The Chicago Blackhawks are about to start the 2021-22 NHL season with hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are a lot of hot topics to discuss about the NHL club, but for now, we are going to focus beyond the upcoming season and take a look at the organization’s top 10 prospects.
The main question on your mind right now is probably, “Who is considered a prospect?” Well, I am glad you asked! We are going to go by The Athletic’s Corey Pronman’s definition of a prospect:
“A skater no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 25 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 50 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15 A goalie no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 10 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 25 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15”(From “Pronman: 2019-20 NHL Farm System Rankings,” Athletic NHL, 9/5/19)
Before we count down the top 10 prospects in the Blackhawks system the, following players just missed the cut and will be worth keeping an eye on throughout the season: Nolan Allan, Colton Dach, Ethan Del Mastro, Artur Kayumov, Isaak Phillips, Antti Saarela, Josiah Slavin, Michal Teply, and Alex Vlasic.
No. 10 – Jakub Galvas, Defenseman
Blackhawks fans have gotten their first taste of Galvas during the preseason, and he has impressed. He was drafted in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and their patience looks to be paying off. The Czech Republic native spent the last two seasons playing for Jukurit in Liiga, Finland’s top hockey league. He had four goals and 26 points in 90 games. He will begin his first season in North America with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League (AHL).
While there is nothing flashy about the 22-year-old’s game, Galvas is a solid defender who does his job without much fanfare. He loves to pressure the puck and quickly move it back the other way when he gains possession. He is an excellent skater who makes accurate stretch passes, two things that will serve him well going forward. A season in the AHL will do him good as he continues to go from an under-the-radar prospect to one with some serious NHL potential.
No. 9 – Victor Stjernborg – Center/Left Wing
Stjernborg is the lone member of the 2021 draft class to crack the top 10. The Blackhawks selected the Swedish-born forward in the fourth round (108th overall) this past July. He is built like a bowling ball at 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds. Heading into the draft, scouting reports said he had one of the best motors in the entire class. He seems to have never-ending energy and doesn’t take a shift off.
In addition to his high-energy game, Stjernborg is fantastic without the puck. He takes excellent angles on the ice and loves to throw a big shoulder check or give up his body to come up with a critical shot block. He has the motor and defensive game to play in the NHL. However, his offensive game is lacking, so he may never be looked upon to be a point producer. He has already started his second season with the Växjö Lakers in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He has an assist in eight games after scoring two goals and four points in 30 SHL games last season.
No. 8 – Evan Barratt – Center
The 2021-22 season will be a big one for Barratt. He needs to make the strides to jump to the next level during a full AHL schedule with the IceHogs. Not being called up to the NHL won’t make this season a failure, but if there is no improvement to his game, there are potential problems. The Blackhawks drafted the 22-year-old center in the third round (90th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and they need to start seeing a return on their investment.
Barratt had an ok season with the IceHogs last year, but with the shortened schedule and roster turnover because of the taxi squads, it was a difficult one to fully develop in. He had five goals and 14 points in 27 games. He showed off his two biggest attributes; his hockey IQ and his playmaking ability. He also exposed his biggest weakness, which is his skating. If he ever wants to become a regular in the NHL, he has to get faster and more fluid on his feet. There were times where he looked overmatched by the pace of the AHL game, which is very concerning.
No. 7 – Alec Regula, Defenseman
Regula is the second of five defensemen on this list and he is the largest of the group. He stands at 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, which separates him from the other ranked blueliners. He was originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round (67th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The Blackhawks acquired him on Oct. 28, 2019, for forward Brendan Perlini.
He turned pro last season after a successful junior career with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he was a teammate of former Blackhawk Adam Boqvist. He had three goals and an assist in 16 games with the IceHogs and even appeared in three NHL contests with the big club. Like all young players, last season was a rough one in terms of overall development. He has a booming shot from the point to go along with his big frame, but he needs to work on his skating and overall defensive play in order to make the jump to the NHL.
No. 6 – Mackenzie Entwistle, Right Wing
When we revisit this list midseason, Entwistle may no longer be on because he is making a case to start the season with the Blackhawks. The Arizona Coyotes used their third-round pick (69th overall) to draft Entwistle after two solid OHL seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He came to the Blackhawks on July 12, 2018, as part of the trade that sent Marian Hossa’s contract to Arizona.
Entwistle’s progression with the IceHogs over the past two seasons has been remarkable. While he has improved his skating and foot speed, he will never be elite in either of those categories. He is defensively sound, relentless on the forecheck, and is willing to do whatever is asked of him. Versatility will go a long way in him sticking at the top level as he can play all three forward positions. He got a small taste of the NHL last year, scoring a goal and adding an assist in five games with the Blackhawks.
