Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2019. The rankings are determined by a composite score from six SCH writers and more than 70 readers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. The six SCH writers will make their ballots public after the series is completed.
There has been no shortage of conversation surrounding the Blackhawks’ defensive prospects the past few seasons. Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell and former prospect Henri Jokiharju have been brought into the limelight of Chicago’s future plans to build a younger defensive corps in years to come. Among the talk of the young and upcoming talent, one player has managed to stay under the radar — Dennis Gilbert.
After finishing his junior season at Notre Dame, Gilbert signed a three-year contract with the Blackhawks in 2018. In his first professional season with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, he tallied 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 63 games. But his offensive production didn’t come right away. Once the calendar flipped to February, he started to deliver at both ends of the ice with five goals and four assists in 26 games and earn his first career NHL call up.
Voted as the Most Improved Player in Rockford, Gilbert favors a traditionally physical style of play with bruising hits, timely blocked shots and a slap shot that has broken a few panels of glass. Gilbert shines at the blue line guarding opposing rushes where he can step up, take the body and separate the puck from the opponent. If the puck carrier happens to find some space in the offensive zone or high slot, Gilbert fearlessly positions himself in the shooting lane to block their shot. An intangible that is not for the faint of heart and is sought after by coaches.
Gilbert can also occasionally impact the game in the offensive end. His hustle and relentlessness in the offensive zone resulted in one of the best goals from the 2018-2019 season:
Confirmed. Gilbert elite status.— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 2, 2019
Gilbert > Flacco pic.twitter.com/IcX87fRXTQ
Gilbert took a penalty on his second shift in his NHL debut, but his play and confidence appeared to grow as the game went on. He showed his physical play with a game-high six hits.
Gilbert doing Gilbert things pic.twitter.com/MvIY309w3M— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) April 4, 2019
Gilbert could make a jump to the NHL if he can improve his foot speed and stay out of the penalty box. He led Rockford in penalty minutes and served a three-game suspension on a questionable hit in December. He’ll need to be more disciplined when using his physicality. There are times when hit can be interchanged for a quick cut of the edges and a stick lift or poke check instead of forcing contact and getting a holding or hooking call. If there are signs of development in his speed and decision making when it comes to physicality, Gilbert could certainly be rewarded with a longer look in the NHL.
Gilbert will return to the IceHogs next season, where he’ll be one of the “elder statesmen” among defensemen on NHL deals. Only Joni Tuulola and Roscoe native Josh McArdle, who is on an AHL deal, are older. Gilbert will be relied on to play a more defensive and physical game to complement the more offensive-oriented Rockford blue liners. He will be looked upon to guide the development of newer prospects joining the IceHogs.
Is Dennis Gilbert ranked too low, just right or too high?
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