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We are another week closer to the start of the World Junior Championships, which will feature a handful of Chicago Blackhawks prospects. The Rockford IceHogs had a successful three-game win week as they continue to climb the American Hockey League standings.
Mario’s Notebook: Oh, Canada!
- Hey! Remember last week’s edition of the Rebuild Report, where we focused on the upcoming World Junior Championships? Well turns out we weren’t too far off with our selection camp predictions for Blackhawks prospects.
- For the United States, no prospects will be wearing the Red, White, and Blue this year, with the early-season favorite, Frank Nazar, essentially missing this season due to injury/surgery. But, a few first-round talents that the Blackhawks should have their eyes on will be at the U.S. selection camp, including Will Smith, Gavin Brindley, Ryan Leonard, and Charlie Stramel.
- For the Canadians, it’s a much different Blackhawks story. There are five prospects headed to selection camp looking to help the host nation repeat as Gold Medalists. Colton Dach, Ryan Greene, Kevin Korchinski, Nolan Allan, and Ethan Del Mastro were all invited, with Del Mastro being a returning player from the Gold Medal-winning 2022 Canadian team.
- The addition of Dach and Greene was a bit surprising, given the names that were omitted from the selection camp roster. But it’s not far off to think that either player could push for a roster spot on the Canadian side.
- Dach is the captain of his WHL squad in Kelowna and has nine goals and 17 points in 14 games this season while missing a chunk of the year due to a concussion. In his two seasons in Kelowna, he has a combined 38 goals and 96 points in 75 games.
- Greene is having an outstanding season at Boston University as a freshman. The 2022 second-round pick has six goals and 14 points in 14 NCAA games this season, good for third on his team in scoring. He is the second-highest scorer in the Blackhawks’ NCAA system, behind only Jake Wise, with 18 points in 18 games.
- The most likely players to represent Canada from the Blackhawks are the trio of defensemen with Korchinski, Del Mastro, and Allan.
- Del Mastro is a returning player and would think to be a lock for the roster. The 2021 fourth-round pick has two goals and 21 points in 22 OHL games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season, where he serves as captain.
- Another likely lock is 2022 first-round pick Kevin Korchinski. After his breakout season in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2021-22, he was taken with Chicago’s first of three first-round picks this past summer. Then proceeded to turn heads during prospect camp and the preseason. Back with Seattle this season, Korchinski has tallied three goals and 28 points in 21 games, second on the team in scoring.
- The wildcard of the three is 2021 first-round pick, Nolan Allan. Now a teammate and defensive partner with Korchinski in Seattle, Allan has settled into his role alongside the offensive-minded Korchinksi as a defense-first defender who can play off of that style. Allan has a goal and three points in seven games with Seattle since being traded from the Prince Albert Raiders. He had 11 points in 16 games to begin the season with the Raiders, where he was serving as captain.
- Most prospect analysts have penciled all three defensemen into the Canadian roster, with Allan serving as an extra defenseman. For my two cents, I’d like to agree.
- Of course, we have to mention that Canada will be offensively anchored by top 2023 prospects Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. It is going to be an absolute treat to see these two playing, not only on the same team but possibly on the same line.
- Bedard continues to lead the WHL in scoring this season as he rips through a 27-game point streak that is currently ongoing. He has 27 goals and 64 points in 28 games this season with the Regina Pats, having only been held off the scoresheet in the season-opener, a game where he still recorded 10 shots on goal.
- Kid is a freak.
- Fantilli is also continuing his impressive NCAA with the University of Michigan, leading the team in scoring with 11 goals and 26 points in 16 games and is second in scoring in the country. He remains the No. 2 prospect in the draft class behind Bedard and ahead of Russian Matvei Michkov.
- Other prospects outside of those headed to the World Junior Championships are still humming-along this season in the Blackhawks’ system, including 2022 third-round selection Gavin Hayes. The Michigan native is tied for second on the Flint Firebirds of the OHL in scoring this season with 26 points and is tied for the team lead in goals with 14 on the year.
- Hayes’ 26 points this season are tied for second amongst all Blackhawks Major Junior prospects this season behind Kevin Korchinski’s 28 points.
- Hayes is tied in second with fellow 2022 draft pick Samuel Savoie in the QMJHL. Savoie, also a third-round pick, has 26 points in 25 games this season and rocketed up the charts with a huge month of November. After tallying just five points in 11 games during October, Savoie notched 19 points in 11 games in November and did so on a 12-game point streak that stretched into the first game of December.
