What To Watch For: Chicago Blackhawks Rookie Tournament


On the eve of the Chicago Blackhawks Rookie Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, there is plenty to focus on as the rookies look to defend the 2017 tournament championship. With the Blackhawks organization in an unfamiliar spot after the last decade, the opportunity for younger, lesser-known talent to emerge and make their mark is greater than ever.

Last season, the term “youth-movement” emerged in the offseason and translated through the summer and into the season with players like Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat making names for themselves with the organization. This year, the “youth-movement” may yet again be a common theme throughout the Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs organizations.

Questions surround the NHL club at every position and the Traverse City Rookie Tournament will give the team and the Blackhawks fan community a chance to see what the future holds. Heading into tomorrow’s opening day, here a some players and storylines to watch for at the Rookie Tournament.

Chicago Blackhawks Rookie Tournament: Players To Watch

Last Summer’s Rookie Tournament was headlined by a number of players who would eventually make their NHL debuts last season including Matthew Highmore, David Kampf, Carl Dahlstrom, and Collin Delia. But no other player had as much attention on him as Alex DeBrincat did. He finally had the summer showcase that prospect camp was supposed to be and went on to have one of the best Blackhawks rookie seasons since Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy in 2008.

This Summer, the Blackhawks rookie roster is loaded on defense with high-end draft picks looking to showcase the future of the organization’s blue-line, as well as a number of forwards who will be looking to crack into Chicago’s regular lineup.


  • Dylan Sikura – RW/C (23, 5-11, 160lb) – 2014 6th Round Pick (CHI #178)
    • Sikura was a highly touted NCAA prospect coming out of Northeastern last season. A late-bloomer in the Chicago system, Sikura made his way to the Blackhawks late last season and showed promise in a Top-9 role. Although a small sample size, Sikura looks to be the most promising forward prospect that the Blackhawks have heading into the 2018-19 season. Look for him to be a focal point offensively in Traverse City.
  • Victor Ejdsell – LW/RW (23, 6-5, 215lb) – Acquired via Trade (NSH)
    • Acquired as part of the Ryan Hartman trade with the Nashville Predators, Ejdsell made a quick name for himself within the organization as part of the Rockford IceHogs late last season. Again, a small sample size of work, but Ejdsell showed that he can shoot the puck at a high-level and knows how to use his size to his advantage. A key factor in the IceHogs’ run in the Calder Cup Playoffs, Ejdsell will be a key forward in Traverse City and could play his way into the Blackhawks regular lineup with a solid showing and training camp.
  • Dominik Kahun – C/LW (23, 5-11, 175lb) – Acquired via International Signing
    • Kahun is an interesting project for the Blackhawks organization. Signing a contract after an impressive showing during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang with the German National Team, Kahun comes into the summer as one of many player sitting on the NHL/AHL fence for the organization. In four seasons with EHC München in the DEL (Germany), Kahun has racked up 111 points in 157 games and skated in 18 games with Germany at the Olympics and World Championships last season, tallying 12 points. A two-way style center, Kahun could be a surprise for the Blackhawks this season as the depth at Center is thin behind Jonathan Toews.
  • Alexandre Fortin – LW/C (21, 6-0, 175lb) – Acquired via Undrafted Signing
    • It seems like a long time ago that Fortin was the summer darling of the Blackhawks organization. Signing as an undrafted free agent, Fortin made a huge splash two summers ago and was nearly on the Blackhawks roster to begin the 2016-17 season. But now, after a full season with the Rockford IceHogs last year that saw him deal with injuries, and the luster has washed away a bit from him. Still young and still having a considerable upside to his game, Fortin will be a ‘veteran’ on the Traverse City roster and could be a dark horse to make the Chicago lineup with an overly impressive showing.
  • MacKenzie Entwistle – RW/C (19, 6-3, 175lb) – Acquired via Trade (ARI)
    • Another player that came to the Blackhawks by trade this season, Entwistle is a largely unknown commodity to the organization. A 3rd round pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2017, Entwistle is coming off his second season in the OHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs which saw him skate in 49 games and tally 38 points during the regular season and 21 OHL playoff games with 17 points racked up. Entwistle has a large frame at 6-foot-3 and 175-pounds at the age of 19, but his game still needs refining. Keep an eye out for him to be the player to lay a big hit in the Traverse City tournament and hopefully give the organization the idea to play Entwistle in Rockford once Hamilton’s season ends this Spring.


