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This is a very exciting time of year. It is very hard to fall asleep at night with all the anticipation in the air. No, we aren’t talking about a visit from Santa Claus, but rather the start of the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships. This is the best time of year for the future stars of the NHL. Our resident prospect experts, Mario Tirabassi, and Greg Boysen, have all the information you need heading into the big tournament, plus your weekly update on all things Rockford IceHogs.
Mario’s Notebook: All Eyes On Blackhawks Canadian Quartet
- It’s finally here! It’s World Junior Championships season. In a Blackhawks season filled with sadness and talks of looking to the future, starting on the Monday after Christmas, Blackhawks fans will finally see “the future” on full display in the biggest Junior tournament of the year.
- Five Blackhawks prospects will participate in the tournament, with four playing for the defending Gold Medal-winning Canadian team. Nolan Allan, Kevin Korchinski, Colton Dach, and Ethan Del Mastro will suit up for the Canadians and give fans in Chicago a glimpse into what is ahead for the organization. One player that hasn’t grabbed a lot of headlines, but I believe Blackhawks fans should be falling in love with, is former fourth-round draft pick Del Mastro.
- He doesn’t play a flashy style of hockey, being a physical and defensive-minded defenseman, but Del Mastro brings a lot to the table on and off the ice that makes a difference on whichever team he plays for. Here he was mic’d up for a day of training with Team Canada.
- His physical stature, mixed with a touch of offensive play-driving and skating ability, make him a prospect that could become a long-term NHLer. What helps him stand out is his leadership abilities. Del Mastro is serving his second season as the captain of the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL this year and was named to the Canadian leadership group for this year’s World Juniors tournament.
- Del Mastro stood out during this past summer’s prospect camp, and during the training camp as one of the more physically NHL-ready prospects the Blackhawks have had in a while. He is also returning to the Canadian lineup after being a part of the Gold Medal-winning squad from this past summer’s World Junior Championships 2022 redo.
- Did I mention he plays a physical game?
- After years of investing in smaller, more offensive-minded defensemen who didn’t pan out, I’m excited to see a player like Del Mastro in the Blackhawks’ defensive pipeline.
- Add Allan to that list as well.
- Allan was considered a reach when he was selected at the end of the first round in the 2021 NHL Draft. But as he has progressed in his development path in the WHL, the complete game for Allan has come along. He was the Captain of the Prince Albert Raiders earlier this season before being traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds and became teammates with fellow Blackhawks prospect Korchinski. He has 14 points in 23 combined WHL games this season.
- Another WHL player, Blackhawks prospect, and member of Team Canada is a former second-round pick, Dach. After being a surprising addition to the Canadian roster for the upcoming tournament, Dach has likely become the 13th forward for Canada but was in the lineup for the second of two exhibition warm-up games. He scored the opening goal in a 6-1 win over Slovakia.
- Great to see Dach making the most of his opportunity to fight for ice time on a loaded Canadian roster.
- We’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on our CHGO Blackhawks shows that the organization doesn’t have “NHL-caliber” prospects in their farm system. I don’t know what those people are looking at, but I disagree with them.
- To sum up what these charts and numbers mean: these four Canadian prospects will be pretty good players when it’s all said and done.
- These four likely will be a part of the Blackhawks in the next handful of years. People always ask, “when does (prospect X) make it to the NHL?” It’s very hard to predict that with most prospects. Not every prospect or top draft pick will be Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, or Connor McDavid. You’re going to have to practice patience.
- Unless, of course, that prospect for Chicago ends up being Connor Bedard.
- This little tickle became the talk of Hockey Twitter for a hot minute, and I’ll say that I love seeing this from a young player who knows he will dominate the upcoming tournament. Bedard already has a World Junior Gold Medal in his trophy case, and he’s likely to add another on his way to being the top overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Again, hopefully for Chicago.
- The Blackhawks have at least two first-round picks in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft. If they don’t add any more, they will own their first-round pick (likely in the top three) and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first pick. If that second first-round pick ends up in the late teens or into the 20s, a player I’d like the Blackhawks to really look into is U.S. prospect, Charlie Stramel.
