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Blackhawks Rebuild Report: Hobey Baker Hopefuls

Greg Boysen Avatar
January 20, 2023

We want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the rebuilding process that the Chicago Blackhawks are currently in does not hinge on one player. We are very much not in a “Bedard or Bust” mentality. While getting Connor Bedard would no doubt accelerate the process, if the Blackhawks do not end up selecting him in this year’s NHL Draft, all is not lost.

If you have been paying attention to the work Kyle Davidson has been doing to replenish the prospect system for Chicago, and reading our Rebuild Reports, you’ll know that things are off to a good start to building a foundation of young up-and-comers that can populate the next era of Blackhawks hockey with quality players on and off the ice. It takes more than one guy and the Blackhawks are operating that way.

Mario’s Notebook: Blackhawks NCAA prospects standing out

  • While they are long shots, the Chicago Blackhawks have a number of prospects that have stood out in the NCAA ranks this season and are getting recognized for it.
  • Last week, both Drew Commesso and Dominic Basse were named to the Mike Richter Award watchlist as the top goaltender in the NCAA.
  • This week, four NCAA prospects were named to the initial Hobey Baker Award watchlist for the top player in the NCAA.
  • If you want to get cheeky, you could say potentially five Blackhawks prospects were on the list because 2023 NHL Draft prospect Adam Fantilli was also named to the watchlist.
  • This is no slight to them, but none of these players will actually win the award. But that doesn’t mean that their seasons are washed.
  • Wyatt Kaiser, a 2020 third-round pick, is in his third year at Minnesota-Duluth. He’s played regularly on the top-pair for the Bulldogs in each of his three seasons and had the opportunity to play for Team USA for the World Junior Championships last summer. He has seven points in 20 games this season, 36 points in his 82-game NCAA career.
  • His style is not that of a point-producing defenseman who is going to Cale Makar-like from the blue line. Rather, he is a savvy skater and puck-mover that can chip in a highlight-worthy goal from time to time, but will be more effective in his own end and defending in transition.
  • His Minnesota-Duluth teammate, 2022 sixth-round pick Dominic James, is second on the team in scoring this season with 14 points in 20 NCAA games. He was a standout for Team USA at the 2022 World Junior Championships this past summer and quickly climbed the ranks in the Chicago prospect system.
  • Both players turn 21 this July. If I’m putting money on it, Kaiser will be with the Rockford IceHogs to begin the 2023-24 season.
  • For Liam Gorman, a player the Blackhawks acquired from Pittsburgh during this past summer’s NHL Draft, I also foresee a stint with the IceHogs in his very near future. He is part of a three-way tie for first on his Princeton team in scoring with 16 points in 19 NCAA games this season. He surpassed his previous career total in points (12) already this year and is in his final year of eligibility in the NCAA.
  • The fourth and final Blackhawks prospect on the list is 2018 third-round pick Jake Wise. Currently, Wise is second on his Ohio State Buckeyes squad in points with 23 in 24 NCAA games this season. He is on-pace to surpass his total last season (28) after transferring to Ohio State in 2021 after three underwhelming years with Boston University. Injuries hampered Wise in his time at Boston and after arriving with Ohio State, he has amassed 51 points in 59 games with the Buckeyes and was named a Captain this season.
  • At one point in time, Wise was a rising prospect in the Blackhawks system. But after five seasons in the NCAA, I’m not sure where the organization views him. If it were me, I’d give him a shot in the AHL with the IceHogs at the end of this season to see where he might be when making the jump to the pro level. After that, decide if you want to invest moving forward.
