Alex Vlasic's Ability, Work Ethic and Perspective Position Him for Success

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Alex Vlasic’s Ability, Work Ethic and Perspective Position Him for Success

Chicago Blackhawks

One of the young defensemen who has impressed almost everyone he’s come across since turning pro last year is Alex Vlasic. And now it appears he’s in prime position to get a look at the opening night roster for the Blackhawks – and in an important role.

The Blackhawks drafted Vlasic out of the US National Development Program in the second round in 2019, and his size immediately stood out. He’s a big boy, every bit of the 6-6 he’s listed at on the roster sheet.

Vlasic spent the next three years at Boston University, eventually earning an assistant captain role on last year’s team. He appeared in 32 games as a junior for the Terriers before their season ended and he had to make a decision. That decision was made quickly; he signed with the Blackhawks on March 15 and immediately jumped into the NHL dressing room.

He became the latest on a long list of young defensemen to get run with the NHL team last year and stuck around Chicago for 15 appearances down the stretch. He scored his first NHL goal and finished with two points in his first go at the top level.

Vlasic was impressive. He skates incredibly well and moves the puck with ease, two things that are still relatively rare from a player his size. His play got other players’ attention as well as the new front office.

“He’s an awesome guy who pushes himself and has all the ability,” Connor Murphy said of Vlasic. “It’s rare to see a guy that tall have that fluidity to his game and the reach and the smarts, too, to use his stick and adapt and use that to his advantage against higher level players.”

After a long season of college games and then making the leap to the NHL, the Hawks opted to not send him to Rockford for the AHL postseason. He earned some rest and the Blackhawks afforded him that. Vlasic stayed around Chicago and got to work, though, getting better on the ice and more comfortable with some of the great players around him.

Vlasic opened training camp skating with Seth Jones, the Blackhawks skater with the longest remaining term on his current contract (eight years). Jones, based on ability and payroll commitment, figures to be the Blackhawks’ top defenseman, so skating a 21-year-old with him shows a lot of confidence in the kid after 15 games in the NHL.

Murphy believes Vlasic is the goods. And he has more than 15 games as a teammate to base his assessment on. Vlasic’s summer in Chicago was great for his growth on and off the ice.

“The hardest thing your first year as a pro with a team is wanting to hide and blend in – not saying he was, but naturally you just wanna feel out your comfort zone with a team. So him being here all summer is an advantage for him to get more comfortable in the room and with the staff and the players and knowing in all the skates that he’s up there with his ability as much as anyone on the team.”

I spoke with Vlasic during the first week of training camp about his adjustment to the pro ranks. Not only is he a massive human being, but he’s also as down-to-earth as a highly touted prospect can be. It’s easy to get used to the jaded responses from players who sprint to the top of any sport because in today’s world media training starts at a younger age and cliché answers come more frequently from even the youngest players.

We don’t need Crash Davis giving Nuke the crash course on the bus any more. Now, organizations craft players into soundbites.

But I found Vlasic to be a sincere… kid. He was happy to admit that there was an element of “fanboy” in him when he arrived at Chicago and saw Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in his dressing room. He said it was “super surreal” and took a while to sink in that he was skating with two future Hall of Famers, but skating with them and other veterans over the summer has made him more comfortable with the idea that he is, in fact, an NHL player.

If Murphy was impressed with Vlasic’s game over the summer, I’ll give Vlasic full marks for listening to and watching Murphy be a consummate pro. He told me he soaked up as much as he could from Murphy over the summer, especially things he can do to make friends in the building away from the ice surface.

“I was training with Connor all summer and picking his brain and feeding off him and what he does on a daily basis,” Vlasic said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met so I just want to be as much like him as possible and be nice to everyone in the organization.”

Spending the summer with Murphy helped Vlasic’s confidence, but now he’s spending a lot of time on the ice with Jones. What impressed me about Vlasic is he specifically mentioned with both Murphy and Jones that he pays attention to their daily habits – what they do to play the game at the level they do. And he repeatedly said how thankful he is for the opportunity to be around players of that caliber and character.

Luke Richardson said on Saturday that he believes skating with Jones to open camp has been beneficial for Vlasic.

“I wasn’t here, but I think they played a little bit together at the end of last year,” Richardson said. “And it went well for Vlasic being a young guy; I think he’s got lots to learn. So playing with Jones — and Jones is quiet out there — but I think he also teaches at his own pace and very subtly sitting on the bench, and they talk about things. So it’s great for all these young guys to be paired up with veterans in training camp, especially.”

And now when some of the other young players come into town ask him for advice, he passes along those ideas. “Little things like saying thank you to the training staff” and other things he’s picked up from the older guys he’s purposefully surrounded himself with to begin his professional career.

As far as how his season starts, Vlasic said the organization hasn’t given him any commitment regarding ice time or location; he could be in Chicago or Rockford, depending on how things shake out in camp. They just told him to be himself and work hard.

“The two things [the Blackhawks] want us to focus on are attitude and effort and everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “I’m just focused on having fun and living in this experience. It’s a dream come true so I’m just riding the wave and seeing where it takes me.”

That refreshing approach and outlook on the start of a career should take Vlasic far in this game.

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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