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The Chicago Blackhawks are off for a while for the NHL All-Star break and their scheduled “bye week,” so it’s ample time to pay some attention to the Rockford IceHogs before their own AHL All-Star break and to the Junior ranks in the Blackhawks system. The good news is that the IceHogs recently snapped their losing streak and Lukas Reichel looks like he’s getting his groove back. Also good news, it appears Frank Nazar r is close to getting back into action with Michigan. So let’s dive into it with Mario Tirabassi and Greg Boysen’s latest prospect notebooks in this week’s Blackhawks Rebuild Report.
Mario’s Notebook: Frank Nazar Back Skating with Michigan
- It’s been a long time since we’ve had a concrete answer or update to what Chicago Blackhawks 2022 first-round pick Frank Nazar’s status was for this season. Nazar had surgery to address a lower-body injury sustained before arriving to the University of Michigan ahead of the 2022-23 season. Multiple reports now confirmed by his head coach Brandon Naurato say that Nazar is back skating with the team.
- Fantastic news for the 2022 13th overall pick to be back on the ice. There was a ton of intrigue in Nazar from Blackhawks fans after he “fell” to them in the first round of last summer’s NHL Draft. You’ll remember our elation on the CHGO Blackhawks NHL Draft show when Kyle Davidson announced that his second-ever draft pick was Nazar. Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to see him build on the impressive prospect camp showing he put together after becoming a member of the Blackhawks.
- Michigan has just eight games remaining on their regular season schedule before Big Ten tournament action begins on March 3. There is “optimism” that Nazar can rejoin the Wolverines’ lineup by the end of the season.
- It’s not all good news on the NCAA injury front for Blackhawks prospects though. Over the weekend, Notre Dame’s Ryder Rolston went down with a broken collarbone and will miss the remainder of the season.
- Really a tough break for Rolston and for the Irish as they try to climb back up the NCAA rankings after an up-and-down season.
- Staying in the Big Ten, potential future Blackhawks draft pick Adam Fantilli got some recognition after a big weekend.
- Fantilli was named one of the three stars of the week in the Big Ten after putting up seven points (2G, 5A) over the weekend against Penn State.
- Fantilli has points in his last six games since returning from the World Junior Championships and multi-point games in his last five NCAA appearances.
- With his seven-point weekend, Fantilli is tied for the lead in scoring in the NCAA with 40 points in 22 games. He is tied with Western Michigan’s Ryan McAllister, who has 40 points in 28 games this season.
- Also earning conference honors this weekend was Blackhawks defensive prospect Wyatt Kaiser of Minnesota-Duluth. With a four-assist performance against St. Cloud State, Kaiser was named the NCHC Defenseman of the Week.
- Kaiser is up to 11 points in 24 games this season, pacing him for his second-best NCAA scoring season in his young three-year college career. There is a chance he returns to the Bulldogs for a Senior year, but I would be surprised if he didn’t get his entry-level deal this summer and join the professional prospect ranks.
- Another Blackhawks prospect getting conference honors this week was 2020 second-round pick Drew Commesso as he was named Hockey East Goaltender of the Week.
- Commesso bounced back from a shaky performance last week against Maine where he was pulled with back-to-back wins over the weekend against rival Boston College. Making 64/68 saves over the weekend, Commesso moved his record this season to 14-4-0 with a .910 save-percentage and a 2.68 GAA.
- Moving to the Canadian Junior ranks, after a slow start with the Sarnia Sting following a post-World Junior Championships trade, Blackhawks defensive prospect Ethan Del Mastro has turned on the offense for his new OHL club.
- Including this powerplay goal from an 8-2 win over the Saginaw Spirit, Del Mastro has ten points over his last five games in a five-game point-streak. He has two goals and 11 points since joining the Sting and 32 points in 30 OHL games this season between his time in Sarnia and Mississauga.
- New leadership role, who dis?
- After being traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds from the Prince Albert Raiders, where he served as Captain, Blackhawks defensive prospect Nolan Allan has been named to the Thunderbirds’ leadership group as an alternate captain. Allan hasn’t been on the same scoring pace with Seattle as he was in Prince Albert to begin the season, but his pair of goals over the weekend give him six points in 16 WHL games with the Thunderbirds this season and 17 points in 33 WHL games this season combined.
- Also on a scoring-binge for the Thunderbirds this week has been fellow Blackhawks defensive prospect Kevin Korchinski. He leads the team in scoring this season by a defenseman with 41 points in 31 WHL games, including four assists in his last three games since last publishing our Rebuild Report.
