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Oh, we are SO BACK!
The Rebuild Report, that is. The Blackhawks … they’re still years away from truly being “back.” But since we last spoke to you on these here Rebuild Report pages, the Blackhawks are closer to the end of the rebuild process, and much of that can be attributed to winning the NHL Draft Lottery and getting Connor Bedard.
As we move forward into the 2023-24 season, the focus is no longer on getting Bedard and having him be the accelerator of the rebuilding process. That part of the plan is done. Now, we focus on the parts around Bedard in the organization as GM Kyle Davidson continues to build a team from the bottom-up in the organization to hopefully replicate and extend the window of success the Blackhawks enjoyed in the late 2000s and 2010s.
This season’s Blackhawks have a few more players on the NHL roster that matter when it comes to the rebuild, like Bedard, Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, and Lukas Reichel, so we’ll caution you that you won’t be hearing about them that much in the Rebuild Reports this year — barring the unlikely events of any of them being sent down to the Rockford IceHogs or back to their respective Junior clubs.
Instead, this year’s edition of the Rebuild Report will have a different feel to it as a number of the Junior and NCAA prospects have graduated from Mario’s beat (CHL and NCAA) to Greg’s beat (Europe and Rockford IceHogs).
Also, a new crop of draft picks have entered the fray — players who are already making major impacts on their NCAA, CHL, and European clubs.
Without any further ado, here’s the first edition of the Chicago Blackhawks Rebuild Report for the 2023-24 season!
Mario Tirabassi: ‘Speed Kills’ as Frank Nazar and Oliver Moore takeoff to begin NCAA season
After the dust started to settle on the draft floor around the Blackhawks selecting Bedard first overall at the NHL Draft last June, Davidson began trying his best to move up in the first round to make sure he could get Oliver Moore. Even though he was unable to get any teams to bite on moving down for the Blackhawks, Moore still fell right into his lap at the 19th pick.
Boy, does that look incredibly lucky right about now.
- Moore is a true freshman at the University of Minnesota this season, a team that lost Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies from their roster last season. The opportunity for Moore to step into a big role for the Gophers was there to begin the season, and he has run with it. Regarded as the best skater in the 2023 NHL Draft class, Moore has six points in his first four NCAA games with one goal and five assists.
- Moore and his Blackhawks prospect teammate Sam Rinzel, who has three assists in four games for Minnesota, have the team ranked No. 1 in the country.
Frank Nazar is another speedster up-front in the Blackhawks organization who is looking more and more like a future key to the rebuild. He already had those expectations last season after being picked 13th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. But after missing nearly his entire freshman season at Michigan last year, Nazar has a lot to prove this season in a top-six role for the Wolverines. After the program lost Adam Fantilli, Luke Hughes, and Mackie Samoskevich, Nazar is taking his opportunity to be a leader for the Michigan program.
- In six games to start the season, Nazar has four points and is part of a five-way tie for second on the team in goals. Michigan is currently ranked No. 6 in the NCAA.
Staying in the Big Ten, the Notre Dame program is being led this season by senior captain and Blackhawks 2020 third-round draft pick Landon Slaggert. There was some speculation that Slaggert could have turned pro after last season with Notre Dame, a season that saw him deal with a number of injuries and a career-low 13 points in 35 games.
- Slaggert returned for a fourth season to play for the Irish under his head coach and dad, Andy Slaggert, and to play with his younger brother Carter after having the chance to play with his older brother Graham previously. Hard to argue with those choices.
- The middle Slaggert child is off to a good goal-scoring start for the Irish, with three goals in his first five games of the season.
- If I’m handicapping it, I’ll be shocked if Slaggert AND Nazar are not playing professionally for the Blackhawks organization in April.
Unfortunate news right at the beginning of the NCAA season for Minnesota-Duluth’s Dominic James as he sustained a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery in the second game of the season.
Another 2023 NHL Draft pick not named Bedard to keep tabs on this season is Martin Mišiak.
- A second-round pick by the Blackhawks from the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL, Mišiak came over State-side from Slovakia last year to join the Phantoms and helped them win the Clark Cup. Following being selected by the Blackhawks 55th overall, Mišiak was selected first overall in the CHL Import Draft by the OHL’s Erie Otters.
- In ten games with the Otters to begin the year, Mišiak has four goals and nine points, good for a tie for second on the club in scoring.
Nick Lardis has six goals in his first eight games of the year. He was selected by the Blackhawks in the second round last summer and is starting the season with the OHL’s Brantford Bulldogs.
- Lardis was picked 67th overall by Chicago and was widely regarded as a steal for the club at that position. He tallied 37 goals and 65 points in 69 OHL games last season, splitting time between Hamilton/Brantford and the Peterborough Petes.
Expect to hear A LOT about the OHL this season from me in these Rebuild Reports because that is the only CHL league that the Blackhawks have any prospects playing in this season in Canada.
- The WHL was populated by Colton Dach, Nolan Allan, Korchinski, and Jalen Luypen last season, but all have turned pro, and it looks less and less likely as the NHL season continues that Korchinski is headed back to “the dub” anytime soon.