  • Speaking of rising prospects in the system, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman recently released his latest rankings of the best NHL players and prospects under 23-years-old. Five Blackhawks prospects hit the list.
  • The usual suspects of Kevin Korchinski, Lukas Reichel, and Frank Nazar were all present. The fourth prospect of the five Blackhawks listed on Pronman’s list was 2022 second-round pick Ryan Greene. A freshman at Boston University, Greene was nearly a part of the 2023 Canadian World Junior team that just took home a Gold Medal earlier this month. His 17 points in 19 NCAA games this season rank fourth on the team and he is the only player in the top five on his Terriers squad that has played less than 20 games.
  • There’s a lot to like about Greene’s game. He has the tools to score and distribute at a high-level and has done so impressively this season in the NCAA as an 18/19-year-old. He’ll likely be a player that spends two more seasons in the NCAA before making the jump to the professional ranks, but I think the Blackhawks have a quality player in Greene the will be able to maybe one day play a versatile, up-and-down the lineup kind of role in Chicago.
  • I mentioned Dominic Basse earlier, the 2019 sixth-round pick by the Blackhawks and often forgotten goaltending prospect. He is having a massive year with St. Cloud State after two sub-par seasons with Colorado College. Basse has made 10 starts for St. Cloud this season and holds an 8-2-0 record with a .937 save-percentage, a 1.61 GAA, and three shutouts.
  • Basse’s play in net this season is a big reason why St. Cloud finds themselves at No. 4 in the latest NCAA rankings. He has definitely put himself back on the Blackhawks prospect map in net and should 100-percent be in the conversation for the future of the goaltending position with the Blackhawks.
  • In recent episodes of the CHGO Blackhawks podcast, many “the sky is falling” fans have asked what 2023 Draft prospects to look out for when the Blackhawks “screw up the tank.”
  • Well, for one, don’t worry about it too much because there is still half of a season to go and the Blackhawks are going to get worse.
  • Two, here’s two names that have been mentioned before by me in previous editions of the Rebuild Report: Zach Benson and Will Smith.
  • Benson has been in the No. 5 to No. 10 range pretty much all season in most draft projections. He is tied for second, only behind Connor Bedard, in the WHL in scoring this season with 62 points in 36 games. He is one point away from tying his season total last season with the Winnipeg Ice. He’s not the biggest guy, but size should no longer be a hinderance to NHL Draft prospects in the year 2023. Benson is someone who would challenge guys like Korchinski, Reichel and Nazar for the honor of “best prospect” in the Blackhawks system if he were to find himself in Chicago.
  • Smith, not to be confused with the Hollywood mega-star and slapper of Chris Rock, has been dominating in the U.S. National Development Program this season. He has tallied 26 goals and 74 points in 41 combined games with the USNTDP and is second on the U18 National Team in points behind Gabe Perreault.
  • It was surprising to me that Smith was not a part of Team USA for this past World Junior Championships tournament, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a part of the team next year. Smith has climbed the 2023 Draft Class rankings this season and will likely fall into that No.5 to No. 10 range as well in this summer’s draft. Honestly, I’d be very surprised if he lasted beyond eighth or ninth, but that’s just me.
  • Just a couple names to keep in mind other than Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. Just in case. Just for fun.