- He’s scored twice in the two warm-up games for Team USA ahead of the World Juniors and will play a depth role for the U.S. side. Stramel’s draft stock has taken a hit since the first round of rankings came out about two months ago. He has been described as a linebacker who plays hockey with his physical stature being so impressive for a player his age. But that power-forward style of play hasn’t had a great opportunity to shine at an abysmal University of Wisconsin program. The upcoming tournament is a prime opportunity for a player like Stramel to stand out in his draft year.
- Another U.S. prospect that is standing out is 2022 first-round pick Sam Rinzel.
- Einzel was part of Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge last week, held in Ontario, Canada. The defenseman played top minutes for a U.S. team that won Gold over the Canada East squad, a game in which he had two assists.
- Rinzel is still considered a long-term project player for the Blackhawks, and he has plenty of time to become a more well-rounded NHL prospect. He is currently playing in the USHL with the Waterloo Black Hawks and is committed to playing for the University of Minnesota next season.
- Outside of the World Junior world of hockey, all of the Major Junior programs in North America have hit their holiday breaks. Seen as the halfway point of the season for those leagues, the OHL looked back at some of the best assists of the year so far, and landing on the top spot is Blackhawks prospect Paul Ludwinski.
- Making his season debut right before the holiday break was former seventh-round pick Jalen Luypen. After missing all of the offseason and the beginning of the regular season because of shoulder surgery, Luypen recorded an assist and his first goal of the season with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL last weekend.
- I’m really excited to see Luypen back. He’s a player with an outside chance at making some noise once he turns pro. Few seventh-round draft picks earn entry-level contracts at this point in their young development.
- Speaking of Ludwinski, by the way, he sent the Kingston Frontenacs into the holiday break feeling good after a two-goal performance that also saw him net the game-winning goal.
- The NCAA went into the holiday break with a pair of Blackhawks prospects getting two wins and two assists each for their programs. At Ohio State, Captain Jake Wise recorded two assists in the final two games before the break in wins over Bowling Green. Blackhawks prospect Adian Thompson also had a pair of assists as Denver University notched two wins last weekend.
- As we head into the World Junior Championships, we were able to have FloHockey’s Chris Peters join the CHGO Blackhawks podcast to get an idea of where these Blackhawks prospects are as the tournament begins and who to pay attention to when it comes to the 2023 draft-eligible players. Find the interview here!
- Enjoy the holiday break, and make sure not to miss the World Junior Championships starting on December 26!
Greg’s Notebook: Rockford IceHogs drop in the standings after four-game week
- The biggest Rockford IceHogs news of the week came before they began a rare four-game week. On Friday, the team announced that defenseman Alex Vlasic would miss six weeks with a right fibula fracture. The 21-year-old defenseman has a goal, six points, and a plus-13 rating in 21 AHL games.
- The IceHogs busy week started with a rare visit from the Toronto Marlies on Friday night. Isaak Phillips started things early with his third goal of the season just 48 seconds into the game. The Marlies got goals from Noel Hoefenmayer and Nick Abruzzese in the first half of the middle frame. Cole Guttman’s ninth tally tied the game just before the second intermission. Toronto got goals from Joseph Blandisi and Mikhail Abramov 29 seconds apart with less than nine minutes to play to grab a 4-2 lead. Brett Seney, who had a goal waived-off in the first period, cut the deficit to just one with just over two minutes to play, but the Marlies hung on for the 4-3 victory. Jaxson Stauber made 27 saves in his first start after returning from the Blackhawks.
- The Hartford Wolf Pack rolled into town riding a three-game winning streak for their first-ever visit to the BMO Center. The IceHogs used a big second period to earn a 3-2 win a sweep the two-game season series with the New York Rangers affiliate. Matthew Robertson scored the lone of the opening frame to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Early in the middle period, D.J. Busdecker tied the game with his first goal of the season. Michal Teply followed that up with a power-play goal just 56 seconds later. Turner Elson tied the game less than three minutes after the Teply tally. With less than a minute left before the second intermission, Filip Roos scored his second goal in three games. It held up as the game-winner as Dylan Wells made 13 of his 38 saves in the third period to nail down the victory.
