2022 Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Ryder Rolston debuts at 21

Appearing on the list for the first time, Rolston was a fifth-round pick by the Avs in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Second City Hockey’s 2022-23 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2022. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.

Remember when Carl Soderberg was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks?

Yeah, I try not to either, but Soderberg’s time with the Blackhawks netted the team several prospects. That includes Ryder Rolston, one of the leading scorers for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last season, who came to Chicago in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for Soderberg.

After a disappointing freshman season that saw Rolston score just six points (1 G, 5 A), Rolston broke out in his sophomore season, joining several upperclassmen as one of the top four scorers for the Fighting Irish with 27 points. Rolston scored more points than fellow sophomore and Blackhawks prospect Landon Slaggert, who is higher up on this list.

One of the reasons Rolston may be so low on this list is because he’s still somewhat unproven. You want to see your prospects put together multiple seasons of that caliber before they reach top-15 territory, and Rolston isn’t there yet. But he clearly showed something in one of the harder leagues to play in as a prospect, and with just a 9.2% shooting percentage, it’s not like Rolston went on an unrepeatable bender.

Rolston is also, to quote our greatest prospect analyzer, “an offensive machine” with not a lot of defensive prowess. That may be better than the reverse, because how many truly defensive defensemen and forwards in the minors eventually make the NHL? (Worth noting: Patrice Bergeron was a better than point-per-game player in the QMJHL in his draft year.)

While Rolston isn’t large — at just 6-1 (or, as listed by the NCAA, 6-2), he’s about average NHL size — he knows how to skate and can put the puck in the net while also finding ways to make plays at 5-on-5. All of his assists last season came at even strength.

Rolston has also focused on cutting down on penalties — going from 31 in 28 games to 24 in 38 — and knows how to score clutch goals, tying for the Notre Dame team lead with four game-winners.

It’s likely easier to teach an offensive forward to care about defense than it is to teach a defensive forward how to score. An exemplar of the former is Alex DeBrincat, who came into the league without much defensive ability and left the Blackhawks being one of the more prominent penalty-killing forwards and no longer a liability in his own zone.

Rolston is likely a few years away from the NHL (thank god, considering the teams the Blackhawks will be icing in the meanwhile) but could be ready to make an impact when Chicago is closer to contention.

Right now he likely lines up as a depth scorer, someone who goes on the first or second power-play unit (he scored three of his goals on the man advantage last season) and contributes. In the 2020s NHL, that’s a meaningful position.

The Colorado Avalanche likely don’t win the Stanley Cup without third-liners like J.T. Compher and Andre Burakovsky and the Lightning didn’t win until they had assembled Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman on their own third line.

What’s next?

Rolston will return to the NCAA next season as an upperclassman, entering his junior year. Rolston went above and beyond in his sophomore year, delivering likely more than what was expected out of a fifth-round NHL draftee and six-point freshman. However, now the expectations are for him to beat that sophomore year. Whether or not he does may show whether he’s ready to move up (or down) this list next year.