Assessing Blackhawks’ rebuild, Part 3: The defensemen and goalies


As mentioned in the first part of our series, the Blackhawks possess two young players who appear to be locks for the future.

The first, of course, is Connor Bedard.

The second is Alex Vlasic.

Vlasic seems to be on his way to becoming an elite NHL shutdown defenseman. His overall sample size is still somewhat small, but it’s growing and he has continued to be the same player throughout the season. He’s even improving in some areas.

In the third and final story in our series, we assess how the Blackhawks are coming along with their defensemen, including Vlasic, and goalies.

Defensemen

Future locks

Alex Vlasic

6-6 | 217 | Left-handed | 22 years old | second-round pick in 2019

Vlasic is a perfect example of how long it can take for someone to develop. After being drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round in 2019, he spent three seasons at Boston University. He then spent the majority of a season with the Rockford IceHogs. So, this is his fifth season since being drafted and he’s just begun to establish himself as an NHL player this year.

The Blackhawks were hopeful Vlasic would take a step this season, but they couldn’t have even imagined he’d take this big of a step. Based on Dom Luszczyszyn’s Net Rating model and Evolving Hockey’s goals-above-replacement model, Vlasic has been the Blackhawks’ best player this season. In Evolving Hockey’s model, only Radko Gudas and Erik Gubranson have had more defensive impact than Vlasic among all NHL defensemen. That’s pretty remarkable. Vlasic believes he has more to give offensively, too.

Seth Jones

6-4 | 213 | Right-handed | 29 years old | acquired in trade

Jones is the only Blackhawks veteran who will definitely be part of the future. He’s signed through the 2029-30 season. That’s six more seasons after this one. The Blackhawks have to hope Jones can maintain a competitive level throughout his contract. He was solid last season, but he hasn’t been as effective this season, especially offensively. He and Vlasic have been the Blackhawks’ best pairing, so that may be something Luke Richardson continues to ride in the coming seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how the Blackhawks’ defense and Jones’ role evolves over time.

Probably NHL players

Kevin Korchinski

6-1 | 185 | Left-handed | 19 years old | No. 7 pick in 2022

The Blackhawks are still optimistic Korchinski will be everything they hoped he would be when they drafted him early in 2022. But as of now, he’s not. He’s been treading water as a defenseman in the NHL this season. He has struggled defensively. His defensive metrics are among the worst in the league. That was somewhat expected, but Blackhawks were hoping he’d show more offensively. He has two goals and seven assists in 44 games. He’s shown flashes of his skating and offensive ability, but it has been inconsistent.

The Blackhawks would have probably put Korchinski in the AHL this season if that was an option. They just didn’t think it was worth sending back to juniors. Part of the reason was they didn’t want him playing late into the WHL playoffs again. They’re hoping he can utilize this upcoming offseason to continue to build muscle and add weight. Come next training camp, the Blackhawks hope Korchinski will be in a better position mentally and physically to be a full-time NHL player. There was a lot put on his plate this season.


Wyatt Kaiser has played in 23 NHL games this season. (Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

Wyatt Kaiser

6-0 | 172 | Left-handed | 21 years old | third-round pick in 2020

Outside of Bedard, Kaiser looked like the rookie most ready for a breakout season. Kaiser had a great training camp, but he couldn’t carry it over consistently once the season arrived. He had some good games – his even-strength analytics are actually only second to Vlasic – but he had noticeably lost his confidence around when the Blackhawks decided to send him to Rockford. Like Vlasic, the Blackhawks are hoping a ton of ice time in all situations will do wonders for Kaiser. Before recently entering concussion protocol with the IceHogs, Kaiser was finding his groove again. The Blackhawks aren’t going to hand him anything, but they do believe he’s going to be a piece to their future defense.

Possibly NHL players

Sam Rinzel

6-4 | 175 | Right-handed | 19 years old | No. 25 pick in 2022

The Blackhawks drafted Rinzel in the first round in 2022 knowing he’d need time to develop. He’s probably still 2-4 years away from the NHL, but they do like how he’s coming along. He’s an incredible skater and uses that ability to create offense. He’s tied for fifth among college defensemen in assists. He’s still raw in some areas, including defensive aspects of the game. He’s expected to spend a season or two more at Minnesota before turning pro.

