The Blackhawks will look to get back in the win column tonight with the Nashville Predators at the United Center. Nashville comes in with an offense that’s barely better than the Blackhawks, so I’m saying there’s a chance (and bet the under). But it’s a new guy who will be in the lineup for the home team tonight that has me excited.
- I can’t wait to watch Isaak Phillips play for the Blackhawks tonight. I really can’t. He’s a fun underdog story of a kid who’s worked his butt off for an opportunity, and the Blackhawks might benefit from discovering a gem in the rough a couple years ago when they drafted him in the fifth round (No. 141) of the 2020 NHL Draft.
- What’s wild to consider is how things might have been different for Phillips if the pandemic hadn’t arrived when it did. He jumped into the professional game probably earlier than many thought he would and had his growing pains in Rockford. But last year he spent a big part of the season on the IceHogs’ top pair with Ian Mitchell and his game grew. His stock with the organization skyrocketed as well. He’s got the size (6-3, 193) that you love to see — size that the Blackhawks’ new front office has clearly prioritized on the blue line. And he can move.
- “I was definitely really raw, and I still think I’m a really raw player,” Phillips told Scott Powers (below). “But going in every day, there’s just so many … everyone is here to help you in this organization. So I just go in every day, working hard, trying to learn something new, and I feel like it’s been huge for me just being in this organization coming to work every day.”
- And he’s worked. Powers write about his frequent text messages with Brian Campbell and video work. This season, Phillips has been one of the better defensemen in the entire AHL. His recall is absolutely justified, and he could bring some excitement to the Blackhawks’ blue line.
- The Patrick Kane – Artemi Panarin love affair might feel a little like the Montagues and Capulets at this point. Apparently there’s another player-vs-player rivalry brewing between the Blackhawks and Rangers. Not only do we have the Jujhar Khaira vs Jacob Trouba hate and the Andreas Athanasiou vs Trouba drama, but now we have Filip Chytil vs Sam Lafferty as well.
- Lafferty lowered the boom on Chytil on Friday night and the Rangers’ young center did not return to the ice. The game was pretty much out of hand at the time of the hit already, and Mollie Walker (below) postulates that the Rangers sat Chytil because they didn’t need him in the blowout 7-1 victory. But Chytil’s concussion history undoubtedly also gave them pause. Chytil didn’t mince words when asked about the play on Tuesday.
“I didn’t have the puck for maybe two seconds, that was I think a cheap hit,” Chytil told The Post after the Rangers’ morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. “I don’t know. Maybe somebody don’t agree with me, some do. But for me, that wasn’t a good play. I think there [should’ve] been a penalty.”
- Back to the future of the blue line, one of the other prospects who has really impressed me (and lots of other people) over the past year is Ethan Del Mastro. He’ll be wearing an “A” for Canada in the World Juniors beginning next week and skating on their top defensive pair. This interview he did about returning to the big stage for his country is another reason to be excited about the kid. He’s a leader who plays a strong all-around game. He’s been a captain of his junior team for two years now and is already signed.
- If you’re watching Canada in the WJC, there are two players who haven’t been drafted yet who will be the focus of the hockey world’s attention: Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. They figure to be the top two overall picks in the hyped 2023 NHL Draft, and they’re teammates on Canada’s roster in the coming tournament.
- Greg Wyshynski at ESPN wrote a terrific piece on Fantilli potentially challenging Bedard for the top spot in the overall rankings. Will it happen? No. But that doesn’t diminish the reality that Fantilli, like Bedard, is viewed as a franchise player. A game-changer. And his numbers as a freshman at the University of Michigan this year tell us he’s the goods.
- In the ESPN piece, Craig Button compares the top two picks in the coming draft to another great debate: 2015, when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were the prizes. Button agrees that Fantilli won’t knock Bedard off the top of the rankings.
“As good as Jack Eichel is, he’s not in that next class of player like McDavid,” Button said. “And as good as Fantilli is, I think Connor Bedard changes the fortunes of a franchise.”
- Later, Button said this about Fantilli:
- “He’s a first-line center. There’s no question about that,” he said. “When you watch him play, and the skill level he possesses, I think he falls into that category of being more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker. But he will make plays, because he’ll draw opponents to him.”
- Finally, we’re waking up in a world where Carlos Correa is NOT a San Francisco Giant. He’s apparently the third baseman of the New York Mets. Because, you know… medicals and money.