The Chicago Blackhawks have had an eventful few days as three players will remain in Europe. Two will return to North America when training camps open, but one will stay overseas for the duration of the season. Also, two players expected to be drafted this fall will begin their season in Sweden instead of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
Three Blackhawks Prospects Head to Europe
This was a busy week for Blackhawks prospects and the roster of their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, will look quite different whenever the 2020-21 season gets underway.
First, defenseman Joni Tuulola signed a one-year contract with KooKoo in Liiga, the top professional league in his native Finland. While most players we have been reported on lately are being loaned to European clubs, that is not the case here. Tuulola does not have an out clause to return to the NHL, so this is for the entire season.
Tuulola, 24, is set to become a restricted free agent, so the Blackhawks still own his rights if he decides to return for another shot at the NHL. He was originally drafted in the sixth round (181st overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He had six goals and 22 points 110 AHL games for the IceHogs over the previous two seasons.
Forward Tim Söderlund will start his season in Sweden. The Blackhawks announced earlier this week that they have loaned him to Almtuna IS of HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s equivalent to the AHL. The 2017 fourth-round draft pick (112th overall) spit his first season in North America between the AHL and ECHL. He had one goal and three points in 29 games for the IceHogs and two goals and six points in just seven games for the Indy Fuel.
Finally, forward Philipp Kurashev will start the season with HC Lugano of the National League, according to a report out of Switzerland. Out of this trio of players, Kurashev has the most NHL potential and has made a big fan out of IceHogs head coach Derek King.
“Too bad he got hurt or I think you would have seen him called up, maybe, or higher up in our points,” King said of Kurashev in a conference call in May. “I believe he is going to be an NHL hockey player. Whether it is a year or two down the road, that’s going to be up to him. I really liked the way he performed.”
The Blackhawks selected Kurashev in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He seven goals and 19 points in 36 AHL games for the IceHogs last season.
Two WHL Prospects Head Overseas
The majority of our prospect news the past few weeks have been about players already drafted into the NHL being loaned to a European club to start the season. Now, we are starting to see some draft-eligible players make that same move.
According to Elite Prospects, both Ridly Greig and Connor McClennon will start their 2020-21 season playing for Karlskrona HK in the Swedish third-tier league. Both players are expected to be taken in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft this October.
Greig has spent the last two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League (WHL). The 5-foot-11 left wing had a breakout sophomore season with 26 goals and 60 points in 56 games for the Wheat Kings. He is expected to be taken somewhere in the late second or early third round of the draft.
McClennon has also played in the WHL for the previous two seasons. He scored 21 goals and 49 points last season, where he was limited to just 42 games after breaking his collar bone. The 5-foot-8 right wing projects to be a late third-round draft pick this October.
Prospect of the Day – Kaiden Guhle
We are going to stay in the WHL to take a look at one of the top defensive prospects of the 2020 NHL draft class. Guhle is ranked as the third-best defenseman and eighth overall among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the draft. THW’s Josh Bell slots him as the 34th overall rated played in his final draft rankings.
Related: THW’s 2020 Draft Guide
If the name sounds familiar, it is because Kaiden’s older brother, Brendan, was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015 and played in 30 games for the Anaheim Ducks this past season. Guhle followed in his brother’s footsteps by playing for the Prince Albert Raiders.
He led all defensemen on his team last season with 40 points. His stock rose considerably during the 2019-20 season which saw him play in both the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the CHL Top Prospects Game.
At 6-foot-2 and 186-pounds, the left-handed defenseman has the size NHL scouts love on the back end. Even with the offensive production last season, he is touted for his defensive play. He uses his size to clear bodies from the front of his net and his long reach to break up passes and block shots.
Guhle is a very good skater with the speed to carry to the puck up the ice quickly. He can also start the rush with his accurate and crisp stretch passes. He does possess a powerful shot from the point, but he just hasn’t gained enough confidence in yet to use it more often.
Our own Peter Baracchini feels he should be a late first-round pick and has very good NHL potential.
Guhle’s two-way presence will allow him to be a steady defenseman either in a second- or third- pairing role. He already excels in the defensive end, but his potential could be higher if he develops and rounds out his offensive game.
In today’s NHL, teams want their top defensemen to contribute offensively, in addition to playing solid defense. Guhle has his defensive game down pretty well, but if he wants to excel at the NHL level, he will need to improve on his game when he has the puck.
Sign up for our “Prospects Newsletter” to stay up to date.