Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate CHGO Sports Community!

Blackhawks Rebuild Report: Road to the Frozen Four Begins

Mario Tirabassi Avatar
March 23, 2023

It’s officially crunch time for the Chicago Blackhawks prospects as the CHL regular seasons come to a close, the NCAA tournament begins, and the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs inch closer. There’s plenty for Blackhawks fans to keep track of in the prospect system, with tons of college players vying for a National Championship, the IceHogs in the AHL playoff hunt, and nearly every CHL prospect locked into a playoff spot. Without any more ado, let’s open Mario and Greg’s latest Rebuild Report notebooks!

Mario’s Notebook: Cawlidge Hawkey!

  • It’s tournament time! No, not the March Madness, that’s already fully underway, and like most of the country, my bracket was busted in just a few hours of basketball. That’s why I’m here talking hockey. No, it’s the Frozen Four that I’m talking about. The 16 best College Hockey programs fighting for the National Championship.
  • Here’s how the bracket shakes down and a reminder that Blackhawks fans will hear a familiar voice on the NCAA broadcasts as Colby Cohen will be a part of the college coverage.
  • Here’s a rundown of the Blackhawks’ NCAA prospects and who they face in the opening round:
    Dominic Basse (St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota State) – Thursday, March 23, 4:00 p.m. CT
    Aidan Thompson (Denver vs. Cornell) – Thursday, March 23, 4:30 p.m. CT
    Drew Commesso (Boston vs. Western Michigan) – Thursday, March 23, 1:00 p.m. CT
    Ryan Greene (Boston vs. Western Michigan) – Thursday, March 23, 1:00 p.m. CT
    Frank Nazar (Michigan vs. Colgate) – Friday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. CT
    Slava Demin (Merrimack vs. Quinnipiac) – Friday, March 24, 4:30 p.m. CT
    Jake Wise (Ohio State vs. Harvard) – Friday, March 24, 1:00 p.m. CT
  • So, how did we get here?
  • For starters, Boston might not be in the position they are without the goaltending heroics of Drew Commesso against Providence in the Hockey East semifinals!
  • After getting by Providence in the semifinals, Boston faced Merrimack in the Hockey East final and needed overtime. Tied 2-2 in the extra frame, Lane Hutson scored the game-winner and gave Boston the Hockey East tournament title!
  • Following the game, Commesso spoke about what it meant to him to win the tournament in Boston’s TD Garden as a Massachusetts local.
  • A great showing for him and Ryan Greene in the tournament and this season. Commesso was named to the Hockey East All-Tournament team for his efforts. Now they begin their quest for a National Championship against Western Michigan.
  • Staying in Michigan, one of the heavy favorites to win the whole thing, the Michigan Wolverines went back-to-back in the Big Ten Tournament with another win over Minnesota in the Final. Blackhawks 2022 13th overall pick Frank Nazar joined the team late in the season after having surgery and gets to end his regular season with a Big Ten tournament title!
  • Adam Fantilli also had a big hand in Michigan, going back-to-back over Minnesota, setting tournament scoring records, and being named the tournament MVP.
  • Not too shabby.
  • Michigan begins its quest for a National Title against Colgate.
  • If you’re looking for an in-depth look at all the top prospects to watch in the upcoming tournament, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski has you covered, including upcoming unsigned NCAA free agents.
  • For a look at the broader 2023 NHL Draft Class, here’s the latest from Steven Ellis of Daily Faceoff.
  • As Steven’s tweet says, yes, Connor Bedard is amazing.
  • His season total in the WHL to date is 70 goals and 142 points in 55 games with the Regina Pats. If you add his totals from the World Junior Championships, Bedard has tallied 79 goals and 165 points in 62 combined games. A 2.66 point-per-game pace for his draft year.
  • That’s insane.
  • Speaking of insane, Blackhawks 2023 third-round pick, Gavin Hayes is having himself quite the run to end the OHL season. He added four more goals this past week and is up to 40 on the season, with 78 points in total in 65 games.
  • Hayes is second on the Flint Firebirds in points and goals this season. He has 17 points in eight games in March and 33 points in 20 games since the beginning of February.
  • Also on a tear in the OHL is Blackhawks defensive prospect Ethan Del Mastro. Continuing the highly productive season he began in Mississauga, now with the Sarnia Sting, Del Mastro has 12 points in eight games in March and has recorded at least one point in 12 of his last 16 games. In those 16 games, Del Mastro has seven multi-point efforts.
