If you’ve been paying attention to the Blackhawks Instagram account this summer, you might have noticed a quartet of prospects featured during the team’s development camp: Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Alex Nylander and MacKenzie Entwistle.
The first three names are a given, seeing as Nylander, Boqvist and Dach were high first-round draft picks in 2016, 2018 and 2019, respectively.
It was Entwistle, though, who was given the keys to the Instagram stories for a whole day, giving fans a brief but important glimpse into the team’s future.
Entwistle might not be the most talented prospect in the organization, but he sure as heck stands out as a leader among his peers, both on and off the ice. He’s well spoken, carries himself well, and is mature beyond his year.
On top of that, he knows what is expected of him from management and the coaching staff, and is willing to put in the work to exceed those expectations.
“He’s got a good understanding of what is going to get him to the NHL,” Bowman said during camp, per Jimmy Greenfield of The Chicago Tribune. “And not every player at that age figures that out. Sometimes it takes them until they’re 25 before they realize, ‘This is my path to the NHL.’ MacKenzie’s got a pretty good understanding right now, at the age of 20, what it’s going to take to make it.”
It might not happen for a year or two or even three, but it’s well within reason to project Entwistle as a valuable third-line forward of the future for the Blackhawks.
He freely admits his tour of duty as a member of Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships provided a model for what he’ll need to do to keep playing at hockey’s highest levels.
“I was kind of slotted into a role that was a (high) energy, penalty kill-type of player,” Entwistle said, again per the Tribune. “That really helped me and grew me as a player because at the next level that’s sort of the player I’m going to be and I’ve kind of accepted that.”
Back in March, Entwistle told Second City Hockey his goal was to play in Chicago this coming season, but AHL Rockford was already on his radar.
“I want to make a push to try and make that team in a third- or fourth-line role, but at the same time I know the AHL team in Rockford is doing pretty well. Wherever they see me fit, I’ll be more than happy. That’s my goal, to play in the NHL next year, but whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to keep working.”
Entwistle did add 10 pounds to his frame over the past year, and was deployed as a physical, grinding presence on Guelph’s top line for much of his time with the Storm, riding to glory with Nick Suzuki and Isaac Ratcliffe.
He proved he can hang with some of the best players in junior hockey en route to his second OHL championship in as many years, but the NHL is obviously a very different beast, and a period of adjustment to the pro game by way of the AHL is very much in order.
In today’s NHL, you need players like Entwistle in order to compete - he’s versatile on the ice (he can play wing or center, whatever the situation demands), good in the room, with the media and the fans, and he won’t put you in a tough spot cap-wise because his game is effective, not flashy.
There’s certainly room for a young forward or two to crack the Blackhawks lineup in 2019-20, but the aforementioned Nylander and Dach would likely have a leg up, and Entwistle would have to blow everyone away with his effort in training camp in order to stick in Chicago as a 20-year-old rookie.
If it doesn’t happen, he’s sure to become a fan favorite in Rockford very soon.