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Blackhawks Prospect Report: Commesso named to Team USA for 2022 Olympics; defensemen still the highlights

Another look across the organization’s potential future.

Photo by Rena Laverty

The Rockford IceHogs have been consistently average since we last checked in on them, going 3-3-0. That’s good enough to remain in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division with a few games in hand over those above the in the standings. Making the playoffs may be out of the question for the Blackhawks, but the IceHogs definitely have a chance to get a taste of postseason hockey this year.

From a prospect perspective, the success of the IceHogs continues to largely be due to the offensive contributions of the defensemen. Not quite as strong offensively as in the last sample, but the Rockford prospect blueline contributed to all but five of the 26 goals scored by the IceHogs in their last six games.

This outburst was led by Alec Regula (trade acquisition, 2019) with eight points (all assists) in those six games. Although half of those came in a single game, Regula was consistent, producing a point in all put one game in that span. With other defenders seeing time with the Blackhawks, Regula was elevated to their first pairing for half those games as well and to the top power-play unit. Defensively, Regula is still a work in progress, but he’s been stellar at play-making and seen steady progress to his defensive game.

The other primary contributor in this span was Wyatt Kalynuk (NCAA-free agent, 2022) with four points in six games (2 G, 1 A), but his defense has been even more impressive. He’s able to apply his excellent skating ability to the defensive side of the puck and is one of the best transition players every game. Interestingly, his role changed depending on who he was paired with — whether focused on being the offense or defense first man on the pair — but it’s a testament to Kalynuk’s well-roundedness that he’s able to handle both roles well. The only issue with Kalynuk in recent games is an errant pass here or there, but when he’s on point — he’s really on.

2020 fifth-rounder Isaak Phillips didn’t pick up many points — just a single assist — but the Blackhawks have to be happy with his steady progress and performance over the season, especially defensively. He already had a solid defensive foundation, but he’s definitely improved with positioning and reaction time.

A few of the defensemen prospects got to spend some time with the Blackhawks recently, and Jakub Galvas (fifth-round, 2017) was the most impressive in his three-game cup of coffee. The smaller blue-liner even played 23:40 in his first game, which was second in average ice time only to Connor Murphy. It was obviously a small sample, but Galvas certainly did not look out of place in the NHL — hopefully we’ll see more of him as the season progresses.

Ian Mitchell (second-round, 2017) and Nicolas Beaudin (first round, 2018) also spent time with the Blackhawks but were given far less rope — Mitchell played in only two games and less than 10 minutes in each of those while Beaudin got tapped for a single game and played just 1:11. When with the IceHogs, Mitchell is the undisputed No. 1 defensemen while Beaudin spends time on both top pairs but had some consistency issues as of late.

Speaking of time with the Blackhawks, the much anticipated debut of 2021 first-round pick Lukas Reichel came and was not disappointing. Reichel had no points in two NHL games, but he’s looked very good as Patrick Kane’s center while averaging around 15 minutes a night. His adjustments from his first and second game were noticeably positive, and he played with a electric style that is lacking from the Blackhawks roster. Reichel was sent back to the IceHogs, and the patient development approach is the correct one with him, but it was great to get a taste of what he could do in the future.

Reichel also had eight points (4 G, 4 A) in his last four games with the IceHogs, including a goal and an assist immediately after being re-assigned. That brings his season totals to 22 points (12 G, 10 A) in 21 AHL games.

The forward points leader in the wake of Reichel’s absence was an interesting one: 2017 third-rounder Andrei Altybarmakyan with six points (2 G, 4 A) in his last five games (he missed one game due to illness). It’s interesting because, prior to this outburst of production, he had only five assists through his first 19 games of the season. Always known as a tenacious forechecker, Altybarmakyan’s promotion to the top line has seen those skills result in goals for the IceHogs.

