Hockey season is just around the corner, my friends! I spent last weekend scouting AAA hockey games for the St. Cloud Blizzard of the NAHL and some of the top NHL prospects in the world will be heading to Michigan this weekend.
The Detroit Red Wings will be hosting their annual prospects tournament in Traverse City between Sept. 6-10. The Chicago Blackhawks will be sending a team of prospects for the event as well as Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Blackhawks are bringing a very talented group of youngsters as they look to win their second tournament title and their first since 2017. We will take a look at the five players who have the biggest chance to make an impact at the NHL level.
Adam Boqvist, D
Boqvist has been atop the Blackhawks prospect pool ever since they selected him eighth overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He is a dynamic offensive defender who seems to just glide effortlessly on the ice. He combines great vision, stick handling and positional awareness to be a threat every time he steps on the ice.
He checks in at just 6-foot and 181 pounds, but he makes up for his lack of size with a very active stick that creates a lot of turnovers and excellent speed to close ground. He has shown progression when it comes to reading plays and getting into passing and shooting lanes.
Boqvist looked much more confident at this past July’s development camp than he did right after he was drafted the previous summer. He put up 20 goals and 60 points in 54 regular-season games for the London Knights in the OHL last season. In the playoffs, he scored 10 goals and added three assists in 11 contests.
The 19-year-old will challenge for a roster spot in training camp this fall. He did not look too out of place in his preseason appearances in 2018, so he might make things difficult for the decision-makers at the end of the month.
Kirby Dach, C
Let the Dach hype begin! The hopes are high for the young center after the Blackhawks invested the third overall pick of last June’s NHL Entry Draft in him. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the 6-foot-4, 198-pound center.
Dach has the big frame that NHL scouts crave and he has the willingness to use it to get to the front of the net. He has very soft hands and works well in the tight quarters in front of the goaltender. While he has the characteristics of a traditional power forward, he brings much more than just size to the table.
He has great stickhandling ability which he uses to dangle around defenders. He skates very well and is quite shifty for a player of his size. Dach also has excellent vision which he uses to make plays and set up his teammates.
Dach is far from just an offensive forward as he is very responsible in his own end. He uses his size and strength to win battles down low and along the boards. The Blackhawks drafted him to be the heir apparent to Jonathan Toews and he certainly has the tools to do just that.
There is likely a 50/50 chance that Dach will be on the opening night roster. The Blackhawks will have nine games before they have to send him back to the WHL or keep on the NHL roster. At the very least, they can give him a couple of games to see how he looks, much like they did with Brandon Saad at the start of the 2011-12 season.
Nicolas Beaudin, D
Beaudin is the third first-round pick on the Traverse City roster. He was selected 27th overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft with the pick acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Ryan Hartman trade. Beaudin, who turns 20 on Oct. 7, is another undersized defender coming up the ranks, but he is the best NHL prospect on the blue line behind Boqvist.
Speed and mobility are his biggest assets. He uses his feet to open up lanes within the offensive zone and create plays. Beaudin is touted for his high hockey IQ, which he uses to make the little plays when his team has the puck. He always seems to know where the puck is going and where he needs to move it to in order to succeed. He has been very effective on the power play during his time in juniors.
Defensively, he makes up for his lack of size by playing a composed style of hockey. He is rarely ever out of position and he is very assertive on the ice. He uses his speed to take away lanes and force opposing players into making mistakes.
Beaudin is a long shot to make the opening night roster, but anything can happen. He already has three full seasons in the QMJHL and there is very little left to prove at that level. The youngster could get his first taste of professional hockey in the AHL this fall.
Philipp Kurashev, C
Kurashev might turn into a mid-round gem after being selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He is coming off a huge 2018-19 season which saw him succeed both in juniors and on the international stage.
The Swiss-born center scored 29 goals and 65 points in 59 games for the Quebec Remparts. He also scored six goals and seven points for Switzerland’s run to the bronze medal game at the World Junior Championship and ended the season with a goal and four points at the World Championship in May. His big year earned him his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Kurashev made his professional debut by appearing in three games with the IceHogs late in the season and he left a mark in his time with them.
“He’s a hockey player,” said IceHogs head coach Derek King. “He’s going to be a good hockey player. I’m impressed with him.”
Kurashev will likely get a lot of playing time with an improved IceHogs team this season. If he continues to progress, it will only be a matter of time before he calls the United Center home.
MacKenzie Entwistle, RW
Entwistle came to the Blackhawks organization via the Arizona Coyotes, who drafted him in the third round back in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. They included him in the trade that sent Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa’s contract out west.
The 20-year-old winger provides both size and physicality; two things the Blackhawks are currently lacking. At 6-foot-4 and 181-pounds, Entwistle has had no problem playing with an edge during his junior career. He should do the same at the pro level with ease, especially after he adds a little weight to fill out his frame.
He earned valuable experience playing on the last two OHL championship teams. Last season, Entwistle had 30 goals and 57 points in 57 games between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Guelph Storm. He also made the Canadian World Junior team, where he scored three goals in his five games.
Entwistle will likely earn his stripes in Rockford this season, but he has a very good chance at contributing in Chicago in the near future.
Honorable Mentions & Schedule
The Blackhawks’ tournament roster is loaded with talent this year. These five players are not the only ones who could be calling the NHL home one day.
Defenseman Dennis Gilbert comes to mind. He progressed well during his rookie season in the AHL last year. He brings a physical presence on the back end and has improved in all aspects of his overall game.
Chad Krys is another defensive prospect Blackhawks fans have heard about since he was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. We should get a good look at him with the IceHogs this season.
Winger Brandon Hagel, who finished fourth in WHL scoring last season, will get his first taste of the Blackhawks organization in Traverse City. He signed as a free agent in the spring and will look to impress in his first professional season.
Swedish forward Tim Soderlund is another intriguing prospect. He has a high motor and provides a ton of energy on the ice. He could be fun to watch when he makes his way over to North America to stay.
The Blackhawks rookie squad will be in the Gordie Howe Division. They will play Friday, Sept. 6 versus the Red Wings (6 p.m.), Saturday, Sept. 7 versus the Maple Leafs (2 p.m.) and Monday, Sept. 9 versus the Blues (4:30 p.m.). Their final game will be on Tuesday, Sept. 10 against one of the teams from the Ted Lindsay Division, depending on where they finish. Each game will be streamed live on the Blackhawks official website, so you will be able to follow the action from home.