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Blackhawks 2020 Top 25 Under 25: Honorable Mentions

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Antti Saarela made two lists, while Reese Johnson and Matej Chalupa each made one.

Rockford IceHogs forward Reese Johnson, left, defends against San Antonio Rampage forward Cameron Darcy on Feb. 22, 2020, at BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Ill.
Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs

Second City Hockey will drop the puck on its 2020 Top 25 Under 25 ranking series by looking at three players that were included on ballots, but did not earn enough voting points to make the 25-man list. Voters for this installment include SCH’s three writers and community member, L_B_R.

Antti Saarela

Position: Left wing/center
Birth date: June 27, 2001 (19)
Acquired via: 2019 NHL draft, fourth round
Team: Ilves (Liiga)
Stats: 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 40 games; 0 points in 7 WJC games
Size: 5-foot-11, 187 pounds
Contract: Unsigned
Rankings: 23 (LBR), 24 (Brandon); Unranked (Dave, Shepard)
Last T25U25 ranking: No. 22

Saarela had his ups and downs as an 18-year-old playing in Finland’s top division. He scored 11 of his 12 points in 27 games at the time of our last ranking then had one assist before finishing the final 15 games without a point. That’s not too surprising considering his role as a fourth-line forward, primarily at center, who has more defensive responsibilities.

His biggest asset remains his speed and edge work with his skating as one of the fastest players in Chicago’s system. He already has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 12 games and looks more confident with the puck.

The Blackhawks have until 2023 to sign him, but he seems prime to do so before that if he adds some more offensive to his game and improves at the faceoff dot.

Reese Johnson

Position: Center/right wing
Birth date: July 10, 1998 (22)
Acquired via: Undrafted free agent
Team: Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Stats: 8 points (four goals, four assists) in 52 games
Size: 6-foot-1, 192 pounds
Contract: 2 years, $880,833
Rankings: 21 (Shepard); Unranked (Brandon, Dave, LBR)
Last T25U25 ranking: Honorable mention

In his first AHL season, Johnson scored only eight points after a good appearance at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp. His ability to win faceoffs and be defensively responsible could make him a fourth-line option in the future. He was also invited to Chicago’s return-to-play training camp in the summer.

Johnson was signed with Chicago in March 2019 and finished his junior career with 27 goals and 53 points as captain for the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL. His 9.1 shooting percentage leaves some room and hope for improvement, especially if he learns to stay out of the penalty box as Johnson took a team-high 63 penalty minutes, among players who spent the season solely with Rockford.

Matej Chalupa

Position: Left wing
Birth date: July 26, 1998 (22)
Acquired via: Undrafted free agent
Team: Mountfield HK (Czech)
Stats: 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 50 games
Size: 6-foot-2, 194 pounds
Contract: 2 years, $925,000
Rankings: 25 (Shepard); Unranked (Brandon, Dave, LBR)
Last T25U25 ranking: N/A

Chalupa is the latest product of the Blackhawks’ pro European scouts which has brought the team Dominik Kubalik, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf and others. That’s a large legacy to live up to, and not every European player the Blackhawks have signed has (Jacob Nilsson and Dennis Rasmussen prove that).

Still, Chalupa is relatively young for a European signing — Kubalik was 24 and Kahun was 23 — and has some time to make the NHL. With a good amount of scoring in the Czech league this past season, Chalupa will get a chance to make an impact at the AHL level.

He has a decent NHL ceiling and could be a middle-six option if he plays up to potential.