The Calgary Flames come into the United Center tonight and they’ve warmed up in the past month or so. After a five-game losing skid, the Flames have rolled off a 6-2-1 stretch that has pushed them firmly into the playoff conversation in the Western Conference. We’ll see if this is the last Sunday of this “season” that the Bears and Blackhawks can lose on the same day.
- At the morning skate on Sunday, Patrick Kane was rotating in but is confirmed out tonight against Calgary. The Blackhawks lineup — including Alex Stalock in net — will be the same as Friday night.
- Shoutout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were two points “behind” the Blackhawks for dead last in the NHL entering Saturday, for beating one of the hottest teams in the league yesterday. Somehow the Jackets beat the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout, giving the Blackhawks an extra couple inches of breathing room after Chicago’s shutout win on Friday night.
- The first thing that grabbed my attention came somewhat under the radar on Saturday. It’s the time of year with players coming back from the World Juniors that CHL teams start pushing their chips in for a playoff run. Yesterday I shared that Blackhawks prospect Ethan Del Mastro was involved in a trade between juniors teams, which was interesting because he was the captain at Mississauga. Well, another Blackhawks prospect who was the captain of his junior team was traded on Saturday — to a familiar destination.
- Colton Dach, who had been the captain at Kelowna, was traded to Seattle where he’ll join Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan — when he’s healthy. Dach’s WJC tournament ended prematurely because of an injury and Kelowna tweeted before the championship game that he would stay with Hockey Canada through the duration of the tournament before traveling to Chicago to be evaluated by Chicago medical staff. So whether or not Dach spends much/any time in Seattle is still TBD, but if he is able to join the Thunderbirds it’ll be easy for the Blackhawks’ front office to keep tabs on three of their high draft picks from the last few years.
- Before reporting to Sarnia (his new team), Del Mastro was one of five members of Canada’s gold medal team from the WJC who was honored at the Maple Leafs game last night. Nice moment for the kid, but don’t get too comfortable. Chicago’s where it’s at.
- Corey Pronman at The Athletic recently shared his standouts and disappointments from the World Juniors tournament. He listed Korchinski as one of his disappointments, which was interesting to me because he’s been a big fan of Korchinski’s since before the last draft. Pronman is consistent with that in his comments.
I want to preface this with a note that I think Korchinski is a great pro prospect who has looked great this season in the WHL. This tournament wasn’t his best hockey, though. It’s not easy for an 18-year-old to get big minutes on Team Canada, but I didn’t feel he did what he was capable of. He didn’t move and transport pucks like he does in the WHL, and the defensive issues you’ve seen at times in club play were accentuated on the big stage, where you saw his minutes limited in the big games. I love this player, he’s an awesome skater with legit offense and will be a very good NHL player, but this wasn’t his week.
- I also found it very interesting that Pronman (who undoubtedly isn’t alone) listed Canada forward Adam Fantilli as a disappointment and Sweden center Leo Carlsson as a standout. The two are considered part of the group of three players immediately following Connor Bedard in the upcoming draft and appear to be fighting to be considered the No. 2 pick; the ongoing political issues with Russia and the three years remaining on his contract there are serious complications for any team that drafts Matvei Michkov, which clouds his draft stock even though he is almost unanimously considered the second-best prospect in this draft class.
- Take the comments about Fantilli and Carlsson and put them in your back pocket this week. NHL Central Scouting is slated to release their mid-term rankings for the 2023 NHL Draft. My guess is Bedard and Fantilli are 1-2 among North American skaters and Michkov and Carlsson are 1-2 among European skaters. But this is a big week for those of us who are watching how prospects are considered as we get closer to next year’s draft.
- Gavin Hayes appeared in his 100th career OHL game for Flint last night and he made it count. Hayes, who has been on fire lately, scored twice in a 5-4 Firebirds win. Hayes has now scored 13 goals in 11 games since the start of December, a stretch in which he has two hat tricks and three two-goal games. He’s scored 22 times in 35 games this season after producing 19 goals in 65 contests last year.
- Remember to visit allstarfanvote.nhl.com every day and cast your 10 ballots for the extra three players (two skaters and one goalie) in each division. Here’s the ballot I cast on Saturday:
- My Facebook memories on Saturday reminded me that it was nine years ago this weekend that we learned the Blackhawks would be sending an astonishing ten (10) players to the Winter Olympics. And, as I tweeted yesterday, it should have been 11 — Brent Seabrook should have gone instead of Dan Hamhuis and I’ll never accept a differing opinion. Look at this collection of studs who represented their country that year.
- Finally, individuals in every walk of life — from my dentist to the President of the United States to Patrick Kane — have talked about how the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety has given us pause and perspective over the past week. You’re going to see a lot of on-field tributes to Hamlin around the NFL today, including in Chicago. And yesterday he was able to say thank you on social media, and encourage all of us to continue praying for his ongoing recovery.