  • The scouting report on Del Mastro has always been highlighted by his physical gifts and his defensively-solid game as a youngster. This season has really seen a jump in his offensive progression in his game. He’ll likely never be running an NHL power play, but if he could pan out to be “Seabrook-like” in his overall game, I’m sure Blackhawks fans would be more than happy with that progression.
  • Another Blackhawks defensive prospect that is not the most offensively gifted is Nolan Allan. But no one tell him since he’s on a goal-scoring streak now.
  • With a goal on Tuesday and Wednesday night this week, Allan has 11 on the season. He’s up to 27 points in 55 WHL games this year between his time with Prince Albert and Seattle. Since the beginning of February, Allan had just seven points in 20 games, and all seven were spread across three games. Allan has had two goals and three points in his past two contests. A good time for him to get hot for Seattle.
  • Speaking of getting hot at the right time, Colton Dach is back in the Seattle lineup after missing about two weeks with an injury. In his second game back in the lineup on Wednesday night, Dach tallied two goals and an assist in the Thunderbirds’ 6-5 loss to Kamloops.
  • The Thunderbirds are already locked into the top seed in the WHL when the playoffs begin, but they will need everyone pulling their weight to make a deep WHL playoffs run, including Dach.
  • They will also need Kevin Korchinski to keep doing what he is doing. He recorded an assist on Tuesday night but was held off the scoresheet on Wednesday night. He’s up to nine goals and 69 points this season in 53 WHL games. Nice.
  • Korchinski has points in 26 of his last 31 games since returning to Seattle from the World Junior Championships and has not gone back-to-back games without getting his name on the scoresheet since games November 12 and 19, and those are the only two back-to-back games without him recording a point this year.
  • While Del Mastro may never lead an NHL power play, Korchinski should eventually be the “quarterback” for the Blackhawks’ top power-play unit. One can hope.
  • I know this isn’t inherently a “prospect” story but stick with me. On Wednesday afternoon, the story broke that the Blackhawks would not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys for their March 25 Pride Night events.
  • Citing concerns for security of their Russian players and those players’ families, the Blackhawks decided not to wear the theme night warmups but will continue with all other previously scheduled events for this upcoming Sunday night’s Pride Night game.
  • I don’t like it.
  • Feel how you want about it.
  • I was given a glimpse of hope for a better future of inclusiveness in the NHL and hockey as a whole for the LGBTQ+ community by a group of young players, with a trio of Blackhawks involved.
  • On Tuesday night in Seattle, the Thunderbirds hosted the Kamloops Blazers. The Thunderbirds team would not be holding a Pride Night this season, but their Seattle fanbase organized their own Pride Night to celebrate and make an inclusive space for their LGBTQ+ fans.
  • That’s awesome from the fans. What made it better was that, even though not a team-organized event, the Thunderbirds players showed their support with players using Pride Tape during warmups and several players using the tape in the game as well. One of those players was Kevin Korchinski.
  • Why is Korchinski, Allan, Dach, and the rest of the Thunderbirds’ support important? They are all teammates with Luke Prokop, a Nashville Predators draft pick and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Prokop will likely eventually be the first actively open gay NHL player.
  • With the recent surge of NHL teams backing out of their Pride Night-themed warmup jersey plans, now with the Blackhawks included, Prokop shared his thoughts and feelings on the situation from the perspective of a player and member of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • We spoke to Jalen Luypen this past summer, another Blackhawks prospect and former teammate of Prokop, about Luke as a player, teammate, and person, and he had amazing things to say about how he impacts the guys around him.
  • There is work to be done across the board in the hockey and NHL communities to be more open and inclusive to all fans and players, but I feel a bit of hope for that future as a new generation of players make their way to the NHL and populate the sport and league.
  • Hockey is amazing. Everyone should feel like the sport is a space where they can be themselves and enjoy every aspect.

