(Editor’s note: all information referenced in this article is through the end of Monday, Dec. 20)
After a slow start to the season, the Rockford IceHogs have been consistent but not particularly impressive in their last eight games. Their 4-4-0 record in that span was enough for them to climb to third in their division, but the IceHogs’ limited offense — just 2.25 goals-per-game in those eight games — continues to hold them back from going farther.
The good news is they received a reinforcement recently: 2020 first-round pick and IceHogs leading scorer Lukas Reichel returned from concussion protocol and looked great in two games. He was slotted immediately back as the IceHogs’ top-line center, produced two points (1 G, 1 A), and was the most noticeable player for both teams in Rockford’s game against the Texas Stars Sunday.
Despite missing the last seven games, no one caught up to Reichel’s team-leading production, and he now has 14 points (8 G, 6 A) in 17 games. Additionally, the Blackhawks and Reichel have decided he will not be playing in the upcoming 2022 U20 World Juniors.
Lukas Reichel (#27 in red) scores a goal on the power play! Two point night for him so far. Wyatt Kalynuk (#48) and Dylan McLaughlin (#39) with the assists. #Blackhawks #HawksProspects #HockeyTwitter #IceHogs #DEB #EBB pic.twitter.com/DJnOAfPKWU— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) December 19, 2021
#RFDvsTEX | A bright spot for Rockford tonight has been Lukas Reichel. A 2020 first round pick by the Blackhawks, Reichel is one of the highest drafted German-born players in history. It’s easy to see why after his performance here tonight. He’s got the tools of a potential star.— Tyler Weber (@FPHStars) December 19, 2021
Mike Hardman (NCAA free-agent, 2021) scored a goal in his second game back with the IceHogs, bring his total points to three (1 G, 2 A) in five AHL games. He was put on a line with Reichel, which is a good position for him to be in since Hardman was at his best at Boston College when he was playing a complementary role to high-skilled players.
The next most productive forward in Rockford is Alex Nylander (trade acquisition, 2019) with a solid 0.55 points-per-game rate for the season, including another three points (1 G, 2 A) in his last five games. That’s still probably not where the Blackhawks want him to be offensively and may be why they keep passing him over when it comes to call-ups, but credit should be given for his commitment to rounding out his game while in the AHL.
The only other forward prospect above a 0.5 points-per-game rate is 2017 third-rounder Evan Barratt. He has stagnated a bit recently, though, with only one assist in his last seven games. But he’s still doing a lot of the little things correct, so hopefully his production will course correct too.
Andrei Altybarmakyan (third-round, 2017) and Cam Morrison (NCAA free agent, 2020) both have two assists in the last eight games and Michel Teplý (fourth round, 2019) finally got his first point of the season in the same span.
The IceHogs blueline continues to be the main catalyst for offense as a defenseman contributed to all but one of the 18 goals scored in their last eight games. Minor injuries, illness, and call-ups have caused some of the defensemen to play in a smaller sample of AHL games recently, but each one has made a positive impact on the team in those games.
Isaak Phillips (fifth-round, 2020) and Nicolas Beaudin (first round, 2018) are the only two defensemen who have appeared in all eight games since the last Prospect Update. Phillips added another goal and two assists to bring his points total to eight (2 G, 6 A) in 17 games while Beaudin racked up another two assists for six total in 21 games.
What an individual effort by Isaak Phillips (#41 in red). Exits the defensive zone, enters the defensive zone, follows up the rebound and scores with ease. Cam Morrison (#45) and Dylan McLaughlin (#39) with the assists. #Blackhawks #HockeyTwitter #HawksProspects pic.twitter.com/bKvWX0jcOv— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) December 2, 2021
Next up is the primary driving force from the backend: 2017 second-round pick Ian Mitchell. Not only does he have 6 points (2 G, 4 A) in his last six games, he’s been stellar on the defensive side of the puck, especially when it comes to breaking up plays. Although he probably deserves another promotion to the NHL with his performance this season in Rockford, Mitchell is still just 22 years old and there’s no harm in letting him really mature his game in a lower level.