- Since November 23, Korchinski has points in 14 of his last 16 games played, including six multi-point efforts in that span. He also won a Gold Medal with Canada at the World Junior Championships in that timeframe, if you forgot.
- Another WHL prospect that is on a multi-game heater is 2021 seventh-round pick Jalen Luypen. With 10 points in his last six games, Luypen is playing above a point-per-game pace with the Tri-City Americans since returning from offseason shoulder surgery with 19 points in 16 games this season. He’s all but certain to be with the Rockford IceHogs to begin next season.
- More honors for Blackhawks prospects, current and potentially future, as Connor Bedard was named the WHL’s Player of the Month. Like, are you surprised?
- He’s going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. He’s a franchise-altering player. The question is not if, but how, will Bedard eventually dominate the NHL?
- With a shot like this, hard to argue it won’t be by putting up 40, 50, maybe even 60-goals seasons. Seasons, with an “s.”
- On Wednesday night, Bedard and the Regina Pats won in a shootout over the Calgary Hitmen in a game that was on NHL Network and was in front of 17,000+ fans. On the biggest stages, Bedard shines. In the 6-5 shootout win, the top 2023 NHL Draft prospect tallied a goal and an assist and the shootout-winning goal.
- He leads the WHL in points with 90 in 36 games.
- Second behind Bedard in the WHL in scoring this season is another prospect that Blackhawks fans should get familiarized with. Winnipeg’s Zach Benson has 69 points in 42 WHL games this season. A three-point night from Benson on Wednesday night helped his Winnipeg Ice squad over the Saskatoon Blades and earned himself First Star of the game honors.
- Benson is a bit undersized at 5’9″ but far be it from me to count a player out because of their size when they are drafted. The Blackhawks have needs in their prospect system at forward and will have a few shots in the first round of this summer’s draft to boost their depth at the positional group. Benson would be a mid-first round talent that would bring a dynamic skill-level to their forward group that Chicago lacks outside of guys like Frank Nazar and Lukas Reichel, for the moment.
- Another forward who would jump into the Chicago forwards prospect group and potentially become the top guy in that group is Will Smith of the U.S. Development Team.
- Smith continues to cement himself as one of, if not the best player in the 2023 Draft Class outside of the “Big Four” in Bedard, Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, and Matvei Michkov. Smith has a combined 91 points in 47 games with the USNDTP this season, including ten points in his last four USHL games, capped by a four-point night over the weekend in an overtime win against the Dubuque Fighting Saints where he recorded a hat-trick with the game-winning goal.
- Cloth players make clutch plays.
- We’ll leave with one more first-round talent that the Blackhawks could be, should be, targeting in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft. Dipping back into the NCAA ranks, freshman Matthew Wood has been lighting it up for UConn this season with nine goals and 25 points in 27 games this season.
- Wood is a good combination of size (6’3″, 190lb) and skill in his hands, but the problem with his game from all accounts is his skating stride. There is obviously room for skating coaches and development coaches to intervene and correct a poor skating stride, but there may be only so much that can be done to improve what might be a less-than average skating ability at the NHL level. Looking past that though, Wood has the tools to make it a a point-producer at the professional level and could be a steal in a deeply talented first-round crop.
Greg’s Notebook: Rockford IceHogs End Skid, Chad Yetman Stays Red Hot
- The Rockford IceHogs’ long week started with some unfortunate medical news on Friday afternoon. Captain Garrett Mitchell underwent successful left shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season. He didn’t have any points in 24 games, but his leadership on and off the ice is invaluable and will be missed. Also, Buddy Robinson fractured his right wrist and will be out for at least another month. He has nine goals and 17 points in 34 AHL games.
- Later that night, the team’s struggles carried over into an 8-4 loss at the Milwaukee Admirals. The visitors started fast with two power-play goals from Zach Sandford and Jimmy Huntington in the first period. Brett Seney gave the IceHogs some life on the man advantage early in the middle frame with his 16th goal, but John Leonard and Kiefer Sherwood quickly answered for the Admirals. David Gust got one of those goals back before Sherwood struck again in the final minute of the period. Goaltender Arvid Söderblom was benched for the third period after giving up five goals on 15 shots. Mitchell Weeks replaced him, and Sherwood completed his hat trick in the first minute of the stanza. Dylan Sikura scored Rockford’s second power-play goal of the night shortly after. Josiah Slavin’s third goal on the season was sandwiched between a pair of Milwaukee tallies by Adam Wilsby and Roland McKeon. Weeks gave up three goals on 10 shots in his period of work.
