No matter how your favorite NHL team is doing, many fans always have an eye towards the future. When it comes to the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s very easy to want to look back to the Stanley Cup wins of the 2010s, but those days are over. In our new regular column, I will highlight some of the prospects doing well with their current teams. Whether in the American Hockey League (AHL), juniors, or overseas in Europe, we’ll keep you abreast of what youngsters are paving their paths to the NHL.
Isaak Phillips Adding Offense to His Game
One of the best stories to come out of the bizarre 2020-21 hockey season was the emergence of Phillips within the Blackhawks organization. The 6-foot-3 defenseman was drafted in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He was all set to play with the Sudbury Wolves, but when the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) postponed its season, he suited up in the AHL. Usually, he wouldn’t be allowed to play with the IceHogs because of his age, but the rule was changed to allow players to get valuable ice time during the uncertain pandemic world.
Phillips had a successful first taste of professional hockey. In 27 AHL games, he had two goals and nine points. He went from being a relatively unknown prospect to being a foundation of Rockford’s defense in a short time. He played so well; the Blackhawks signed him to an entry-level contract on March 31, 2021.
The 20-year-old blueliner entered 2021-22 with a new level of confidence after an impressive NHL training camp. He has been on the IceHogs’ top pairing when he’s been in the lineup. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 29 against the Carolina Hurricanes and has played in three games with the Blackhawks.
Phillips has been solid defensively, posting a minus-1 rating on a team with a minus-12 goal differential on the season. Lately, he has been showing that he can also bring some offense to the table. This has been a big lift to the IceHogs, who are currently without their top two scorers, Brett Conolly and Lukas Reichel, due to injury. Phillips has two goals and four points in his last seven games to go along with 10 shots on goal.
“I think secondary scoring from the defense is huge,” Phillips told me when asked about his recent contributions. “We’re not a team that is going to put five, six, seven goals every night. We’re a team that’s going to grind games out, and to get some secondary scoring has been great for us. It comes down to doing the right things on the defensive side of the puck first. It’s not changing your game. Doing the right things defensively will make things happen for you on the offensive side, as well.”
As a bonus, Phillips had his parents, Curt and Joan, make the trip down from Canada to see him play. They were in attendance when he scored his first goal of the season at the Chicago Wolves on Nov. 27.
“It was great for them to watch the three-in-three. It was their first time seeing me play in Rockford. It was great to get a goal in front of them. It was a little added motivation with them in the crowd.”
Phillips keeps progressing rapidly and is shooting up the organizational chart. His play on the ice and likable personality off it will make him a fan favorite in Chicago, hopefully, for years to come.
Jalen Luypen Tearing It Up in Edmonton
We move from a late-round gem from the 2020 draft class to a potential steal from the most recent draft. Luypen was taken by the Blackhawks 216th overall (seventh round) this past July. The 5-foot-10, 157-pound forward was coming off a nice season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Edmonton Oil Kings, scoring 16 goals and 29 points in 23 games.
Luypen is proving those numbers were not a fluke as he has nine goals and 28 points in his first 25 WHL games this season. He can play both center and the wing, as versatility will serve him well while trying to cut it in the professional ranks.
Luypen was part of the rookie team that played a pair of games against the Minnesota Wild’s top prospects just before the season started. He was on a line with Josiah Slavin, another former seventh-round pick in the NHL. He recently told Scott Powers of The Athletic what the Blackhawks are looking for out of him.
“A lot of conversation when talking to player development, (Brandon) Hagel’s name gets brought up a lot,” Luypen said. “When I watch their games, they want me to watch Hagel every time he’s on the ice. They see me kind of being like him in the future, and I totally see that as well. It’s exciting. That’s basically what I’ve been hearing from them.”From “Blackhawks prospect Jalen Luypen hopes to follow in the footsteps of Brandon Hagel, Josiah Slavin,” by Scott Powers – The Athletic, 12/2/21
With the success of Phillips, Slavin, and Luypen, the Blackhawks look to be getting some great value out of their late-round picks. Now, if they can only figure out the top of the draft.
Four Blackhawks Prospects Named to Team USA
It’s December, which means it is almost time for the IIHF World Junior Championship, which is truly Christmas for those who follow NHL prospects. The United States is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back gold medals since 2009, and they could have some Blackhawks’ hopefuls leading the charge.
Team USA recently released their preliminary roster, and it included four players drafted by the Blackhawks: goaltender Drew Commesso, forward Landon Slaggert, and defensemen Wyatt Kaiser and Connor Kelly.
Commesso was supposed to play in last year’s tournament but had to bow out due to positive COVID tests among his Boston University teammates. He should be the number one goaltender for the gold medal defense this time around. He has a 6-7-2 record with a 2.82 goals-against average and .900 save percentage for the Terriers this season. He was drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round (46th overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft with the pick acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Robin Lehner trade.
Slaggert is the lone Blackhawks prospect returning from last year’s roster. He played in all seven games for Team USA but didn’t find his way onto the scoresheet. This season, the 2020 third-round pick has five goals and 10 points in 15 games for the University of Notre Dame.
Kaiser and Kelley are teammates at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and are looking to make their first WJC roster. Kaiser is an exciting prospect to keep an eye on after being taken 81st overall (third round) in 2020. The mobile defenseman has a goal and six points in 12 games. Kelley has been a defensive standout from the back end at every level he’s played. Taken 12 picks ahead of Luypen in the seventh round this past summer, he has four assists in 13 games this season to go with his plus-6 rating.
We are ramping up our World Junior Championship coverage here at The Hockey Writers before the tournament begins on Dec. 26. Once the rosters have been finalized, I’ll dedicate this column to tell you which Blackhawks prospects to watch out for. In the meantime, check out all our team previews here on the site, as well as Prospect Corner, where we began our WJC previews this week.
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.