The Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect camp came to a close following a scrimmage on Friday morning. One of many changes from recent prospect camps, the only scrimmage took place on the final day, whereas in previous years, scrimmages were a daily exercise. Giving fans one last look at the future of the organization, the scrimmage wraps up one of the more different camps in recent memory.
While we await the beginning of full-fledged training camp in September, here are a few thoughts to chew on and help get through the rest of summer.
Alex DeBrincat doesn’t quite stand out
This prospect camp was set up to be the coming out party for top prospect Alex DeBrincat. After setting the OHL on fire for three seasons, DeBrincat has had a ton of hype placed around him, for good reason. This summer’s prospect camp should have been a display of what some hope to be an NHL-ready player. It wasn’t. Granted it was just one week of prospect camp and Blackhawks’ training camp in the fall will be a bigger indicator of his readiness, but DeBrincat failed to bring a “wow factor” to this camp. He found his groove during the Friday scrimmage, but in drills and small group settings, he was just alright. Hopefully more can be seen in September from the Hawks’ top prospect.
No Alexandre Fortin was a bummer
One of the disappointments from camp was the on-ice absence of 2016 standout Alexandre Fortin. Healing up in the offseason, Fortin was a non-ice participant at camp and figures to be a training camp invitee come September. Noting that he has added 20 pounds to his frame without losing any speed, Fortin’s opportunity with Chicago is there, he just needs to be seen how he has improved from this point last season after another successful year with Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL).
Smaller players are getting shots
The Blackhawks have bought into the trend the rest of the NHL has been going through the last few seasons with smaller, quicker, and more skilled forwards populating the league. This prospect camp was a display of those forwards in the Blackhawks’ group. Anthony Louis, William Pelletier, and camp standout Tim Soderlund showed flashes of the speed, agility, and quick hands to create chances offensively. Soderlund especially stood out among the group this week. A 2017 fourth-round draft pick from Sweden, Soderlund’s game compares to fellow Swede Viktor Arvidsson — small, shifty, always on the puck, and not afraid to play above his physical billing. While still a raw talent and a good ways away from NHL readiness, Soderlund certain put his stamp on this week’s camp.
The defensemen are far from NHL-ready
Defensively, the Blackhawks’ prospect group showed a good amount of promise, but unlike last summer’s camp, which included Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling, there aren’t any NHL-ready prospects from the week looking to jump right into a role in Chicago.
Luc Snuggerud may have been the top defender in camp, but he was held out of Friday’s scrimmage due to the number of players at his position and the fact that the Blackhawks are already comfortable with what they know about his skill level. He’ll be a part of the IceHogs’ core group this season.
For other blue liners like Darren Raddysh, Henri Jokiharju, Dennis Gilbert and Chad Krys, this summer’s camp proved there is plenty of room for improvement.
Krys looked better than last summer and hopefully is primed for a breakout sophomore season at Boston University. The 2016 second-round pick is a smooth skater and moves the puck well, also not afraid to quarterback the offense from his own zone. Gilbert looks to improve in another season in the NCAA as well with his junior year at Notre Dame around the corner.
Jokiharju, Chicago’s 2017 first-round draft pick, is a raw talent still at just 18 years old, but shows promise as an offensive minded blue-liner. He’ll have to mature physically, but the skill set is there.
Raddysh will need to catch up to the speed of the pro game quickly in Rockford. As an over-ager in the OHL last season, he was a dominant defender. Against more like-aged and skilled competition during prospect camp, he looked pedestrian. The ability is there, but the pace and physical level of the game will need to be reached.
Matheson Iacopelli’s shot is the real deal
Iacopelli could sneak into the Blackhawks’ roster at some point this season. His development from this time last year has been great and his short time in Rockford at the end of last season showed that he can step in and produce right away. He’ll start the season again with the IceHogs, but don’t be surprised if he gets a shot in Chicago if a spot opens up later in the season. Iacopelli is a big-bodied player who moves well in space and when the game is tight, and his shot looks to be high-quality. Once he puts it all together, he could be a formidable option for Chicago later this year or next.
