Alex Vlasic Made Another Strong First Impression Last Night
Defenseman Alex Vlasic made his NHL season debut against Dallas last night and showed pretty well. It was an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks and the future of their blue line, and a strong step forward for the young skater.
When we first saw Vlasic on the ice with the Blackhawks last season, the first thing that stood out was his size. That’s unavoidable — he’s listed at 6-6 and almost 200 pounds. His long reach is a tremendous asset, but his initial NHL action was coming immediately after he left Boston University after a strong junior season.
Chicago drafted Vlasic in the second round (No. 43) in the 2019 NHL Draft out of the US National Development Program and watched closely as he went to BU for three years. His play improved in each of his three collegiate seasons, and he signed quickly after his junior season came to a close.
The Blackhawks didn’t throw him into the deep end quickly last year in a 15-game look in the NHL (which burned the first year of his entry-level contract). He didn’t skate more than eight minutes in his first three games last season, but gradually saw his ice time increase down the stretch. Vlasic finished his first look at professional hockey with ice times of 21:02 against Vegas and 20:29 in Buffalo. But he went over 18 minutes only three times in those 15 appearances.
Entering the new year, Vlasic took reps next to Seth Jones during the preseason and probably played well enough to make the NHL roster out of camp. But the organization remained steadfast in their development plan with Vlasic and other top prospects and sent him to Rockford for a year of continued development.
In his 52 games with the IceHogs this season, Vlasic had 17 points (two goals 15 assists) — more than double any of his season point totals in college. He suffered a foot injury that cost him some time in the middle of the season but the organization encouraging him to be more offensive clearly paid some dividends with his production in Rockford.
So when he got the call to join the NHL club on Tuesday, the question was how they would use him down the stretch in the NHL.
After the morning skate, head coach Luke Richardson said the plan is for him to stay with the Blackhawks through the current homestand and then travel with the team on the road. If he’s with the team for the full three-game trip, that would be six of the nine games left on the Chicago schedule before he returns to Rockford for the AHL playoffs.
He jumped into a Blackhawks roster that has its share of issues right now. With Jujhar Khaira out sick last night, the Hawks had to dress seven defensemen. They could have easily limited his ice time with that many skaters on the blue line, but Vlasic led all Chicago defenseman with 19:53 on the ice against the Stars. He as the only defenseman over 19 minutes in the game.
Vlasic’s reach was obvious once again — he takes up a lot of space on the ice. And even at his size he’s a strong skater, which is another good attribute considering the Blackhawks’ front office is placing a premium on puck movement and skating. He led the team with three takeaways and put two shots on net in the game as well.
After the game, Vlasic spoke with the media and he was confident. He knows the NHL roster has limitations and he still has work to do, but he felt better about how physically and mentally ready is is for the big time than he was when he made the jump from Boston University to Chicago last year. Indeed, he joked that the size of the arena and crowd wasn’t nearly as “scary” as it was 12 short months ago.
Richardson liked what he saw as well. He was critical of a couple plays, but liked the instincts he saw. And the size that Vlasic brings to the table is going to be another strong piece the Blackhawks lack at the NHL level right now, especially with Jarred Tinordi out injured again.
As I wrote when we looked at the Blackhawks’ potential blue line setup for next year, the hope is that Vlasic can take another big step forward in his career and become an NHL regular. If what we saw last night is any indication, he’s ready. And that’s a really good thing.