Blackhawks Prospect Report: Söderblom, Reichel compete to be IceHogs MVP

Another look across the organization’s potential future.

Unlike their parent club, the Rockford IceHogs have consistently been in the race for the playoffs since the quarter mark of the season. They’re still firmly in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division and have earned points in nine of their last 14 games. Considering most of the success is due to their young defense, a single budding star forward, and a young starting goalie, it’s not surprising that the IceHogs lost two games in which the latter two were missing from the lineup.

When you think of most valuable player in Rockford, the typical choice is Lukas Reichel (first-round, 2021). But 2021 European free-agent Arvid Söderblom has arguably been more important to the IceHogs’ success of late.

His 0.925 save percentage for the season is tied for third best in the AHL, but he faces the most shots per game at almost 35. In the his last five games, Söderblom faced almost 40 shots on average but didn’t have a save-percentage below .920 and was primarily responsible for the last two wins by the IceHogs. When looking at more advanced numbers — as shown in the tweet below mentioning game score — Söderblom is shown to be even more valuable to Rockford.

Some people are going to have a skewed perception of Söderblom after the 7-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which he was objectively not good. But he’s also just 22 years old and playing in his first season on North American ice. Considering how he started slow in the AHL but adapted quickly, there should be optimism that, given time and proper development, the same progression could happen in the NHL. Like with most prospects, patience is going to be key, but people should be optimistic about the future in net if Söderblom can live up to the potential he’s shown in Rockford this season (along with Drew Commesso in the NCAA, of course).

Söderblom may be the MVP for the IceHogs in their last 10-15 games, but Reichel is obviously the player driving most of the offense for Rockford. He’s continued at or near a point-per-game pace in every sample covered in these updates — he had 11 points (2 G, 9 A) in his last 11 games — and he’s been able to keep that production rate up despite his linemates shifting around. Lately, Reichel has been paired players more apt at scoring goals, so his contributions have been with assists. But those assists are no less impressive than his goals. For example, this is reminiscent of some Patrick Kane assists:

Reichel also did see a couple of games with the Blackhawks since the last update, and while he wasn’t as noticeable in those games, there wasn’t a lot to critique about his play, either. Reichel has primarily been paired with Kane when in the NHL, but it’ll be interesting to see more of what he could do away from top-quality competition. Still a work in progress, but another player that should be exciting when he reaches his full potential.

The next most productive IceHog is Mike Hardman (NCAA free-agent, 2021) who has 7 points (5 G, 2 A) in his last 9 games and is second only to Reichel in points-per-game (0.81) for the season. It’s interesting that Hardman is scoring at such a good clip considering he’s typically not on a line with Reichel at 5-on-5, since everyone seems to produce when  Reichel as a linemate. Half of Hardman’s goals have come on the power player and another while shorthanded, though.

The other big note with Hardman as of late is how he’s improved in the application of his physicality. He got a lot of warranted criticism when he was up with the Blackhawks that his checks and/or hits were not resulting in possession for his team and often took him out of the play, but he’s been more focused in the AHL in this regard. Hardman could be a useful, bottom-six NHLer in the future if he’s allowed the time to develop in the proper league.

Michal Teplý, a 2019 fourth-round pick, is another player who continues to rise as the season progresses. He’s on a bit of a cool streak when it comes to scoring — he’s gone five games without a goal — but he still has seven points (4 G, 3 A) in his last 11 games, all but two of which were primary. Obviously some of his success is due to playing primarily with Reichel — as mentioned above, everyone seems to rack up points with the German prospect — but Teplý still deserves credit as he looked just as engaged and notched an assist in a couple of games sans Reichel. He’s also been a go-to for the IceHogs in the shootout:

2017 third-rounders Evan Barratt and Andrei Altybarmakyan are both currently in a lull. Barratt has four points (1 G, 1A) in his last 11 games while Altybarmakyan has three points (1 G, 2 A) in his last 13 games. Barratt has struggled to find consist production all season, but his play away from the puck is typically still high-energy and effective. Altybarmakyan’s point production has dried up recently, but he has contributed offensively in other ways via screens or fetching the puck for his linemates. The issue with both players is that their projection in the NHL (if they get there): they’re both responsible defensively and good-to-great at backchecking, so are they destined for a fourth-line role at best or can they figure out how to produce consistently enough to slide up a line if needed?

2020 NCAA free agent Cam Morrison is in a similar boat to the two above in that he has just a few points (3) since the last update, but he’s also played fewer games (8). His point-per-game rate is thus higher than those above him, suggesting he might produce if put in a more offensive role with higher quality linemates, but he’s also often regularly rotated to the press box, indicating the organization might not see a future with him at all. With his contract coming to an end after this season, it won’t be long before it’s known if he’ll be around for much longer.

The only other two forward prospects in Rockford worth mentioning are Josiah Slavin (seventh-round, 2018) and Jakub Pour (European free-agent, 2021), neither of which have gotten on the scoresheet much lately. Slavin has one assist in his last eight AHL games and zero points in his last four NHL games, but we know he has some potential upside to playing in the NHL. Pour has zero points in seven AHL games, which isn’t surprising since he’s been a low-event style player since arriving in North America. Both Slavin and Pour are regularly deployed on the penalty kill since they’re two of the better defensive forwards with the IceHogs.

