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Blackhawks Rebuild Report: Frank Nazar Debuts at Michigan, IceHogs Continue to Grab Points

Greg Boysen Avatar
February 17, 2023

As the NHL trade rumors continue to swirl around the Chicago Blackhawks, there are plenty of good things happening in their prospect system to help cure your depression from the thought of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being traded away from the team. This week, the Rockford IceHogs are doing their best to make sure we are actually talking about playoff hockey on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, even if it’s the Calder Cup Playoffs. Plus, Frank “Sinatra” Nazar made his NCAA debut with Michigan and top draft prospects Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli continue to be hockey freaks of nature.

Mario’s Notebook: Frank Nazar Makes NCAA Debut

  • We were waiting and waiting for the moment to arrive. We didn’t know if it would this season. But finally, Chicago Blackhawks 2022 13th overall pick Nazar made his NCAA debut with the University of Michigan this past weekend, and boy, what a debut it was.
  • While he went without a point in his first game with the Wolverines, his speed and offensive creativity were on full display. It was his second game of the season that allowed for Nazar to truly announce his arrival on the NCAA scene.
  • That reaction from Nazar is what you get when a highly talented, super competitive player has to sit on the sidelines for nearly an entire season. What a relief it had to be the get that goal for Nazar and start contributing to an already-stacked Michigan team late in the season.
  • Following his first weekend of NCAA hockey, Nazar talked about his debut and what it meant to come back from preseason surgery.
  • Expect more to come from him as Michigan prepares for the upcoming Big Ten tournament and the impending NCAA tournament.
  • Nazar could potentially already be playing with one or two future Blackhawks teammates at the University of Michigan. Fantilli, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft Class, continues to dominate the NCAA and Big Ten this season.
  • Fantilli currently leads the NCAA in scoring with 47 points in 25 games as a true freshman and currently rides a ten-game point streak following since returning from the World Junior Championships.
  • Pretty sure everyone is putting that “disappointing” World Junior performance behind Fantilli.
  • The other potential future Blackhawks teammate of Nazar’s is Michigan forward Gavin Brindley. He had himself a three-point night last Friday night in Michigan’s win over Michigan State but saw his eight-game point streak snapped last Saturday. He tallied seven goals and 15 points over that stretch of play.
  • Another Michigan player with an impressive eight-game stretch of play is goaltender Erik Portillo. The Buffalo Sabres prospect has not lost in regulation in his last eight starts for Michigan, with seven wins and one shootout loss that goes into the scorebooks as a tie. He’s recorded a .908 save percentage (SV%) over that span, consistent with his .909 SV% for the season.
  • Portillo has been rumored to be potentially on the trade block for the Sabres, who also have goaltending prospects Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the mix. Buffalo still has one more year of control of his draft rights, but I wouldn’t mind if a team like the Blackhawks were looking to get someone like him in either a trade or when the Sabres likely let his rights expire next year and he becomes an NCAA free agent.
  • Speaking of that shootout loss for Portillo and Michigan, it came at the hands of Ohio State and their Captain Jake Wise.
  • Pretty solid way for Wise, a 2018 third-round pick by the Blackhawks, to celebrate Senior Night for the Buckeyes. Michigan and Ohio State play tomorrow in the “Faceoff on the Lake,” an outdoor game between the rivals at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, the home of the Cleveland Browns.
  • Five of the top ten programs in the NCAA have at least one Blackhawks prospect on their roster. Those teams include Denver, Michigan, Boston, St. Cloud State, and Ohio State. In Denver, Aidan Thompson sits sixth on the team in scoring with 21 points in 22 games, leading all freshmen on the team, and his 0.95 points-per-game pace is good for third on the team.
  • Thompson is riding a four-game point streak with a goal in each of his last two games, both coming against North Dakota.
  • The 2022 third-round pick by the Blackhawks turns 21 tomorrow. Celebrate responsibly, young man!
  • Another Blackhawks third-round pick who is playing well lately is Notre Dame forward Landon Slaggert. Having a very underwhelming season, Slaggert has picked up the scoring in his past few games. With four points in his last three appearances, including a pair of goals last Friday against Ohio State, he’s surpassed the double-digit point mark with 12 points on the season.
