Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks prospects head to Traverse City Prospect Tournament

The Chicago Blackhawks recently announced their official roster for this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament, which takes place September 8-12 at the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Michigan. The Blackhawks will be joined by squads from the Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes (last year’s tournament winners), Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and New York Rangers.

Last year’s tournament provided fans with a first glimpse of players like Alex DeBrincat, Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, and Gustav Forsling, the latter three of whom had their stints in the NHL this past season.  While the team only gathered one win in the tournament (the same results as the previous year), it was an excellent chance to see the team’s prospects in action. The hockey at these prospect tournaments isn’t exactly great — the players have very rarely played together before and have little practice time to really start to gel as a team — but it certainly is fun.

The tournament is not only a place to get your first look at some new Blackhawks prospects, many of whom are going to land in Rockford this year, but also to get your first glimpse of the revamped coaching staff for the Ice Hogs. New Hogs head coach Jeremy Colliton will lead the way, with Sheldon Brookbank and Derek King assisting on the bench.

I’ll be traveling to Traverse City again to cover the tournament, so check back here for game recaps and photos.  For now, here’s a preview of some players to keep an eye on:

Forwards

Radovan Bondra (WHL. Vancouver Giants/Prince George Cougars & AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs): The big Slovakian forward returns for his third prospect tournament. Although he got a few games in Rockford last season, and although the Blackhawks considered signing him this summer, he will most likely return to the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. Bondra’s made big strides in his offense, more than doubling his points output from his first season in the WHL (2015-16: 15G, 15A; 2016-17: 32G, 31A). As a big power forward who is growing more comfortable with using the power inherent in his 6’5” frame, he’s always been someone that I’ve liked to keep an eye on, and this year is no exception.

Alex DeBrincat (OHL, Erie Otters): There isn’t much to be said about DeBrincat that hasn’t already been said. The undersized forward has put up otherworldly numbers in the OHL (2016-17: 63GP, 65G, 62A; Career: 191GP, 167G, 165A) and because of age cutoffs, is destined for the pros this year. He had an okay debut in last year’s Traverse City tournament but only put up one point, a goal, albeit on a team which scored only 10 goals over the whole tournament. DeBrincat has already stated that he knows if he wants any chance of making the Blackhawks directly out of camp, that he needs to have an excellent tournament.

Alexandre Fortin (QMJHL, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies): Fortin was last year’s surprise signing. He had an excellent prospect camp as an unsigned invitee, scored two goals at last year’s tournament and was often one of the most noticeable players on the ice. Fortin impressed at full training camp and was offered a contract, and while he’ll most likely start the year off in Rockford, he’s going to be intriguing to watch.

Matt Iacopelli (NCAA, Western Michigan University & AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs): After an impressive sophomore season playing on the top line at Western Michigan University (20G, 16A), Iacopelli left college early to sign a pro deal. He appeared in eight games for the Ice Hogs at the end of the season, earning one goal and three assists. Iacopelli is already older for a prospect, he’s 23 and 6’3”, so he’s certainly physically mature. He’ll be one of the older players in Traverse City, and will probably play a large role in Rockford as they almost completely rebuild this season.

Anthony Louis (NCAA, Miami University of Ohio & AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs): Louis is another undersized prospect, listed at 5’7”, who signed after completing four years at Miami University of Ohio. He got in a handful of games in Rockford, with one goal and two assists in 13 games. (I wouldn’t hold anyone’s lack of production in Rockford against them; that team last year was atrocious all around.) As someone who has a soft spot for smaller prospects, I’ve always liked Louis as a player and am excited to see more from him, at this tournament and in Rockford.

Defense

Carl Dahlstrom (AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs), Robin Norell (AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs), and Robin Press (SHL, Djurgårdens; ECHL, Indy Fuel & AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs). Last year, Dahlstrom, Norell, and Gustav Forsling made up the Swedish defense contingent. Dahlstrom and Norell return, with the addition of Robin Press, to fill out the Swedish ranks this year. All three played in Rockford last year and all three had fairly dismal seasons. This year could be a make-or-break year for all of them. Dahlstrom and Norell have one year left on their ELCs after the 2017-18 season and Press is on an AHL contract. All three need to bounce back after rough years in the minors.

Darren Raddysh (OHL, Erie Otters): The Blackhawks certainly saw a lot of Raddysh while scouting Alex DeBrincat in Erie. Raddysh had an outstanding year in Erie, doubling his points output from the year prior, with a total of 16 goals and 65 assists. Erie was a stacked, high scoring team, so the numbers are eye-popping, but in the few Erie games I managed to catch online, he was always impressive. Raddysh signed an AHL contract but a strong outing from him at the tournament and in camp could mean that he earns an NHL contract sooner rather than later.

Luc Snuggerud (NCAA, Univ. of Nebraska-Omaha & AHL, Rockford Ice Hogs): The 21-year old defenseman left college after three years to go pro. He’s developed quickly at UNO, putting up 31 points in his junior year, his highest points total since high school hockey. While the Blackhawks have quite the logjam of almost-but-not-quite-ready players on the blue line, Snuggerud could leapfrog quite a few of those guys with a strong showing here. He looked good in the limited drills I saw him in at prospect camp, and is probably one of the more NHL-ready of the new defenseman this year.

Goalies

For the first time in years, all three goalies attending the tournament are already a part of the Blackhawks’ system. Collin Delia (NCAA, Merrimack) signed a 2-year ELC after attending prospect camp for the past two years. Wouter Peeters (SM-liiga, Jokerit) was drafted in 2016 and will play next year in the USHL. Matt Tomkins (NCAA, Ohio State) was drafted in 2012 and has a 1-year AHL contract. All three should be interesting to watch. This is the first glimpse for many at Delia and Peeters in a game situation, considering that this years’ prospect camp was more geared towards developmental activities rather than scrimmages. With all three goalies being developmental projects for the team, it’s hard to project who will get most of the playing time. I’d expect Delia and Tomkins to get the bulk of the ice time, with Peeters there to learn more from the whole tournament experience/environment, but stranger things have happened.

The Hawks’ tournament schedule is as follows:

Friday: vs. New York Rangers, 7:00pm
Saturday: vs. Detroit Red Wings, 4:00pm
Monday: vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 6:30pm
Tuesday: championship game, TBD

Check back here for game recaps, and join me on Twitter to follow along while I’m there.

(Photo credit: Sarah Avampato)

 

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