Lost in the flurry of fast, puck-moving defensemen acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks in the last few drafts is 21-year-old Dennis Gilbert, who projects as more of a defensively-focused blue-liner than players like Adam Boqvist or Henry Jokiharju. Gilbert’s size and school (Notre Dame) have resulted in comparisons to former Hawks prospect Stephen Johns. With Gilbert on the verge of his professional debut this fall, we’ll find out just how accurate those projections are.
Birth date: Oct. 30, 1996
Acquired via: Third-round pick (No. 91 overall) in 2015
Most recent stop: Notre Dame — NCAA
Size: 6’2, 199 pounds
Contract: Three years, $925,000 cap hit (entry-level)
Gilbert was a mainstay on Notre Dame’s blue line during his junior season in 2017-18, playing in 39 of 40 games with four goals scored — including two shorthanded — and six assists. He was No. 1 on the Irish with 88 blocked shots, which was the third-highest mark in the country. Gilbert’s contributions helped the Irish reach the national title game, which they lost 2-1 to Minnesota-Duluth.
Soon after that game, Gilbert turned pro, signing a three-year, entry-level deal with the Blackhawks on April 13. He joined the Rockford IceHogs during their run to the Western Conference Final in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs, but did not appear in any games. That could change this fall, though.
What’s next in 2018-19?
Gilbert is part of a plethora of left-handed defensemen who are expected to be on the IceHogs roster this season. Robin Norell, Luc Snuggerud, Joni Tuulola and Carl Dahlstrom were all on the IceHogs playoff roster along with Gilbert and could be on the 2018-19 team. Add in Lucas Carlsson and Blake Hillman as two additional left-handed shots who might battle for ice time in Rockford, although Hillman could end up at the NHL level after debuting there last spring. And Gustav Forsling, yet another lefty, may need some seasoning in the AHL as he recovers from right wrist surgery.
The competition for playing time among defensemen in Rockford is going to be intense, and Gilbert will need to quickly adapt to pro hockey in order to assert himself among a crowded room of prospects. He does have the advantage of boasting a skill set — the bigger, physical, stay-at-home defensemen — that is in relatively short supply within the organization.