- One Blackhawks prospect not necessarily lighting up the scoresheets in the OHL this season but making strides is 2022 second-round pick Paul Ludwinski with the Kingston Frontenacs. Ludwinski has 14 points in 21 games this season but just two goals on the year. His second tally came earlier this week on a short-handed breakaway chance that he finished in spectacular fashion.
- A final note in the USHL, 2022 sixth-round pick Nils Juntorp is having a decent first season in North America with seven goals and 12 points in 18 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, while first-round pick Sam Rinzel has one goal and 10 assists for 11 points in 19 games this season with the Waterloo Black Hawks.
- Check out Flo Hockey’s Chris Peters’ latest interview with Rinzel here!
Greg’s Notebook: Goaltenders lead the way to an undefeated week in Rockford
- The IceHogs had a rare non-conference weekend. On Friday, they played their first-ever game at the Springfield Thunderbirds, the St. Louis Blues’ affiliate and defending Eastern Conference champions. The IceHogs rolled to a 4-2 win over the Calder Cup runners-up from a season ago with goals from Lukas Reichel, Buddy Robinson, Cole Guttman, and Luke Philp. Brett Seney was the First Star of the Game with three assists. Dylan Wells made 23 saves for his fourth win of the season.
- Saturday featured another first-time matchup, this one with the Hartford Wolf Pack. While the Blackhawks were beating the New York Rangers, the IceHogs took care of business versus their AHL affiliate. Rockford got out to a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Dylan Sikura, Guttman, and Reichel. Hartford got two third-period goals, but the second came with just five ticks left on the clock. Jaxson Stauber stopped 28 of the 30 shots he saw for his third AHL win.
- Reichel was back in Rockford Wednesday night after his one-game cameo with the Blackhawks against the New Jersey Devils. The 20-year-old forward provided all the offense in a 2-1 shootout win over the first-place Milwaukee Admirals. First, his 11th goal of the season tied the game with under six minutes to play. It was the only goal the IceHogs scored on top goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov. Reichel was then the lone player to score in the three-round shootout to give Rockford a 2-1 win. Wells was excellent in net, making 20 saves.
- The goaltending situation in Rockford has not been ideal. As the Blackhawks continue to deal with injuries, the IceHogs are using Wells and Mitchell Weeks as their tandem, two netminders who started the season in the ECHL. However, Wells and Stauber have picked up their games of late. Weeks has played well in his AHL stint, going 3-1-1 with a 2.95 GAA and .909 SV%. It is uncertain how much longer Stauber will be in Chicago, but the “next man up” strategy has been working so far.
- Philp currently leads the team with 12 goals. Seney is tops with 16 assists and 26 points. Isaak Phillips leads all Rockford blueliners with 13 assists and 15 points.
- The IceHogs have 25 points and sit in third place in the AHL’s Central Division. They are one point behind the Texas Stars for second and trail the Admirals by four for the division lead. They will host the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday nights before a road game in Des Moines on Tuesday.
- Chad Yetman, the lone Blackhawks draft pick on the Indy Fuel, is in the midst of a five-game point streak. He has a goal and four assists during this run. The 22-year-old forward has seven goals and 19 points in 18 ECHL games.
- The biggest news to come out of Europe this week concerned Victor Stjernborg, the Blackhawks’ fourth-round pick in 2021. The 19-year-old forward has been named the captain of Sweden’s World Junior Championship team. Stjernborg has four assists in 24 games for Växjö Lakers HC in Sweden’s top pro league. He has two assists in four international games this year.
- Antti Saarela finally got back on the scoresheet Wednesday with an assist in Lukko’s 5-2 win over Vaasan Sport. This was just his second point of the season and his first since he picked up a helper on October 8. In his defense, the 2019 fourth-round pick missed about a month of the season with a leg injury. Hopefully, this was the performance that gets his year back on track.
- Staying in Finland, Riku Tohila was loaned to KeuPa HT of the Mestis league, the equivalent of the AHL. In his second game for the team, he had two assists during a 6-3 victory against Kiekko-Vantaa. The 6-foot-8 center had 15 goals and 19 points in 27 games in Finland’s top junior league before the promotion.
- It was a big week off the ice for Ilya Safonov. After he picked up his eighth assist and 19th point of the season on Friday, he was named to the KHL All-Star team. Safonov will replace his injured Ak Bars Kazan teammate Alexander Radulov. The 2021 sixth-round pick has already set new KHL career highs in goals, assists, and points and has been serving as team captain in Radulov’s absence.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of the CHGO Blackhawks podcast, where we talked prospects with Cam Robinson of Elite Prospects.
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