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While this time of year gets most people excited about holiday lights, giving gifts, and egg nog, the real treat for fans of hockey prospects comes at the end of December. We are less than a month away from the start of the 2023 World Junior Championship, and the Chicago Blackhawks should be well represented. We put a WJC flare to this week’s “Rebuild Report.” As always, Mario Tirabassi has the North American junior and college ranks covered, while Greg Boysen gets you up to date on those prospects playing professionally around the globe.
Mario’s Notebook: Blackhawks Trio Could Lead Canadian Defense
- The calendar has officially turned to December, which means we are that much closer to the return of the Men’s World Junior Championships to their regularly scheduled post-Christmas timeframe. Last summer, it was the Canadians claiming Gold in the August World Juniors redo tournament after the originally scheduled 2022 tournament was COVID-ed out.
- Part of that summer Gold-winning side for Canada was defensive prospect Ethan Del Mastro. After joining the team as an injury replacement, Del Mastro worked his way into a regular lineup position and never let it go. While he didn’t register a point, he played a physical game and a shutdown role for a Canadian team that was not void of offensive talent.
- For the upcoming 2023 tournament, it would SHOCK me if Del Mastro didn’t return to the Canadian lineup to play that same role. He has two goals and 17 points in 20 OHL games this season as the Captain of the Mississauga Steelheads.
- Another player that would shock me if they were not part of the Canadian blue-line is 2022 first-round pick Kevin Korchinski. In a previous life, Korchinski would have “earned” a spot on the Blackhawks’ opening night roster for this season. But in this reality, Korchinski is back in the WHL after being one of the youngest, if not the youngest, draft-eligible players in the 2022 draft class.
- Korchinski has three goals and 26 points in 18 games this season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Earlier this month, TSN’s Craig Button had Korchinski penciled in to be on the top pairing for the defending Gold medalists. Of any Blackhawks prospect that is eligible to play in this year’s tournament, Korchinski is the biggest lock to be there.
- One player on the bubble for their country is Korchinski’s newest teammate in Seattle and his newest defensive partner, 2021 first-round pick Nolan Allan. After being traded from the Prince Albert Raiders to the Thunderbirds just over a week ago, Allan has registered a goal and two assists in his four games with his new WHL club. For the season, he has five goals and 14 points in 20 games.
- Allan plays a more physical and defensive-minded style compared to Korchinski’s more offense-first style. The two complement each other very well in Seattle, but I’m not sold that they will get the same opportunity with Team Canada. On the same projection from Craig Button, Nolan Allan was listed as a potential seventh defenseman for Canada. He’ll most definitely get invited to the World Junior Camp, but it’s close to 50-50 if he’ll make the final cuts.
- Seven goals and 14 points in 11 WHL games is a great stat line for Kelowna Rockets Captain and 2021 second-round pick Colton Dach. Unfortunately, a concussion early in the season derailed his long-shot chances at representing Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships. Dach was looking like an outside shot to make the team, but now he will continue to focus on helping the Rockets into the postseason picture as they sit in eighth place in the Western Conference through 21 games this season.
- Two players who are locks to play for Canada and are definitely fully back on the Blackhawks’ draft radar are Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard. Those two will likely be on a line together, and I cannot contain my excitement.
- Speaking of Bedard, he has been the center of WHL trade rumors this season as his club, the Regina Pats, looks to possibly miss the postseason despite having the top overall draft prospect playing at an incredible scoring pace. Head coach and GM John Paddock has had enough of said rumors surrounding Bedard.
- If I had Bedard on my team for a limited amount of time, I would try to squeeze every minute out of it that I could. I don’t blame him.
- On the U.S. side, a couple of months ago, it seemed like Frank Nazar was a lock to be a part of the World Junior squad after being one of the last cuts from the team back in August. But an injury that required surgery that derailed his first season at the University of Michigan takes him out of the running again this year. Nazar had his surgery, and the recovery timeline likely keeps him out the entire NCAA season.
- He was very likely the only Blackhawks prospect in the running for Team USA. But keep an eye out for 2023 draft class prospects Will Smith and Charlie Stramel if/when they make the team.
- While it appears the original plans for Nazar may have been to be a one-and-done at Michigan, he’ll certainly head back to school next season before being part of any future plans for the Blackhawks.
- Another U.S. prospect we are continuing to keep tabs on is another 2022 first-round pick in defenseman Sam Rinzel. In his first full year in the USHL, Rinzel is tied for his team lead in points for defensemen with 11 points in 17 games. He had ten points in 21 games last season as a late addition to the Waterloo Black Hawks club. Not this year, but maybe the 2024 U.S. team gives Rinzel a shot at a roster spot.
