Welcome to the first edition of our Chicago Blackhawks Prospect Prospectus Notebook, giving you all you need to know about the happenings in the Blackhawks’ farm system. This season, maybe more than ever in the last 20 years, the prospect pool for the Chicago Blackhawks is as important, or maybe more important, than what is going to be happening on the NHL ice. CHGO’s Mario Tirabassi and Greg Boysen will be bringing the prospect coverage notebook-style all season across the OHL, QMJHL, WHL, USHL, NCAA, AHL, and across Europe for all Blackhawks prospects and a couple of players we are keeping our eyes on for the 2023 NHL Draft!
Mario’s Notebook: Plenty to keep an eye on in the Big Ten Conference
- The Big Ten conference is going to be a busy one for Blackhawks fans to keep an eye on this season. First, at the University of Notre Dame, you have Ryder Rolston and Landon Slaggert. Then at Michigan, you have Frank Nazar and potential draft target Adam Fantilli. Also in the mix is Ohio State’s Jake Wise, who is still a prospect under Chicago’s control until August 15, 2023.
- We already have an “unofficial” CHGO trip planned for the November 11 matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan in South Bend, IN, and there’s a lot to look forward to up to then and the rest of the year on out. Notre Dame’s Slaggert was already named to the preseason All-Big Ten First Team, as he and Rolston look to lead the No. 8 team in the NCAA.
- With Nazar and Fantilli, No. 6 Michigan has high hopes for a deep run into the college postseason. The Wolverines are under new leadership behind the bench as former assistant Brandon Naurato takes over for Mel Pearson in the interim. Nazar was the No. 13 pick by the Blackhawks in the 2022 NHL Draft, and Fantilli is talked about as the second or third-best prospect in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft Class behind Connor Bedard and alongside Russian Matvei Michkov.
- Elsewhere in the NCAA, the University of Minnesota-Duluth will have two key players for Blackhawks fans to focus on, with 2022 draft pick Dominic James joining the program and third-year defenseman Wyatt Kaiser anchoring the Bulldogs’ blue-line. Kaiser was a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and has developed into a great transitional defenseman who can play in all aspects of the game. His skating and defensive abilities have made him a multi-time representative for Team USA at the Junior ranks, and he looks to once again play on the top pair at Minn-Duluth this season.
- Speaking of Bedard, he’s already off to a hot start in the WHL season, recording a hat-trick in the second game of the season for the Regina Pats. Now the youngest Captain in Pats’ team history, Bedard has four points in his first two games of the season.
- The Blackhawks have a ton of prospects to keep an eye on in the Canadian Junior leagues this season, including guys going up against Bedard in the WHL like Colton Dach (Kelowna), Jalen Luypen (Tri-City), Nolan Allan (Prince Albert), and Kevin Korchinski (Seattle). Dach, Allan, and Korchinski are all in Blackhawks training camp, while Luypen will miss the first few months of the season. Elsewhere in Canada, Ethan Del Mastro will be a key player to watch in the OHL with the Mississauga Steelheads, and 2022 draft picks Paul Ludwinski (Kingston), and Gavin Hayes (Flint) will likely make an impression in the league in their first years after being drafted into the NHL.
- Finally, the Blackhawks have two USHL prospects this season with 2022 Draft selections Nils Juntorp (Dubuque) and first-round pick Sam Rinzel (Waterloo). Plenty to be intrigued with, like defenseman Rinzel, a project prospect who will likely take a few years to get “NHL-ready,” but what made the Blackhawks want to reach back into the first round for a third time and select him is his projected talent ceiling. He has his first point of the season already with one assist through the opening two games of the season.
Greg’s Notebook: Euro Players Get Head Start
Many European professional leagues already have their regular seasons in full swing. The Blackhawks have six prospects currently playing overseas, and this season it will be my job to keep tabs on them along with the prospects playing professionally in North America.
- We will start in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where a pair of draft picks are playing this season. Artur Kayumov, the oldest of all Blackhawks prospects at 24, is back for another season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He has been with the organization since 2013. The 2016 second-round pick has four assists through his first 11 games of the season. He has yet to be a major points contributor as his best season came in 2019-20 when he had 16 goals in 60 games.
- Ilya Safonov, drafted in the sixth round in 2021, is seeing plenty of action with Ak Bars Kazan. He has a goal and three points in 10 games. The 21-year-old center is coming off a season in which he set KHL career highs in games played (43), goals (8), assists (4), and points (12). He recently signed a contract extension to remain with the team through the 2024-25 season.
- Over in Finland, 2019 fourth-rounder Antti Saarela is off to a good start for Lukko in Liiga, his homeland’s top professional league. He has two goals and an assist in six games.
- Riku Tohila, the 6-foot-8 center drafted in the seventh round this past July, is currently playing for the JYP U20 team. He already has three goals, six points, and a whopping 31 penalty minutes in eight games. He had a goal and an assist in the team’s most recent game, a 7-2 win over Karhu Kissat. Tohila is currently serving as an alternate captain for this year’s squad.
- Victor Stjernborg, who we saw in the World Junior Championship this past August, is the lone Blackhawks prospect playing in Sweden this season. He is playing for Vaxjo Lakers HC in the SHL, the top professional league, where he had 45 games of experience coming into this season. He has suited up for four games and has yet to find the scoresheet.
- Defenseman Michael Krutil is a name Rockford IceHogs fans will recognize. The 2020 fourth-round pick played 28 AHL games in 2020-21 and 2021-22 before returning to Europe to play in Sweden. We saw the 19-year-old at development camp earlier this summer before he went home to play for HC Sparta Praha.
Unfortunately, he has yet to appear in a game due to injury. We will keep tabs on him and let you know when the young blueliner returns to action.