Lack of depth among forward prospects is a concern for the Blackhawks, but they’re flush with defensemen that all have potential. How much potential is still to be determined obviously, but it’s great to see that they’ve got options — especially in Rockford, where they have one of the youngest defense groups in the AHL.

The leader for the defensemen is still 2017 second-rounder Ian Mitchell. He’s really polished his offensive game this season with the IceHogs and has hovered around 0.56 to 0.58 point-per-game in most of his samples this season. For example, he has eight points (5 G, 3 A) in his last 14 games and 21 points (8 G, 13 A) in 36 games for the season. Mitchell has become especially adept at quarterbacking the power play: even when he doesn’t get a point with the man-advantage, he’s often the player setting up or directing the play that ends in a goal.

With a points-per-game rate (0.55) second only to Mitchell and on a five-game point streak (1 G, 4 A), it’s not surprising  Alec Regula (trade acquisition, 2019) earned a call-up to the Blackhawks recently. He still primarily plays the fifth or sixth most minutes at 5-on-5 among defenders for the IceHogs, but he was moved up to the first power play unit regularly, on which he’s developed nice chemistry with Mitchell.

Next up are Jakub Galvas (fifth-round, 2017) with four points (1 G, 3 A) in his last 12 games, Wyatt Kalynuk (NCAA-free agent, 2022) with three points (1 G, 2 A) in his last 10 games, and Isaak Phillips (fifth-round, 2020) with four points (3 G, 1 A) in his last 14 games. Galvas’ offense is very solid, considering he’s definitely more of a defense-first player, and he’s especially fun to watch on the penalty kill. Kalynuk’s offense has seen a dip recently, but his 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 24 games on the season is still third best among defenders behind Mitchell and Regula. Phillips has been fairly consistent offensively, and while it’s often his play away from the puck that draws attention, some of his recent goals have been exciting.

Last, 2018 first-rounder Nicolas Beaudin hasn’t been able to find his groove since the first 10 or so games of the season. He has just two assists in 14 games and just eight points (1 G, 7 A) in 39 AHL games this season. Beaudin is still very poised with and without the puck, but there’s a lack of dynamism to his play so far that was present just last season. At only 22 years old, it might just be general slumping that happens with young players — but only time will tell.

In the NCAA:

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

Goalies have been the highlight of the last few prospect updates primarily because of how much Commesso (second-round, 2020) has progressed as the season has gone on. His .915 save-percentage in 24 NCAA games may not seem otherworldly, but he was at .925 in his previous 15 games and .938 in the four games prior to leaving for the Olympics. Speaking of the Olympics, Commesso played in two games during the preliminary rounds and left with a .963 save-percentage, and arguably should have been the starter for the quarterfinals. Just being invited and performing well on such a big stage will hopefully impact the rest of his NCAA season positively.

Commesso has also been named a semifinalist for the 2022 Richter Award for top men’s goaltender in NCAA Division I hockey.

His teammate, Vlasic (second-round pick, 2019), continues to have a good but unspectacular season at Boston College. The defensive side of his game is top-notch, especially the way in which he uses his size to his advantage, but the offensive spark seen last season just isn’t there now, as 0 points in his last 7 games can attest. Still, not every defender needs to produce, and again, defensively he’s one of the more advanced Blackhawks prospects.

Dominic Basse (G), Colorado College

The only other Blackhawks NCAA goalie prospect, Dominic Basse (sixth-round, 2019), is having a disappointing sophomore season. In his last five games, he’s saved only 125 of the 148 shots for a .850 save-percentage, down from his already underwhelming 0.892 save percentage for the season.

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

In terms of exciting defense-first player, 2020 third-rounder Kaiser is still at the top of the list among defense prospects. He’s one of the most poised, calmly effective defenders in the NCAA, and Kaiser eats minutes and shot blocks in a way that would make him a fan favorite if that trend continued into professional hockey. Kaiser also contributes offensively at a decent rate — he had three assists in his last six games — but it really is his defense that stands out in his game.

Unfortunately, Kaiser tore his MCL in a game against the Denver Pioneers on February 11th. He is expected to return to action in about three weeks. In the meantime, check out this interview he did with the “Pucks In Deep” podcast:

His teammate — 2021 seventh-round pick Kelley — played predominantly top-four minutes and power play time over his last nine games, producing one goal and one assist in that span. Kelley’s most impressive skill set is his skating, especially in how he uses it to break up plays on the fly, but his shot is quite nice as well — when he uses it.

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

Landon Slaggert, a 2020 third-rounder, picked up his production pace in his last nine games with seven points (3 A, 4 A), matching his point total from last season (22), although it took him seven extra games to reach that height. His role on his team as a more two-way second-liner is likely having an impact on his production, and while it’d be nice for Slaggert to be notching more points, his game is becoming more and more well-rounded as the season progresses.

