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.
After missing out on hockey during the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic wiping out an entire OHL season, Ethan del Mastro returned for his first season after being drafted and scored 48 points in 68 games while captaining the Mississauga Steelheads.
Back in ‘19-20, during del Mastro’s first OHL season, he had just seven assists in 57 games. While there were no OHL games in the season after, del Mastro did play for Team Canada’s U-18 team and tallied two assists in seven games. He was also a late addition to Canada’s World Junior team for this summer’s pandemic-delayed tournament, and played in six games for the eventual tournament champions.
Del Mastro has improved significantly since that initial OHL season and despite that lack of hockey in his draft year. After falling to the fourth round, outside of the top 100 draftees in his draft year, del Mastro was 14th among defensemen in the OHL in scoring last year and helped bring his Steelheads to the OHL playoffs, where they went two rounds.
Del Mastro is not an offensive master, nor is he all that good in transition. But what del Mastro does better than the vast majority of defensemen in the CHL is play defense. Del Mastro’s lack of confidence in his shot is what keeps his goal-scoring down, despite a solid shooting percentage for a defenseman, and del Mastro could improve on his zone entries.
But when it comes to prevention in his own end, del Mastro is a master.
According to Elite Prospects, del Mastro could be an ideal engaging defenseman, someone who goes one-on-one successfully against opponents in the NHL.
“With his long reach, four-way mobility and, above all, his physicality, del Mastro could play the role of the ‘engager’ on an NHL pairing,” EP wrote.
Del Mastro is quick to support his partner when they are in need and can win puck battles through his size and engaging physicality — the modern stay-at-home defenseman. That’s someone who can perform adeptly on the offensive side of the puck, while still allowing their blue-line partner to flourish more in the offensive zone because they have the confidence that del Mastro will be their to help out defensively.
With the kind of defensemen the Chicago Blackhawks need to be drafting in the years to come — the likes of Kevin Korchinski — and considering some other defensive names higher on this list, del Mastro’s skills could be an especially useful arsenal in the years to come.
One potential area for improvement with del Mastro is the need to cut down on penalties. While he had a 0.73 point-per-game pace last season, he had more than a penalty-minute-per-game pace, and it’s hard to make an on-ice impact when you’re in the box.
Del Mastro is a player who can stand to improve in the coming years in a few areas — offensively, namely, as well as in terms of discipline — while also being clearly someone worth the effort and contract spot.
While del Mastro is likely a few years away from any sort of NHL impact, he’s still just 19 and already in a leadership position. After missing a full season of hockey at a critical age, he bounced back well and proved that the Blackhawks used their fourth-round pick wisely in the last draft of the old regime.
Del Mastro will stay in the OHL for his final season before likely heading to Rockford for the 2023-24 season, his first year as a professional. In his age-20 OHL season, though, del Mastro will likely be hoping for a deeper postseason run and and even higher point total than last season while playing a more balanced game — and (hopefully) staying out of the sin bin. His recent stint with Team Canada could be indicative of progress: del Mastro took (*gasp*) just one penalty during those six games at the World Juniors.