  • Slaggert doesn’t seem like a player who will go back for a fourth year in college with Notre Dame. Despite his low production this season, I get the sense that the Blackhawks would want to see what he can do at the next level. Notre Dame likely sees their season end without a trip to the NCAA tournament, barring an underdog run during the Big Ten tournament, so keep an eye on Slaggert as a potential ATO (Amateur Tryout) candidate for the late stages of the IceHogs regular season.
  • Hey, Connor Bedard keeps being Connor Bedard.
  • I no longer have the words to describe his abilities and what he is doing to the WHL this season. He’s a freakish talent that is just biding his time before he becomes an NHL stud.
  • One 2023 Draft Class prospect that the Blackhawks have shown interest in is another WHL standout, Andrew Cristall. A former teammate in Kelowna with Colton Dach, Cristall was on a tear earlier this season in the league that was only bettered by the aforementioned Bedard.
  • An injury derailed that momentum after being snubbed from Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Cristall returned to the ice this week and picked up right where he left off.
  • Coming back with a four-goal night? Yeah, that’s pretty good.
  • The Blackhawks will have their own first-round pick in 2023 land inside the top three or four picks (hopefully within the top two) and will have the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round pick, which will likely fall in the 20s. There’s a chance they add another 2023 first-round pick with the NHL Trade Deadline coming up, but if they want to land Cristall in the draft, they’ll likely have to do it early.
  • Much like the Blackhawks had to do in the 2022 draft when they selected Kevin Korchinski seventh.
  • Yeah, that’s a pick that is working out nicely. Korchinski added his seventh goal of the season with this tally last Saturday and has 50 points on the year in 37 WHL games. He currently rides a four-game points streak and has 22 points in 16 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds since returning from the World Junior Championships.
  • Another streaking Blackhawks prospect is Gavin Hayes with the Flint Firebirds in the OHL. Another 2022 draft pick, Hayes is riding a seven-game heater with four goals and ten points over that stretch of play.
  • Hayes leads all Blackhawks non-professional prospects in total points this season with 55 in 53 OHL games.
  • Hayes is second in goals (28) and second in points (55) on the Firebirds this season as they sit in seventh place in the OHL Western Conference, fighting for a playoff spot.
  • Sitting in seventh place in the OHL Eastern Conference are the Kingston Frontenacs, Captained by Blackhawks 2022 second-round draft pick Paul Ludwinski.
  • Ludwinski sits third on the team in points with 34 in 44 OHL games this season and has six points in his last five appearances for Kingston.
  • One Blackhawks prospect that is most definitely going to be in the OHL playoffs is Sarnia Sting defenseman, Ethan Del Mastro. Quite the stretch of hockey that Del Mastro is having with two World Junior Gold Medals with Canada in the span of five months and then being moved to the Sting and playing a major role in a team looking to make a deep run in the postseason.
  • Del Mastro has let his offensive game flourish since moving to Sarnia, with 19 points in 14 games since being traded. He has 40 points in 36 games this season after having three assists in his last game, a 9-1 win for Sarnia over the Guelph Storm.
  • The Blackhawks will be pretty well represented across the three CHL leagues in their respective postseasons. Along with a few Seattle Thunderbirds players in the WHL and at least Del Mastro in the OHL, Samuel Savoie is doing his part to make sure the Gatineau Olympiques make a deep run in the QMJHL postseason. This week, Savoie tallied his 23rd goal of the season, pushing his point total to the 50-burger mark with 50 points in 44 QMJHL games this season.
  • Following Gatineau’s win last Saturday over Ottawa, Savoie was named the game’s First Star, and boy, he did not disappoint in the postgame honor.
  • I like this kid. He’s gonna be fun to watch.
  • In case you missed it, our CHGO Blackhawks friend and prospect analyst for The Athletic, Scott Wheeler, published his Top 50 drafted NHL prospects rankings and his Top Ten drafted NHL goalie prospect rankings this week.
  • Not to spoil it, but four Blackhawks prospects are ranked by Wheeler, with Korchinski, Reichel, and Nazar all landing inside the Top 25 of his Top 50 skaters rankings and Drew Commesso landing on his Top Ten goalies list. Also of note, Arvid Söderblom was named an honorable mention in the goalie rankings as well.
  • For those that shout, “THE REBUILD IS RUINED WITHOUT BEDARD!” … No, no, it is not.
  • Is it too early to worry about the 2024 NHL Draft Class? Yeah, probably. But count me in for the Blackhawks being in the lottery again in the summer of 2024 if it means a shot at USHL Chicago Steel phenom Macklin Celebrini.
  • 16 years old and leading the USHL in scoring. How does the Steel do it with these players every year?

