The Chicago Blackhawks have finally made a decision on their future with the hiring of Kyle Davidson as the team’s 10th general manager. The 33-year-old has a huge task ahead of him as he inherits a team struggling to play consistent hockey at the NHL level with a relatively bare cupboard when it comes to prospects.
“It’s clear that we need to be better. The standings tell us that every single day,” Davidson said during his introductory press conference on March 1. “We’re a long way from where we want to be and where we need to be as a team, and we intend to rebuild this both on and off the ice, no matter if it takes three years, five years, to get the level of success that we’re looking to achieve.”
With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching, Davidson needs to be in a selling mode. This franchise needs as many assets as possible as they have fully embraced a rebuild. The Blackhawks’ prospect pool is not a barren wasteland, but there aren’t a lot of dynamic players on the way. There are some nice solid NHL prospects, but no franchise-altering players are making their way up through the ranks anytime soon.
Not to be entirely doom and gloom, today we will focus on five prospects Blackhawks fans should be excited about.
Lukas Reichel – Rockford IceHogs
The Blackhawks 2020 first-round pick (17th overall) has lived up to the hype during his first season in North America. While he can play all three forward positions, he has been primarily used as a center for the IceHogs. Only 19, Reichel has been the top-line center since day one and has starred on the first power-play unit. In 37 American Hockey League (AHL) games, he leads the team with 16 goals, 20 assists, and 36 points.
The Blackhawks are taking a patient approach with Reichel, which needs to be how prospects are handled going forward. Player development during the Stan Bowman era was far from ideal, and if they want to do this rebuild right, they must start producing dynamic NHL talent from within.
Reichel is not a flashy player by any means, but he is a top-six forward in the making. He is an excellent skater with good size. He is a dual-threat as he can score goals while setting up his linemates, exactly what you want to see out of your scoring line centers. The IceHogs are making a push for the postseason, with Reichel leading the team in offense. Getting him big minutes in important AHL games is better for his long-term development than playing out a string of meaningless NHL games.
Ian Mitchell — IceHogs/Blackhawks
Mitchell is one of the young defensemen Blackhawks fans are already familiar with, as he has 47 NHL games under his belt. After appearing in 39 games for the Blackhawks last season, the 23-year-old has spent much of this season developing in the AHL. He is tied for second on the team in overall scoring with 25 points and leads all IceHogs defensemen with eight goals and 17 assists.
A lot of scouts want to make the comparison to Duncan Keith when they watch Mitchell. Sure, he has the smooth-skating, the hockey IQ, and offensive prowess we were used to seeing from No. 2. He has been great on the man-advantage in Rockford, as he is second on the team with four power-play goals this season. However, if he ever wants to be held in the same regard as Keith, Mitchell will need to improve his defensive work as he looks to cement an NHL roster spot.
Isaak Phillips – IceHogs
To sustain success in today’s hard salary cap world, you have to regularly hit on not just your early-round draft picks but your later ones as well. The Blackhawks may have found a diamond in the rough in the 20-year-old Phillips, a fifth-round pick (141st overall) in 2020. The young defenseman wasn’t even supposed to turn pro right after his draft year, but he made the most of his pandemic situation. The AHL changed the age rule last season, so he could play in Rockford when the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) postponed their season.
Phillips jumped right into the lineup and did not look like a kid who was supposed to be playing juniors. He had two goals and nine points in 27 games during his first taste of pro hockey. His play earned him an entry-level contract from the Blackhawks after only a handful of games in Rockford. He’s added a bit more offense this season, with six goals and 13 points. The young blueliner brings size and toughness to the backend. He is never afraid to throw a big hit and get right in the middle of a post-whistle scrum. His style of play on the ice and his likable personality will make him an instant fan favorite when he arrives in Chicago to stay.
Arvid Soderblom – IceHogs
The 22-year-old Soderblom was not a player many had on their radar at the start of the season. 2020 second-round draft pick Drew Commesso has been tagged as the top goaltending prospect in the organization, but he is still a long way from challenging for the crease in Chicago. Soderblom is enjoying a successful first season in North America after spending 2020-21 with Skellefteå AIK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
While his 9-10-1 record may not jump off the page, Soderblom has posted a 2.80 goals-against average, and his .918 save percentage is eighth among all qualified AHL goaltenders. He was thrown right into the fire as he faced at least 43 shots in each of his first three starts for the IceHogs. He has the size craved by NHL teams at 6-foot-3, and he moves well within the crease. He is calm in the blue paint and does a great job tracking the puck through traffic, which has come in handy playing behind an IceHogs’ defense that has struggled at times.
Jalen Luypen – Western Hockey League (WHL)
There usually isn’t much fanfare or high expectations when you get picked in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft. However, Luypen, selected 216th overall in 2021, might become an absolute steal if his progression stays on its current trajectory. The 5-foot-10 forward scored 16 goals and 31 points in his first 111 WHL games with the Edmonton Oil Kings. After putting up 16 goals and 29 points in 23 games last season, the 19-year-old has exploded for 22 goals and 56 points in his 53 games in 2021-22.
Luypen has been lauded for his work ethic and how hard he plays on the ice. The first player that comes to mind while watching him is Brandon Hagel. They both are smaller in stature but make up for that with a hard-nosed style of play. The similarities don’t stop there as Hagel also spent his junior career in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels, and he was a sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2016. Luypen will turn 20 in June, so there is a very good chance we see him with the IceHogs next season.
Davidson has a lot of work ahead of him as he embarks on the difficult task of rebuilding the Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender. The prospect pool is not great at this time, but these five players should give fans a glimmer of excitement and hope.