Earlier this week, I was able to speak with Blackhawks prospect Aidan Thompson about a summer in which he was drafted, played in development camps in Chicago and for USA Hockey, and is now headed to play for the University of Denver.
After not hearing his named called twice during the NHL Draft, Aidan Thompson finally had the moment that changed his life this summer. The Chicago Blackhawks selected Thompson with the third round of the 2022 NHL Draft (No. 90 overall), making the University of Denver center a member of general manager Kyle Davidson’s first draft class.
It was a moment Thompson had been waiting for, and after two successful seasons with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL, the time had finally arrived. He described the moment as surreal and a dream come true. The 20-year-old was on his way to the professional ranks.
Thompson maintains that he’s always played the game the same way. He self-scouted his game as a two-way forward who does “anything the team needs to win games.” He’ll score goals, kill penalties, add to the power play. Whether it’s the beginning or end of the game, he wants to be on the ice. Yet it took until his third year of being eligible for the draft for an NHL team to select him.
He was told by team scouts during the draft process that his continued work ethic and development earned him a potential NHL opportunity. And one team that showed significant interest before the draft was in Chicago.
“I talked to quite a few teams and I thought [the Blackhawks] were one team with more interest than others,” Thompson said. “So I thought they were a team that, when they were on the board, I would be looking a little more carefully. But like I said, I didn’t know exactly when I was going to go – I was thinking maybe [between the second and fourth rounds] – so when they picked me [in the third round] I was really happy.”
Getting drafted started a summer journey like Thompson had never experienced. He described a summer that began with the end of his season in Lincoln, followed by a few weeks off before training at DU and then the draft.
“That day was a little crazy” he joked.
The day after he was drafted, Thompson boarded a plan for Chicago to join the Blackhawks’ development camp. He then returned to Colorado for “about a week” before he jumped on another plane to join USA Hockey in their development camp for the World Juniors. Thompson used the word “chaotic” to describe his summer, and that feels like an understatement.
Thompson opened eyes at the Blackhawks’ development camp and even more at the USA camp, where he stood out until an injury ended his hopes of making the team for the rescheduled event in August. But playing well at both the Blackhawks’ camp and USA’s camp boosted his confidence heading into his first collegiate season at Denver.
“It reassures how you feel about yourself as a player,” he said. “Doing well [in Chicago] and meeting all the people was a great experience. Now coming to DU, I couldn’t be more excited and we’re all working for another national championship.”
Increased confidence will go a long way for Thompson, who is one of five new DU players selected in the 2022 NHL Draft; their roster is loaded with players who have either been drafted or will be draft eligible in the coming year. But it took two seasons with Lincoln in the USHL for him to finally get to the point that he’s an NHL draft pick himself.
Two years ago, Thompson finished second on the Lincoln squad with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assist) in 52 games. The only skater who finished that season ahead of him was Dominic James – who was selected by the Blackhawks in the sixth round (No. 173 overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft. James left Lincoln for his freshman season at Minnesota-Duluth, but the two were reunited at the Blackhawks’ development camp earlier this summer.
Minnesota-Duluth and Denver have a nice rivalry in the NCHC. Their conference also has a rivalry – with the Big Ten. Thompson said he and James made quick friends with another 2022 draft pick, even if their conferences don’t necessarily get along.
“[Dom and I] were giving it to Frank [Nazar] about being in the Big Ten,” Thompson said about some of the chirping that took place at the Fifth Third Arena in early July. “Obviously [the Big Ten is] a great conference but there’s a bit of a rivalry there so we were giving it to him a bit.”
Thompson, James and Nazar all skated at the USA Hockey development camp before the World Juniors this summer as well; James was the only one of the three to make the team and he had a strong WJC. All three will be on college campuses as new draft picks; Nazar is a freshman at Michigan.
So how does that work, exactly? They’re all players who were drafted by an NHL organization this summer – so they’re theoretically “teammates” – but they’re now playing for three different universities this season. And all three programs have legit national championship aspirations. According to Thompson, the Blackhawks are there to help while the staff at DU will handle the coaching.
“If I need anything, [the Blackhawks] are a great resource,” he said. “If you need video or nutrition or anything you need for your development the Blackhawks will have it. The coaching staff at DU – I don’t know if you can get a much better coaching staff than the guys here. I can’t wait to get to work chasing a tenth national championship.”
Thompson is right in having confidence in the coaching staff in Denver. He’s in incredibly good hands with DU head coach David Carle, who coached current Blackhawks prospects Ian Mitchell and recent college free agent signee Cole Guttman. Guttman was the captain of the Pioneers’ national title team last year. And the long list of DU players matriculating to the NHL ranks over the past decade is an indication of a program that knows what it takes to make good players into professionals.
The Blackhawks have a long history with the University of Denver, which we discussed when the Blackhawks signed Guttman.
Based on what we saw at the Blackhawks’ development camp, Thompson is primed to have a good first season at Denver. We’ll be watching how the Pioneers’ season progresses after a huge season-opening game against two other Blackhawks prospects when Denver heads to South Bend to start their 2022-23 season against Notre Dame – and Landon Slaggert and Ryder Rolston – in early October.