Blackhawks fans are going to want to keep a close eye on the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs during the next couple of weeks.
As the hockey gods would have it, a pair of top prospects will square off in a marquee second-round series between the London Knights and the Guelph Storm, namely Adam Boqvist and Mackenzie Entwistle.
Boqvist, of course, is a much-hyped 18-year-old defenseman who was selected eighth overall by Chicago in 2018. Entwistle, meanwhile, was originally a Coyotes third-round pick in 2017 (69th overall) who came to the Blackhawks organization by way of a trade with those desert dogs last summer that saw Marian Hossa and Vinnie Hinostroza go the other way.
We’ve been tracking the progress of each during the past few months, but here’s a quick recap of how these two players fared in the opening round.
How they got here
The Knights swept the Windsor Spitfires out of the postseason, in no small part due to some heavy offensive contributions from Boqvist. While he eased into his first bite of OHL playoff action, he then proceeded to tear through them like a Canadian hockey parent into a Boston Cream donut from Tim Hortons before sunrise on a Saturday morning.
The Swede recorded six goals during the course of Games 3 and 4, and finished the series with the following stat line:
- Goals: 6 (2 even strength, 4 PPG)
- Assists: 1 (secondary PPA)
- Shots: 14
For his efforts, Boqvist was also named the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Week for the second week of playoff action.
As for Entwistle, his club also closed out the first round in the minimum amount of games necessary. After being named the Western Conference’s Best Defensive Forward for the regular season, the 19-year-old forward went out and averaged better than a point per game in the four-game series.
- Goals: 2 (1 PPG, 1 empty netter)
- Assists: 3 (1 primary, 2 secondary including 1 PPA)
- Shots: 9
There’s a lot that can be said about this series, but for our purposes, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet by focusing on Chicago’s prospects.
The Knights enter the series as the top seed in the Western Conference, and therefore hold home-ice advantage and de facto favorite status. And rightly so. London is perennially loaded, and features a couple players who’ve seen NHL time already - Alex Formenton and Evan Bouchard.
It’s important to remember, though, that the Storm roster is drastically different than it was during the 2018 portion of the regular season. General manager/coach George Burnett made a bunch of key additions, Entwistle included. The team was then hit with a plethora of injuries, and is just now getting fully healthy.
It took some time for the new-look squad to gel, but they still took four of six games from the Knights during the regular season. The Storm won twice and London won once following the trade deadline, and oddly, none of the games were all that close, with the smallest margin of victory being four goals.
With all hands now on deck, Guelph has the look of a team that stacks up with any other across the OHL. It’s an experienced bunch as well; Guelph is the oldest team in the league averaging 3.9 years of service per player.
“After the trade deadline, we had a lot of new faces in the room and a lot of injuries,” said Entwistle said, per Paul Osborne of the Guelph Mercury. “We’re healthy now and we’re playing hard and everyone is playing for each other and Poppy (goaltender Anthony Popovich) is playing great. We’re playing to our advantages with our depth, our size and our speed.”
Entwistle slyly pointed to how Boqvist and the aforementioned Bouchard can be game changers from the blue line.
“(The Knights) have a lot of firepower up front and on the back end so it will be a good battle,” Entwistle said.
Indeed, Formenton (11) and Bouchard (10) were two of only four players to reach double-digit point totals in the opening round, with Guelph’s Nate Schnarr (10) being another.
When Boqvist and Bouchard are deployed at the same time - typically on the power play - it creates space for the former to put himself in position to score like he did in the final two games against Windsor.
“He has the Bouch Bomb, as we call it,” Boqvist told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press. As defenders keyed on Bouchard, in an attempt to hinder that bomb, or block the shot entirely, it allowed Boqvist to roam a bit, and to great effect. “We moved the puck well to the openings,” Boqvist continued. “I don’t think our power play was very good in Game 4 (1-for-4), but over the series, we played really well on it and we have worked on it a lot. It’s an important part for us.”
These two clubs are so talented and evenly matched, special teams may be the difference, meaning Boqvist’s continued ability to take advantage of that created space and play the puck closer to the net than your average defenseman will be key.
Having said that, the Storm were one of three teams that didn’t allow a power-play goal in the first round of the playoffs, going 11-for-11 on the penalty kill (Saginaw 15-15 and Niagara 16-16 were the others). Entwistle is a top line player for the Storm but still sees time on the penalty kill, so it will be interesting to see him and Boqvist out there doing their thing.
However this series goes, it’s shaping up to be a win-win for the future of the Blackhawks. If I had to pick, I’ll go Guelph in 7, and that’s not just because I live here, I promise.
Game 1 – Friday, April 5: Guelph at London – 7:30 p.m.
Game 2 – Sunday, April 7: Guelph at London – 2 p.m.
Game 3 – Monday, April 8: London at Guelph – 7 p.m.
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 10: London at Guelph – 7 p.m.
*Game 5 – Friday, April 12: Guelph at London – 7:30 p.m.
*Game 6 – Saturday, April 13: London at Guelph – 7 p.m.
*Game 7 – Tuesday, April 16: Guelph at London - 7 p.m.