The-Rink’s Blackhawks prospect pyramid: Blood, sweat and tiers, part four

  

The-Rink is taking an in-depth look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect pool. However, unlike many other outlets that rank prospects in list form, The-Rink will be using tiers to express the quality of each prospect and their potential at the NHL level. Leading up to the season, The-Rink will reveal the tiers in reverse order, starting at the lowest tier and working toward the top.

Our series continues today with tier three, defined as a prospect seen as a middle six forward, second pairing defenseman or backup goalie.

As explained in the introduction piece, each eligible prospect in the system was rated by our staff panel before ultimately being debated to agree on a tier. Each prospect’s original rating average is listed in parentheses after their name, along with a brief synopsis of why they fell in the tier they did.

Players are listed in order of original rating average, with any ties being sorted alphabetically by last name.

Alex Vlasic (2.833)

The cousin of San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Wilmette, Illinois, native was selected by his hometown team in the second round this June. Vlasic boasts a massive frame for someone his age being listed at 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds. Vlasic has shown an ability to use his size to his advantage, especially in terms of breaking up plays with his reach and blocking shots. As part of the high powered US National Team Development Program over the past two years, Vlasic was relied on more so as a defensive defenseman. However, the big blue liner does have the ability to chip in from the back end thanks to his good vision and slap shot. Vlasic will head to Boston University to join the Terriers, where he will likely spend at least a couple of years before turning pro. Vlasic, who some considered to be a bit of a steal at the draft, could slot into Chicago’s top four in the future if he can develop into a bonafide shutdown defenseman. While he has a bigger frame than former Blackhawk Niklas Hjalmarsson, Vlasic could be the long awaited replacement for the three-time Stanley Cup champion.

The Blackhawks selected Wilmette, Illinois, native Alex Vlasic in the second round in 2019. Vlasic will play at Boston University in 2019–20. (Photograph courtesy of Hickling Images)

Alex Nylander (3)

Nylander, who is the brother of William Nylander of Toronto and son of former Blackhawk Michael Nylander, was acquired by Chicago earlier this summer from Buffalo in exchange for 2017 first round pick Henri Jokiharju. Alex was the eighth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and has spent the majority of his time since then playing for the Rochester Americans in the AHL. The Calgary-born Swede possesses an undeniable amount of offensive skill and flair, but has been surrounded with questions about his intensity and desire. Nylander joins a growing list of recent reclamation projects for Stan Bowman, who hopes the Nylander experiment will turn out more like Dylan Strome than David Rundblad. Nylander’s style is clearly suited for a top six role, but, if he is unable to put his game together, could end up being more like Dylan Sikura has been recently in not quite being able to handle the top six load but also not fitting in as a bottom six player. Though the Blackhawks have a wealth of young talent on the back end, Nylander will need to prove his services were worth jettisoning Jokiharju, who seems primed for a lengthy career as a top four NHL defenseman.

Chicago acquired Alex Nylander from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Henri Jokiharju this summer. (Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

Dominik Kubalik (3.167)

Kubalik joins Chicago’s organization for 2019–20 after being acquired in January from Los Angeles in exchange for a fifth round pick. Originally a 2013 seventh round pick of the Kings, Kubalik tore up the Swiss National League in 2018–19, leading the league with 57 points in 50 games. The Czech Republic native will look to translate his production to North America, where he has not played since 2013–14 in the Ontario Hockey League. Kubalik has been a mainstay on Czech teams at international tournaments, including representing his country in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The 6-foot-2, 179-pound winger also enjoyed a breakout showing at the 2019 World Championships, scoring six goals and adding six assists in 10 games. Kubalik, who is on a one year contract with the Blackhawks, is expected to be in Chicago’s lineup this season. While he could become a standout player if he is able to produce as he did in Switzerland, Kubalik will likely be more along the lines of this year’s Dominik Kahun if he pans out, being someone who can play up and down the lineup and contribute offensively in a supporting role.

