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I know we have all been doing it all season and even before the season. We’re guilty of it on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast and I’m guilty of it too, but for good reason. Connor Bedard is freaking awesome. Putting all of our eggs in his basket for the 2022-23 tank season and trying to get the best odds to draft him first-overall in the 2023 NHL Draft was and still is the goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and the fanbase to get through this kind of season.
But while Bedard is putting up insane numbers and looks to be able to live up to the hype surrounding him coming into his draft year, what cannot be overlooked is how different the Blackhawks prospect system looks now compared to this time last year already and how the rebuilding process does not hinge on Bedard alone.
Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson was put on cleanup duty for the organization when he took over with just a squeegee and a bottle of Lysol. He’s done enough in his first full year to help turn the Blackhawks around to where now he is cleaning with a full arsenal of bleaches, sprays, sanitizers, cloths, brushes, and towels to the point where the prospect system is squeaky clean and ready for it’s moment to shine.
I think I need to clean my house … anyway, prospects …
Mario’s Notebook: The Dach-ter Is In
- One of the Blackhawks prospects that has rocketed up the rankings over the past two seasons has been defenseman Ethan Del Mastro. Taken in the fourth round of the 2021 NHL Draft, Del Mastro has quickly become a top-tier prospect in the Chicago system and a player that fans are excited to see make the jump to the professional level. Likely next season.
- After establishing himself as a solid defensively-minded defenseman, Del Mastro was directed to work on his offensive game this season with the Mississauga Steelheads and continues to do so after being traded to the Sarnia Sting.
- One of Del Mastro’s skillsets that has developed this season is his mobility. He’s a bigger kid and uses his size and strength well. But being able to do that and move well with and without the puck at the next level is paramount for a defenseman to find success. Del Mastro is getting better with his footwork and his confidence with the puck on his stick.
- Last Friday night, Del Mastro and the Sting were on national display against the London Knights in a game that was broadcast on NHL Network. Watching at the CHGO offices, myself, Jay Zawaski, and Greg Boysen all jumped out of our seats when Del Mastro made this move and another end-to-end rush on a powerplay that nearly ended in a highlight-worthy goal. His confidence offensively is growing. Which is great news for the Blackhawks and the fans. Del Mastro has 44 points in 39 combined OHL games this season, including eight points in his last five games, capped-off by a three-point effort in his last outing.
- Staying the OHL, Flint Firebirds forward and 2022 third-round pick Gavin Hayes continues to help his club as they push into the postseason. Hayes ranks second on the Firebirds in both goals (28) and points (59) in 55 games this season. He is riding a nine-game point streak that started on February 3 with four goals and 14 points over that span.
- Hayes is an under-the-radar player in the Chicago system and only has time on his side to continue to get better. Turning 19 in May, Hayes will most likely play another season in the OHL next year and have another opportunity to dominate for the Firebirds in 2023-24.
- A Blackhawks prospect that is not flying under-the-radar in his first season post-draft is 2022 third-round pick Samuel Savoie.
- On Thursday night, Savoie broke out of a stretch of play in February that saw him post just one goal in five games with a pair of assists in a win for the Gatineau Olympiques, their 11th-straight victory. He moved his monthly total for February to nine points in eight games and his season total to 23 goals and 52 points in 47 QMJHL games. Savoie ranks second in goals and third in points on his Gatineau club.
- Moving to the WHL, great news for Blackhawks 2021 second-round pick Colton Dach as he returned from injury in a big way. After suffering a shoulder injury that ended his World Junior Championships run with Canada early, an d being traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds, Dach was back on the ice and in the lineup this week for Seattle.
- In his first game with the Thunderbirds, Dach posted two assists in an 8-1 win for Seattle. In his next game, Dach continued the momentum with another assist and his first goal as a member of the club.
- Dating back to December 3 and 4, Dach is now riding a four-game point streak in the WHL and has 10 goals and 21 points in 16 games this season between the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds.
- The Thunderbirds are destination viewing for Blackhawks fans this season with the acquisitions of Dach and Nolan Allan this season to add to defenseman Kevin Korchinski already leading the club from the blue line. Allan, a more defensively-focused defender had a major offensive outburst this week with Seattle, notching a four-point night on Tuesday night with a goal and three assists.