- Before the team traveled to the Lone Star State, the Blackhawks made some roster moves on Monday. Goaltender Alex Stalock was activated off injured reserve, which meant Arvid Söderblom headed back to Rockford. Also, defenseman Jarred Tinordi was placed on injured reserve with facial fractures, so Phillips was recalled to the big club.
- Söderblom’s first AHL game since opening weekend did not go well for the second-year netminder. He allowed five goals on 12 shots and was pulled midway through the second period of Tuesday night’s 6-1 loss at the Texas Stars. Jacob Peterson gave Texas a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Soderblom was bombarded by goals from Riley Damiani, Tanner Kero, Marian Stundenic, and Riley Barber before his night ended. Stauber made a relief appearance and quickly surrendered a second goal to Stundenic. He recovered and stopped eight of the nine shots he faced. Buddy Robinson spoiled Stars’ goaltender Anton Kuhdobin’s shutout bid with an early third-period goal. Roos had the primary assist on the play for his first AHL helper.
- Wednesday night’s rematch in Texas went much better for the IceHogs as they used some late-game magic to pull off a 3-2 overtime win. Alec Regula gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead with a power-play goal. Robinson and Lukas Reichel assisted the defenseman’s third goal of the season. Former Chicago Wolves captain Curtis McKenzie tied the game on the man advantage five minutes later. The special teams success carried over to the second period when Studenic struck on the power play to give the Stars a 2-1 lead. With less than three minutes to play, Busdecker set up Reichel for the game-tying goal. Overtime lasted only 56 seconds, but it was packed with excitement. Moments after Wells made a great save to keep the game alive, David Gust fired a wrist shot past Khudobin to earn the extra point.
- On Thursday, the IceHogs announced that Mike Folta is the team’s new play-by-play announcer and manager of hockey communications and broadcasting. He has large shoes to fill after Joseph Zakrzewski and the IceHogs parted ways in early November. Folta will make his broadcasting debut on Jan. 3
- Gust leads the team with 14 goals. Seney, Reichel, and Luke Philp are all tied for second with 12. Seney leads with 20 assists and 32 points. Reichel is right behind him with 19 helpers and 31 points.
- The IceHogs have fallen to fourth place in the Central Division. They are tied with the Manitoba Moose with 33 points. The Stars have used their nine-game point streak to overtake the Milwaukee Admirals for first place. They lead the division with 39 points, four more than the Admirals’ 34. Five teams will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs out of the Central Division. Rockford has put some distance between them and the sixth-place Grand Rapids Griffins, who have 21 points. The Wolves, the reigning Calder Cup champions, are bringing up the rear with 18 points.
- Rockford will travel to Rosemont to take on the Wolves on Friday night. They return home to host the Griffins on Wednesday, Dec. 28. This upcoming week is an excellent chance to earn four points against the bottom two teams in the division.
- Chad Yetman returned to action for the Indy Fuel over the weekend after missing the previous two weeks. He had four goals and six points in three games. On Tuesday, he signed a professional tryout contract (PTO) with the Cleveland Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was in the lineup for that night’s 4-3 loss to the Utica Comets.
- Vitor Stjernborg is getting ready to represent Sweden at the World Junior Championships. Not only was he named captain, but he is also centering the team’s top line. Sweden lost 5-1 to the United States in a pre-tournament game on Wednesday.
- KHL All-Star Ilya Safonov was back in action this week. He picked an assist and had a fighting major in Monday’s 3-1 loss to Kunlun Red Star. The Blackhawks 2021 sixth-round pick has 11 goals and 21 points in 39 games for Ak Bars Kazan.
- Riku Tohila is back in Finland’s top U20 league after a brief stint in Mestis, the Finnish equivalent of the AHL. He had a pair of goals and 10 shots on goal in Friday night’s 4-3 win over TPS. In 29 games for JYP’s U20 squad, the 6-foot-8 center has 17 goals and 21 points.
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