Notre Dame begins their season tonight in Denver against Aidan Thompson and the Denver Pioneers. It’s a huge start to the season for ninth-ranked Notre Dame, who will face the top-ranked defending champs.
The Irish will benefit from having a strong group of upper classmen, highlighted by Blackhawks forward prospect Landon Slaggert. The 20-year-old had a long summer filled with studies and hockey and is looking to build on a strong sophomore campaign in which he scored 12 times in 40 games.
I spoke with Slaggert earlier this week about his takeaways from a summer in which he appeared at the Blackhawks’ development camp in July before playing a leading role for the USA at the World Juniors in August.
In between his time on the ice for the Blackhawks and USA Hockey, Slaggert took a macroeconomics class at Notre Dame. He said it was good to “get that out of the way” before getting back on campus and having responsibilities as an assistant captain in South Bend.
In July when he reported to the Blackhawks’ development camp, it was in front of a new front office with a new crop of draft picks joining some players who had been through the prospect camps before. Slaggert told me the difference on the ice was immediately noticeable.
“It’s obviously exciting to see all these new guys coming up the ranks and making an impact in college and elsewhere,” he said. “One thing I noticed at Development Camp was just the speed of all these guys — guys being able to move their feet quickly but also make plays at high speed. It’s awesome to be able to be on the ice with those guys for the week up in Chicago, and yeah, there are definitely some good prospects coming up.”
One of the unique aspects of the Blackhawks’ rebuilding process is the impact the draft class of 2020 could have on the speed of the turnaround. Slaggert was one of two picks the Blackhawks made in the third round that year, and there is optimism that each of Chicago’s top four selection in that draft could make an impact on the NHL roster before too long.
Chicago’s first-round pick that year was Lukas Reichel, who will begin his second professional season in Rockford. Goaltender Drew Commesso is beginning his junior year at Boston University and was the Hawks’ second-round pick. The other third-round pick for the Blackhawks in 2020 was defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, who — like Slaggert — showed very well at the Blackhawks’ development camp and at the World Juniors this summer.
“With the USA and the World Junior stuff, you get to know those guys pretty well, you create a bond there,” Slaggert said. “But then it’s also special to see those guys at Development Camp and share that in common. So the guys like Wyatt Kaiser and Drew Commesso, but also guys like Dominic James, too, who was on the World Junior team this past year and was recently drafted by the Hawks. You share a unique bond with and special to be in the same organization as them.”
If you paid attention to our coverage of the Blackhawks during the development camp or during the World Juniors, it shouldn’t surprise you that Slaggert mentioned that the Blackhawks were very happy with his speed and compete on the ice. He told me he’s working on adding more to his offensive arsenal as well, and will get plenty of help from the strong coaching staff at Notre Dame this season.
One of the things that impressed me about Slaggert when I had the chance to talk to him in July and again earlier this week is how polished he is as an athlete. He was measured in his comments and understood how he could help the team concept on and off the ice; that’s why he wore an “A” for the United States at the WJC and why he’s wearing one again this season at Notre Dame.
I tried to give him the bait, asking whether or not he thinks the Big Ten is the strongest college conference. When I asked Thompson that question earlier about the NCHC, he said they were the best. Cole Guttman (DU) and Josiah Slavin (Colorado College) did the same. But Slaggert would only go as far as to say the conference is going to be strong and he’ll be facing a very tough schedule this year.
An Irish Family Affair
Some of that maturity comes from being in a family that’s been around the game for a long time. Slaggert told me going to Notre Dame was a “no brainer” for him because his father, Andy, has been on the staff in South Bend for 30 years. Not every kid wants to play for his dad in college, but it was an easy call for Landon… and his older brother, Graham. And, eventually, his younger brother Carter (who is 17 and playing for the US National Development Team).
But Landon gives Graham a lot of credit for his growth as a college hockey player. Not every brother likes to give an older sibling credit, but Landon was all about it.
“He showed me the ropes here at Notre Dame and I really appreciate Graham and the way that he’s the pioneer for Carter and me,” Landon said. “He went through, just carved the path out for us so that it was a little easier on us and gave us the knowledge that we needed to succeed so I hope I’m doing the same for Carter.
It’s pretty cool that all three of us have been able to follow similar career paths in this game of hockey, going from the Chicago Mission to the NTDP. So we definitely have some knowledge to share between the three of us and it’s exciting to share it with Carter when he ever needs a helping hand or how to handle a certain situation or anything like that, I’m there for him.”
With his father on the coaching staff at Notre Dame for three decades, there’s already a built-in legacy for the Slaggert family on campus. And his brother Graham had a nice career for the Irish. Landon told me he grew up idolizing players on the Irish roster, from Anders Lee to Bryan Rust to Erik Condra and Ryan Thang. But he said it was their leadership that impressed him as much as their game on the ice.
“I grew up around the rink idolizing all the guys, like some guys had Superman, I had the Notre Dame hockey guys, so those guys are my superheroes,” he said. “I looked up to them and just great people that come through this program. I don’t only idolize them on the ice but also off the ice so I knew that one day, I’d want to be one of those guys someday and I finally got to achieve that dream.”
B1G Challenge Ahead
While Slaggert wasn’t willing to say Notre Dame will win the Big Ten this year or that the Big Ten is the best hockey conference (definitively), he did tell me there has been some friendly chirping via text message with some of his friends in the Blackhawks organization. One player who he’ll likely have to beat to win the Big Ten this year will be Frank Nazar at Michigan. Slaggert complimented their program and spoke highly about Nazar’s first impression at development camp this summer, but admitted there has been some talk back and forth before the season starts.
As I wrote back in July during development camp and again during the World Juniors, there’s a lot to like about Slaggert’s game on the ice. He’ll get a third year working with a terrific coaching staff at Notre Dame with the goal of winning a national championship.
But what continues to impress me about him is his approach to the game and perspective. He’s a winner and a leader — something the Blackhawks have talked about valuing as an organization moving forward. His still on the ice and character off the ice make Slaggert an easy player to cheer for as a future Blackhawk.