- Allan’s big night helped break him out of a ten-game stretch that saw him only record two assists, both of which came in the same game. With his big night, Allan now has nine goals and 23 points in 43 WHL games this season, 12 points in 27 games since joining Seattle.
- His blue-line buddy Korchinski has been having an incredible offensive season. In total, the 2022 seventh-overall pick has seven goals and 58 points in 41 WHL games this season.
- Last Saturday night, Korchinski had a four-assist performance and followed it up on Monday night with another multi-point game with two assists. He recorded an assist on Tuesday night as well, extending his current point streak to eight games and he has points in 18 of 20 games since returning from the World Junior Championships.
- Not to be forgotten in the WHL for Blackhawks prospects, Tri-City’s Jalen Luypen continues to produce well in what has been a shortened season due to offseason surgery. On Wednesday night, Luypen notched his first multi-goal game of the season in a 6-2 win for Tri-City.
- Luypen is up to nine goals on the season in 26 WHL games after missing the beginning of the year because of shoulder surgery.
- He is signed to his entry-level deal with the Blackhawks and is expected to join the Rockford IceHogs next season, if not sooner depending on how the WHL postseason and AHL season lines up to end the year.
- Connor Bedard. Still ridiculous.
- Bedard leads the WHL with 110 points this season in 43 games. His last 15 games since returning from the World Junior Championships, he has six games in which he has scored four or more points and only three games with one or zero points.
- A name to keep an eye on, just in case the Blackhawks fall way down the draft order to No. 5, Zach Benson. He’s second in the WHL in points with 85, only behind Bedard.
- He’s also pretty darn good.
- Let’s say the Blackhawks “lose” the NHL Draft Lottery and end up picking second overall. Ho hum, they get Adam Fantilli. Leading the NCAA in scoring as an 18-year-old, Fantilli has 19 goals and 49 points in 27 games with Michigan this season, including an 11-game point-streak that began when he returned to school from the World Junior Championships. Seven of those 11 games have been multi-point efforts.
- The Blackhawks’ system is very well-represented in the NCAA and one player who has been largely pushed to the back of the forwards group is making his case in his final NCAA season to be brought back to the fore-front.
- 2018 third-round pick Jake Wise is making the most of his final season with Ohio State.
- Wise tallied a goal and two assists last Saturday night in Ohio State’s 4-2 win over Michigan in their outdoor game held in Cleveland. His efforts this past week earned him the Big Ten Third-Star of the Week honors.
- Wise has 11 goals and 28 points in 32 games this season for the Buckeyes. His past two seasons with Ohio State, after an injury-riddled three-year run with Boston University, sees him with 21 goals and 56 points in 67 games. I don’t know where Wise fits into the Blackhawks future plans, but he seems like a guy who would be worth giving a shot.
- At the very least, he can make the jump to the professional level with the IceHogs next season and take things from there.
- Another NCAA prospect that I believe will be taking the leap to the professional ranks next season is Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser. He’s been high on the Blackhawks prospect defensive depth chart for the past two or three seasons since being a third-round draft pick. This season, Kaiser has four goals and 15 points in 28 games and had a huge breakout game last Saturday night in an upset win over No. 3 Denver.
- Minnesota-Duluth may not have a very long postseason run this year, so it could happen that Kaiser gets a look with the IceHogs before the end of the regular season or at the very least joins the AHL club for the postseason run just to get his feet wet in the professional ranks. We’ll see how it plays out.
- The only NCAA prospect for the Blackhawks that is over a point-per-game this season is Denver’s Aidan Thompson. With eight goals and 25 points in 24 games this season, Thompson has definitely moved himself into the discussion for players that could be coming to the IceHogs very soon, if not next season.
- Thompson had a three-point night last Friday against Minnesota–Duluth and followed it up with one assist last Saturday night to extend his point steak to six games dating back to January 27. He turned 21 years old on Saturday, making him a pretty old “freshman” for Denver, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he too is brought to the IceHogs next season. Nothing to say he couldn’t stay at Denver another year or two, but with the way the IceHogs and Blackhawks will be looking to move young players forward in their developments over the next two seasons, Thompson could be part of that movement.
