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The World Junior Championships are in full swing now with five Blackhawks prospects playing in the tournament. After a rocky start for the Canadians, losing 5-2 to Czechia on opening night, they rebounded with an 11-2 win over Germany. Four Blackhawks prospects, plus Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard, are making their third appearances tonight for the Canadians. Meanwhile, leading Team Sweden as Captain, Victor Stjernborg has the Swedes off to a 2-0 record and having shutout both opponents so far.
The IceHogs continue to be one of the top teams in their division and the other Junior leagues are back in action after the Christmas Holiday break, so let’s dive into the latest Blackhawks Rebuild Report from Mario Tirabassi and Greg Boysen.
Mario’s Notebook: I WANT CONNOR BEDARD
- If there were any questions about the gap between Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli at the top of the 2023 Draft Class closing, those questions have been answered definitively. Bedard rolled for seven points on his own in Canada’s 11-2 win over Germany, tallying a hat-trick and four assists. He added a goal in Canada’s opening loss to Czechia.
- Through two games, Bedard leads all players at the tournament with eight points. Fantilli on the other hand, has one assist in the two games played so far for Canada and has had a rough go through those two games. Against Czechia, he was on the wrong end of a textbook hip-check and has had a few rush chances easily thwarted.
- Not to say that this tournament performance alone makes Fantilli a dud, far from it. But on this big Junior stage, Bedard is taking grabbing spotlight with both hands.
- Shades of Patrick Kane?
- Uh, yup.
- There has never been a prospect I have seen that was in realistic play for the Blackhawks like Bedard. Not since Kane himself back in 2006-2007. I want Connor Bedard in a Blackhawks sweater and I don’t care how it has to happen.
- What has been nice to see, while watching Bedard light things up, is the play of the Blackhawks prospects in the tournament with Canada. Yes, their opening matchup with Czechia didn’t go as planned and the Chicago defensive prospects weren’t spectacular, but let’s not forget another major sporting event that just happened, the World Cup, where Argentina lost their opening match to Saudi Arabia before going on to win the whole damn thing. Canada will be just fine.
- More Connor Bedard, you say?
- With a side order of Kevin Korchinski.
- The 2022 first-round pick recorded this secondary assist in Canada’s opening loss to Czechia, then found the scoresheet a few more times last night against Germany.
- Korchinski’s offensive game is making an impact with Canada so far, tallying three assists in their first two games. I would love to see more of his defensive game on display throughout the rest of the tournament, but Canada seems intent on playing him primarily in an offensive role. Fine, if you have to.
- Nolan Allan and Ethan Del Mastro, two defenders who play stay-at-home and [hysical styles, did just that against the Germans on Wednesday night after a game against Czechia that left a lot to be desired. They’re not likely to put up much in the way of offense in this tournament, but seeing their responsibilities with the team, especially Del Mastro on Canada’s top-pairing, is extra encouraging for Blackhawks fans.
- The fourth Blackhawks prospect with Canada is Colton Dach. He’s playing in the most limited of roles amongst the four of them, but he’s done a decent job so far of making the most of his opportunities. Dach had an early scoring chance denied in the Czechia game, but got on the scoresheet against Germany with a secondary assist.
- Don’t be surprised if Dach gets an elevated role as the tournament rolls along and Canada looks to maximize their lineup potential outside of Bedard lighting it up.
- More Bedard? Ok, if you say so.
- Like Mark McGuire hitting home runs with one arm, Bedard is sniping with his eyes closed. Freak.
- Canada is back in action this evening (5:30 p.m. CT) against Austria. Thoughts and Prayers to the Austrians.
- Speaking of back in action, the NCAA and Major Junior leagues resumed their seasons after the extended Holiday break this week.
- Tomorrow, these Blackhawks NCAA prospects are back on the ice:
No. 4 St. Cloud State (Dominic Basse) plays Manitoba
No. 12 Providence (Connor Kelley, Taige Harding) plays Yale
No. 6 Merrimack (Slava Demin) plays Dartmouth
No. 8 Boston (Ryan Greene, Drew Commesso) plays No. 9 Harvard
Princeton (Liam Gorman) plays Colorado College
- On Saturday, these Blackhawks prospects resume their seasons:
Minnesota-Duluth (Wyatt Kaiser, Dominic James) plays St. Thomas
No. 19 Notre Dame (Landon Slaggert, Ryder Rolston) plays Alaska
- In the Canadian Junior leagues, a number of Blackhawks prospects have jumped back n the ice in big ways.
- 2022 third-round pick Gavin Hayes notched his second hat-trick in the month of December last night with a four-point night for the Flint Firebirds.
- Hayes is second on the Firebirds this season with 33 points in 31 OHL games. Picked with the third-round pick acquired in the Kirby Dach trade, Hayes might be becoming one of the under-the-radar returns from the movement made by the organization on Day One of the 2022 Draft this past summer.
- Also in the OHL, fellow 2022 draft pick Paul Ludwinski played the hero for the Kingston Frontenacs last night.
- Ludwinski had a three-point night for Kingston last night, pushing his season total to 22 points in 27 OHL games this season.
- After missing the beginning chunk of the season, Jalen Luypen is jumping into the Tri-City Americans’ lineup and making an immediate impact.
- Two goals and an assist in Luypen’s first three games for Tri-City. Not a bad start after having offseason shoulder surgery.
