The Blackhawks held their annual prospect camp with a roster full of players who are likely to end up everywhere but Chicago this fall when the NHL regular season starts. Even if they showed great things at this camp, the fact that the Hawks signed several bottom six players on one-way deals this summer would make it that much more difficult for them to break into the Hawks lineup for the upcoming season.
It was a much different scene from last year’s camp, which had many players who were thought headed for the Hawks including players like Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, and Gustav Forsling. The format for this year’s camp was different than it had been in past years.
This camp saw the players go through four days of drills, with a brief partial ice 3-on-3 at the end of each session. There were no full ice scrimmages until Friday. One can’t glean much from these drills, and such was the case for the bulk of the camp.
So when Friday came and the players had a chance to scrimmage, it was a welcome day for both player and observer. Last year’s camp brought us Alexandre Fortin. He came in as an invitee and was so impressive he ended up with a contract from the Hawks. He had several scrimmages to show his skills last year, but this year, as noted above, prospects would only get one chance to showcase their talents in a game setting.
This year’s camp did not bring any Fortins. While there were a few prospects who were noticeable, there were no prospects who stood out to that extent in Friday’s scrimmage.
Here’s a deeper dive into who looked good on Friday playing 5-on-5.
Krys was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, #45 overall. Krys has excellent skating and puck moving skills. He had several rushes up the ice on Friday that showed off his skating talent. However, there were too many situations where Krys could have easily moved the puck ahead to open wingers to create smooth rushes and the opportunity for scoring chances, but instead he chose to skate the puck over the blue line on his own, and the rushes fizzled out. He won’t get too far with Coach Q if he continues to play like that. He was patient in his own end and held his own even though he’s not the biggest guy (5’11, 190 pounds).
Mitchell was a second round choice for the Hawks in this year’s draft at the 57th overall spot. He’s an excellent skating defenseman who also moves the puck well. He played well in his own end. Mitchell had several tape to tape cross ice passes moving at high speed, hitting players also at high speed, in stride. That is extremely important in a smooth transition game. This was an impressive kid. He’s going to need to put some meat on his bones in the next few years to be competitive at the NHL level.
The Hawks first pick in the just passed 2017 NHL Entry Draft wasn’t remarkable. It appeared that he was pretty tentative in being at his first Prospect Camp. Perhaps he’ll come in next year with more confidence, but is definitely headed back to Juniors this season.
There were a few other defensemen of interest. One was Darren Raddysh, signed as a free agent after a great season with the Erie Otters. Raddysh’s strength is his skating ability. This was on display during the drills portion of the camp. During Friday’s scrimmage Raddysh didn’t show much. He wasn’t noticeable, which can be a good thing for a defenseman.
Take for instance Joni Tuulola, who looked good at last year’s camp. However, this year was a different story. He struggled through drills, falling multiple times. Friday brought nothing new. The Red Team scored their first goal on a Power Play. While defending a rush, Tuulola fell for no reason, and Anthony Louis ended up with an easy tap-in on a 2-on-1.
Luc Snuggerud participated in drills during the week, however he didn’t play at all on Friday. Word was that the Hawks simply held him out because they know what they have there and wanted to see other defensemen. Snuggerud could battle to be a 7th defenseman for this year’s Hawks. I would look for him to go back and spend a season at Rockford however.
Finally, Robin Press, a big defenseman who the Hawks drafted in 2013, and who has been a defenseman, was playing forward. Interestingly Press had been a forward turned defenseman earlier in his career before the Hawks drafted him.
If I was to sum up Sikura in a few words I’d just say, this kid’s a player. If there was anybody close to standing out on Friday as Fortin did in scrimmage last season it would be Sikura. He skates very well, stickhandles in tight spaces, and has great vision and patience with the puck. Sikura was always around the puck, a quality that typically shows a higher level of hockey instincts. He scored on a rush where he split two defenders between the circles and then went top shelf for a goal. Sikura needs to continue to add bulk in his bid to someday make the Hawks roster. Sikura is expected to finish out his career at Northeastern.
