Monday morning was the first time Blackhawks fans and media got a chance to see the eleven (yes, 11) players drafted last week on the ice in a Chicago sweater. The Blackhawks are hosting their development camp this week (open to the public) and the entire 2022 draft class is attending.
Which is nice, because the excitement (can we use that word?) for the 2022 class is still hovering over a franchise that made a clear directional move to young, young, young with their trades before/during the draft last week.
We were there for Day One, watching all of the prospects skate in two groups.
Before we jump into some of our takeaways and learnings from Monday’s practice, we need to be absolutely crystal clear: this was practice. And not even at the level that merits the Allen Iverson rant. If you’ve ever attended or participated in a tryout for a team (travel baseball, age-level hockey, etc), that’s what we watched on Monday. The guys skated around to get loose, got a little coaching, and then went through a series of drills.
So what we were able to take away from the “performances” on Monday is limited to what we saw relative to the other skaters on the ice and players I’ve seen go through this camp over the past dozen years.
With that heavy disclaimer, let’s get into what we did see, hear and learn on Monday. We’re going to focus on defensemen in this piece.
Based on what we’ve learned over the past three days, the Blackhawks’ front office was completely unified that the prospect they were targeting in this year’s draft — and the reason they had to get a top-ten pick in the Alex DeBrincat trade — was Kevin Korchinski. Chicago selected him seventh overall with the first pick they received from Ottawa in the DeBrincat trade.
Again, this was just a practice and only drills. But there are a lot of recent draft picks and additions to the organization in attendance this week. And Korchinski stood out. His skating is fluid, he clearly has another gear that the other players don’t, and his hands appear to be pretty good.
He was climbing a lot of draft boards if you believe the pre- and post-draft hype, and more than a few analysts really like his game (as we noted when we broke down what others are saying about Korchinski).
Thinking back over the years at defensemen who have come through, the last teenager I can recall that skated like Korchinski was Nick Leddy. Leddy was drafted by the Wild out of Minnesota high school hockey and made the jump to the NHL after just one year at the University of Minnesota. He could fly; he’s still a very good offensive defenseman.
Here’s the difference: when Leddy arrived in Chicago (after being acquired in the Cam Barker trade), he was a full year removed from being drafted 16th overall, had spent that year playing legit college hockey, and was in the neighborhood of 5-11 (maybe we’ll give him 6-0) and about 185 pounds. He’s now listed at 6-0 and 205, but he’s now 31 years old.
Korchinski is every bit of 6-2 and 185 as an 18-year-old. He has really good size and he’s comfortable with that size. He had no concerns controlling the puck through traffic and playing the puck defensively in drills. He’ll add weight as he gets older and physically matures, but there’s a lot to like about his physical package right now.
Sam I am (big)
Many of us — fans and media alike — noted that Nolan Allan, last year’s first-round pick, had good size when Chicago selected him at the end of the first round. And he does have decent size (6-2, 195). But his size didn’t stand out during practice on Monday.
Sam Rinzel, the second defenseman the Blackhawks selected in the first round, is certainly a big boy. A lot of people thought Rinzel would be on the Blackhawks’ radar with one of their second-round picks this year, but Chicago moved back into the late first and grabbed him 25th overall.
Rinzel is a unicorn: a 6-4, right-handed defenseman who can skate. He looked good on his skates and handled the puck well in practice on Monday. With one more year in the USHL and then a commitment to the University of Minnesota, he has time to develop and fill out his big body. He’s a development player, but the potential is there.
And he isn’t alone.
There are 13 defensemen attending development camp. Two of those 13 is listed shorter than 6-2 — Wyatt Kaiser (6-0, 172) and Connor Kelley (6-1, 190), and they were teammates at Minnesota-Duluth last year. As we previously noted, Kelley is transferring to Providence this year.
The second group at practice featured Rinzel, Ethan del Mastro (6-4, 209) and Alex Vlasic (6-6, 211). The first group included Korchinski, Taige Harding (6-7, 235), Louis Crevier (6-8, 219) and undrafted free agent camp invite Colton Huard (6-4, 196).
Gone are the days of Blackhawks fans complaining about the list of 5-10 defensemen.
Filip the intrigue
Lost in the shuffle of all of the movement already this summer is blue line prospect Filip Roos, who was Kyle Davidson’s first European free agent signing. He’ll turn 24 on Jan. 5 but is making the move from Sweden to North America to give it a run at making the NHL.
There’s a lot to like about Roos’ game. He’s the oldest defenseman in the camp this summer, so you would expect him to be more mature in his game — and he appears to be just that. In one drill where the Hawks had one defensemen in the corner working against three skaters, Roos was a bully; he shoved the other players around and took the puck away relatively easily.
Listed at 6-4 and 190 pounds, Roos may be an interesting name to consider when Davidson looks to fill out his NHL roster at some point this season. He signed a two-year deal so there’s time, but his size and ability could make him a player to watch.
We plan on being at practices and the scrimmages that eventually take place this entire week, so stay tuned for more coverage of the other top draft picks of the Blackhawks in the coming days. And if you want more videos of prospects working on the ice, make sure you’re following @BN_Blackhawks on Twitter!