When Could the Blackhawks Add College Reinforcements?

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When Could the Blackhawks Add College Reinforcements to the Roster?

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have some roster decisions coming on their NHL and AHL units in the coming days, as some bodies are likely leaving the organization. We’ll find out if new players are being added when the trades are consummated, but general manager Kyle Davidson has shown early in his tenure that he prefers picks to prospects. So the bet is there may be some open spots in both Chicago and Rockford to consider.

The good news: the NCAA season is nearing its end, and the Blackhawks have a few prospects they’re likely looking to sign in the coming weeks when they’re available. There are three specific college players I anticipate the Blackhawks at least engaging in a conversation about turning pro, and would be surprised if they didn’t sign in March whenever their seasons end.

Which college players might be able to help the Blackhawks or IceHogs down the stretch this season? Let’s take a look at a few names that might be in the transaction section soon.

Note: I am not including Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston on this list because his season is over because of an injury. I am also not including Frank Nazar, who returned recently from an injury at the University of Michigan. Indications are that he will be back in Ann Arbor.

Landon Slaggert, F, Notre Dame

Slaggert, 20, was a third-round pick (No. 79 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2020. He has six goals and six assists in 30 games for Notre Dame this season, a big dropoff from last season in both categories (he had 26 points in 40 games last year). He showed very well at the prospect camp this past summer and again with the US at the August edition of the World Juniors.

The Fighting Irish finish their regular season with two games at Michigan on Friday and Saturday night. Notre Dame is currently tied with Penn State for fifth in the Big Ten. If Notre Dame loses their first round series in the Big Ten tournament, their season would be done by March 5 at the latest (whether they’re the five or six seed).

I could see the Blackhawks signing Slaggert to his entry-level contract and him finishing the regular season with the NHL roster. Does that burn the first year of his ELC? Sure. But that isn’t uncommon and the Blackhawks might need a body in their bottom six.

Wyatt Kaiser, D, Minnesota-Duluth

Kaiser, 20, was selected by the Blackhawks two picks after Slaggert in 2020. He has 15 points in 28 games for the Bulldogs this season and has been solid. A left-handed shot listed at 6-0 and 186 pounds and is a good puck-mover. Like Slaggert, he performed well for the US team at the WJC in August.

UMD is currently fifth in the NCHC. They host Miami-Ohio on Friday and Saturday night and then finish their regular season the following weekend at St. Cloud State. The NCHC tournament begins March 10.

What the Blackhawks do with Kaiser largely depends on how the trade deadline ends up. If the Blackhawks have available roster spots on the blue line in Chicago, they could burn the first year of his ELC as well and allow the defensemen who have been in Rockford most of this season to stay there. If the Blackhawks aren’t able to open ice time for him or anyone else, they might opt to have him sign with Rockford for the duration of the season and begin his ELC next season.

Drew Commesso, G, Boston University

Commesso, listed at 6-2 and 180 pounds, was the Blackhawks’ second-round pick (No. 46) in 2020. After an ugly game against Michigan early in the season, he’s settled in and has been one of the better goaltenders in the country. He has been viewed as the future goaltender in Chicago since he was drafted, so now is the time to get a deal done and get him into the organization.

Boston University is currently second in Hockey East. The Hockey East Men’s Championship Semifinals and Final are the weekend of March 17-18 in Boston, with the NCAA tournament to follow. BU is currently ranked No. 8 in the country in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

With Jaxson Stauber seeing more action in the NHL than I think anyone anticipated when the year began, and Alex Stalock still trying to work his way back from concussions, the Blackhawks could allow Commesso to sign with Rockford to provide depth with Arvid Söderblom and begin his ELC next season. Chicago will probably have enough cap space to carry three goaltenders on the NHL roster after the trade deadline and, because of health issues for both Stalock and Petr Mrazek, might opt to do that.

Other Options

I wonder about the Blackhawks signing Denver freshman center Aidan Thompson this spring. The organization loved what they saw from him over the summer and he opened a lot of eyes at training camp before an injury cost him a chance at playing in the World Juniors. He has 25 points in 24 games for the Pioneers since starting his season late because of an injury.

My intrigue with Thompson isn’t because he was terrific this summer and has been really good for Denver, but because he turned 21 on last week. Would the Blackhawks want to get him into the professional ranks for three years? Because, by this time next year when he’s 22, they’ll only be able to sign him for two.

One player I’m not sure about is Ohio State center Jake Wise. He wasn’t on the radar before this season despite having a nice run last year with the Buckeyes; he was originally a third-round pick (No. 69) by the Blackhawks all the way back in 2018. After three uneventful years that were impacted by injuries, Wise left Boston U. for Ohio State — and he’s found success.

Wise has already tied his career-high of 28 points in just 32 games with Ohio State this season and has been one of the better faceoff guys in the country. He turns 23 on Feb. 28, though, so we’ll see if the Blackhawks want to give him a two-year ELC and where he might be able to help the organization. He’s listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds.

Davidson traded for Princeton forward Liam Gorman this past summer during the draft, sending a sixth-round pick to Pittsburgh. He’s a bigger body (6-3, 200) who has 12 goals in 27 games. He was originally a sixth-round pick by the Penguins in 2018 and is completing his junior collegiate season.

St. Cloud State goaltender Dominic Basse has been really good this season. In fact, he went from an off-the-radar player to a guy whose name I’ve talked about on a handful of occasions this season. Originally a sixth-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2019, he’s already 21 and is in his third college season; he was at Colorado College for two modest seasons before taking off this year. I’m not sure the Blackhawks sign him because of the overall depth in the organization; Stauber’s NHL time may have crushed his chances. I could see the Blackhawks potentially throwing his rights into a trade.

And, finally, Providence defenseman Taige Harding is a long-shot but seeing as Davidson loves him some size on the blue line, Harding’s 6-7, 235-pound frame might be interesting. He’s finishing up a sophomore season at Providence in which he has 15 points in 32 games and, like Thompson, is already 21. Considering the organization’s depth on the blue line already and the likelihood they sign Kaiser, I’m not sure where he would play, though. The Blackhawks drafted Harding in the third round in 2021.

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