Back in May, we intentionally dropped our Top Ten Prospects list for the Blackhawks’ organization early in the summer anticipating how trades, free agency and the draft might impact the list. As we put this week’s development camp to bed on Friday, it’s safe to say that list will be dramatically different when we update it — and that’s coming soon.
What we’ve seen on the ice at Fifth Third Arena this week has been a crop of young players who are being developed to fit the vision of general manager Kyle Davidson. There have been times in the past when players with AHL experience have attended the prospect camp, but this year’s rosters were heavy with players drafted over the past three years.
And only one player, defenseman Alex Vlasic, has any NHL experience among the group.
We’ve had a chance to see how the 11 young players drafted by the Blackhawks looked on the ice, together, and against each other. They’ve participated in drills and competed on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of skill and a lot of speed.
But, again, that’s what Davidson is looking for as the future of the Blackhawks’ organization: fast, and hard to play against.
We asked Davidson about the class when he spoke with the media on Thursday. While he has admittedly been busy signing free agents in the middle of the week, we have seen him sitting with the rest of the front office throughout the week watching his first draft class on the ice. And he had good things to say about the early returns.
Here’s what he said:
“I wish I would’ve had more time, to be honest, because it’s been a really busy week with free agency jammed in the middle of it, but very impressive. Really impressed and excited by the size, the compete, the speed, the enthusiasm out there. It’s been really positive. It’s been nice getting to know the players on a personal level a little more, too. Really self-motivated, excited, enthusiastic people. It’s really good to see. You get out of the draft and feel excited, and you get here and see them up-close and in-person and get even more excited.”
What we’ve seen this week is a group of forwards the likes of which the Blackhawks haven’t had as a collection in the organization in maybe a full decade.
Davidson wants speed, and he prioritized that in the draft this summer. If you watched any of the camp sessions this week you would have seen how fast the players were moving; it was refreshing.
The first round picks were as-advertised. But picks in later rounds, especially Aidan Thompson (third round) and Nils Juntorp (sixth round), showed flashes of potential. Across the board the players selected by the Blackhawks brought speed and physical play to the ice no matter their size.
Having watched the 2022 draft class in person this week, I can tell you Davidson did a terrific job of identifying players who could develop into NHL players. The key to the future is that development piece, though. Davidson has told us for months that they’re going to be more intentional about giving players time to be ready for the NHL. And many of this year’s draft picks are going to need time to be ready.
Takeaways from Development Camp
The size and skill on the back end is terrific; only a couple short years ago every Blackhawks site was filled with complaints about how “we don’t need any more 5-foot something kids on the blue line.” Now, the Hawks have a collection of giants. But they aren’t pylons. These kids can move, they handle the puck well and play physical hockey. What was already a position with somewhat good depth now appears to be even better with two more additions from the draft.
One defenseman who caught my eye, however, was Ethan Del Mastro. He was a fourth-round pick in 2021 and signed his entry-level contract early in Davidson’s tenure, which was a bit of surprise. But when you see him on skates you understand why. Del Mastro is listed at 6-4 and 206 pounds as a 19-year-old and has really shown an impressive skillset this week. He’s one to keep an eye on in the future.
Up front, the injection of nine forward prospects into a system that was desperately lacking skill is an enormous improvement. And it was exciting to see so much speed and skill on the ice together. Of course not all of these prospects is going to be a top-line star; indeed, many of them may find their role being a secondary player in the future. But Davidson added a lot to a dry system last week and it showed.
Landon Slaggert had a really nice week. Originally a third-round pick in 2020, he’s been at Notre Dame for two years and looked like a college player against younger competition at times this week. Jeff Jackson is known as a head coach who develops players well, so if Slaggert spends three or even four years at Notre Dame and continues improving his game he’ll find his way to the NHL.