- The IceHogs’ losing streak hit seven on Saturday night, but at least they earned a point in a 3-2 overtime defeat to the Chicago Wolves. Bobby Lynch’s late first-period goal from just inside the blue line marked the first time the IceHogs have scored the game’s opening tally since Jan. 3 against the Texas Stars. Wolves defenseman Ronan Seeley had the only goal of the middle frame. Carson Gicewicz gave Rockford a 2-1 lead early in the third period. He was answered by Logan Lambdin just over two minutes later, scoring on a breakaway after jumping out of the penalty box. Max Lajoie won the game for Chicago in the opening minute of overtime, as his shot from the left circle somehow tricked through Söderblom. The young Swedish goaltender had a bounce-back game, stopping 29 shots, including 12 in the first period.
- A trio of players were reassigned to Rockford on Sunday as the Blackhawks headed into their extended All-Star break. Forward Luke Philp, defenseman Filip Roos, and goaltender Jaxson Stauber were all sent back down to the IceHogs.
- The IceHogs’ skid finally ended on Tuesday night with a 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Manitoba Moose. Cole Guttman started things off by beating netminder Arvid Holm from the left circle early in the first period. Daniel Torgersson struck on the power play two minutes later to draw the visitors even. Speaking of power plays, the second period saw 16 penalty minutes dished out. Between all the trips to the penalty box, the Moose took the lead with a shorthanded goal from defenseman Ville Heinola. Mike Hardman had a quick response less than two minutes later, and the game remained tied at 2-2 until the shootout. Lukas Reichel and Guttman scored in the shootout to give the IceHogs the extra point and their first win since Jan. 13 at the Colorado Eagles. Söderblom made 31 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping both shots he saw in the shootout.
- After the rough start in Milwaukee, Söderblom rebounded nicely. He gave up five goals on 70 shots for a .928 save percentage while earning the IceHogs three big points. Hopefully, these two games will get his season back on track.
- Speaking of getting back on track, Reichel looks to be doing just that. In addition to his shootout goal Tuesday night, he had three assists last week. This came on the heels of going without a point in his first four games back after being reassigned by the Blackhawks.
- David Gust is still making a solid case for AHL MVP, as he leads the IceHogs with 21 goals and 44 points. He is three goals behind Matthew Phillips of the Calgary Wranglers for the league lead. Brett Seney and Reichel are tied for the team lead in assists with 26. Jakub Galvas leads all defensemen with 21 assists and 22 points. Alec Regula’s five goals are the most among all Rockford blueliners.
- The IceHogs are tied with the Moose at 48 points and are down to fifth place due to point percentage. They still have a 10-point cushion on the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final postseason berth in the Central Division. They trail the third-place Iowa Wild by just one point, who they will be hosting for a pair of big games on Friday and Saturday. The Admirals are currently in second place with 51 points, while everyone is chasing Texas and their 56 points.
- Chad Yetman picked up a point in all three Indy Fuel games over the weekend. He had a goal and two assists as the Fuel picked up one win during their stretch of three games in three nights. The Blackhawks’ sixth-round pick in 2020 has been held off the scoresheet just once in his last 18 ECHL games. He has 18 goals and 36 points in 36 games for Indy.
- Ilya Safonov has played three games since the last Rebuild Report dropped, and he had a helper in all those contests, a trio of wins for Ak Bars Kazan. The 2021 sixth-round pick is up to 12 goals and 26 points in 54 KHL games.
- Antti Saarela had an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over TPS. The Blackhawks’ 2019 fourth-round pick has seven goals and 17 points in 36 Liiga games for Lukko. He has two goals and six points in his last 10 outings.
- Victor Stjernborg was back in the SHL with Växjö Lakers HC and a brief demotion to the U20 league that lasted two games. He picked up an assist in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime victory against Örebro HK. The helper was his fifth in 30 games and his first SHL point since Dec. 1.
- Since it was a relatively slow week in Europe, we will look at a couple of overseas prospects that could be options for the Blackhawks at this year’s draft. Leo Carlsson was on the ice for Örebro HK in their loss to Stjernborg’s Lakers. The 18-year-old center is the top-rated European skater by NHL Central Scouting. ICarlsson has had two goals and four points in his seven SHL games since returning from the World Junior Championships,
- Matvei Michkov had a goal and an assist in his latest outing for HK Sochi. He has had a bit of a strange season, bouncing between two leagues and two different KHL teams. Regardless of where he plays in Russia, he is one of the most talented players in the 2023 draft class. Where he is selected will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the first round.
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