Greg’s Notebook: IceHogs Struggle in Shootouts, Ilya Safonov Stays Hot

  • The IceHogs were north of the Cheddar Curtain Friday night for the first game of a home-and-home series with the Milwaukee Admirals. After Rockford killed two early penalties, Milwaukee captain Cole Schneider gave his team a 1-0 lead by swiping home a loose puck. Cole Guttman tied the game late in the second period by forcing a turnover and scoring off a nifty backhand shot. Schneider had a golden chance to win the game in the final seconds of overtime, but Arvid Soderblom made a brilliant save. Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino scored in the shootout, while Dylan Sikura and Guttman were stopped by Yaroslav Askarov. After making the final save on Guttman, Askarov laid on his back and pulled down the net to simulate a bench press with the crossbar. It was a fitting celebration as he stopped for 45 of 46 shots and held the IceHogs off the board during seven power-play chances. Soderblom held his own with 30 saves but came up short in the shootout.
  • These two Central Division rivals were right back at it Saturday night with the IceHogs wearing their special Screw City jerseys. Isaak Phillips quickly answered Askarov’s celebration the previous night by giving the IceHogs a 1-0 lead 38 seconds into the game. Schneider tied the game less than four minutes later with his second goal in as many nights. Guttman scored a power-play goal to give Rockford a 2-1 lead at the first intermission. Milwaukee blueliner Jordan Gross evened things up with a power-play goal in the opening minutes of the second frame. Mike Hardman restored the IceHogs lead less than three minutes later by deflecting an Alec Regula shot into the net. John Leonard scored off a redirection to knot the score at 3-3 before the end of the middle period. The score remained tied up through regulation and overtime, leading to a historic shootout. Michal Teply scored in the opening round, followed by a Guttman strike in the fifth round. From there, Askarov and Soderblom both made nine consecutive stops before Keaton Thompson won the game in the 15th round. This was the longest shootout in IceHogs franchise history and was one round shy of tying the AHL record for the most rounds. The Utah Grizzlies and Cleveland Barons set that record on Dec. 3, 2004.
  • On Wednesday, the Blackhawks needed some reinforcements after placing Jonathan Toews, Jarred Tinordi, and Alex Stalock on injured reserve. Guttman, Phillips, and Brett Seney were all recalled and hopped on an early flight to Toronto. Guttman made his NHL debut versus the Maple Leafs and led the team with three takeaways, earning himself 4th Star honors!
  • Later that evening, the IceHogs traveled to Michigan for a meeting with the Grand Rapids Griffins. With Guttman and Seney in Toronto with the Blackhawks, Rockford needed someone to step up. That someone was Bobby Lynch, but his three-point night was not enough in a 5-4 loss to the Griffins. Grand Rapids got goals from Simon Edvinsson and Alex Chiasson 21 seconds apart to jump out to an early 2-0. Taro Hirose made it 3-0 in the second period before Lynch got the IceHogs on the board. Carson Gicewicz scored in the final minute of the frame to cut the deficit to 3-2. Dominik Shine and Chiasson extended the lead to 5-2 in the third period. Lukas Reichel answered 31 seconds after Chiasson’s second goal. Lynch struck again to get the IceHogs to within one with just over seven minutes to play, but they could not get the equalizer. Soderblom gave up five goals on 19 shots, snapping both his streak of games with at least 30 saves and Rockford’s point streak at six.
  • Despite having just one point in his last seven games, David Gust still leads the team with 21 goals and 45 points. Reichel has the most assists in Rockford with 27, one more than Seney. Jakub Galvas leads all IceHogs defensemen with 22 assists and 24 points. Regula has five goals, the most among the blueliners. Luke Philp leads the team with six power-play goals, one more than Guttman and Sikura.
  • The IceHogs are in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. They are one point ahead of the Iowa Wild and one point behind the Manitoba Moose for third place. The Admirals and Texas Stars are tied atop the division with 61 points. The Stars will be in Rockford on Friday and Wednesday. A road game with the Wild is sandwiched between on Sunday afternoon, so this is a big week for the IceHogs.
  • Chad Yetman scored his 21st goal of the season in Saturday’s 5-0 win over the Kalamazoo Wings. The 2020 sixth-round pick has 42 points in 37 ECHL games for the Indy Fuel. Mitchell Weeks made 23 saves for his second shutout of the season. He is 12-4-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA) and a .912 SV% in 18 ECHL games.
  • Victor Stjernborg has not had the greatest statistical season for the Växjö Lakers Hockey Club in his native Sweden. However, that hasn’t stopped them from inking the Blackhawks’ 2021 fourth-round pick to a new two-year contract extension. This will give the 19-year-old forward two more seasons to develop in Sweden’s top league before coming to North America. Stjernborg has five assists in 33 SHL games this season.
  • Staying in Scandinavia, Antti Saarela was injured last Monday. While the details are vague, Lukko expects to have him back for the Liiga playoffs, which begin mid-March. This is his second significant injury of the season. A leg injury in October kept him out of action for a month. Saarela has seven goals and 17 points in 39 games.
  • Ilya Safonov has goals in three straight games for Ak Bars Kazan after scoring in victories over Admiral Vladivostok on Tuesday and Thursday. The KHL All-Star has 17 goals and 32 points in 60 games.
  • Defenseman Michael Krutil returned to Czechia’s top pro league on Wednesday. He didn’t have a point for HC Sparta Praha in their 6-3 win over HC Energie Karlovy Vary, but he was a plus-1 in 13:10 of ice time.
  • Finally, in case you’re wondering how top European prospect Matvei Michkov is doing, he finished off his three-point night on Saturday with this beauty of a goal. Since being loaned to HK Sochi, the 18-year-old winger has been given an elevated role and has seven goals and 13 points in 21 KHL games.

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