No. 5 – Wyatt Kaiser, Defenseman
Kaiser is a fast riser on the organizational depth chart after his freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The Blackhawks drafted the teenaged defender in the third round (81st overall) after he split the 2019-20 season between his high school team and the United States Hockey League (USHL). He had 10 assists in 28 games during his first NCAA season. His most impressive outing of the season came when he led all players with 59:39 of ice time in the five-overtime tournament win over the University of North Dakota.
The Blackhawks may have found a top-four defenseman in the third round, which is very difficult to do. He showed off his mobility, and offensive game in high school then became a defensive standout when he arrived in Duluth. While he still has the offensive flair today’s NHL general managers crave, he has quickly become a complete, two-way defender. He takes far fewer risks on the ice and reads the play very well. He might be the prospect I am most excited to watch this season.
No. 4 – Wyatt Kalynuk, Defenseman
Our back-to-back defensemen named Wyatt is rounded out with Kalynuk. The 24-year-old opted for free agency after completing his college career at the University of Wisconsin instead of signing with the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him in the seventh round (196th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Kalynuk had a very impressive first professional season as he bounced between the AHL and NHL. He had four goals and nine points in 21 games for the Blackhawks. He was even better in his eight games for the IceHogs, with two goals and 10 points.
Kalynuk’s skating is his greatest asset, and he uses it to push the pace and create offensive pressure. He excels at zone entries by quickly finding space on the ice and getting there in a blink of an eye. He gets the puck up the ice quickly when leading a breakout from the defensive zone. He still needs to make improvements defensively if he wants to become a top-four defenseman. He looked to be a lock for the opening night roster, but he will miss a couple of weeks after suffering an ankle injury in practice. Hopefully, this will not be a major setback in his development.
No. 3 – Drew Commesso, Goaltender
The Blackhawks feel they have their franchise goalie of the future after drafting Commesso in second round (46th overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He posted great numbers with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) with a .920 save percentage (SV%), 2.05 goals-against average, and three shutouts during the 2019-20 season. He followed that up with a solid freshman season at Boston University. In 11 games, he had six wins to go with a .915 SV% and 2.99 GAA. He will be the No. 1 netminder with the Terriers this season.
Commesso is a very confident goaltender who likes to play an aggressive style at the top of his crease. He’s a bit smaller than your prototypical backstops today, standing at just 6-foot-2, but his superior positioning makes up for this. While he prefers to come out and challenge shooters, he also knows when to be patient and make the safe play. He will be one to keep an eye on as he gets a more significant workload at the NCAA level.
No. 2 – Nicolas Beaudin, Defenseman
Beaudin was taken in the first-round (27th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, just a few picks after Boqvist was selected. While Boqvist is a more dynamic offensive defenseman, Beaudin can be a better overall blueliner when it is all said and done. The 22-year-old progressed well in his 59 games with the IceHogs in 2019-20. He bounced between Chicago and Rockford last season with 19 NHL games and nine back in the AHL.
During his time with the Blackhawks, Beaudin never looked overmatched or out of place. He is very good with the puck on his stick and makes crisp and accurate passes. He does have a good shot, but he needs to gain more confidence and use it more often. He still needs improvement in the defensive zone, but the potential is there to become a top-four defenseman that can contribute to the power play.
No. 1 – Lukas Reichel, Left Wing/Center
This fall, Reichel made his first trip to North America for training camp, and he looks to be here for the long haul. The Blackhawks’ 2020 first-round pick (17th overall) appeared in two preseason games. While his numbers don’t jump off the page, with no points and two shots, he looked confident and aggressive during his first taste of the NHL. He will begin the season with the IceHogs, where he centered the top line in their two preseason games. This is the right move for the 19-year-old forward as he gets accustomed to making the move from his native Germany. It won’t be long before he is up with the Blackhawks to stay.
The first thing that stands out about Reichel’s game is his pace of play. He is always moving and is relentless on the forecheck. He is such an explosive and agile skater that he makes it look easy on the ice. His playmaking abilities are his biggest weapon. He can just as easily breakdown a defender one-on-one with his shifty skating, or make a great pass to set up a teammate. Some seasoning in Rockford will serve him well, as there is no need to rush him along at this point.
We will keep tabs on all the Blackhawks’ prospects as the season progresses. There will be an update to this list both at the midseason point and after the season concludes. It will be interesting to see how those lists compare to our preseason rankings.
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.