Greg’s Notebook: IceHogs Grab Four Points, European Prospects Producing

  • The Rockford IceHogs hosted the Colorado Eagles over the weekend in a rare visit from the Colorado Avalanche’s farm club. Michal Teply opened the scoring four minutes into the game by stuffing home a rebound off a Luke Philp shot. The Eagles got goals from Charles Hudon and Gustav Rydahl late in the frame to take a 2-1 lead into the first break. In his 300th professional game, Brett Seney tied the score early in the second period. He scored his 19th goal of the season with a one-timer on the power play off a pass from Jakub Galvas. David Gust picked up his second assist of the night on the play. Colorado answered 39 seconds later with a goal from Mikhail Maltsev. The visitors pulled away in the third period for a 6-2 win after a goal from Beaucage and back-to-back strikes by Spencer Smallman. Jaxson Stauber struggled in the crease, giving up six goals on 34 shots.
  • The IceHogs got revenge in Saturday’s rematch with a 3-2 overtime win over the Eagles. Smallman picked up right where he left off by giving Colorado a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into the game. Zach Jordan scored his first goal with the IceHogs to even up the score 62 seconds later. The first period ended with the score tied a 1-1 and 28 total penalty minutes dished out. Philp struck on the power play nine minutes into the middle frame. However, the Eagles had a quick response as Rydahl scored on the man advantage too three minutes later. The IceHogs headed to overtime for the AHL-leading 23rd time this season after a scoreless third period. In the final minute of extra time, Galvus intercepted a pass and set up Gust’s game-winning goal, his 25th tally of the season. Arvid Soderblom was solid in goal, making 33 saves for his ninth win in Rockford.
  • On Monday, the IceHogs recalled forward Colin Bilek and defenseman Koletrane Wilson from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.
  • The IceHogs headed north of the border for a midweek game at the Manitoba Moose on Wednesday night. Soderblom had another great night between the pipes to lead the way to a 4-3 shootout win. Jansen Harkins started his big night by giving the Moose a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Philp responded just before the first intermission to even things up. The second period mirrored the first, as Gust gave the IceHogs a late 2-1 lead only to be answered by Ville Heinola. Rocco Grimaldi scored his second goal with the IceHogs, putting them up with less than six minutes to play. The game went overtime after Harkins scored on the power play with just 10 seconds left in regulation. Dominic Toninato was awarded a penalty shot in extra time, but Soderblom came up with one of his 43 saves on the night to keep the game going. Grimaldi had the lone goal of the shootout to give the IceHogs the extra point in the standings.
  • Keeping an eye on the prospects, Alex Vlasic had a nice week. The rookie defenseman had two assists against Manitoba and was a plus-2 in the three games. Teply was critical to Rockford’s late-season success a year ago but has struggled for much of this season. He has picked up his game of late with most of the top scorers out of the lineup. In his last dozen games, Teply has three goals and eight points. Soderblom has played his way out of the midseason funk he was in. He has made at least 30 saves in each of his last eight starts. He has a 2.46 goals-against average (GAA) and a .929 save percentage (SV%) in that span.
  • Grimaldi still has scored the most goals this year with 29. Gust leads with 26 scored for Rockford and leads the team with 29 assists. Galvas leads all defensemen with 24 assists and 26 points. Alec Regula leads the blueliners with five goals. Philp has nine power-play goals, the most on the team.
  • The IceHogs are still in Manitoba and will play the Moose again Friday night. They will have a week off before hosting the Laval Rocket on March 31. They are sitting in the fifth and final playoff spot with 69 points. They are tied with the Iowa Wild, who has played one more game than Rockford. The Moose are in third place with 75 points. The Texas Stars still lead the Central Division with 79 points, followed by the Milwaukee Admirals with 77. The top three teams get a bye into the Division Semifinals, while fourth and fifth place play a best-of-three series to see who plays the Central champ.
  • Heading to Russia, where the KHL playoffs are ongoing, both Blackhawks prospects are in good shape. Ilya Safonov and Ak Bars Kazan have a 3-1 series lead over Admiral Vladivostik. The 2021 sixth-round pick has a goal in the four games.
  • On the other side of the bracket, Artur Kayumov and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl are down 2-1 to CSKA Moscow. The elder statesman of the Blackhawks prospect pool has picked up an assist in the last two games, including in the 6-2 Game 3 victory to get on the board. He also has 10 shots on goal.
  • Antti Saarela and Lukko are in serious trouble in the Liiga playoffs. They are down 3-0 to sixth-seeded HIFK in their best-of-seven quarterfinal series. Saarela has two goals and 15 shots through the three games, so he is doing his part.
  • Finally, in Sweden, Victor Stjernborg and the top-seeded Växjö Lakers have a 3-1 lead on Luleå HF and are one win away from the SHL Semifinals. The Blackhawks’ 2021 fourth-round pick has three assists in the last two games, including two in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win.
  • Looking at the top European prospects in the 2023 NHL Draft class, Swedish forward Leo Carlsson was named the Junior Player of the Year in Sweden this year following his breakout season in the SHL.
  • Of course there has been a ton of focus on guys like Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard amongst Blackhawks fans for the upcoming draft, but there is a very real chance that Carlsson may end up being selected by the Blackhawks. He’s currently slotted to go after both Bedard and Fantilli, but the gap in the scouting community between Carlsson and Fantilli is shrinking.
  • The other likely European prospect on the Blackhawks radar is KHL young star Matvei Michkov. He’s thought to be the second-best player in the 2023 Draft Class, but his contract status in the KHL (signed through the 2025-26 season with SKA St. Petersburg) has some teams apprehensive to being patient for his NHL arrival, if he were to ever leave Russia.
  • But there’s no denying that, if a team were to roll the dice on Michkov and he were to come to North America, it’s likely the wait would be worth it.
  • In 27 KHL games on loan to HC Sochi, Michkov finished this season with nine goals and 20 points, including four goals and seven points in five KHL playoff games before his season ended.
  • There’s a real chance the Blackhawks end up with the fourth pick in the Draft this year, so it will be very interesting to see what the organization would do it that becomes a reality.

Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article