Who will be the Hawks’ next great power forward?
As mentioned before, the Blackhawks seem to be investing in developing smaller, speedy forward prospects for the future, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have talented big men. Sizable forwards like Graham Knott, Radovan Bondra, Jack Ramsey and Roy Radke stood out this week as more than just space-fillers. Bondra’s improvement from last year was noticeable in his feet as he looked faster and able to navigate board battles with swifter movement. His shot is high quality as well and another season in the WHL before making the move to the AHL will serve him well.
Ramsey and Radke both showed a bit of bite to their games this week. Neither one really stood out for pure skill, but they’re both energy players who aren’t afraid to play physically and put themselves in the right spots offensively. Ramsey notched two goals in Friday’s scrimmage and Radke seemed to improve as the week progressed.
As from Knott, his week was a bit puzzling as he looked like two different players from Days 1-4 to Friday’s scrimmage. A large-bodied player, Knott improved his skating from last year and moved much better in drills this week. But when playing in the scrimmage, Knott seemed to be out-muscled in the corners, where he should dominate. If he can adjust his physical play at the pro level in Rockford this season, he could turn into a solid bottom-six forward option for Chicago.
Dylan Sikura continues to impress
Another standout from camp this week was 2014 draft pick Dylan Sikura. All week long, Sikura showed he had one of the better shots of all the prospects. His skating and stick-handling ability was on full display in the scrimmage on Friday and might have give the Blackhawks more urgency to get Sikura into the organization.
Sikura heads to Northeastern for his senior year and could end up burning the Blackhawks if he leaves as a free agent like Kevin Hayes did years ago. Chicago has tried to sign him before and been rebuffed. The urgency will likely keep increasing as long as Sikura plays like this.
Lack of goalie depth was apparent
In net, the Blackhawks are still thin with depth. Beyond Anton Forsberg, who just joined the team in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad trade, there is little to be super excited about. Matt Tomkins and Wouter Peeters headlined the goaltenders in camp this week and while Tomkins held his own between the pipes and looks like a potential option at the AHL level for now, Peeters is still very raw in his development. Still, at only 19 years old, Peeters has plenty of time to put everything together. He has the size that teams drool over at 6’4, 200-pounds, but he still has much to learn. His move to the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL should do him well.
Hawks’ prospects come from all over
One thing that is always fascinating during prospect camps is to see the difference in the skill sets and skill levels of the players coming to camp from the Canadian junior hockey leagues and those coming from college hockey. While the majority of the scouting community believes the CHL (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) is a higher standard than the NCAA is, the jury is still out as the rise on college players turning into stars in the NHL continues. This year, the Blackhawks had more camp invitees from colleges than from the CHL or AJHL, 16 to 14, with nine coming from overseas. As said before, it’s not a closed debate between college and juniors (Jonathan Toews is a product of North Dakota and Patrick Kane came from the London Knights, for example) the contrast between the paths to the NHL was an interesting point to take in at this week’s camp.
IceHogs should be younger, more entertaining
Finally, the takeaway that prevailed throughout the week of camp was that although the 2017-18 Rockford IceHogs may not win the Calder Cup next season, they will be a lot more interesting to watch. As it stands right now, other than Jeff Glass, the IceHogs will not have a player on their roster above 27 years old once the season begins in the fall. Competition for playing time will be significant as their are few guaranteed spots with a new coaching staff led by Jeremy Colliton taking over the reins.
Last summer’s prospect camp was a tryout for NHL spots, while this summer was focused on the development of the players and finding out who stands out in the prospect pipelines. The IceHogs will be young and raw in talent next season and that will make for, at the very least, some interesting development storylines to take shape.
The Blackhawks have had two long and interesting summers to digest a lot of issues and make improvements since their 2015 Stanley Cup win. The goal remains the same for 2017-18. With prospect camp now completed, attention gets turned to full-fledged training camp and then the start of the regular season.