- Boston’s Ryan Greene continues to be one of the understated highlights of the 2022 Draft class.
- Greene’s 24 points in 28 NCAA games are the third-most by a Blackhawks NCAA prospect this season behind Wise and Thompson. He also ranks tied for fourth on the Terriers in scoring this season. He has three goals in his last five games.
- Also at Boston is Blackhawks top goaltending prospect Drew Commesso. The 2020 second-round pick has had better stretches of play than he did last week. Commesso earned a loss in Boston’s 4-1 upset loss to No. 20 Merrimack last Friday and then was pulled after the first period on Saturday in a 4-3 OT loss to Merrimack. His season record moved to 15-7-0 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.74 GAA in 24 games. He is 0-3-0 in his last four starts.
- Let’s look ahead to the 2024 NHL Draft Class for just one second. Chicago Steel standout and 16-year-old Macklin Celebrini is solidifying himself at the head of the class this season.
- Let’s say the Blackhawks miss out on winning the 2023 Draft Lottery. There actually is always next year.
- For those wondering, Celebrini’s 62 points in 37 USHL games lead the league in scoring and is out-performing another notable former Chicago Steel phenom.
- He’s committed to Boston University next season, where he’ll be a 17-year-old freshman and playing alongside Blackhawks prospect Ryan Greene. I’m sure Colby Cohen will help keep tabs on Celebrini in his draft year next year.
Greg’s Notebook: Rockford IceHogs make moves and earn points, Matvei Michkov scoring at a historic rate
- The IceHogs began their big week against rivals ahead of the in standings of the AHL’s Central Division by beating the Texas Stars 3-2 in overtime Friday night. Former Blackhawk Tanner Kero opened the scoring by beating Dylan Wells with a wrist shot midway through the first period. Late in the frame, Alec Regula hit the crossbar, but Luke Philp was in the right place at the right time to put back the rebound for his 15th goal of the season. David Gust gave the IceHogs a 2-1 lead less than two minutes into the second period. The lead lasted a little over nine minutes before Marian Studenic evened things up with a power-play goal for the visitors. The IceHogs went beyond regulation for the eighth time in 10 games following a scoreless third period. Rookie defenseman Alex Vlasic ended the game just 45 seconds into the extra time by finishing off a give-and-go play with Lukas Reichel for his second career AHL goal. Wells made 37 saves for his ninth victory.
- On Sunday, the IceHogs made the trip out west for their 10th meeting with the Iowa Wild. Dylan Sikura started his big afternoon by forcing a turnover and then cashing in on the breakaway about 12 minutes into the game. Moments after killing off their second penalty, Nic Petan scored to tie the game in the final minute of the opening stanza. Reichel’s 17th goal of the season broke the tie midway through the second period and proved to be the only tally of the frame. Sikura doubled the lead with his second goal of the night early in the third period. Two minutes after Sammy Walker got Iowa to within one, Rockford went down a man after an Adam Clendening penalty. Shortly after a successful kill, Sikura finished off the hat trick. With Patrick Kane scoring a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday too, it was the first time the IceHogs and Blackhawks had a hat trick on the same day. Steven Fogarty cut the lead to 4-3 with just over a minute to play before D.J. Busdecker iced the game with an empty netter. Arvid Söderblom made 22 saves to secure the IceHogs’ first regulation win since Dec. 31.
- The Stars returned to the BMO Center on Wednesday and avenged their loss from Friday with a 5-3 victory over the IceHogs. Gust got things going with his 23rd goal of the season less than two minutes into the game. Texas took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after getting goals from Jacob Peterson and Riley Tufte. Michal Teply had the only goal of the middle frame by finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play with Busdecker and Josiah Slavin. Fredrik Karlstrom and Riely Barber scored to give the Stars a 4-2 lead with less than five minutes to play. Gust got the IceHogs to within a goal with his second tally of the night, but the Stars squashed any hope of a comeback with Kero’s late empty-net goal.
