Blackhawks prospect rankings: Frank Nazar moves to No. 1 in midseason update

It has been a relatively status-quo season so far within the Blackhawks’ prospect pool.

Unlike last season, when there were some unexpected setbacks (Frank Nazar’s hip surgery) and some unexpected leaps (Ilya Safonov’s breakout), most of the Hawks’ prospects this year have performed roughly as expected.

Still, there has been some movement within the hierarchy, and a number of players from the preseason rankings in August — Connor Bedard, Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, Arvid Soderblom, Cole Guttman and Isaak Phillips — have graduated off the list and into the NHL.

That has opened up spots for a few lower-level prospects to move onto the list, although they’ll have a tough time maintaining those rankings once the Hawks add another loaded 2024 draft class.

These rankings, as always, are determined partially by upside and partially by NHL readiness.

1. Frank Nazar, forward, age 20

The Hawks’ 13th overall pick from 2022 has enjoyed a sophomore year at Michigan as encouraging as his freshman year was discouraging.

He rediscovered his old self during the fall and has improved even further this winter, tallying 16 points in his last nine games to get to 33 points in 26 games overall. He’ll likely sign and make his NHL debut after the college season ends.

2. Oliver Moore, forward, age 19

The Hawks’ 19th pick from 2023 has been nearly as hot lately at Minnesota, tallying 15 points in his last nine games to get to 27 points in 27 games overall. He’s centering the Gophers’ second line between Rhett Pitlick (Rem’s younger brother) and Jimmy Snuggerud (the Blues’ top prospect). He’ll likely return for his sophomore year, though.

3. Colton Dach, forward, age 21

Dach has endured an injury-laden first AHL season, missing the first month with an ankle injury and the last month with a concussion. In between, however, he tallied 16 points in 23 games and looked like the scrappy, physical, net-driving force that differentiates him within the prospect pool. He could make his NHL debut later this season.

4. Wyatt Kaiser, defenseman, age 21

Things haven’t gone so smoothly for Kaiser since his excellent NHL training camp. The Hawks determined he needed some grooming time in Rockford after all, and he hasn’t immediately experienced success there, either. But he’s still only 21.

5. Landon Slaggert, forward, age 21

Slaggert’s fantastic senior year at Notre Dame, tallying 25 points in 28 games while demonstrating some previously unseen offensive skills, has pushed him up the prospect rankings. His commitment to sign with the Hawks makes his NHL debut imminent.

6. Drew Commesso, goaltender, age 21

Commesso has encountered a steep pro-hockey learning curve in Rockford this year, going 8-10-3 with an .896 save percentage to date. That’s not uncommon for young goalies, though, whose development takes longer than other positions.

Just look at Stuart Skinner as an example. He posted an .892 save percentage over 41 AHL games in 2019-20; he has now emerged as the No. 1 goalie for an Oilers team that has won 16 straight.

7. Ethan Del Mastro, defenseman, age 21

It’s difficult to decide between Del Mastro and Nolan Allan at No. 7 because they’ve spent so much of the season — their first in the AHL — together and because they have such different styles. Del Mastro, the offensive defenseman among the pair, earned an AHL All-Star nod by leading Rockford defensemen with 21 points in 41 games.

8. Nolan Allan, defenseman, age 20

Allan has tallied only nine points, but that’s to-be-expected considering his defensive leanings. He impressed Hawks coach Luke Richardson during training camp with his old-school physicality and hardiness, but Rockford coach Anders Sorensen has actually encouraged him to be even more physical as the season has progressed.

9. Paul Ludwinski, forward, age 19

Ludwinski has climbed up from No. 18 in the preseason rankings by playing a more efficient game, making smart plays and commanding the center of the ice. He has already exceeded his 2022-23 production with 50 points in 39 games for Kingston in the OHL (including a five-point eruption Tuesday).

10. Gavin Hayes, forward, age 19

Not factoring in things like number of games played and quality of competition, Hayes is actually the leading scorer in the Hawks’ pipeline this season, touting 53 points in 36 total games for Flint and Soo in the OHL. He has toughened up the physical, contact-absorbing side of his game, too.

11. Ryan Greene, forward, age 20

Greene has used his blazing speed to average exactly a point per game during his sophomore year at Boston University. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Hawks sign him after this season or wait one more year.

12. Sam Rinzel, defenseman, age 19

Rinzel was probably ranked too high in the preseason rankings — not because of anything skill-related, but rather because he remains a while away from pro readiness. A freshman at Minnesota now, he’ll likely be there two more years while building strength and adjusting to the heavier game played at hockey’s highest levels.

13. Nick Lardis, forward, age 18

Lardis, only the second 2023 pick to appear on this list (after Moore), has enjoyed a prolific OHL season, racking up 50 points in 37 games for Brantford. The fact he’s a great shooter helps with that, but he still needs to add weight.

14. Roman Kantserov, forward, age 19

Playing full-time in the KHL (Russia’s top pro league) as a teenager is a feat in itself, so Kantserov’s unremarkable stat line of 14 points in 46 games shouldn’t be analyzed closely. He’s signed by Magnitogorsk through 2027, so he’ll be a long-term case to follow.

15. Samuel Savoie, forward, age 19

After suffering a brutal femur injury during Hawks training camp, Savoie was finally reassigned to juniors and made his QMJHL season debut last week — only to get ejected in his first game. Walking the line between feisty and dirty is an area where he must improve, but his work ethic will benefit him long-term.

16. Martin Misiak, forward, age 19

Misiak has been inconsistent at times during his first OHL season, but he still has 32 points in 40 games for Erie. His combination of size, playmaking and defensive intelligence gives him an intriguingly high ceiling, even though he’s no sure thing.

17. Adam Gajan, goaltender, age 19

Gajan was fantastic for Slovakia in the world junior championships for the second consecutive year, posting a .916 save percentage in four appearances, but his .902 save percentage in 25 USHL games is less impressive. How he fares next season at Minnesota-Duluth should be more illuminating.

18. Ilya Safonov, forward, age 22

Safonov’s production has declined this season in the KHL; he has only 18 points in 58 games for Kazan Ak-Bars. He could still turn out to be a solid bottom-six NHL guy, though, once his Russian contract expires in 2025.

19. Dominic James, forward, age 21

James unfortunately suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just two games into what would’ve been his junior year at Minnesota-Duluth. He’ll need to bounce back from this nicely to eventually earn a contract from the Hawks.

20. Aidan Thompson, forward, age 21

Thompson is old for a college sophomore, and his production this season at Denver (19 points in 28 games) has actually declined from his point-per-game freshman season. His elite skating speed makes him relevant, though.

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