- People in our Youtube chats continue to ask about which prospects besides Bedard, Fantilli, and Michkov that we should be paying attention to, just in case the Blackhawks don’t land in the top three of draft picks. Here’s my running list of first-round talents that I am keeping a close eye on in North America:
- One final note from the WHL, it appears that the Blackhawks have been keeping tabs on Colton Dach’s Kelowna Rockets teammate Andrew Cristall. Second in scoring in the league, only behind Connor Bedard, Cristall leads the Rockets with 22 goals and 58 points in 31 games this season.
- Cristall is flying up the 2023 Draft Class rankings. Currently, Cristall is projected to land somewhere in the middle of the first round of the draft. The Blackhawks do have two first round picks in the 2023 draft with their own and Tampa Bay’s pick, and are likely to add at least one more by draft night, so landing Cristall might take a fair amount of good luck for Chicago or strategic trading. Something to keep an eye on as we get closer to the spring/summer.
Greg’s Notebook: Victor Stjernborg & Sweden rolling, Arvid Soderblom injured in Rockford IceHogs’ win
- I’ll start my half with a World Juniors update. Victor Stjernborg is the lone Blackhawks prospect in the tournament that isn’t on Team Canada. He is serving as captain for Sweden, who is off to a 2-0 start. Stjernborg has been playing wing in Sweden’s bottom six. He had an assist and finished a plus-2 in Monday’s 11-0 blowout of Austria. Sweden was back on the ice the following night and blanked Germany 1-0. Stjernborg has averaged a little over 13 minutes per game and picked up two penalty minutes. He is not on this team and wasn’t named captain because of his offensive numbers, but because of his high-energy style of game and leadership abilities, two traits Kyle Davidson covets in his players. Sweden has two more games in the preliminary round: Thursday versus Czechia and Saturday against Canada.
- The Rockford IceHogs had a short two-game week due to the Christmas holiday over the weekend. Before the three-day break, they traveled to Rosemont on Friday night to take on the Chicago Wolves. Most of the action came in the opening frame, with Nathan Sucese giving the reigning Calder Cup champs an early 1-0 lead. Cole Guttman evened the game by scoring his 10th goal of the season off a nice feed from Jakub Galvas. The game remained tied for just over three minutes before Josh Melnick put the Wolves back on top. Brett Seney quickly responded by making it a 2-2 game just 20 seconds after Melnick’s tally. He finished off a Tic-Tac-Toe passing play with Buddy Robinson and Cliff Watson for his 13th tally on the campaign. The IceHogs dominated the third period after a scoreless middle stanza. They outshot Chicago 13-1, but that one shot, off Alexander Pashin’s stick, beat Arvid Soderblom and gave the Wolves a 3-2 win.
- The Grand Rapids Griffins were in town Wednesday night for a midweek matchup at the BMO Center. David Gust started his big night by scoring seven minutes into the middle frame. He added a power-play goal less than seven minutes later to double the IceHogs’ lead. Taro Hirose gave the Griffins some momentum with a goal in the final seconds of the period. However, Gust set up a Lukas Reichel goal early in the third period to quash any hope of a Grand Rapids comeback. Gust added a late empty-net goal to complete his second hat trick of the season and give the IceHogs a big 4-1 win. The third goal was his 17th of the season and came precisely 17 minutes into the third period.
- Soderblom started the game in goal and stopped all five shots he faced before he was removed at the 6:14 mark of the opening frame. Jaxson Stauber relieved Soderblom and made 25 saves to earn the victory. Head coach Anders Sorensen did not have an update on Soderblom after the game.
- Veteran defenseman Adam Clendening had the primary assist on Gust’s first goal to pick up the 300th point of his AHL career.
- Reichel had the primary assists on both of Gust’s first-period tallies to finish the night with three points. This was his fifth three-point game of the season.
- Gust’s 17 goals are tops on the team, ahead of Seney and Reichel, who have 13. Seney leads the team with 22 assists and 35 points. Reichel is second with 21 assists and tied with Gust for second in points with 34.
- The IceHogs are tied with the Manitoba Moose for second place in the AHL’s Central Division with 35 points. They are both four points behind the first-place Texas Stars. Rockford has three games this upcoming week. They have a home-and-home series with the Wolves starting Friday in Rosemont before hosting the rematch on Saturday. Their first game of 2023 will be Tuesday night on home ice against Texas.
- Chad Yetman was back with the Indy Fuel after a brief two-game stint with the Cleveland Monsters in the AHL. He had a goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Kansas City Mavericks to extend his ECHL point streak to nine games. This season, the 2020 sixth-round pick has 12 goals and 26 points in 22 ECHL games.
- Goaltender Mitchell Weeks was also back in Indy and stopped all 27 shots he faced against Kansas City. The 21-year-old netminder has been impressive this year for both the IceHogs and Fuel. He has a 2.94 goals-against average (GAA), and .909 save percentage (SV%) at the AHL level, and a 2.75 GAA and .908 SV% in the ECHL.
- In Finland, Antti Saarela is starting to heat up. He scored his first goal since Oct. 7 in Monday’s 3-2 overtime win against Vaasa Sport. He also added an assist to finish with two points. He had another goal and assist for his second straight two-point game during Lukko’s 5-3 victory over KooKoo on Wednesday. Saarela, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has five goals and 11 points in 24 Liiga games.
- 2022 seventh-round pick Rick Tohila is playing on a loan with KeuPa HT in the Finnish Mestis league, his first foray into the professional ranks in Finland after playing 29 games in the Finnish U20 league this season. He has three points in three games with KeuPa, including his first professional goal scored earlier today.
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