- The other CHL league that will be unpopulated by the Blackhawks prospect system this year is the QMJHL after Gatineau’s Marcel Marcel signed an AHL contract this offseason after being selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the draft and Samuel Savoie’s season was ended with a broken femur in the preseason.
- Finally, if you’re new to the Rebuild Report, we don’t only focus on the Blackhawks’ current prospects but also on players who could join the ranks of the Chicago prospect system in the future. Players who are 2024 NHL Draft-eligible and playing in North America that will be of great interest to Blackhawks fans this season include names like Macklin Celebrini (Boston University), Cole Eiserman (USNTDP), Sam Dickinson (London Knights), Berkly Catton (Spokane Chiefs), Henry Mews (Ottawa 67s), and Cole Hutson (USNTDP), just to name a few.
Greg Boysen: IceHogs Off to Slow Start, European Prospects Fill the Scoresheet
The Rockford IceHogs are off to a 1-2-0 start to their American Hockey League (AHL) season. They started by swapping 7-2 decisions at the San Jose Barracuda before dropping their home opener to the Chicago Wolves 5-3 last Saturday night. They will be at the BMO Center all weekend with games against the Iowa Wild on Friday and the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday.
- Through three games, it is a pair of AHL veterans who are leading the way. Joey Anderson has two goals and six points, while David Gust has a pair of goals and five points.
- Rockford’s blue line is stacked with defensive prospects this season. Despite allowing 14 goals already, the young group is off to a solid start. Isaak Phillips leads the way with a goal and an assist, both coming on the power play. In fact, he is the only IceHogs defenseman with a point in the young season. Ethan Del Mastro, Nolan Allan, Filip Roos, and Louis Crevier have yet to find the scoresheet.
- Ryder Rolston scored his first professional goal in the season-opening win over the Barracuda. Jaylen Luypen picked up his first AHL point with the primary assist on the play. He added a second helper later in the game.
- Michal Teply is back for his third season with the IceHogs. It’s hard to imagine that he is still in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans, but a huge season could change that. We have seen flashes of Teply being a very good offensive threat the last two seasons, but consistency has been lacking. He scored a goal in the opening-night win in San Jose.
- Cole Guttman, who was sent back to Rockford last Saturday morning, picked up an assist in the loss to the Wolves. He spent the game centering the IceHogs’ top line.
- Drew Commesso, who switched his number from 29 to 33, has started two of the three games this season. He is 1-1-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average (GAA) and a .908 save percentage (SV%). Jaxson Stauber had a rough outing in San Jose, allowing seven goals on 49 shots for a .857 SV%.
Let’s start our trip across Europe in Sweden, where a trio of recent draft picks are playing. The veteran of the group, 20-year-old Victor Stjernborn, is playing full-time in the SHL for Vaxjo Lakers HC. He scored a goal for the defending champions’ most recent victory. Overall, the 2021 fourth-round draft pick has two goals and an assist in 11 games while averaging over 13 minutes a night.
- Milton Oscarson, a member of the most recent draft class, is in his second full season in the SHL with Orebro HK. The 6-foot-7 forward has a goal and an assist in 12 games. He has 10 shots on goal while playing about 14 minutes per outing.
- Nils Juntorp is back in his native Sweden after spending last season in the USHL. The 2022 sixth-round pick has a goal and three points in seven games for Kristianstads IK in HockeyEttan, Sweden’s third-tier league.
- Heading over to Russia, Ilya Safonov is looking to build off a breakout 2022-23 KHL season. He got off to a slow start for Ak Bars Kazan but picked it up of late. Since Oct. 1, he has four goals and seven points in 10 games.
- Roman Kantserov has started his first full season in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk after just one game in Russia’s top league last season. The 2023 second-round pick has started to find the scoresheet on a consistent basis after struggling early. He had two goals and five points in 20 games. Highlights like the one below show you exactly why the front office is excited about his potential, and you should be too.
- Riku Tohila has split his season between Finland’s top professional league and the U20 team. In 6 Liiga games for JYP, the 6-foot-8 center has no points. He has three goals and an assist in seven U20 games. The ice time differential is significant. The 2022 seventh-round pick is playing over 16 minutes a night at the U20 level but only about nine minutes in Liiga.
- Defenseman Janne Peltonen, drafted in the seventh round of the most recent draft, is also playing in Finland’s U20 league. In 17 games for Karpat U20, he has two goals and seven points while being a plus-4. The young blueliner is playing big minutes, playing over 21 minutes multiple times this season.
- Michael Krutil, still under contract with HC Sparta Praha, has been bouncing around the top two tiers of Czechia hockey. He’s had the most success in his native country’s equivalent to the AHL, with a goal and six points in eight games for HC Stadion Litomerice.
- Finally, let’s stop in Switzerland to check up on 2023 third-rounder Jiri Felcman. He’s made a brief appearance in both the NL and SL but has spent the most time in the U20-Elit league. He’s been an offensive force with five goals and 12 points in 10 games for Langnau U20.
That’s it for today! Remember to become a CHGO Diehard to get access to these Rebuild Reports all season long!
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