- Thursday was a busy morning in Rockford. First, Gust was signed to a two-year, two-way NHL contract by the Blackhawks and then recalled him. If and when the Orland Park, IL native draws into the lineup, it will be his NHL debut. He leads the IceHogs with a career-high 24 goals and 50 points.
- Then, Josiah Slavin was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Hunter Drew. The 6-foot-2 Drew has played both right wing and defense in his career. He had five goals and 11 points in 44 games for the San Diego Gulls, mainly playing on the wing.
- Drew might be heading back to the blue line this weekend as Alec Regula and Jakub Galvas are in concussion protocol, and Cliff Watson has a sprained knee. They recalled defenseman Andrew Parrott and forward Cameron Hillis from the Indy Fuel to help.
- Now that Gust and Brett Seney are in Chicago, Reichel leads the team with 17 goals, 28 assists, and 45 points. He had his four-game point streak snapped against Texas on Wednesday. Adam Clendening and Galvas are the top-scoring defensemen with 24 points. Galvas leads the blueliners with 22 assists, which are second on the team. Regula’s five goals are the most among defenders. He had points in three of his last five games.
- The IceHogs are in fourth place in the Central Division with 58 points. They are two points behind the Manitoba Moose for third place. The Milwaukee Admirals are in second with 64 points, while the Stars are pacing the division with 66 points. The IceHogs have a home-and-home series with Iowa, starting Friday in Des Moines, before a rematch in Rockford on Saturday. They start a five-game road trip at the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday.
- Chad Yetman scored his 22nd ECHL goal of the season for the Fuel during Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings. The following day he signed a professional tryout contract (PTO) with the Belleville Senators. This is his third AHL PTO this season and second with the Senators. He did not have a point in Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Laval Rocket.
- Mitchell Weeks was in net for the Fuel in Friday night’s 3-2 to the Wings. He allowed three goals on 35 shots. In 19 ECHL games, he is 12-5-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average (GAA), a .912 save percentage (SV%), and two shutouts.
- Defenseman Michael Krutil returned to Czechia’s second-tier professional league. He had no points in his three games but had four shots on goal and played 21:25 on Wednesday, both season highs.
- Ilya Safonov stayed red hot for the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan during a weekend series against Amur Khabarovsk. He had an assist in Saturday’s 4-3 win and returned Sunday with a goal and two assists in a 4-0 victory. Safonov has a five-game point streak and at least one point in 10 of his last 11 games. Meanwhile, Ak Bars Kazan has only lost six games since the start of December.
- Artur Kaymov was back on the scoresheet for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on Wednesday. He had a pair of assists during a 4-3 overtime loss to Avangard Omsk to snap his four-game pointless streak. The Blackhawks’ 2016 second-round pick has 12 goals and 33 points in 52 KHL games.
- Victor Stjernborg hasn’t been an offensive juggernaut by any means this season for Växjö Lakers HC. He did pick up an assist in last Thursday’s overtime loss to Skelleftea AIK. It was his sixth assist of the season but his second in five games.
- Top 2023 draft prospect Matvei Michkov had two more points this past week. He had a goal in Monday’s 3-1 victory over Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk and followed that up with an assist in Thursday’s 6-5 overtime loss to SKA St. Petersburg. Since being loaned to HK Sochi, he has eight goals and 15 points in 25 games. He was unable to crack the SKA St. Petersburg KHL roster, so he is making the most of this opportunity. According to Cam Robinson of Elite Prospects, Michkov’s 0.58 points-per-game average is the highest ever for a draft-eligible player in KHL history.
- Another European draft prospect to keep an eye on regarding the Blackhawks’ second first-round pick is Swedish forward Otto Stenberg. The 5-foot-11, 17-year-old has played center and wing for Frölunda HC in the SHL. He has a goal and an assist in 19 games of minimal minutes. He fits the Kyle Davidson mold, as he has excellent speed and is dynamic in the transitional game. He would help the Blackhawks get the puck up the ice quickly if he were ever to play in Chicago. Stenberg has great hands and vision and could be a great asset to set up an elite goal score, perhaps Bedard.