You didn’t really think that the Chicago Blackhawks were going to be content sitting on the sidelines throughout the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, did you? While some of their notable stars opted to focus on rest and relaxation this offseason, the Blackhawks weren’t short on talent that, instead, chose to compete at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.
With nine Blackhawks suiting up at the annual tournament, let’s take a look at the impact they were each able to infuse into their nation’s efforts, with hopes of a podium finish.
In a mid-tournament move, Team USA sought the sturdiness of goaltender Drew Commesso as a third-string replacement after Anthony Stolarz went down with a lower-body injury. Commesso, a second-round pick for the Blackhawks at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, accumulated a 6-3-1 record, 2.99 goals against average, and .915 save percentage with Boston College of the NCAA through 2020-21.
Despite this not being Commesso’s first time wearing his country’s colors, the 18-year-old was surrounded by stiff competition for the USA’s crease. Cal Petersen and Jake Oettinger put up all-star numbers the whole way through.
Commesso never did see any playing time, but he still gets to add a bronze medal to his trophy case thanks to Team USA’s defeat of Team Germany to end the competition in third place.
One of the older athletes aligned with the Blackhawks at the World Championships, who was certainly not going to miss another opportunity to represent Russia, was Maxim Shalunov. A former fourth-round pick from back in 2011, 28-year-old Shalunov has spent most of his time since in the KHL and has yet to sign a contract with the Blackhawks.
After accumulating only one point throughout this competition, it’s tough to imagine the centreman’s stock in North America has risen in any which way. Speaking of surprise performances, though, Nikita Zadorov seemed to find a new gear in non-Chicago colors.
Acquired by the Blackhawks in a trade that saw Brandon Saad head to the Colorado Avalanche, Zadorov was one of the more polarizing figures for the franchise this past year. By season’s end, he had racked up one goal, seven assists, and a plus-1 rating after 55 games played. Meanwhile, he accumulated three points through a much smaller sample size and was plus-11 while representing Russia these past few weeks.
Unfortunately for Russia, both Shalunov and Zadorov were sent home earlier than anticipated following an overtime loss to Canada in the Quarterfinals. Zadorov is an RFA as of this offseason, so it will be interesting to see if his performance overseas has done anything to raise his value on this side of the world.
After spending the 2019-20 season with the Rockford IceHogs, following being selected 120th overall by the Blackhawks in 2018, Philipp Kurashev was out to make his mark at the NHL level through 2020-21. 16 points in 54 games don’t tell his whole story, but his highlight reel finishes help fill in the gaps.
Kurashev electing to represent his native Switzerland shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the now 21-year-old has been doing so since his mid-teens.
He earned one goal and four assists in eight contests, which was enough to put him in sixth among his teammates for point totals. Coincidentally, sixth was also where Switzerland landed after round-robin play, which set them up for their Quarterfinal loss at the hands of Team Germany.
Dominik Kubalik may not have had the most traditional path into the NHL, but you wouldn’t know that based on how much of a household name he’s already become after only two years in the league. While some questioned if his rookie success could sustain, Kubalik’s 38 points through 56 games in 2020-21 helped provide that answer.
As though he hadn’t done enough to prove his worth in recent seasons, Kubalik infused his progressed talents into Czech Republic’s lineup at this year’s World Championship. This was his third time participating in the tournament.
Being there wasn’t enough, especially after the impact he’s proven to have had on this side of the world with the Blackhawks. Kubalik actually led his national team with six points through their seven games played. They went on to lose to a favored Team Finland in the Quarterfinals.
Ever since his first-round selection at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the anticipation to see Lukas Reichel play in Chicago has grown rapidly. Rightfully so, given the teenager’s consistent ability to perform among men at all levels of play. Reichel is also fresh off winning a DEL Championship with Eisbären Berlin, earning five points through nine playoff matches.
After not getting to witness Reichel’s skill set firsthand at the World Juniors, fans were treated with his presence at this year’s World Championship. It was his first visit to the IIHF tournament.
Mark Eaton, Assistant GM/Player Development for the Blackhawks, summed up what we can look forward to out of Reichel in their preseason scouting report:
“A very smart player and sees the ice very well. He can see things faster and better than other players.”
In the meantime, Reichel continues to impress as he improves. One of only two teens playing for Germany, the 19-year-old was a visible presence. Two goals, four assists, and six points placed him in third on the team’s list of producers. While that helped them reach the Semifinals, Team Finland showcased why they’re still the better squad.
It goes without saying that Canadians enjoy their hockey. As such, they have national talent spread far and wide throughout the NHL. Did you know that Chicago had 13 Canadians play a role in their roster this past season? So it should come as no surprise that the Blackhawks were well represented on Team Canada.
Despite only seeing action with the Blackhawks once this season, Brandon Pirri was able to produce at over a point per game pace through his seven games with the Rockford IceHogs. Similar to what he’s become known to do best in North America, Chicago’s second-round pick from 2009 pocketed three goals wearing the red and white for the first time.
If averaging nearly 14 minutes per night through 19 contests with Chicago wasn’t enough to highlight Nicolas Beaudin’s importance to their rebuild, perhaps getting the chance to represent his country could help. The former first-round pick only collected one assist, but the 21-year-old has years ahead of him to better his only experience in this regard.
While it’s recently become clear that Brandon Hagel was a prospect worth waiting for, no one could have anticipated the type of impact the 22-year-old would have among his rookie class of 2020-21. 24 points through 52 contests put him in fifth among his Blackhawks teammates. He also netted two game-winners.
It speaks to his perseverance and drive, which is impossible to ignore, having been drafted by the Buffalo Sabres back in 2016 and waiting this long to get into any meaningful NHL action.
“I remember earlier in the year, you just watch and he’s everywhere,” Bowman said. “He gets knocked down, gets right back up, gets knocked down again, he’s right back up and he takes the puck from the guy and goes the other way. He embodies a lot of what we’re trying to do and I think he’s got that style of play that it’s really easy to get behind him.”
Like the other Blackhawks who joined him at this tournament, it was also Hagel’s introduction to this type of international play. Perhaps that’s what contributed to keeping him off the scoresheet throughout his 10 games played, yet it’s impossible to ignore that his presence positively impacted those around him.
Hagel’s passion alone undoubtedly factored into Canada’s comeback, from starting the competition 0-3 and ending it on top of the world.
In this case, Canada’s collective effort was clearly what mattered most. Even though Pirri, Beaudin, and Hagel accounted for only four points combined, they were part of an overall effort that got the job done. That is the ultimate goal, after all, so it’s only right that they enjoy the gold medal just as much as those who led the way for their lineup.
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Team Canada capped off what turned into a remarkable story by defeating Team Finland in overtime of the Final. Hopefully, a foreshadow of things to come for the Blackhawks, in that hard work, perseverance, and determination will guide the way through what they hope is a quick and effective rebuild.
The Tournament’s Totality
All in all, the Blackhawks having nine of their athletes decide to defend their national pride on the world’s stage bodes well for the franchise. Let alone its future, given the youth they infused into the competition.
While it may not have been a deep push through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, those who participated overseas are now that much more poised for playing in the bigger games and competing among the best. The organization is in good hands, with the type of international talent that calls Chicago home.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
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