As another week ticks off the December calendar, we are now less than two weeks away from the start of the IIHF World Junior Championships, where the future of the NHL will be showcased for the world to see. Our prospects experts, Mario Tirabassi and Greg Boysen get you caught up on the entire Chicago Blackhawks prospect pool as we head into the biggest tournament of the year.
Mario’s Notebook: Nolan Allan may be better than we thought
It’s official: Five Blackhawks prospects will be headed to the World Junior Championships this year, which begin on Dec. 26 and will run until Jan. 6, being held in Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada. Four players were selected for Team Canada and one for Team Sweden.
In my neck of the woods for the Rebuild Report notebooks are four Canadian representatives in Nolan Allan, Ethan Del Mastro, Kevin Korchinski, and Colton Dach. They are four of five Blackhawks who were invited to the Canadian selection camp with Ryan Greene, a 2022 second-round draft pick, being cut.
Greene not making the team was a bit surprising, given his performance in the selection camp exhibition games, but his overall chances of making a loaded Canadian roster were already slim. Just being invited and recognized amongst this vastly talented group is an accomplishment. Greene heads back to Boston University now, where he has been a point-per-game player as a true freshman with 14 points in 14 games.
As surprising as Greene’s cut was, Dach being selected was just as surprising. He didn’t necessarily stand out in the selection camp exhibition games against the Canadian USports all-star team (Canada’s version of the NCAA). Still, he looks like a depth option for the defending gold medalists. He’s playing over a point-per-game with the Kelowna Rockets this season, having 17 points in 14 WHL games, having missed significant time earlier this season due to two concussion stints.
The captain of the Kelowna Rockets has a pretty decent mentor to look up to in his older brother and former Blackhawk Kirby Dach. The elder Dach went through his own share of adversity with injuries and high expectations while playing with Chicago, but he also helps shine a positive light on the opportunity to play for Team Canada on the major stage. You’ll remember that Kirby was the captain of Team Canada heading into the 2021 World Junior Championships, only to break his wrist in a collision with fellow Blackhawks prospect Ilya Safonov prior to the tournament.
I’m excited to see if Colton gets any significant playing time for Canada and what he could bring to the table in a forward group that includes the likes of Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, and Adam Fantilli, just to name a few.
The Blackhawks’ prospects for Canada that look like they will be regulars in the lineup are a trio of defensemen in Korchinski, Del Mastro, and Allan.
Del Mastro looks to play a significant role for the Canadians as a returning player from this past summer’s Gold Medal-winning squad. He was an injury replacement on that team but looks to have a chance to play on the top pair and log heavy minutes for Canada alongside Olen Zellweger. Del Mastro didn’t record a point in the summer World Junior Championships, but he didn’t need to. He was brought into the lineup to provide a defensive-minded, physical presence and did just that. He will be tasked with doing the same again for Canada, but this time around, he’ll likely be able to add a bit more offensively as his game has become more well-rounded with the puck on his stick.
Korchinski will likely be a power-play specialist for the Canadians and have his minutes sheltered a bit on the third-pairing. With 28 points in 21 WHL games this season with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Korchinksi’s NHL future looks to be in that exact kind of role. Maybe not needing to be sheltered on a third-pair, one would hope, but being the kind of offensive player who “quarterbacks” a power play and plays significant time in the offensive zone.
While it’s not the biggest surprise, it is still a bit of a shock to see Allan, a player selected in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft as a projected mid-second or third-round player, getting an opportunity in the top-four for the Canadians. As you read about the roster projections from people like Scott Wheeler and Corey Pronman of The Athletic, it looked like Allan might be a guy who would be the seventh defenseman for Canada. But here he is in a prominent role.
Allan was the subject of a massive trade in the WHL earlier this season that sent him from the Prince Albert Raiders, a team he was captain of, to the Thunderbirds. He is now on the top pair in Seattle alongside Korchinski.
Thought of as another defensive-minded, physical player on the blue line, Allan’s offensive abilities have improved year-over-year, and he will be relied upon to help Seattle go deep into the WHL postseason again this year. That’s why he was brought to the Thunderbirds. But for the Canadians, he may have a role like Del Mastro played last tournament, where he will be matched up against the toughest opposition and be tasked with playing a shutdown role.
I don’t doubt he can do that. I’m starting to doubt that his selection by a certain former Blackhawks general manager may not have been a stretch after all.
Outside of the Blackhawks’ prospects, of course, keep an eye on Bedard and Fantilli with Team Canada.
Team USA looks to have several potential 2023 Draft prospects on the roster that Blackhawks fans should also pay attention to. But one that I have mentioned a number of times will not be at the World Junior Championships: Will Smith.
Team USA will, in fact, not be getting jiggy with it in this tournament, as Smith was cut during selection camp. As Flo Hockey’s Chris Peters mentions above, he’ll have at least one or two more chances to play for Team USA at the tournament in the future. Smith is on fire with the U.S. Development Program, having a combined 22 goals and 57 points in 33 games for the program at the U17, U18, and USHL levels.
Another USHL product and Blackhawks prospect standing out is the 2022 first-round pick Sam Rinzel.
This season, his first full season in the USHL with the Waterloo Black Hawks, Rinzel has one goal and 11 points in 19 games as a defenseman. It’s a good start to his development, which is expected to be a more long-term project for the Blackhawks.