Nolan Allan

6-2 |194 | Left-handed |21 years old | No. 32 pick in 2021

Allan has the potential to be another defensive defenseman for the Blackhawks. He takes pride in that part of the game and loves to play physical. In Rockford, they’ve been working on him to improve his puck touches and retrievals. They’re also trying to have him defend more under control. One of the obstacles for him is Vlasic, Korchinksi and Kaiser are probably ahead of him on the depth chart as left-handed defensemen. Allan has been playing some on the right side this season, so that could be a possibility. With Jones and Connor Murphy, who is signed through the 2025-26 season, playing on the right side, there isn’t much opportunity, though.

Ethan Del Mastro

6-4 | 205 | Left-handed | 21 years old | fourth-round pick in 2021

Del Mastro is another left-handed defenseman to watch over the next few years. He’s had a positive first pro season, which has included a selection to the AHL all-star game. He has size, defends well in the defensive zone and can move the puck. For him, it’s going to be about his mobility and defending the rush. The Blackhawks are working with him to turn quicker and more efficiently. Like Allan, Del Mastro will have to prove he can give the Blackhawks something more than the other left-handed players in the pipeline.

Isaak Phillips

6-3 | 205 pounds | Left-handed | 22 years old | fifth-round pick in 2020

Phillips has gotten his longest NHL look this season. There have been some positive games for him. But he’s another player who has struggled to remain consistent at the NHL level. His analytics are the worst among the team’s defensemen. The Blackhawks have been outscored 29-10 with him on the ice in five-on-five play. He’s expected to get another contract after this season, so he’ll get more opportunities to prove himself. He has come a long way since first turning pro.

Louis Crevier

6-8 | 228 | Right-handed | 22 years old | seventh-round pick in 2020

Crevier has made major strides in the past few seasons, too. To earn an NHL contract was first an achievement. He had solid spurts last season in Rockford, but he lost his confidence late in the year. He came back this season, improved and got his first NHL games. His NHL analytics weren’t great either, but something he can build on.

Analysis

The Blackhawks are much further along with their young defensemen than forwards. It helped that Vlasic and Kaiser were already on their way. Kyle Davidson also made a point of selecting two defensemen in his first draft. Korchinski needs time, but he should be fine. Rinzel is the wild card. If he pans out, the Blackhawks’ defense looks that much better.

The Blackhawks will undoubtedly address their defensive pipeline at this year’s draft. If they don’t land the No. 1 pick and draft Macklin Celebrini, Michigan State freshman defenseman Artyom Levshunov could be a real possibility for them. He’s a right-handed shot, which they need. If they could go Vlasic, Korchinski and Kaiser on the left side and Jones, Rinzel and Levshunov on the right side come the 2026-27 season, the Blackhawks might have something. Whether or not the Blackhawks draft Levshunov, they will probably draft a few defensemen this year. Outside of Rinzel, there aren’t any unsigned defensemen coming. Davidson will want to get some players in that cupboard, too.

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Arvid Söderblom will get more chances to prove himself in the NHL. (Jasen Vinlove /USA Today)

Goalies

Arvid Söderblom

6-3 | 180 | 24 years old | free-agent signing

Söderblom hasn’t had the season the Blackhawks were hoping for after he was their No. 1 goalie in Rockford the past few seasons. The Blackhawks are going to give him time, though. Petr Mrázek has earned the chance to start more often, but Söderblom will still get his fair share of games. The same can be expected next season. Söderblom has these two seasons to prove he can be the goalie of the future.

Drew Commesso

6-2 | 181 | 21 years old | second-round pick in 2020

Commesso has been enduring his own ups and downs in Rockford this season. That’s normal for most first-year pro goalies. Commesso can be expected to be the IceHogs’ No. 1 goalie for the next few seasons. In an ideal world for the Blackhawks, Söderblom and Commesso would be their NHL goalies in a few years. Time will tell.

Adam Gajan

6-3 | 187 | 19 years old | second-round pick in 2023

The Blackhawks were high enough on Gajan to make him the first goalie selected in the 2023 draft, but they also understood his development track would likely be long. He’s spending this season in the USHL and then will attend Minnesota-Duluth. You would think he’d be there for 2-3 years before turning pro. He might not be in Rockford until the 2027-28 season.

Analysis

The Blackhawks would like to discover their NHL goalies within their own system, but they also understand that may not be possible. They’ll have a better idea about Söderblom and Commesso in the next few years. Like every other position, the Blackhawks aren’t rushing their goalies. If they don’t re-sign Jaxson Stauber after this season, it’ll be interesting to see who they bring in as another Rockford goalie.

(Top photo of Alex Vlasic: Sergei Belski / USA Today)





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