While we enjoy the Chicago Blackhawks’ recent hot streak, the franchise needs to be focused on the future. In our latest Prospects Report, we will spend some time in the American Hockey League (AHL), where a trio of young Rockford IceHogs are finding their groove. From there, we will head to China, where a top prospect will get a chance to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics. Finally, we will give some quick-hit updates on the 2021 draft class.
Altybarmakian, Teply & Regula Showing Promise
Thanks to a COVID outbreak within the locker room, the IceHogs got an extended break after Christmas. Since their return to the ice, the offense has had a jump to its step with 26 goals in their last five games.
Andrei Altybarmakian and Michal Teply were put on the top line with Lukas Reichel upon the team’s return, and they both scored their first goals of the season in an 8-0 win over the Chicago Wolves on Jan. 8. Altybarmakian has two goals and six points in the last five games, while Teply has a pair of goals and five points.
“They’ve had great pop.” IceHogs assistant coach Jared Nightingale said. “They are giving effort in the plays you don’t read in the newspaper. They’re both talented players. When they get the puck on their sticks in the offensive zone, they can both make plays. Teply didn’t have a point for the longest time, and he stayed positive and put in the work. Same with Alty. It’s good to see them competing and get rewarded.”
Altybarmakian and Teply have also earned the attention of the veteran leadership on the team. Captain Garratt Mitchell was quick to mention when recently talking about players who have stepped up their game.
“Two guys that come to mind are Teply and Alty, “he said. “They’ve played some good hockey. I know it can get frustrating. It’s especially frustrating when you’re doing the right thing and getting chances and don’t bear down. They’ve gotten those opportunities, and it just hasn’t gone in for them. I’ve talked to them quite a bit. I said, ‘If you’re creating those chances game in and game out, don’t get frustrated because it’s going to come.’ I think they’re playing their best hockey of the year.”
These two are different players. Altybarmakian, a third-round pick (70th overall) in 2017, is a high-energy winger that plays with an edge. He is cut from the same cloth as a player like Brandon Hagel. Teply, taken in the fourth round (105th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, is more of a playmaker and creative player. He had 29 goals and 63 points in 53 games during his lone season with the Winnipeg Ice in the Western Hockey League (WHL). That offensive production has yet to translate to the pro level, but we are starting to see more of it over the past few games.
Another young player who has improved throughout the season is defenseman Alec Regula. The 6-foot-4 blueliner is starting to get into a groove, both offensively and in his own end of the ice. He has eight assists in his last five AHL games, including four against the Cleveland Monsters on Jan. 15.
“The coaches tell us to jump in the rush if we can get up there and be the fourth wave of attack,” Regula said after his huge four-point effort. “As I’ve been playing more games in the league, I’ve been getting more comfortable. Since I’ve been with Rockford, we have been playing our best hockey since Christmas. I feel a lot better out there, for sure.”
The Blackhawks acquired the 2018 third-round pick (67th overall) from the Detroit Red Wings for Brendan Perlini in 2019. He put up good offensive numbers during his junior career with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In 189 OHL games, he had 45 goals and 124 points and spent a lot of time paired with former Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist. Regula has been a big and physical defender for the IceHogs, and he is now starting to mix in some offense, making him a prospect to keep an eye on.
Commesso Named to U.S. Men’s Olympic Team
We’ve known for a few weeks that the NHL has pulled out of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Team USA was to include Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane, Seth Jones, and most likely Alex DeBrincat too. Even though the NHL All-Stars won’t be heading to Beijing, China, that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of storylines worth following.
Last week, the United States announced its roster for the tournament, and the final cut included Blackhawks’ goaltending prospect Drew Commesso.
Related – 2022 Olympic Men’s Team USA Roster
Commesso is one of three American goaltenders to make the cut. He will be joined by Pat Nagle of the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Strauss Mann, who is playing for Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
Team USA is going with a lot of younger players for this tournament, including the second overall pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Matty Berniers. Fans of the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League (USHL) will recognize the names Sean Farrell, Brendan Brisson, Nick Abruzzese, Andy Miele, and Brian O’Neill, who are alumni of the program.
The Blackhawks second-round pick in 2020 (46th overall) is in the midst of his sophomore season at Boston University. Commesso is 9-7-3 with a .909 save percentage (SV%) and 2.59 goals-against average (GAA). In his lone start at the IIHF World Junior Championship, before the tournament was postponed, he made 23 saves in a 3-2 win over Slovakia.
Quick Hits – 2021 Draft Class
- The Blackhawks wasted little time in inking first-round pick Nolan Allan to an entry-level contract. Many felt they reached by taking the 6-foot-2 defenseman with 32nd overall pick. He is not known as being much of an offensive threat, but he is seeing an uptick in production this season with the Prince Albert Raiders. In 33 WHL games, he has two goals and 17 points. He had just one goal and two points in 16 games last season.
- Second-rounder Colton Dach is another pick experts felt was made too early. The younger brother of Kirby has been very good in the WHL this season. He was traded from the Saskatoon Blades to the Kelowna Rockets before the season and he’s carried over his point-per-game average. He has 14 goals and 30 points in 29 games. Dach has been on a hot streak with a pair of goals and eight points in his last five contests.
- The Blackhawks went back to the blue line in the third round by selecting 6-foot-7 Taige Harding. The left-handed defenseman started his NCAA career by joining 17th ranked Providence College last week. Before heading to college, he captained the Fort McMurray Oil Barrons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Harding ranked second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 37 points in 37 games. He also was named AJHL Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.
- Another defenseman, Ethan Del Mastro, was the first of two fourth-round picks. He is currently wearing the “C” on his sweater for the Mississauga Steelheads. In 33 OHL games, he has four goals and 23 points. He also had a plus-28 rating to go with 47 penalty minutes. He was named the OHL’s Defenseman of the Month for December after leading all blueliners with 11 points.
- Forward Victor Stjernborg was the second 2021 fourth-round pick. The high-energy forward has been limited to just eight games this season for Växjö of the SHL. He had surgery in November and there is still no timetable for his return. There is a possibility that the 18-year-old’s season is over.
- After no picks in the fifth round, the Blackhawks took Russian center Ilya Safonov in the sixth round. He has eight goals and 12 points in 43 games for AK Bars Kazan in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). On Dec. 27, he scored his first professional hat trick on just three shots. The third goal came in overtime, making him the youngest player in franchise history to score a hat trick.
- Defenseman Connor Kelley was the first of two seventh-round picks in 2021. The fleet-footed rearguard is in his second season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he’s been paired with 2020 pick Wyatt Kaiser. He has seven assists in 19 games with a plus-8 rating.
- Jalen Luypen, the final member of the 2021 class, might turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the draft. He, like Dach, is scoring over a point per game in the WHL this season. He has 15 goals and 40 points in 37 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. On Jan. 15, he had a pair of assists to give him 100 career WHL points.
The next installment of the Blackhawks Prospects Report will include my mid-season top ten rankings. We will see who has progressed this season and who has taken a step back. Meanwhile, our site-wide draft coverage is starting to kick off. Stay tuned for dozens of profiles on the top prospects heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.