Greg’s Notebook: IceHogs’ offense goes cold, Artur Kayumov returns

  • The Rockford IceHogs’ week began with some off-ice moves. On Wednesday, the Blackhawks needed the services of goaltender Jaxson Stauber after Alex Stalock came down with a non-COVID injury. The good news was that leading scorer Brett Seney was reassigned to Rockford after two games with the Blackhawks. Stauber served as Petr Mrazek’s backup in Thursday’s win over the Colorado Avalanche. He was returned to the IceHogs on Saturday night when Patrick Kane was activated off injured reserve.
  • In a somewhat surprising move Friday, AHL All-Star Lukas Reichel was sent back down to the IceHogs. He had a goal and three points in his three games filling in for the injured Kane.
  • Reichel was not in the lineup when the IceHogs opened their weekend set at the Colorado Eagles Friday night. Former Chicago Wolves forward Spencer Smallman scored the only goal of the first two periods to give the home team the advantage. Seney picked up right where he left off by tying the game midway through the third period with his 15th goal of the season. In overtime, Dylan Sikura set up Cole Guttman for a one-timer, and he blasted home the game-winning goal. Dylan Wells made 21 saves, including some big ones late in regulation, to earn the victory.
  • The IceHogs did get Reichel back in the lineup for Saturday night’s rematch with the Eagles, but the offense still struggled to produce. Charles Hudon gave the home team a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game after forcing a turnover and beating Mitchell Weeks on a breakaway. Dylan Sikura, who played for Colorado last season, tied the game late in the first period by blasting home a one-time off a feed from Reichel. After a scoreless middle stanza, Oskar Olausson deflected a shot into the Rockford net with under eight minutes to play. Josh Jacobs added an empty-net goal to secure the win and the weekend split. Weeks made 17 saves in only his second regulation loss at the AHL level this season.
  • The IceHogs wrapped up their week hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins. Their rivals to the northeast were not very good house guests as they beat Rockford 5-2. The game was essentially over before most players broke a sweat. Danny O’Regan started the onslaught by scoring 23 seconds into the game. The Griffins then got goals from Wyatt Newpower, Austin Czarnik, and Jakub Vrana to open up a 4-0 lead before the contest was even four minutes old. Josiah Slavin got the IceHogs on the board late in the first period before David Gust scored his 19th goal in the second period. Czarnik iced the game with a late empty-net goal. Wells gave up three goals on six shots before he was replaced by Weeks, who stopped 23 of 24 shots. Recent Detroit Red Wings castoff Alex Nedeljkovic had a 35-save effort to earn his fourth AHL win of the season.
  • Gust leads the team with 19 goals. His fellow All-Star, Seney, has a team-high 25 assists and 40 points. Adam Clendening and Jakub Galvas are tied for the lead in scoring among defensemen with 18 points. Galvas is the blue line leader with 17 assists. Alec Regula leads the back end with five goals. He has been held off the scoresheet in his last three games after racking up two goals and seven points in his previous five games.
  • The IceHogs are tied with the Milwaukee Admirals for second place in the Central Division with 44 points, six points behind the first-place Texas Stars. They will spend the weekend hosting both participants from last season’s Calder Cup Finals. The defending Eastern Conference champion Springfield Thunderbirds are in town Friday night before the Wolves come calling on Saturday. Rockford will travel west on Tuesday night for a game at the Iowa Wild.
  • Chad Yetman was back in the ECHL after a three-game stint with the AHL’s Belleville Senators. The Indy Fuel sent a franchise record with a crowd of 6,559, packing the Indiana Farmers Coliseum for a meeting with the rival Fort Wayne Komets. Indy entered the third period down 4-2, but Yetman tied the game at 5-5 late in the third period before Cam Hillis completed the comeback in overtime. Yetman now has a 12-game point streak in the ECHL and has set a new Fuel franchise record with a goal in seven straight games.
  • Defenseman Michael Krutil has been playing for HC Banik Sokolov in Czechia’s second-tier league since returning from the Spengler Cup. He somehow managed to be a plus-2 in Wednesday night’s 12-4 loss to HC Zubr Prerov. The 2020 fourth-round pick has split 21 games between the top two leagues in his native Czechia and has yet to register a point.
  • Antti Saarela had a big weekend for Lukko in Finland’s top league. He had two assists in Friday’s 5-3 loss to Jukurit. He scored his seventh goal of the season in a 5-3 win over SaiPa the following night. The 2019 fourth-round pick has four goals and eight points in his last 10 Liiga games.
  • Ilya Safonov picked up an assist in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Sibir Novosibirsk. The Ak Bars Kazan captain has 12 goals and 23 points in 48 KHL games this season.
  • Artur Kayumov returned to action for Lokomotiv Yaroslav on Tuesday and had two shots on goal in a 3-0 win over Kunlun Red Star. The 2016 second-round pick had been out of action due to injury since Dec. 4.

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