 44 games. This season with the Bulldogs, he has scored his first NCAA goal and has seven assists. He was also with Commesso and Slaggert with Team USA at this year’s 2022 World Junior Championships, playing in a top-four pairing role for the U.S.

•   Lukas Reichel (Rockford IceHogs – AHL) – The main attraction for the Blackhawks prospect system, Reichel was the 17th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by Chicago. He had played two seasons professionally in the German DEL before making his North American debut with the Rockford IceHogs. Reichel plays a top-line center role for the IceHogs and leads the club in goals (11) and points (20) in 20 AHL games this season. Due to COVID issues, Reichel could not play for Team Germany at the 2021 and 2022 World Junior Championships but would have undoubtedly played a top role for his country. He also would have likely been selected to play for Germany at the 2022 Winter Olympics had the NHL sent players to the Games. Just this week, Reichel made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks.

Europe

•   Ilya Safonov (Ak Bars Kazan – KHL) – A sixth-round pick by the Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Draft, Safonov’s connection to Chicago started before he was picked by the Blackhawks last summer. Safonov was the player who collided with Kirby Dach in the exhibition game before the 2021 World Junior Championships, where Dach broke his wrist and missed two-third of the 2021 season. Whoops! The 6’4″ centerman has played the last two seasons with Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL, with eight goals and 12 points in 43 KHL games this season.

•   Artur Kayumov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl – KHL) – Also in the KHL this season is Blackhawks 2016 second-round pick Artur Kayumov. Playing in his sixth season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Kayumov has skated in 42 KHL games this season and has tallied ten goals and 19 points. In his KHL career, Kayumov has 45 goals and 89 points in 229 regular-season games, with 11 points in 33 KHL postseason games.

•   Victor Stjernborg (Växjö Lakers – SHL) – A fourth-round pick by the Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Draft, Stjernborg started the year skating in eight games and notching one assist with the Växjö Lakers, but has been injured most of this season. Last year, he skated in 30 SHL games and recorded two goals and two assists.

•   Antti Saarela (Ilves – Liiga) – The standout European prospect in the Blackhawks’ system, Saarela has been a top-six player with Ilves this season in the Finnish Liiga. In 33 games, Saarela leads the team in goals (12) and ranks tied for fifth in points (19). He has skated in 145 regular-season games in five Liiga seasons, two with Lukko and three with Ilves.

•   Niklas Nordgren (Lahti Pelicans – Liiga) – Finally healthy, Nordgren had played in just 61 games combined over the previous three seasons in Finland since being drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft. This season, Nordgren has played 26 games for Pelicans in the Finnish Liiga and Peliitat in the Mestis (Finland’s second division). He has two goals and an assist in 11 games with the Pelicans and two goals and 13 points in 15 games with Peliitat.

•   Michael Krutil (Rockford IceHogs – AHL / Växjö Lakers – SHL) – Krutil recently left the IceHogs to play with the Växjö Lakers in the SHL. The Blackhawks selected Krutil in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft and played in 28 AHL games with the IceHogs over the past two seasons. He recorded three assists in 21 games last season. In his first game with the Lakers, he recorded a pair of assists. Krutil was twice selected to play for Czechia at the 2021 and 2022 World Junior Championships.

Again, it’s not the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, but a few players in here could/should turn into serviceable NHL players. A few prospects I’m looking forward to seeing at the North American professional ranks are U.S. Junior standouts like Drew Commesso, Landon Slaggert, Wyatt Kaiser, and Alex Vlasic, as well as the WHL trio of Jalen Luypen, Colton Dach, and Nolan Allan, and Euro standout Antti Saarela.

The main attraction right now is Reichel, and his development this season at the AHL and NHL levels are what a lot of fans are hinging the near-future of the Blackhawks on. For good reason too. Reichel should turn into a player the Blackhawks find a spot for in the top-six forwards group sooner rather than later. He’s getting a taste of the NHL now, and next season can get a full meal while playing alongside the likes of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat in Chicago.



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.