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Blackhawks Prospect Report: Reichel, Borgström among impressive European prospects

A handful of Blackhawks prospects impressed in their respective European leagues ended recently.

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The European players headline this latest check-in on Blackhawks prospects around the hockey world.

Blackhawks 2020 first round pick Lukas Reichel continued to impress with Eisbären Berlin, which ended the season Friday as DEL champions. Despite being drafted as a winger, the 18-year-old was moved to center in mid-January and spent the rest of the season there — including the playoffs, when he fluctuated between the top two lines. Reichel is likely more suited for wing in the NHL, but his newfound versatility is extremely useful.

Reichel finished with 27 points (10 G, 17 A) in 38 points in the regular season and five points (2 G, 3 A) in nine games in the playoffs. His offense isn’t often flashy, but it was consistent, creative, and he often was the play-driver on his line. It seems inevitable that Reichel will be in North America next season.

Elsewhere in Europe, Henrik Borgström’s season in Finland ended on a positive note as well. Primarily playing third-line center, the 23-year-old pushed his team to win bronze in the HIFK championship by contributing five points (2 G, 3A) in eight games. He also finished the regular season in Liiga with 21 points (11 G, 10 A) in 30 games. Acquired from the Panthers just before the NHL trade deadline, Borgström is a former first-round pick (23rd overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, and spent the entire season playing for HIFK in Finland after falling out of favor in the Panthers organization.

When the center was acquired, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman mostly referenced Borgström’s highlight-reel-filled two years at the University of Denver, describing the center as the best college player he’s ever seen. Borgström’s raw talent is tantalizing, and the Blackhawks likely hope he’s finally at an age — he turns 24 in August — in which that skill will translate to the NHL.

The Blackhawks are expected to sign Borgström this summer.

Also playing in Finland, 5-foot-11 and 161-pound defensemen Jakub Galvas concluded his season with Jukurit of Liiga with 11 points (2 G, 9 A) in 47 games, playing a predominantly top-4 role on defense. After transitioning from the Czech Republic to Finland a couple of years ago, Galvas saw enough improvement to earn a contract from the Blackhawks, announced this week.

Galvas is now one of 12 defensemen — not including Brent Seabrook who is done playing professional hockey or Nikita Zadorov who is a pending restricted free agent — under contract with the Blackhawks for the 2021-22 season, and Galvas is likely to start the season in Rockford barring an exceptional training camp. One thing that could work in Galvas’ favor in the overcrowded Blackhawks’ defensive depth chart and prospect pool is that he’s already played in 208 professional games by the age of 21.

Sticking with Finland, Antti Saarela is another who made steady progress this season with Ilves of Liiga. Selected in the fourth-round in 2019, the center scored 14 points in 47 games while playing in a predominantly defensive third-line role throughout the regular season. Saarela’s role did expand in the playoffs as he shifted between first and second-line center, and he ended with 3 points (all assists) and won 51 percent of faceoffs while averaging 16:19 of ice time during five playoff games. Although his offense isn’t going to raise eyebrows yet, the fact that Saarela is coming into his own defensively is great.

In the KHL, the season wrapped for Artur Kayumov on March 29 as his team was eliminated from the Gagarin Cup playoffs in the conference semifinals. The 2016 second-rounder finished with two points (both assists) in 11 games, primarily playing third-line minutes in a more defensive role for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Still, Kayumov’s overall season was respectable in terms of production with a career-high of 29 points (12 G, 17 A) in 57 regular KHL season games.

Kayumov has one-year remaining on his contract in the KHL, so the earliest the Blackhawks might see him in North America is the ‘22-23 season.

At 28-years old, it feels odd to call Maxim Shalunov a prospect but the Blackhawks do still own his NHL rights, and the rumblings that he might finally be signed by the Blackhawks heated up again this season. Most people had given up on the former fourth-round pick from 2011 ever coming back to North America, but now might be the ideal time for the diminutive and young Blackhawks team to add the 6-foot-5, 205-pound veteran center to their roster.

Shalunov had a good regular season with CSKA Moskva in the KHL, producing 35 points (18 G, 17 A) in 52 games, but it was in the Gagarin Cup playoffs when he shined the most. Shalunov led the tournament in goals with 12 and was third overall with 18 points in 22 games. He did miss one playoff game due to a suspension for an illegal hit to the head.

According to the Athletic’s Scott Powers, the agent for Shalunov is trying to pitch him and Damir Zhafyarov from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod — a 27-year old winger who finished third in scoring in KHL — as a package deal to the Blackhawks. Whether either forward is signed by the Blackhawks is unknown.

Elsewhere in the hockey world:

Drew Commesso, G | Alex Vlasic, D | Jake Wise, LW | Wyatt Kaiser (NCAA)

A few of the Blackhawks prospects got to participate in National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff Championship but unfortunately did not go farther.

Commesso (second round, 2020), Vlasic (second round, 2019) and Wise (third round, 2018) all participated in Boston University’s 6-2 loss to St. Cloud Huskies during the regional semifinals of the Frozen Four tournament. In the loss, Commesso made 32 saves on 36 shots, Vlasic averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in a top-4 role, and Wise scored one of Boston’s two goals.

All three players are returning to college next season, though Wise is transferring to Ohio State University for his senior year, hoping to get his development back on track after injuries derailed him. Commesso looks to build on his solid freshman season while trying to stay healthy as well, and Vlasic opted to stay in school for his junior season despite reportedly being offered an NHL contract by the Blackhawks (again according to Powers).

Wyatt Kaiser (third round, 2020) was the No. 1 defensemen for Minnesota-Duluth this season, and it was clear why as he put on a defensive clinic during his single postseason game. The freshman defender was on the ice for only one scoring chance against at even-strength and logged 59:39 in the 5 OT game against North Dakota. Kaiser’s defense-first playing style combined with his skating ability make him an intriguing prospect to watch as he develops.

Louis Crevier, D (QMJHL)

Crevier (seventh-round, 2020) is another prospect who had a respectable season one year after his draft, playing top-pair minutes with Chicoutimi Saguenéens in the Q. The defensemen put up 14 points (6 G, 1 A) in 26 games in the regular season, and he has one goal in four games so far in the playoffs. Crevier is 6-foot-8 and 216 pounds and that kind of size is always intriguing. While he still needs to work on using it effectively, it’s promising that he skates pretty well already.

Rockford IceHogs (AHL)

2017 third-round picks Evan Barratt and Andrei Altybarmakyan continue to play well for an unimpressive IceHogs team. Barratt has 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in 27 games — third on the team in scoring — and Altybarmakyan has 11 points (4 G, 7 A) in 25 games. Both went a little cold offensively recently, but racked up two points each in their last two games.

MacKenzie Entwistle — acquired from the Coyotes in the Marian Hossa trade — had 12 points (4 G, 8 A) in 22 games with the IceHogs before being recalled to the Blackhawks and making his NHL debut. Entwistle’s dedication to improving skating may mean he’s finally ready to transition to the big club full-time next season.

After signing an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks and a professional tryout contract with the IceHogs, Josiah Slavin (seventh-round, 2018) started out hot with 6 points (3 G, 3 A) in his first six games in the AHL. He’s cooled off in the last five with zero points but his high-energy pace that helped produce that early offense has still been obvious.

Chet Yetman (sixth-round, 2020) and Reese Johnson (free agent signing) are having fine but not particularly exciting seasons in Rockford. Yetman has a respectable six points (2 G , 4 A) in 13 games with three of those points (1 G , 2 A) in his last two games, but he’s also stayed primarily on the fourth-line and been regulated to the ECHL a couple of times. Johnson has been alright with eight points (4 G, 4 A) in 17 games, which is a good point-per-game improvement from last season, but nothing really jumps out in his play to suggest he’ll translate up to a higher level outside of probable fourth-line role.

Two former fourth-round picks, Tim Söderlund (2017) and Michal Teplý (2019), are having disappointing seasons. Söderlund has only five assists in 20 AHL games while Teplý has three assist in 14 AHL games. At 23, Söderlund may not be long for the Blackhawks organization if he can’t put his game together consistently quick, but Teplý turns just 20 later in May and had 63 points (29 G, 34 A) in 53 games in the WHL a year ago, so there’s still much promise in the young forward.

Alec Regula — acquired from the Red Wings in the Brendan Perlini trade — also recently debuted with the Blackhawks despite his inconsistency of play in the AHL. The 6-4, 207-pound defenseman started off well but declined over the course of the AHL season with injuries likely impacting him along the way. He still remains a top defensive prospect but he’ll need to take that next step sooner-rather-than-later to not get lost in the overcrowded prospect pool. Regula had four points (3 G, 1 A) in 16 AHL games.

Isaak Phillips (fifth-round, 2020) has been one of the most consistent players for the IceHogs this season, which is interesting since he’s only playing in the AHL due to the cancelation of the OHL this season. The defenseman has seven points (2 G, 5 A) in 24 AHL games, and while his offense may never dazzle, it’s his poise with and without the puck that has garnered attention. At only 19, Phillips is obviously still a project but taking a big step to professional hockey ahead of schedule is impressive.

Nicolas Beaudin (first-round, 2018), Ian Mitchell (second-round, 2017), and Wyatt Kalynuk (free agent signing) all spent time between the AHL and NHL since the last iteration of this series. Beaudin had four points (2 G, 2 A) in five games, Mitchell had one assist in five games, and Kalynuk had four points (1 G, 3 A) in four games. Of the three, Mitchell has had the toughest season but there’s still a lot of promise for the highly-rated prospect.

As for goalies in Rockford, none of those on an NHL contract have been particularly good. Matt Tompkins (seventh-round, 2012) leads the team in games played at 13 but has only a .899 save percentage and 3.47 goals above replacement. Ivan Nalimov (sixth-round, 2014) has played in five games with .885 save percentage and 3.43 goals saved above average while Collin Delia (free-agent signing) has played four games during a conditioning stint with low results of .858 save percentage and 5.16 goals saved above average. Now, the IceHogs as a team struggle defensively a lot this season, so these results are at least somewhat due to the heavy workload, and none of the samples are particularly large so that can skew the numbers as well.

One goalie that did better than the rest was Cale Morris. He’s only signed to an AHL contract, but his .923 save percentage and 2.52 goals saved above average in seven games is clearly the best performance of the four netminders. Again, it’s a small sample, but it might be enough for the Blackhawks to give him an NHL deal for next season. He’s also the youngest as he turns just 25 later this month in May.