World Juniors Begin, Best Backup Jobs, Phillips Development, and Other Blackhawks Boxing Day Bullets

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World Juniors Begin, Best Backup Jobs, Phillips Development, and Other Blackhawks Boxing Day Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

Happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate. The Blackhawks are off again on Monday (today is Monday, right?), but that doesn’t mean we’re without hockey to watch. The World Junior Championship games start for real today, with four games on NHL Network for your viewing pleasure.

  • The first game of specific note for Blackhawks fans on Monday is Sweden vs. Austria at 12:30 PM CT. Sweden’s captain, Victor Stjernborg, is a Blackhawks draft pick whose stock has gone up a great deal in the past year.
  • Canada gets Czechia in the nightcap with all four Blackhawks prospects appearing to draw into the lineup based on the lines Mark Masters tweeted out yesterday from the final practice. Colton Dach appears set to be on the fourth line up front while Nolan Allan will move over to the right side and skate with Kevin Korchinski on the third defensive pair. Assistant captain Ethan Del Mastro is going to log heavy minutes in this tournament on the top pair.

Canada’s projected to do well in this tournament; they won gold in August in the COVID-delayed 2022 edition of the WJC. I guess we can all hope they do better on the ice than they did when asked to remember the names of Santa’s team…

  • Scott Powers offered up a fun one this morning. He asked the Blackhawks what their fall-back job would be if the whole hockey thing didn’t work out. The least surprising on the list: Caleb and Seth Jones both said they would have tried basketball if hockey didn’t give them a job. If you didn’t know, their father is Popeye Jones, who spent more than a decade in the NBA and is currently an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
  • The biggest surprise for me? Sam Lafferty said he would have given professional golf a shot. Do we have a developing Happy Gilmore situation?
  • I appreciated the perspective from Ben Pope in this story looking back 12 months to Christmas of last year, when the Blackhawks were a complete dumpster fire. They had “gone for it” with trades and free agent additions in the summer, and then the wheels came flying off and things wrong in every way it could for the organization. It’s been a long, hard year since then but Pope is spot on — at least now we have a front office telling us, the fans, what they’re doing and he’s sticking with his plan.

Disgraced ex-GM Stan Bowman’s half-baked attempt to rejuvenate the Hawks had gone ridiculously awry as they sat 27th in the standings with an 11-15-4 record and didn’t own a first-round pick.

One Christmas later, their record is even worse — they’re last in the league at 8-20-4 — but everything else is better.

  • I wanted to kick it back a few days to this video Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune shared on Twitter of rookie defensemen Isaak Phillips after his season debut. Having watched a little bit of him at the NHL level last year and now this year, there’s something about Phillips’ game that I really like. He’s got the size the Blackhawks are looking for and he’s aggressively trying to become a better defenseman.
  • After 116 games in the AHL over three seasons, the raw tools that intrigued folks who saw Phillips play in the 27 AHL games he got into after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020 have become strengths. He can move, he’s getting stronger and he’s a very willing learner.
  • When we look back at draft classes, the expectation is that guys in the first and second round should contribute at the NHL level at some point. By the time you get to the fifth round, you’re hoping for a wild card that maybe gets you something — anything — at the NHL level. Phillips looks like the Blackhawks found a real gem a couple years ago. And his acceleration into becoming an NHL player might be the first step in the blue line overhaul that’s coming in the coming months.
  • Finally, the Cubs are looking for a first baseman. Who’s on their radar? A few names have emerged.

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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