Greg’s Notebook: Production out of Europe as Rockford IceHogs continue to score
- I’ll start my half of the “Rebuild Report” in Sweden with the lone European prospect who will likely play in the World Junior Championship. Victor Stjernborg played on the Swedish team in last August’s WJC and the recent Five Nations tournament. The 19-year-old forward is a virtual lock to return for another crack at WJC gold. The 2021 fourth-rounder has three assists in 22 games for Växjö Lakers HC in Sweden’s top professional league.
- Next, we head to Finland, where 2020 seventh-round pick Riku Tohila continues to light it up in the top U20 league. The 6-foot-8 center scored two goals for JYP in their 6-1 win over Kiekko-Espoo on Saturday. He has 15 goals and 19 points in 25 games this season. Finland likes to bring veteran teams to the WJC, and at just 18, Tohila is a long shot at making the team this year but could be one to keep an eye on for the 2024 tournament.
- Antti Saarela finally returned to game action on Nov. 16 after missing about a month of the season. He has yet to find the scoresheet in his first four games back for Lukko, but the points should start coming with more playing time.
- Ilya Safonov had another productive week for Ak Bars Kazan in Russia’s KHL. He had a goal in Sunday’s 6-2 win over HK Sochi. The 2021 sixth-round pick followed that up with a pair of helpers during Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to Sibir Novosibirsk. The 21-year-old forward has 11 goals and 18 points in 33 games.
- Regarding European prospects for the upcoming draft class, Leo Carlsson will be part of team Sweden at the WJC. He is another player Blackhawks fans should keep an eye on for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft just in case they fall out of the top three. The teenage sensation has two goals and 13 points in 21 games for Örebro HK in the SHL. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, young players find it very difficult to get meaningful ice time in the European pro leagues. At the recent Five Nations tournament, he had three goals and five points in his three games.
- Let’s return to North America and check in on the Rockford IceHogs. They split their weekend series with the first-place Milwaukee Admirals. On Friday, the IceHogs scored four third-period goals in a 6-4 win. Brett Seney had the game-winning goal to go with his two assists. Dylan Sikura lit the lamp twice, while Lukas Reichel had a goal and three points. Rockford fell erased a 3-0 deficit in Milwaukee Saturday night before losing 5-3.
- Although he is no longer considered a prospect, Sikura had back-to-back two-goal games against the Admirals. When you throw in his two assists against the Texas Stars on Nov. 23, he now has three two-point games in a row. Not a bad run when you consider he had two goals and five points in his first 12 games of the season.
- Reichel now has points in three-straight games. He finished the weekend set against the Admirals with a goal and four points. He has eight goals on the season and sits third on the team in scoring with 19 points.
- Seney continued his MVP-type season with three more points despite being held off the scoresheet on Saturday. That was just his fourth scoreless effort in 17 games this season. He has 10 goals and 23 points, the fourth-most in the entire AHL.
- Isaak Phillips continues to develop an offensive game to go along with his solid defensive play. The 21-year-old blueliner had three assists in Saturday’s game. That was his third multi-point game in his last four outings and his fifth on the season. Philips has two goals and 14 points in 17 games. He is three assists shy of tying his career high of 15 he set in 64 games last season. The 2020 fifth-round pick is making his case to get another taste of the NHL in the near future.
- Ian Mitchell had an assist on Friday night. The young defenseman is returning to Chicago as he was recalled by the Blackhawks Thursday morning after they placed Jarred Tinordi on IR with a hip injury.
- Staying on the blue line, Alex Vlasic picked up a helper in the win over Milwaukee. He has a goal and four points with a plus-11 rating in 15 games. Alec Regula had a helper in Saturday’s loss. He has a goal and three points with a plus-8 rating in 9 AHL games.
- The IceHogs have a high-powered offensive attack, scoring 69 goals on the season. Their 4.05 goals per game average is tops in the AHL. They are also giving up 3.58 goals per game. Once Alex Stalock returns to the Blackhawks, Arvid Söderblom will head back to Rockford. Inserting his 2.80 career AHL goals-against average into the lineup will make this team very hard to beat.
- Rockford has 19 points on the season, which has them in the fifth and final Calder Cup Playoff spot in the Central Division. They trail the Admirals by seven points but are only three out of second place.
- The IceHogs are heading east for the weekend with a pair of rare games against Eastern Conference foes. They play at the Springfield Falcons on Friday, who made it to the Calder Cup Finals last season, before taking on the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday.
Don’t forget to check out the CHGO Blackhawks podcast all season long for live postgame shows and off-day content, five days a week. Be the most informed Blackhawks fan in your circle of friends!
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