Evan Barratt was attending his first Blackhawks prospect camp, having just been drafted by the Hawks at the recent draft in Chicago. What stood out to me about Barratt was that I was looking at a smart hockey player. He made good decisions with the puck, skated well, and showed good vision. He’s an intriguing prospect just beginning his journey through the Hawks’ system. The 18-year-old is heading to Penn State for his freshman year his fall.
Iacopelli is a big winger at 6’3, 210 pounds. Having said that, he skates well, handles the puck well, and has a rocket for a shot. I first saw Iacopelli when he spent some time with Rockford at the end of last season. What stood out to me was how well he handles the puck, even in tight spaces. He did well in drills and was noticeable during Friday’s scrimmage. He, like Krys, had a little problem with holding onto the puck a little too much. Iacopelli likely starts the year in Rockford. I was a little surprised he wasn’t announced at the Hawks Convention Opening Ceremony Friday night as opposed to some other players.
This is the guy everybody is excited about. DeBrincat is widely considered to be Chicago’s top prospect. During drills he looked okay, but we didn’t see him do anything special. That can be a solid indicator for a lesser prospect, for somebody of DeBrincat’s caliber it doesn’t tell anything. He stood out in the 3-on-3 sessions that were held during drills throughout the week.
But his talent was on display during Friday’s scrimmage. He was patient with the puck and made pinpoint passes. He was with Sikura and Highmore for many shifts, and they were dominant, led by Sikura and Debrincat. Debrincat certainly has the speed, vision, and skill to go along with that hockey sense that puts him in the right place much of the time as well. His size is the question for everybody, but he definitely held his own during the scrimmage while battling bigger defensemen along the boards. It would be best for him to start at Rockford for his first year of professional hockey.
Looking at some other forwards to note. Graham Knott certainly was better than he was last year. He has improved his skating. I was surprised to see him announced at the convention. What stood out the most is that Knott was drafted as, and was in Prospect Camp last year as, a winger. In Friday’s scrimmage Knott was at center, and while one has to consider the competition, he won most of the draws that he took.
Two big men were notable in the scrimmage. 6’5, 220-pound Radovan Bondra and 6’5, 223-pound Beau Starrett. These are two examples of drills not telling the whole story. While they looked to struggle with their skating during drills, they looked much better during the scrimmage. Bondra drove the outside on a rush and put a rocket shot in the top corner for a goal. Starrett had a big hit during the scrimmage, but what I’ll remember was during the 3-on-3 part of the drills on Monday, Starrett took a pass about 15’ out, released it in a heartbeat, and the puck was invisible until the net bulged, indicating it had hit the back of the net.
Another surprise to me as an announced player at the convention was Anthony Louis. I didn’t find anything remarkable about his game during the scrimmage. He did score the easy tap-in power play goal mentioned above. But, what will stand out to me was a very lazy play at the blue line in the defensive zone. Louis thought he had a player breaking out of the zone, so he lifted his skate and let a puck go through him. However, the defenseman was standing right where he was supposed to be. He intercepted the puck and moved it forward, resulting in a scoring chance for the white team. I can’t imagine that was something that would set well with Q.
There were not real standouts here. Wouter Peeters was solid. Matt Tomkins gave up another softie during the scrimmage. Collin Delia was invited to camp by the Hawks last year, and did so well he was invited back again. Delia made a spectacular save in the first period of Friday’s scrimmage. He will go back to Merrimack College for his Senior season.
While I wouldn’t expect much if any noise from this group for the Hawks in the upcoming season, there are a few players mentioned above with a chance to see some playing time depending on how things go at Training Camp and throughout the upcoming season with injuries. But, for the most part, they should certainly make the Icehogs a more enjoyable, if not interesting, team to watch.