Alex Vlasic played arguably his best game with the Chicago Blackhawks last night.
The 20-year-old rookie logged 23 shifts (16:10 of ice time total) and led the Blackhawks in ice time during the first period. He also got three shots off and looked the part of an NHL defenseman — specifically, he started to recognize better while formulating and executing a plan, rather than delivering that deer-in-the-headlights look we’ve seen from him during his first month of pro hockey.
Monday night’s performance was all the more impressive because it was a strong rebound effort for Vlasic, who had a rough game in the Blackhawks’ loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. As far as Derek King is concerned, the next game is more important than the bad game, and in this case, Vlasic passed the test.
“Like the fact that he had a bit of a tough go his last game, San Jose, and I had a little chat with him,” King said. “You’re going to have those games, but the big thing is what you do the next game. How do you recover? And I thought he recovered well.”
The San Jose game this past weekend reminds us that Vlasic was playing college hockey five weeks ago, and there’s still plenty of work to be done. Vlasic is just now beginning to work past the nerves of going from Boston University to the Chicago Blackhawks in a matter of a week in March.
Blackhawks interim head coach Derek King has done an excellent job easing Vlasic into things, first playing him in shorter spurts of six to seven minutes of ice time, followed by some healthy scratches to reflect. A ramped-up workload has Vlasic contributing more and feeling more comfortable than during that first game, where he said he had never been as nervous and gripped his stick on every play.
“I think just playing a little bit more, getting more comfortable, whether it’s with my teammates or even in practice, just getting a feel for the speed of the game, and the more games you get, the more comfortable you get with it, and I think that’s been a big part,” Vlasic said. “I definitely had a lot of trust and faith in the coaching staff and the management,” Vlasic said. “It definitely worked out pretty well, I definitely feel pretty confident in my game right now, and it’s helped to play a few games, realize it’s a tough league, and take some time off, getting scratched, work on some skills and stuff, off days and whatnot, and getting ready and playing more games.”
Derek King isn’t the only one who sees the growth in Vlasic. Veteran defenseman Jake McCabe said that despite the learning curve for a young defenseman in the NHL being steeper than any other position, “Vlas coming from college; he’s stepped in, and I think he’s played phenomenal.”
While Vlasic is starting to get his sea legs under him at the NHL level these days, he’ll be heading to Rockford soon to help the IceHogs in their Calder Cup Playoff run, an experience that Vlasic said on Monday night that he was excited about.
“I think it’ll be a lot of fun,” Vlasic said. “I know quite a bit of guys down there, more so, like my age. I feel like the team’s pretty young. I’ve been talking to Reggie (Regula) about it, picking his mind and stuff, and talking about the A, so I’m pumped, so I think it’ll be fun if I get the opportunity to.”
The IceHogs clinched their playoff spot this past weekend and will wrap up their regular season on Saturday. The Blackhawks finish out their 2021-22 schedule on Friday night in Buffalo, so Vlasic may play the season’s final two games with the Hawks before heading to Rockford for the IceHogs playoff run.