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2019 Blackhawks prospect camp: What we learned about the defensemen

Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell could push to play in the NHL next season.

Ian Mitchell skates with the puck during the Blackhawks development camp scrimmage Friday, July 19, 2019, at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago.

This is the first in a three-part positional group series where we give takeaways from the Blackhawks’ prospect camp. First up will be the defensemen.

Are Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell NHL-ready?

The Blackhawks are hoping they’ll finally end their drought of not being able to develop a top-four defensemen in their pipeline. Niklas Hjalmarsson, a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NHL draft, was their last drafted defenseman to earn a permanent place in the lineup. The Blackhawks have four players in 2018 first-rounders Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin, 2017 second-rounder Ian Mitchell and 2019 second-rounder Alex Vlasic who have top-four defensemen potential. Boqvist and Mitchell, who both happen to be right-handed shots, hold the top spots among the foursome.

Boqvist looked stronger and much more confident than at last year’s camp. The time former Blackhawk and current player development coach Brian Campbell spent this past season working with Boqvist certainly seems to be paying off. The Blackhawks are “learning toward” Boqvist turning pro and likely playing for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL oppose to returning to the London Knights in the OHL. During the scrimmage, the soon-to-be 19-year-old showed why.

Boqvist’s offensive skill was on display, highlighted by a nifty between the legs stickhandle on Josh Ess then sent a pass between Jakub Galvas’ legs to Josiah Slavin for the opening goal.

That play was No. 6 on the Top 10 plays during ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Friday.

Boqvist also showed off his skating ability when he eluded a check and rifled one a shot off the post during the second period:

Later on he showed some solid defensive play by breaking up a 2-on-1 that would lead to a scoring chance.

For Mitchell, his week was centered around whether he’d go back on his promise to return to the University of Denver after right-handed defenseman Henri Jokiharju was traded to Buffalo. Mitchell remained poised and reiterated his loyalty to DU, where he’ll be the team captain for his junior season.

Mitchell is a much better defender than Boqvist, and has some offensive upside to his game as well. Mitchell’s poise and vision showed in the scrimmage when he took a pass from Alexander Nylander and skated to open a passing lane to Mathias From before firing a pass that became a From goal.

Mitchell also flashed his offensive skill with this nifty shootout goal at the end of Friday’s action:

Boqvist’s gets all the headlines for being a top-10 pick and his dynamic offensive play, but don’t be surprised if Mitchell ends up being the better all-around player in the future.

The Hawks defense has two new faces with Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan being acquired in offseason trades. But there’s still far from an abundance of talent among Chicago’s blue line and, if Boqvist shines during training camp and the preseason, it wouldn’t be a total shock for him to open the 2019-20 season as a Blackhawk.

If Mitchell plays in the NHL next season two things need to happen: DU falls short of the Frozen Four semifinals in Detroit and/or the Blackhawks need to be in the playoffs. The NCAA tournament starts March 27 and the puck is dropped on the Frozen Four semifinals April 9, five days after the NHL regular-season ends. The Blackhawks could also opt for Mitchell to join the AHL once his season ends, if the IceHogs are in the Calder Cup playoffs.

What’s up with Beaudin?

One word is becoming tied to Beaudin — overlooked. The 27th overall pick in 2018 just doesn’t get as much fanfare as Boqvist or Mitchell despite being a first-round pick. Beaudin’s game doesn’t standout as much as he quietly just does his job and sets things up from the backend. If a defenseman isn’t noticeable that’s not a bad thing.

His backwards skating is one area that will need to continue to improve.

He’ll play next season in the AHL and could split the 2020-21 season between the AHL and NHL if a roster spot is available on the left side.

Towering Vlasic can skate

The Blackhawks finally have a big, strong defensemen that can skate in their system with Vlasic, who hits the tape at 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds. The Wilmette, Illinois native would be an ideal linemate for the Blackhawks’ more offensive-minded blue liners. During the scrimmage, Vlasic was paired with Mitchell and much like Beaudin was quiet but defensively sound.

For his size, Vlasic is a good skater with a smooth stride that obviously allows him to cover a lot of ground.

And this is an extended look at Vlasic from the other end of the rink:

The lone downside from the scrimmage was there wasn’t a Vlasic-Alex DeBrincat interaction. A picture needs to happen.

Vlasic plans to plans to play two to three seasons at Boston University before signing. He’ll be joined at BU by forward prospect Jake Wise, who will be a sophomore next season and spent time with Vlasic throughout the week.

Chad Krys shows defensive skills

One play that stood out for the 2016 second-rounder was this dogged puck retrieval after Krys’ shot from the point was temporarily corralled by Nylander along the boards.

Krys had a brief nine-game AHL stint following his junior season at BU. He had four assists and was on the ice for four goals for and six against during 5-on-5 play. He’s a good skater and could end up being better as a pro than his play in college experience showed. He’ll play in the AHL next season.

Next tier

After those five defensemen, there’s a big gap in expectations for the other six blue liners that attended camp.

Josh Ess

Ess is a bit of a wild card. He’s a lefty with a good shot, skates well and has logged big minutes for Wisconsin in his first two seasons. The Badgers should be a tournament team next season with the 2017 seventh-rounder playing a large role on the blue line.

Jakub Galvas

Ben Pope from the Sun-Times noticed Galvas during Friday’s scrimmage:

Galvas might be the smallest player in the system at 5-11, 165 pounds so he’ll need to add some muscle. His hockey IQ and skill have made up for that in three seasons in the Czech Republic and two World Juniors appearances. He’ll make the challenging and needed transition to a tougher league next season by playing for Jukurit in Liiga, Finland’s top division.

Roope Laavainen

The 2017 fourth-rounder’s scrimmage was highlighted by this keep away behind the net against Nylander:

Laavainen, who will turn 21 in August, has a big frame at 6-2 and 201 pounds and is more of a defensive player. He will play his third season with HPK in Liiga.

Jake Ryczek

Ryczek, 2016 seventh-rounder, impressed enough during camp to earn a one-year AHL contract with the IceHogs after an impressive season with Halifax in the QMJHL. His skating ability was the most notable aspect of his game Friday. He’ll be one of three right-handed defenseman on AHL deals competing for ice time with the IceHogs next season.

Ryan Shea

Shea was one of the older players at camp, as the 22-year-old was a 2015 fourth-round pick. Here’s one noticeable shift he had navigating on the offensive end:

Shea, a lefty, will play his senior season at Northeastern. Unless he takes a considerable step in his game, it’s unlikely the Blackhawks will sign him.

Cole Moberg

Last month’s seventh-round pick has drawn some comparisons to former Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien, who played for the same WHL team as Moberg in Prince George. Moberg was listed as a forward/defenseman at the draft, which is similar to Byfuglien’s time in Chicago. Moberg showed off his shot in the scrimmage with this 4-on-4 goal:

Moberg, who turns 19 in October, will play in his third full WHL season with Prince George in 2019-20.