The Blackhawks will begin their annual weeklong prospect development camp Monday at Fifth Third Arena.
Each day will have off- and on-ice portions, with the latter happening from 1-5 p.m. Monday to Thursday. The camp will conclude with its lone scrimmage, starting at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Two of the Blackhawks’ last three third-round selections in center Evan Barratt (No. 90 in 2017) and right winger Niklas Nordgren (No. 74 in 2018) will not participate in on-ice drills as they’re working their way back from injuries. Winger Dominik Kubalik, who is expected to compete for a NHL roster spot, will also not be on the ice.
The Blackhawks’ Russian prospects are unable to attend the camp due to their KHL contracts.
The camp is the first evaluation and development stage for prospects this summer.
Here are five things to watch:
Kirby Dach and 2019 draft class
As with every year, all eyes will be on the top selection from the team’s most recent draft class and this year that’s Kirby Dach.
Dach, a right-handed center, was drafted with the third overall pick in June and had a strong season with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. The hulking 6-foot-4, 198-pounder signed his entry-level contract earlier this month and could begin the upcoming season in the NHL or return to the WHL. Dach put up 25 goals and 73 points in 62 WHL games last season. He likes to compare his game to Mark Scheifele, while many scouts offer Ryan Getzlaf as an NHL comparison.
The question is how the Blackhawks create a NHL spot for Dach. With Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome and Artem Anisimov down the middle, there isn’t room for Dach. The Blackhawks could have Dach start at wing, move Anisimov to wing and have Dach at center or trade Anisimov to open up the third-line spot.
No matter what happens, it’ll be interesting to see how Dach performs during camp. He’ll also play in the World Junior Summer Showcase later this month in Plymouth, Michigan, as he competes for a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship squad.
Dach will be joined at the Blackhawks’ camp by the other five selections from the 2019 draft class: defenseman Alex Vlasic (No. 43), winger Michal Teply (No. 105), center/wing Antti Saarela (No. 123), goaltender Dominic Basse (No. 167) and defenseman Cole Moberg (No. 194).
Vlasic — a Wilmette, Illinois native — plans to play at least two seasons at Boston University before turning pro. The Czech-born Teply will play for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, who selected him fourth overall in the CHL Import Draft. Saarela is set to skate for Ilves in Liiga, Finland’s top division. It’s unknown where Colorado College commit Basse will play next season, while Moberg will return to the WHL’s Prince George.
Four Horsemen Three Amigos
The Four Horsemen are no more after the Blackhawks traded defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Sabres in exchange for winger Alexander Nylander. The Blackhawks drafted four defensemen in the first two rounds, starting in 2017 with Jokiharju before stopping that streak with Dach. Adam Boqvist (No. 8 in 2018), Nicolas Beaudin (No. 27 in 2018) and Ian Mitchell (No. 57 in 2017) remain.
Boqvist and Beaudin appear to be headed to the AHL next season. Boqvist made the transition from Sweden to North America with the London Knights in the OHL last season. Known for his skating ability, power play performance and offensive upside, Boqvist tallied 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 54 games. Beaudin, the lone left-handed shot among the trio, is often over looked. He capped his junior career with the Drummondville Voltigeurs with 56 points (seven goals, 49 assists) in 53 QMJHL games despite missing about a month with a wrist fracture.
Mitchell, who was expected to sign with the Blackhawks this past spring, is set to return to the University of Denver for his junior season as the team captain. He intends to sign after next season when he could join the Blackhawks or Rockford IceHogs for a late playoff push. Chad Krys (No. 45 in 2016) followed that path this past season.
Beaudin, Boqvist and Krys will all remain in Chicago for an additional two weeks after camp to work with the team’s strength and conditioning staff, according to Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times. Mitchell will not. Beaudin and Boqvist will also play in the Chicago Pro Hockey League.
The other Nylander
It’s not often players with NHL experience attend prospect camps, but Alexander Nylander will do just that. With 19 NHL games across the past three seasons on his resume, he’s the most experienced player in camp.
The Sabres selected Nylander with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, and he hasn’t been able to breakthrough yet. The 21-year-old has three goals and six points in the NHL and 86 points (30 goals, 56 assists) in 165 AHL games. He has high-end skill, vision and a good shot, but has slightly above average speed. He projects to be a second line winger that can play on either side.
The biggest knock against Nylander is his lack of compete level. During the media teleconference call after the trade, he lauded the Blackhawks ability to develop players. Let’s see if it happens.
MacKenzie Entwistle, C/RW: Acquired last July in the Marian Hossa deal with Arizona, Entwistle was traded from the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Guelph Storm following a strong performance at World Juniors with three goals in five games for Canada. He helped the Storm win an OHL championship last season — his second — and saw time at center and wing. He had 30 goals and 57 points between Hamilton and Guelph, and added seven goals and 21 points in the playoffs. At 6-4, he’ll offer plenty of size for the IceHogs.
Brandon Hagel, LW: The Blackhawks signed Hagel after Buffalo let his 2016 draft rights expired. He put up big numbers as an overage player in the WHL, with 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) for the fourth-most in the league in only 66 games. He had one assist in eight AHL games to end the season. He has two years remaining on his contract.
Mikael Hakkarainen, C: The Finnish forward played just one game for Providence College then decided it wasn’t the best place for his development and rejoined the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL. He had 19 goals and 47 points in 42 games while developing a stronger two-way game then signed with the Blackhawks.
Reese Johnson, C: Like Dach, Johnson is one of the few right-handed centers in the Blackhawks’ system. Johnson played with Hagel, his cousin, last season and was Red Deer’s captain. Johnson had 27 goals and 53 points in 67 WHL games then finished his season with four assists in six games with the IceHogs. His work ethnic and ability to win faceoffs are his best attributes.
Chad Krys, LH-D: After wrapping up his junior season at Boston University with 20 points in 30 games, Krys added four assists in nine AHL games. The Blackhawks have a bevy of left-handed shots in the system, so they can give him plenty of time to develop and mature in the AHL.
Philipp Kurashev, C: Kurashev was putting together a steady QMJHL campaign before scoring a tournament-high six goals for Switzerland at World Juniors. After leading the Quebec Remparts in scoring with 65 points and winning 52.9 percent of his faceoffs in 59 QMJHL games, he joined the IceHogs for three games. His contract starts next season, and with his play-making ability and vision he can play center or wing.
Tim Soderlund, W: A speedy Swedish winger, Soderlund fell below expectations last season with Frölunda HC and was traded back to Skellefteå AIK in the SHL. He tallied nine of his 14 points with Skellefteå then signed with Chicago to make the jump to North America for the upcoming season.
Interesting unsigned prospects
Center Evan Barratt (Penn State), defenseman Josh Ess (Wisconsin) and left winger Parker Foo (Union) will enter their junior seasons. Barratt offers the most upside among the trio, logging 43 points in 32 games last season with one of the most exciting teams in the nation.
Defenseman Jakub Galvas, another left-handed shot, will make the transition from the Czech Republic to Finland to play for Jukurit in Liiga after signing a two-year deal with the club.
Alexis Gravel is the top unsigned goaltender in the Blackhawks’ system. The 2018 sixth-rounder is a big netminder (6-3, 218) with a great right-handed glove. He helped lead the Halifax Mooseheads to the QMJHL President’s Cup and CHL Memorial Cup finals this past season. He had a .913 save percentage in 49 games last season. He’ll join Dach at the WJSS before returning to Halifax for his fourth QMJHL campaign.
Defenseman Jake Ryczek, a right-handed shot, was Gravel’s teammate in Halifax. The 21-year-old Ryczek had nine goals and 24 assists in 51 games last season. He played a mere five games for Providence College in 2017 before his move to Halifax. The Blackhawks hold his rights for another year, and it’s unknown where he’ll be playing next season.
Center Jake Wise was one of the standout prospects at last year’s camp and was heralded as one of the potential steal’s in the 2018 draft. The United States National Team Development Program product’s freshman season at BU, however, was halted at 12 games due to a shoulder injury. He had two assists. After back-to-back seasons being shortened by injuries, Wise will look to bounce back for his sophomore campaign.