Ryder Rolston (trade acquisition, 2021) hasn’t really slowed all season, racking up seven points (4 G, 3 A) in the last eight games. More one-dimensional than his teammate Slaggert, the spark is certainly there and it’ll be interesting to see if that can carry past the NCAA. Rolston did sustain a lower-body injury in mid-February and is day-to-day.

Jake Wise (C), Ohio State University

After missing a few games due to illness, the Wise (2019 third-round pick) redemption tour picked up where it left off with eight 8 points (3 G, 5 A) in his last nine games. One thing about Wise’s offense this season is that it’s been a mixed bag of tricks: one moment he’ll be finessing a assist to a teammate and the next he’ll be scoring a “garbage” goal in the blue paint. However Wise does it, his 27 points (10 G, 17 A) in 32 games this season are a testament to his tenacity to work through his issues from prior college seasons, and it’ll be interesting to see if it’s enough to earn a contract from the Blackhawks.

Kaiser wasn’t the only Blackhawks prospect to be interviewed for a podcast recently, so take a listen to Wise here on “The 6-1-Forecheck Podcast w/ Zachary Rodier”:

Taige Harding (D), Providence College

Harding (third-round pick, 2021) made the transition to NCAA hockey at the start of the new year, and since then he’s had one assist in 11 games playing primarily on the bottom pair for Providence College. He’s obviously not been the high-offense defender he was in the AJHL, but his role is much smaller and he hasn’t looked out of place after the transition to college hockey.

In juniors:

Ethan Del Mastro (D), OHL

Del Mastro, a 2021 fourth-round pick, saw an uptick in his production in recent games with 14 points (1 G, 13 A) in 15 games. That brings his total for the season to 37 points (5 G, 32 A) in 48 games, a very good amount considering Del Mastro has always been more of a shutdown defender in the past. His mobility is quite impressive and has certainly helped him become a more well-rounded two-way player.

Louis Crevier, D (QMJHL)

Speaking of shutdown defenders, 2020 seventh-rounder pick Crevier is such a smart player when it comes to using his body. Obviously he’s got a lot to work with at 6-foot-8 and 214 pounds, but not all big guys know how to apply the right pressure or use their reach effectively. Crevier’s disruption of plays while in motion has also improved noticeably over the course of the season. He also scored one goals in his last nine games.

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

Allan (first-round, 2021) is another guy billed as defense-first who has shown more of an offensive flair this season than those in the past. He had 5 assists in his last 11 games with 4 of those coming in the last 5 games. His skating continues to be the most wow-factor part of his skillset, and he’s objectively honing that skill to combine better with puck handling, especially in in transition. However — and this is probably be deja vu for readers — there’s still a good amount of work that needs to be done in regards to his puck skills before he’s ready for the NHL.

One area Allan doesn’t need work is how he lays the body:

Conversely, 2021 second-round pick Dach is a quite adept puck handler, but his skating — while noticeably improved — is still the most concerning drawback to him as a player. He also been very consistent offensively, including notching another 11 points (1 G, 9 A) in his last nine games with seven of his assists being primary.

Spark plug Luypen (seven-round, 2021) just can’t stop producing. His 11 points (4 G, 7 A) in his last 11 games is slightly lower than his typical game rate, but that’s just a demonstration of how productive he’s been this season for Oil Kings.

In Europe:

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

Unfortunately, 2018 third-round Nordgren had zero points in last eight games for the Pelicans in Liiga, so he was demoted back to Peliitat in Mestis. Currently, his previous injury history has just been too much of a derailment of his development.

Saarela (fourth-round pick, 2019) missed several games due to injury, was quiet with no points in two games, and then pulled back out of the lineup to give him a bit more time to recover.

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

Kayumov (second-round pick, 2016) has played in only three KHL games — in which he had one assist and had been demoted back to the third line — since the last update due to his participation in the Olympics. At the Olympics, he had zero points for Team Russia and played in all but one game — including the gold medal game loss to Finland — yet averaged under five minutes of average ice time per game.

Safonov (sixth-round, 2021) was moved back down to the fourth line and picked up one goal in his last four games. The demotion was not about his play, but due to other centers returning from injury. Safonov showed some offensive spark in a high line role, but his bread and butter is how strong a shutdown center he is.

Michael Krutil (D) | Victor Stjernborg (C), SHL

After playing in just seven games with the IceHogs, Krutil (fourth-round, 2020) was sent to Sweden where he has five assists in 12 games with Växjö Lakers HC in the SHL. Although he didn’t transition to the AHL well last season or this one, he is only 19 years old and has been noticeably active in positive ways in the SHL. Playing primarily on the bottom pairing, Krutil’s smooth skating and playmaking ability has been especially evident on the power player.

Krutil’s SHL teammate Stjernborg has played in three games since returning from injury that kept him out for over four months. The strong, defensive-minded center has slotted in on the fourth-line checking role and didn’t look out of place, so hopefully that means his development won’t be hindered by the missed time. He also picked up one assist in that span.