The second leading producer is even more surprising: 2019 fourth-round pick Michal Teplý with five points in six games. Teplý has not had a great start to his AHL career despite a breakout performance in juniors: he had only 5 points (all assists) in 18 AHL games last season and was pointless for the first 15 games this season. It’s a small sample, but hopefully Teplý has found his professional groove now that he’s playing middle-six minutes more regularly. His efficient passing ability, in particular, has shined:

Next up is Mike Hardman (NCAA free-agent, 2021), who had three points (1 G, 2 A) in his last four games. Still one of the top producers for the season, Josiah Slavin (seventh-round, 2018) had zero points in his last two games but spent most of his time with the Blackhawks.

2017 third-rounder Evan Barratt seems to have stagnated again with just two assists in his last six games. Some of this is likely due to how shallow Rockford is, though, and there just aren’t enough productive players to go around. This cold span dropped his point-per-game average to below 0.5 for the first time this season.

Lastly for forwards, Cam Morrison (NCAA free agent, 2020) managed to add another two assists in his last two games while Jakub Pour (European free-agent, 2021) was held pointless. Both primarily play in a checking line role.

In net, 2021 European free-agent Arvid Söderblom has only played in two AHL games recently to mixed results: .943 and .889 save-percentages, respectively, though he faced over 35 shots against in both games. He also saw over 40 shots during his first NHL start where he allowed five goals for a .902 save-percentage. It’s obvious that Söderblom has talent, but still at just 22 years old, he’s still a little ways away from being NHL ready. Also, it might help if he didn’t face so many shots.


In the NCAA:

Drew Commesso (G) | Alex Vlasic (D), Boston University

Commesso (second-round, 2020) has only played in three games since the last time we checked in on him, but he was stellar in those games with an average save-percentage of 0.956 — best in the NCAA in January so far. After a slow start to the season, Commesso hasn’t allowed more than two goals in regulation since before Thanksgiving.

Beyond NCAA, it was looking like another disappointing tournament season for Commesso as the 2022 World Juniors were cancelled, a tournament he had missed the previous year due to COVID. However, the NHL players pulling out of the Olympics opened the door for several NCAA players to be selected instead, including Commesso for Team USA. It’s unknown if Commesso will play in any games — he was one of three goalies selected — but it’s a great experience and honor nonetheless.

2019 second-round pick Vlasic continues to have a solid junior season at Boston University playing primarily in a top-pairing role. He’s notched a goal and two assists in his last four games, an uptick that’s at least partially due to getting some time on the power play.

Wyatt Kaiser (D) | Connor Kelley (D), University of Minnesota-Duluth

It’s hard not to be impressed by Kaiser (third round, 2020) whenever you watch him: he’s easily one of the most poised defensemen in the NCAA, he already has NHL-caliber skating, and he eats minutes like he’s Seth Jones’ understudy. He has two assists in his last four NCAA games.

Also, like Commesso, Kaiser’s World Juniors experience was cut short at only one game where he did have an assist (on fellow Blackhawks prospect Landon Slaggert’s goal):

It would have been great to see Kaiser and Slaggert at World Juniors — they appeared to have a connection with several near goal-opportunities in that single game:

Often paired with Kaiser, 2021 seventh-round pick Kelley is progressing well. Another defensemen that can skate extremely well, Kelly has gotten into some trouble as of late defensively by trying to do too much, especially when carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Still, he has three assists in his five games, and his freshman season has been very good for such a late rounder.

Landon Slaggert (LW) | Ryder Rolston (RW) Notre Dame

Last year, Landon Slaggert (third-round, 2020) broke out in the NCAA after competing at the 2021 World Juniors, and the cancelation of the the 2022 tournament put a damper on expectations a bit. However, Slaggert apparently didn’t need the tournament for a catalyst — he’s broken out for seven points (2 G, 5 A) in his last seven games, and looked extremely good while doing it. He is now just five points away from matching his point total (22) from last season.

Slaggert’s teammate Ryder Rolston (trade acquisition, 2021) isn’t slowing down either: he had another five points (3 G, 2 A) in his last six games, including a hat trick during Notre Dame’s 8-2 route of Boston College Wednesday night:

The most impressive skill set of Rolston’s is his skating — especially his edgework — which he uses extremely well in the offensive zone. He’s not as well-rounded as some other prospects, but his flair for the offense is nice to see in a forward prospect pool lacking in finishing ability.

