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2022 Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Sam Rinzel debuts at 14

The Blackhawks have taken a lot of defensemen in the first round, but perhaps none as raw as Rinzel.

2022 USA Hockey All-American Game Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

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.

Defenseman Sam Rinzel was an interesting draft choice due to his relative anonymity, because he spent much of the season before the 2022 NHL Draft playing for a high school team in Minnesota. However, his stock did rise as the year progressed, and he ended up on several draft pundits’ prospect boards thanks to his enticing combination of size, skating, and puck skills. While being selected at No. 25 seemed like a bit of a stretch due to the raw nature of those skills, the Blackhawks are obviously looking at the long-term potential of this defensemen.

Rinzel ended up playing for three different teams before his draft selection by the Blackhawks. He was the most productive with 38 points (9 G, 29 A) while playing in the No. 1 defensemen role at Chaska High, a high school located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota. He also played 18 games while skating for Team SIT Financial Services in Upper Midwest High School Elite League, amassing 16 points (4 G, 12 A) in that span.

At 6-foot-4 and with above average skating ability, Rinzel both towered over and skated circles around most of his competition in the high school circuit. Elite Prospects scout Daniel Gee said that his “patience, manipulation, and constant motions” made him “overpowering at the high school level.” Some of this dominance seemed to initially carry into his playing time in the USHL, where he played a handful of games with Waterloo before returning to high school. In those few games, he was a standout with his strong skating, excellent puck handling, above-average shooting ability, and solid gap control and defensive instincts. The initial viewings of him in the USHL were so positive, Elite Prospects Mitchell Brown wrote that Rinzel has “top-20, if not top-15 skill in this draft class.”

That observation is still true, but in his return to the USHL in March to finish the season with the Black Hawks, it quickly became apparent that Rinzel is still very much a work in progress. His skating remained his strongest attribute, but he tended to overly rush plays and coughed up the puck more as a result. Things like pushing through opposition with the puck or winning puck battles didn’t come as easily to Rinzel in the USHL. And he could be undisciplined when tracking the puck on the defensive side of the game, sometimes losing his coverage with too much while puck-watching. These are all areas of the game that can be improved upon with more development, and Rinzel could also grow physically, as the kid as beanstalks at 6-4 and under 180 pounds. And perhaps his brother could help.

Also, it’s not surprising a 17-year old used to dominating might have some issues transitioning to a higher league like the USHL, so that shouldn’t detract from the obvious skill set that Rinzel has to work with going forward. Phrases like “best tools from a defender in this draft” were thrown around often about him and part of why his draft stock rose so much despite his struggles in the back-half of the USHL season. For a team in the beginning stages of what looks to be a long rebuild, the Blackhawks are willing to take on a project like Rinzel due to his obvious toolkit and high potential.

What’s next?

Rinzel will be back with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL for another season before he heads to college at the University of Minnesota in the 2023-24 season. Most players do not spend an additional season in the USHL after being drafted, but Rinzel is so young — he wasn’t even 18 yet when drafted — that he’s not eligible for the NCAA until the following year. With Waterloo, Rinzel will likely play in a top-four role — possibly even top-pairing — where he should get plenty of developmental time to hone his skills.