D.J. Busdeker (#79 in white) scores his second goal on the season. Once again, what a freaking pass by Ian Mitchell (#51). Alex Nylander (#92) also picks up an assist. #Blackhawks #HockeyTwitter #HawksProspects #IceHogs pic.twitter.com/zPakPjq568— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) December 9, 2021
Wyatt Kalynuk (NCAA free-agent, 2021), Jakub Galvas (fifth-round, 2017), and Alec Regula (trade acquisition, 2019) each have two points in four AHL games. Kalynuk got in a few games with the Blackhawks, Galvas missed time in concussion protocol, and Regula rotated in and out of the lineup with.
Michael Krutil, a 2020 fourth-round pick, has only made it into seven games with the IceHogs and none in December, but he was invited to be on the Czech Republic’s U20 World Juniors team thanks to his previous good showings at international tournaments.
In net, Arvid Söderblom (European free agent, 2021) missed practically the entire month of December while in concussion protocol. His first game back was Sunday’s loss against the Texas Stars and the rust was evident — he had his second to worse game of the season with only a 0.897 save-percentage. We’ll have to wait to see if he can rebound back up to his solid form from previously in the season.
In the NCAA:
Drew Commesso (G) | Alex Vlasic (D), Boston University
After a rough start to the season, 2020 second-round pick Commesso has steadily been regaining the elite form we saw flashes of in the short season last year. He followed up strong outings against Northeastern prior to Thanksgiving with even more impressive showings against the University of New Hampshire last week, posting .966 save-percentages or better in both games. On top of his save-percentage improving, his 2.82 goals against average for the season so far is lower than the 2.99 it was last season.
Commesso’s improvement comes at an ideal time: he’s expected to be the starter for Team USA at the 2022 World Juniors, a tournament he missed last year due to COVID.
Every so often, I’m struck by a conversation I have with one of these kids. It has been a while since I was as impressed by one as I was after the call I had with Commesso during his quarantine at the hotel. An articulate, intelligent kid with a great head on his shoulders.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 18, 2021
Vlasic (second round, 2019) quieted back down offensively over the last three games with zero points, but he still contributed to the defensive side while on the top pair for the Terriers.
Wyatt Kaiser (D) | Connor Kelley (D), University of Minnesota-Duluth
2020 Third-round pick Kaiser (third round, 2020) added another assist in his last two games, bringing his points total to seven (1 G, 6 A) in 14 games. His impressive defensive growth over the last couple of years has paid off as Kaiser was selected to represent the USA at the World Juniors later this month — his first WJC showing.
Unfortunately, Kelley (seventh round, 2021) was one of the final cuts from Team USA’s World Juniors roster, so he won’t be Kaiser’s teammate. Still, the UMD sophomore is having a very nice season and he notched two more assists in his last two games this past weekend.
Landon Slaggert (LW) | Ryder Rolston (RW) Notre Dame
Speaking of Team USA, Landon Slaggert was the third Blackhawks prospect named to the American World Juniors roster. Although he did not score in last year’s WJC tournament — where he won gold — it did act as a spark for Slaggert when he returned to Notre Dame, scoring 19 points (7 G, 12 A) in his final 18 games last season after only having a 0.5 points-per-game rate prior. Slaggert is performing slightly better currently at 0.59 point-per-game rate — including two points (1 G, 1 A) in his last four games — but hopefully the WJC can propel him back up to the torrid production from his freshman season.
Slaggert will also be wearing a letter at the World Juniors:
Jake Sanderson (OTT) will wear the C for Team USA. Matty Beniers (SEA), Landon Slaggert (CHI) and Brock Faber (LAK) also wearing letters as alternate captains.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) December 21, 2021
Ryder Rolston (trade acquisition, 2021) was held without a point in two consecutive games for only the second time this season, a pretty incredible feat considering he’s a former fifth-round pick (Colorado). He still had four points (2 G, 2 A) in his last four games while playing top-line minutes.
Jake Wise (C), Ohio State University
After missing four games due to illness, Wise (third round, 2018) picked up where he left off, dominating on the scorecard. He doubled his points over his last six games, and now has 14 points (4 G, 10 A) in 16 games with Ohio State. The Blackhawks’ rights to Wise expire in 2022, but hopefully they don’t let him walk — when healthy, Wise has middle-six potential.
Goal two of the third ...— Ohio State Men's Hockey (@OhioStateMHKY) December 17, 2021
Jake Wise from Cole McWard. pic.twitter.com/Pdcbo4z4NK
Taige Harding (D), AJHL
2021 third-round pick Harding is another player just racking up the points in his league. He had another nine points in his last nine games, including five goals. The 6-foot-7, 234 pound defenseman has been particularly lethal with his slap shot, and it’ll be interesting to see how that fares against NCAA goalies next year when he’s at Providence College.
Ethan Del Mastro (D), OHL
Not too far behind in production is fellow 2021 draft pick Del Mastro (fourth-round) with five assists in his last seven games. Unlike Harding, Del Mastro gets most of his points through assists — he’s especially been excellent at activating rushes for his teammates via his passing. His long reach, strong skating, and physicality have made him a dual threat for the Mississauga Steelheads.
Louis Crevier, D (QMJHL)
At 6-foot-8 and 214 pounds, Crevier’s (seventh-round, 2020) has shown that he knows how to use his size well. He can be physical and play hard, but not as overtly as some of the other large defenders in the Blackhawks’ prospect pool. Instead, Crevier uses his reach to wield a widely effective stick, breaking up passes and going for poke checks to force turnovers. He also had three assists in his last six games, his most productive stretch of the season.
Nolan Allan (D), Colton Dach (C), Jalen Luypen (C/LW), WHL
2021 first-round Allan earned another five assists in his last seven games, including a few beautiful stretch passes that were reminiscent of Brent Seabrook. Also somewhat similar to Seabrook, Allan showed off a penchant for throwing big but effective hits over the last month. Allan was considered a reach for the first-round, mostly due to his lack of refined puck skills — and he’ll need to develop more before he’s NHL ready obviously — but his progress in that department has been very good for the first season post-draft.
After a short cool period, Dach (second-round, 2021) had six points (4 G, 2 A) in his last eight games, showing off his great shot in several games at the start of December. While his skating has improved since prior to the draft, there are still times when his form limits him from reaching his highest potential. Hopefully the Blackhawks will continue to push this as a key area because Dach’s natural shooting ability and his efficiency in front of the net are attributes the team could use more of at the NHL level in the future.
The most productive member of the Blackhawks 2021 draft class is still Luypen (seventh-round), who put up another six points (3 G, 3 A) in his last seven games. Luypen told The Athletic’s Scott Powers that the Blackhawks want him to watch and emulate current NHL player Brandon Hagel, which seems appropriate considering the similarities in the two players’ styles already. Luypen is smaller and not as physical at Hagel, but the former is a high-effort, tenacious winger with a strong two-way work ethic — which sounds familiar — and who already has a better natural shot.
Niklas Nordgren (RW) | Antti Saarela (LW), Finland
2018 third-round pick Nordgren is seemingly making the most of his time with Lahden Pelicans in Liiga, producing another goal and assist in his last four games in a primarily third-line role. Despite the improved play as of late, it seems unlikely the Blackhawks will sign Nordgren before their rights to him expire next summer. His skating is still a large work in progress as well.
Saarela (fourth-round, 2019) has cooled down recently. He scored a hat trick on Dec. 4 — breaking a 42-year old record for the fastest three goals in Liiga history — but hasn’t had a point in his last five games. He’s still on the second line and a key player on both the power play and penalty kill with Ilves.
Have yourself a day Antti Saarela (#25 in yellow)! He recorded a hat-trick today for @ilveshockey. He scored both the first goal, and the first hat-trick in their new arena (Nokia-areena). He does a nice job forcing a turnover and then scores. #Blackhawks #HockeyTwitter pic.twitter.com/KduU8DNQPf— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) December 3, 2021
Ilveksen Antti Saarela teki perjantaina Liiga-historiaa! Saarelan kolme maalia Tapparan verkkoon Nokia Arenan avausottelussa on nopein hattutemppu ottelun alusta lukien. Aikaisempi Liiga-ennätys oli reilun 42 vuoden takaa.#Liiga #Ilves pic.twitter.com/xW8grLqfRZ— Liiga (@smliiga) December 4, 2021
Artur Kayumov (RW) | Ilya Safonov (D), KHL
Kayumov (second-round, 2016) has slowly been inching closer to his production levels from last season — his four points (1 G, 3 A) in his last six games brought his points-per-game rate to 0.47, only down slightly from the 0.51 rate it was last year. He’s currently playing for Russia in the Channel One Cup tournament in a fourth-line role and with zero points in three games.