Jake Wise (C), Ohio State University

Another player who just can’t stop notching points is 2019 third-round pick Wise with another five points (3 G, 2 A) in his last six games. That brings his total for the season to 19 points (7 G, 12 A) in 22 games, a huge jump from the 13 points in 33 games he had in his last semi-healthy season two years ago.


In juniors:

Taige Harding (D), AJHL

Harding (third-round pick, 2021) made the transition to NCAA at Providence College for second half of the 2021-22 season. The move comes after Harding racked up another six points (3 G, 3 A) and finished with 37 points (14 G, 23 A) in 37 games with the Oil Barons in the AJHL. He was also was named AJHL Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.

Ethan Del Mastro (D), OHL

The 2021 draft’s fourth-round pick in Del Mastro just keeps having his stock rise as he was named OHL Defenseman for the month of December. Much of that is due to his offense — he led defensemen with 11 points (all assists) in that month — but he’s also pretty impressive from a defensive standpoint, playing top-pair and penalty kill minutes for the now No. 1 OHL team. Del Mastro also has since gotten another seven assists in his six January games.

Louis Crevier, D (QMJHL)

Crevier (seventh-round, 2020) and his team, the Québec Remparts, haven’t played a game since before Christmas, so there’s no update on his recent performance, but here is a statistical look at his season overall:

Essentially, the stats align with the eye test: Crevier has been excellent defensively, especially when it comes to puck battles.

Nolan Allan (D), Colton Dach (C), Jalen Luypen (C/LW), WHL

Allan (first-round, 2021) cooled off recently with only two assists in his last eight games, down from his 0.71 point-per-game average over his last sample. However, defensively, Allan has been as good as ever, using his elite skating and size to dictate play when he’s defending on the ice. Allan was also never billed as an offensive d-man, so his uptick in production this season has been a bonus, but it’s not really his bread-and-butter. As long as he continues to progress with his puck handling skills — still a work-in-progress but definitely getting better — Allan should be able to transition to the NHL a few years down the line.

Fellow 2021 draftee, Dach (second-round) is having a solid post-draft season. His skating has noticeably improved over the course of the season, and while he’s still not near a professional-grade, it’s great to see progress, considering that was the main area of concern for him. His skating hasn’t impacted his offensive output in the WHL and he produced another eight points (2 G, 6 A) in his last five games.

After picking up another nine points (3 G, 6 A) in his last seven games, 2021 seven-rounder pick Luypen now technically leads all Blackhawks prospects in points (40) and points-per-games (1.08). He still needs to round out his game a bit more — he’s great back-checker but is still working on building his defensive foundation — but it’s great to see a late-round pick flourish just one year after his draft.


In Europe:

Niklas Nordgren (RW) | Antti Saarela (LW), Finland

Nordgren (third-round pick, 2018) does not have a point in his last four games, but his play has been solid enough that he’s being kept up with Lahden Pelicans in Liiga. Again, it seems unlikely the Blackhawks will sign Nordgren before their rights to him expire next summer.

2019 fourth-round pick Saarela has five points (4 G, 1 A) in his last eight games but has been quiet as of late without a point in his last four. His release can be deadly and there’s a doggedness to his game that will endear him to fans if he ever makes it over to North America.

Artur Kayumov (RW) | Ilya Safonov (C), KHL

2016 second-round pick Kayumov continues to be inconsistent this season: he had just two assists in his last six games, down by half from his previous sample of the same size. He’s been juggled all around the top-nine for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl but most recently was dropped to the third line in his last two games.

The Blackhawks only other Russian prospect, Safonov (sixth-round, 2021), hit a bit of a hot streak for the season with six points (5 G, 1 A) in his last 10 games, including a hat trick late in December. Safonov was promoted to the offensive third-line due to some injuries, and the strong puck skills he used extremely well defensively have translated to offense nicely so far. Most of his goals are greasy but Safonov also has some moves — sampling of both types here: