Cole Guttman's College Experience Paying Professional Dividends Already

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Cole Guttman’s College Experience Paying Professional Dividends Already

Chicago Blackhawks

When we step back and look at the 11 players selected in general manager Kyle Davidson’s first draft class this past summer, it’s notable that only four are at this week’s prospect showcase.

Yeah, the system is deeper than just the 11 players selected this summer and there are other players who deserve a chance to skate in front of the coaches. And four of the Blackhawks’ top picks – Kevin Korchinski, Paul Ludwinski, Gavin Hayes and Samuel Savoie – are in Chicago for the games on Friday and Sunday.

But something we’ve talked about here since the draft is the number of players the Blackhawks currently have playing college hockey. Frank Nazar, Ryan Greene, Aidan Thompson and Dominic James are all on campus right now getting ready for their collegiate seasons. And they aren’t alone.

The Blackhawks have a handful of prospects playing in the NCAA this season, and that’s by design. Though Davidson didn’t draft Drew Commesso, Landon Slaggert or Wyatt Kaiser (the three players selected following Lukas Reichel in the 2020 draft), they’re playing at prestigious programs as third-year leaders this season and all three looked terrific at Chicago’s development camp in July.

And the college experience has already started paying dividends for the Blackhawks at the AHL and NHL levels soon.

The organization really likes what they’ve seen from Alex Vlasic since he was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft. He spent three years at Boston University before signing with the Blackhawks. He jumped straight to the NHL and appeared in 15 games last season.

Josiah Slavin also made his NHL debut last season; he was a seventh-round pick in 2018 and played two seasons at Colorado College before turning pro.

Ian Mitchell was a second-round pick in 2017 and already has 47 NHL games on the back of his hockey cards, including eight last year. But he saw his role in Rockford increase dramatically last year into a top-pair player with responsibilities in every facet of the game.

There is a lot of value in the college experience beyond the NHL club owning a players’ rights until they’re out of school, whether that’s one week or four full years. And the development a player can show in the right situation can help their chances of making it.

One player who enjoyed an successful college career is recent free agent addition Cole Guttman, who signed with the Blackhawks on Aug. 17. He actually played with Mitchell – or “Mitchie” as he called him – at DU a few years ago. And this past season he was the Pioneers’ captain as DU won the national championship.

Like Mitchell, Guttman was drafted in 2017; he was a sixth-round pick (No. 180) by the Lightning. But he opted to take the entire four years in Denver to work on his game and grow. In his fourth and final season he scored a career-high 19 goals with a career-best 26 assists; his 45 points were 17 more than his previous best in 2019-20.

I spoke with Guttman about the value of playing college hockey as he works on taking his game to the next level this week at the prospect showcase games before joining the Rockford IceHogs this fall with an NHL contract. He noted the size and speed of the game in college is a big step up from junior of high school.

“To start with, you’re playing against older guys – some are 24 or 25 when you’re 18 and 19,” he said. “Playing against bigger, stronger bodies helped [my development]. There’s a lot of time to practice; [college players] don’t play as many games [as junior teams]. But you’re in the gym a lot, in practice, breaking down video, and that stuff so playing at the college level is a great way to develop.”

Being in the right program with good coaches makes a huge difference. And, as we noted when we spoke with Aidan Thompson earlier this week, Denver continues to be a premiere program that turns out solid professional players.

Guttman echoed a lot of what Thompson said about DU head coach David Carle, though he has a completely different perspective on the subject. Thompson is excited to play for a coach that recruited him; Guttman just spent four years pouring it out on the ice for Carle and they won a national title together this past season.

What makes Carle such an effective coach is the program’s focus on player development throughout the four years a player is there, Guttman said. Carle is a strong communicator and has tremendous rapport with his players, and they want to win for him.

But something else that makes the college experience unique is earning a letter on your sweater. Some players in the Blackhawks’ organization will be captains or alternate/assistant captains for junior teams this season as teenagers.

In college, you have to pay your dues for two or three years before getting a letter in many cases. That was the case for Guttman at DU, and he said it meant the world to him to wear the “C” for the Pioneers.

“It was an honor [to be captain], and it was a lot of fun – especially with that group of guys,” Guttman said. “We had so many leaders on the team and a great leadership group and even the young guys stepped up throughout the season and everybody contributed. As a captain that made my job easier, but, again, it was such an honor to be a captain at a program like Denver and win a national championship with that group of guys.”

The hard work paid off and Guttman got a call from Chicago when he was able to consider his free agent options on Aug. 16. He’s thrilled to be in Chicago and looks forward to starting his professional career with the organization.

And the early returns appear that the organization likes what they’re seeing from him on the ice. This prospect showcase has some seasoned AHL players on the roster, some of whom have NHL experience – including Guttman’s former rival in the NCHC, Slavin.

When asked about what he’s seen from Guttman thus far in two days of practices leading up to this weekend’s games against the Wild, IceHogs head coach Anders Sorensen dusted off his Joel Quenneville impersonation it seemed.

“Impressed,” Sorensen said of Guttman’s two days of work. “[He] plays with pace. Plays in the middle of the ice, inside the dots, so far so good.”

Not many words, but his facial expressions showed some confidence from the head coach in Rockford, where Guttman’s NHL journey will take its next step this fall.

He was a leader in college and enjoyed the success of winning a national title. He plays the game hard and isn’t easy to play against. If these traits sound familiar, they should; it’s what Davidson has been telling us he’s looking for moving forward. Speed, leadership, grit. And Guttman brings it all.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab