When he was in town a couple months ago, Nick Lardis did not skate. None of the Blackhawks’ prospects did; the organization opted to stay off the ice and do some team building stuff with the prospects. Many of the players in attendance had long seasons in junior, some including the World Juniors as well, so time to build rapport with each other and deepen relationships was valuable to the players. As was the rest.
“[Development camp] was a great experience coming from the draft and meeting all the staff and coaches and prospects, too,” Lardis said after Wednesday’s practice. “And we got to know what it means to be a Blackhawk, too. Now coming here to training camp it’s a lot of fun and motivating to put on the Blackhawks’ jersey and compete against these guys.”
Everything that I watched and read about Lardis leading up the draft and in the wake of his selection in the third round (No. 67 overall) said speed and skill. With him reporting back to Chicago after a couple months to do his own thing since development camp, we finally got a chance to watch him skate and speak with him.
When the dust settled from a wild, crazy couple days for the Blackhawks at the 2023 NHL Draft, one of the players I really liked in the new class was Lardis. His draft stock had a lot of buzz leading up to the draft after a terrific second half of his regular season; he was traded to Hamilton (OHL) and put up 25 goals and 21 assists in 33 games.
Lots of the scouting reports I saw also talked about his size (5-11, 168) and need to be more physically engaging. So between his last trip to Chicago in early July and now, that’s one of the things Lardis has been working on improving.
“It’s important for me to keep doing the things that stand out in my game,” he said. “My speed and skill and work on my shot. The biggest thing for me is to keep getting stronger. Playing junior hockey it’s important to keep improving that aspect and I think I’ve done a good job at that.”
Lardis joins a growing — and improving — collection of prospects in Chicago as one of the guys. It’s hard sometimes to remember these soon-to-be professional athletes are also… teenagers. Lardis turned 18 in early July and enjoyed taking a summer vacation to Nova Scotia to play some golf (he loves golfing).
But he is also in a great situation to learn from some older, more experience prospects. You know, “veterans” who have been through this before… like 19-year-old Kevin Korchinski and 20-year-olds Nolan Allan and Ethan Del Mastro. Lardis’ locker during the camp is next to Korchinski’s and they talked about going back to junior after getting drafted and how that works.
Lardis is fortunate to be in a room full of really good prospects, but also leaders. There are a half-dozen players who were either a captain or assistant captain for a junior, college or international team last year in camp. And a few more who might find themselves wearing a letter this season.
“We’re pretty lucky to have so many guys in the group showing leadership on and off the ice.” he said. “Everyone learns from everyone, whether it’s habits on the ice or in the gym we’re all helping each other get better.”
I was impressed with Lardis immediately on the ice. I walked away from our conversation equally impressed with his poise and perspective as one of the younger players in the room. And I’m excited to see what the future holds for him as he heads back to junior for what could be a terrific post-draft campaign.