Dominik Kubalik will make his North American professional debut in 2019–20 after dominating the Swiss National League in 2018–19. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images)

Philipp Kurashev (3.167)

Kurashev has been a pleasant surprise thus far in his development, quickly rising up the ranks in Chicago’s system. The Blackhawks drafted Kurashev in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and the Switzerland native has since done nothing but impress regardless of the level of play. In 59 games for the Quebec Remparts, he scored 29 goals and added 36 helpers for career best marks in both goals and points in his junior career. Kurashev particularly stood out on the international stage, with the World Junior Championships highlighting his showings for his country. A regular for Swiss national teams, Kurashev lit it up to lead the tournament with six goals in seven games and finished with seven points. Following his junior season coming to a close, Kurashev made the jump to Rockford, where he played three games for the IceHogs. Kurashev is expected to return to Rockford’s lineup for 2019–20, where he will likely be among the team’s go-to offensive weapons. Though Kurashev has not yet proven himself professionally, his development is trending in the right direction and it appears he could have a successful middle six role in the NHL down the road.

Philipp Kurashev will play in his first full professional season in 2019–20 after finishing last season with the Rockford IceHogs. (Photograph courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Chad Krys (3.333)

Like a couple of other players already covered in the series, Krys may be a player who would best be suited by moving to another organization. The offensive defenseman was once at the top of Chicago’s blue line prospects, but has since dropped down the list with the drafting of other high end defensemen who excel offensively. Drafted in the second round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Krys spent three seasons playing at Boston University to continue his development. In his time as a Terrier, the Connecticut native posted 58 points in 105 games, including 20 points in 30 games last season as an alternate captain. Upon finishing his collegiate season, Krys signed with the Blackhawks and joined the Rockford IceHogs, playing nine games while tallying four assists. The 5-foot-11, 185 pound defender boasts strong skating and passing abilities, but would likely need to be paired with a reliable partner at the NHL level to cover for his defensive deficiencies. The majority of our panel believes Krys will become an everyday NHL player, but, as mentioned previously, his path would likely be easier in another organization. Krys will return to Rockford for the 2019–20 season on a stacked IceHogs blue line.

Chad Krys joined the IceHogs late in the 2018–19 season after spending three years at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Jake Wise (3.5)

Wise is among the Blackhawks’ most intriguing forward prospects both because of his skill but also because of a seeming mystique around him. The Naples, Florida, native has missed time with injuries in each of his last two seasons—2017–18 with the US National Team Development Program and 2018–19 at Boston University—which has prevented him from showing what he is capable of when at full health. Once considered a potential first round pick option in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Chicago scooped up Wise in the third round. Wise is hard to miss on the ice for that reason: He is good at making defenders miss. He uses his speed and high end stickhandling to elude defenders in tight spaces. Additionally, Wise is responsible defensively, which will help his cause as he moves up the ranks. While our panel was a bit mixed on Wise, his talent is undeniable, and, if he can stay healthy and progress in his development, could turn into a draft day steal in a middle six type of role in the future. The 5-foot-10 centerman will return to the Terriers for 2019–20.

Jake Wise will return to Boston University for 2019–20 looking to put together a full season after playing just 12 games last year. (Photograph courtesy of Boston University Athletics)

Alexis Gravel (4)

Gravel’s initial vote rating indicates a spot in the fourth tier, but upon reconsidering our tiers in terms of goaltenders, our panel decided Gravel was better suited for tier three, as the group believes Gravel will be in NHL blue paint in the future. Once considered a top goaltending prospect for the 2018 draft class, the Blackhawks snagged the German native in the sixth round after a somewhat disappointing 2017–18 season with the Halifax Mooseheads. However, Gravel has done nothing but impress since being drafted, putting together a breakout 2018–19 campaign with Halifax, posting a goals against average of 2.49 and save percentage of .913, both of which were career best marks. Gravel then upped his game in the postseason, recording a .917 save percentage in 23 games, guiding his squad to second place finishes in both the QMJHL’s President’s Cup and the Memorial Cup. Boasting massive size in the goal at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, Gravel is still quick and tracks pucks well in addition to being technically sound. Though still relatively early in his progression, Gravel looks as though he could be among the better goaltenders the Blackhawks have drafted and developed in the 21st century. The right handed netminder will return to the Mooseheads in 2019–20.

Alexis Gravel

Alexis Gravel will return to the Halifax Mooseheads for the 2019–20 season. (Photograph courtesy of Vincent Ethier/CHL Images)

Stay tuned as The-Rink progresses up the ladder in its Blackhawks prospect pyramid: Blood, sweat and tiers.

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