Rinzel is currently playing with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge being held in Ontario, Canada, this week. He’s doing just fine, it seems.
After a hot start to the NCAA season with Notre Dame, Ryder Rolston had seen a small slump in scoring. He got back in the goal column this past weekend with some help from defenseman and Colorado Avalanche prospect Nick Leverman.
Rolston now has 13 points in 18 games for the Irish this season. His Notre Dame teammate and fellow Blackhawks prospect Landon Slaggert also got in the goal column this past weekend with an empty-netter. Slaggert’s offense has not been where it was expected to be this season, notching just two goals and two assists in 16 games so far this year.
Ending on a high note, Blackhawks prospects Dominic James, Wyatt Kaiser, and Aidan Thompson faced each other this past weekend as Minnesota-Duluth took on Denver. It would be the DU product Thompson getting the overtime winner on Saturday night.
Thompson, a 2022 third-round pick by the Blackhawks, missed the start of the season due to injury but has put together a good freshman season with four goals and nine points in his first 10 NCAA games. He is coming off a 24-goal and 82-point season last year in the USHL with the Lincoln Stars.
Greg’s Notebook: David Gust tallies hat-trick as IceHogs offense ignites
The Rockford IceHogs and Iowa Wild renewed their rivalry with three games against each other last week. The first contest came on Friday night at the BMO Center, where the Wild scored a 3-2 shootout win. The IceHogs got goals from Brett Seney and Josiah Slavin but gave up the tying goal with seven minutes left in regulation. Lukas Reichel had the only Rockford goal in the four-round shootout. Mitchell Weeks stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced in regulation and overtime.
Saturday’s rematch needed more than 60 minutes to decide the outcome. Once again, the Wild tied the game late in regulation and won 3-2 in overtime. Michal Teply scored in the first period to start the Teddy Bear Toss, and Cole Guttman lit the lamp in the second. Dylan Wells made 21 saves in the losing effort.
The teams moved to Iowa for the third and final game of the week on Tuesday night. The IceHogs won a crazy back-and-forth game, 7-4 behind David Gust’s first AHL hat trick. Speaking of firsts, Filip Roos scored in his AHL debut. Guttman added two more goals, and Adam Clendening scored on the power play. Reichel had three assists after being held off the scoresheet over the weekend. Weeks gave up four goals on 32 shots.
The young defensemen were productive last week. In addition to Roos’ first AHL goal, Alec Regula had a pair of assists on Tuesday. Alex Vlasic had a helper in two of the three games against Iowa. Isaak Phillips had an assist and leads all blue-liners with 16 points.
Weeks and Wells have goals-against averages (GAA) under 3.00, with Weeks at 2.94 and Wells at 2.96. They have a combined .901 save percentage (SV%). Jaxson Stauber was assigned to the IceHogs on Monday after Petr Mrazek was activated off IR. The rookie netminder is 3-2-0-0 with a 3.34 GAA and .829 SV% in the AHL this season. Alex Stalock appears close to returning to the lineup too, which means Arvid Söderblom will be heading back to Rockford soon. Weeks and Wells have performed admirably, while the IceHogs’ top two goaltenders have been in Chicago.
Gust’s big night in Des Moines has him back in the team lead for goals with 13. Luke Philp is second with 12, followed by Seney and Reichel with 11. Seney leads the team with 18 assists and 29 points. The two hottest players in Rockford over the last nine games are Dylan Sikura, with five goals and 12 points, and Guttman, with seven goals and 11 points.
Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson was asked about Guttman after Thursday’s morning skate on whether or not he noticed his play of late.
“I thought he was really good in the rookie camp. We need to have that right spot. You can’t just bring him up and put him in a role. He’s not the same type of player as Reese Johnson or Colin Blackwell. He’s more of a skilled guy. We just don’t have an opening for him right now.”
The IceHogs are sitting in third place in the AHL Central Division with 29 points. They are one point behind the second-place Texas Stars and three points behind the division-leading Milwaukee Admirals. Their 89 goals are the most in the Central and tied for the second-most in the league. Only the Calgary Wranglers have more goals, with 92. The IceHogs will host the Toronto Marlies on Friday and the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday before a pre-Christmas two-game set at the Stars on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Indy Fuel are enjoying a successful start to their ECHL season. They recently had their six-game winning streak snapped, but they have earned victories in eight of their last 10 games. The Fuel sits atop the Central Division with 33 points, tied for the third most in the ECHL.
Chad Yetman, the lone Blackhawks draft pick in the ECHL, was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 9 with an undisclosed alignment. He was riding a five-game streak before heading to IR. The 2020 sixth-round pick has seven goals and 19 points in 18 ECHL games this season.
In Europe, Antti Saarela picked up an assist Tuesday in Luuko’s 4-1 win over HIFK. The 2019 fourth-round pick has been picking it up after missing a month of the season due to a leg injury. He has assists in three of his last four games and is up to three goals and seven points in 21 Liiga games.
KHL All-Star Ilya Safonov picked up an assist over the weekend. The 21-year-old center now has four helpers in his last five games. He has 11 goals and 20 points in 37 games as captain for Ak Bars Kazan.
The elder statesman of the prospect pool, Artur Kayumov, was selected to play in the Channel One Cup but will miss it due to injury. He has not played since Dec. 4. The 24-year-old winger has nine goals and 23 points in 3Dec. 4games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
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