Every year I tell people not to get excited about the prospect tournament. The Blackhawks never do particularly well, few players stand out, and the hockey isn’t especially good.
Consider this year a complete reversal in course, then. The hockey is decent but fun, several players have made great impressions — at least, on this writer — and the team is winning, in convincing fashion, to boot.
The Hurricanes went into this game as the defending tournament champion, and looking to coast to the championship game again after two convincing wins against the Rangers and the Red Wings. Against Chicago, however, they looked tired and uncoordinated. They may have been able to escape unscathed in previous games when committing numerous turnovers, but Chicago’s squad made them pay, jumping out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first, including a goal by Alex DeBrincat about 40 seconds in.
Chicago was less disciplined this game, taking seven penalties, including one double minor (and one playing-the-puck-outside-the-trapezoid penalty for goalie Collin Delia) but that didn’t even seem to matter. They allowed one power play goal but also scored twice shorthanded, and once with the man advantage, ruining Carolina’s previously perfect penalty kill stats.
Chicago’s goals were scored by Alex DeBrincat, Matthew Highmore (shorthanded), Will Pelletier, Michael Cramarossa, Luc Snuggerud (once on the power play and once shorthanded), Graham Knott, Radovan Bondra (ENG), and Matt Iacopelli (with two seconds left). Eleven players in total scored points in this game.
- Michael Cramarossa is hoping to be this year’s version of Alexandre Fortin, an undrafted player who lands himself a contract based on a strong showing. He’s been putting on a show here in Traverse City with four points (two goals and two assists) in two games. He’s definitely making the most of his opportunity here and I’d be interested to see what else he can do.
- The opposing wing spot on the top line was filled by Matthew Highmore, with Alexandre Fortin playing on one of the lower lines, probably to keep his playing time a little lighter, since he is coming back from surgery. Highmore shined in his expanded role and fit in seamlessly with David Kampf and Alex DeBrincat.
- I wasn’t too impressed by Kampf in the first game, but he and DeBrincat have begun to gel, quickly learning how the other plays and where he’s expected to be. There was some pretty passing and zone entries between the two of them. With the Blackhawks system being weak down the middle for its bottom six, I’d say to keep an eye on any center in Rockford who can do his job well.
- Will Pelletier is having a great tournament. He looks very much like a men among boys, and it’s not just his impressive beard. His speed is absolutely unreal, and he’s tenacious, never takes a shift off. I don’t know if he’ll ever attract enough NHL attention to get his contract upgraded or to get a call-up, but I’d love to see it. He has a great story of just wanting a try-out and hopefully an ECHL contract after finishing playing D3 college hockey, and landing a contract with the Ice Hogs instead, and I’m excited to see what he does with a full season in Rockford this year.
- Luc Snuggerud leads the Blackhawks squad in points with six (and shares the overall points lead with three other players), thanks to his huge outburst last night, with two goals and three assists. He’s looked more comfortable as the tournament has gone on, and is especially noticeable for his passing abilities.
The Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the championship game tonight at 7pm Eastern/6pm Central.
The Blue Jackets, the 2015 champions, have three of the tournament’s top scorers (Calvin Thurkauf with six points, Vitaly Abramov with five, and Paul Bittner with four). Statistically, the teams are fairly similar, with Columbus potentially having the edge in goaltending.
For the past two years, the Blackhawks have chosen to rest their best players for the final game, since they’ve always been playing for seventh or eighth place. With Nathan Noel already taking the spot of one of the scratches due to injury, that leaves three slots — presumable DeBrincat, Fortin, and maybe a defenseman — I’d pick Dahlstrom, if I were the coach. But with the squad having the chance to actually win the tournament, it will be interesting to see what the team decides.
Stats and box score from Monday’s game are here.
(Photo by Sarah Avampato)