  • Adam Boqvist – RHD (18, 5-11, 170lb) – 2018 1st Round Pick (CHI #8)
    • It’s only a matter of time before the Chicago Blackhawks fan community will be introduced to the “Adam Boqvist Era.” The highest selected player for the Blackhawks since Patrick Kane went 1st overall in 2007, Boqvist has been referred to as the next Erik Karlsson in the NHL. A fast, puck-moving defenseman who is not afraid to jump into the offensive zone and produce points, Boqvist will be the highlight of the Traverse City tournament for the Blackhawks. His first real North American showcase comes at the Rookie Tournament and watch for him to make a play or two that will definitely jump off the page. Playing with the London Knights in the OHL this year, the Blackhawks organization will be able to keep an eye on his development and could bring him into the fold in Chicago or Rockford once the season ends for him with London.
  • Nicolas Beaudin – LHD (18, 5-11, 175lb) – 2018 1st Round Pick (CHI #27)
    • Not to be out-done by his fellow 2018 1st round draft pick in Boqvist, but Beaudin is no slouch on the blue-line himself. Much like Boqvist ahead of him, Beaudin is a small-bodied, mobile, puck-moving defenseman that can drive the offense. Playing with the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL, Beaudin looks to build on his breakout second season last year in which he tallied 69 points in 68 games played in the regular season and 11 points in 10 QMJHL playoff games. There is a very real chance that Beaudin and Boqvist could make-up the Blackhawks top defensive pair in the near future and that should excite the Blackhawks fan community.
  • Henri Jokiharju – RHD (19, 6-0, 180lb) – 2017 1st Round Pick (CHI #29)
    • Who else might be the next best top-pairing defenseman for the Blackhawks? Look no further than Jokiharju. Last year’s top draft pick out of Portland of the WHL, Jokiharju may be the most NHL-ready defensive prospect in the Blackhawks system or he may take years to be top-pairing material. While the latter seems to be way less likely, Jokiharju has a lot to show at the Traverse City Tournament. After tallying 71 points in 63 games with the Winterhawks in the WHL, Jokiharju is currently thought to be on the fence between starting the season in the NHL or in Rockford in the AHL. With an impressive showing in Traverse City, followed up by a quality training camp, Jokiharju could very well be in the Chicago Top-6 defensive group on opening night in Ottawa.
  • Blake Hillman – LHD (22, 6-1, 180lb) – 2016 6th Round Pick (CHI #173)
    • Another player last season to make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks out of the NCAA, Hillman is coming off of three very productive years with Denver University that saw him play in two Frozen Fours in 2016 and 2017 and win a National Championship with the Pioneers in 2017. Hillman played in a handful of games with Chicago late last Spring and even scored his first NHL goal. A decently sized defenseman, Hillman plays a more stay-at-home style on the blue-line and looks to start the season with the IceHogs, but that could change if he impresses enough in the Traverse City Tournament and in training camp. There is little to say he won’t have a decent look at quality ice-time this preseason to make his mark.
  • Joni Tuulola – LHD (22, 6-3, 180lb) 2015 6th Round Pick (CHI #181)
    • Much like Victor Ejdsell did last year, Joni Tuulola joined the Rockford IceHogs late last season for his first taste of Hockey in North America and jumped right into the mix. After his third full season in Liiga (Finland), Tuulola joined the IceHogs late in the regular season and played in just two regular season games before being edged-out of ice-time as the Calder Cup Playoffs began. But, as has been noted by IceHogs head coach Jeremy Colliton, Tuulola continued to impress the coaching staff and played his way into the lineup during the Western Conference Finals for the final three games. Now heading into what will be his first full season in North America, Tuulola will have a chance to be a focal point of the IceHogs’ defensive core and could eventually provide a mobile, large-bodied defensive presence for the Blackhawks one day.

Chicago Blackhawks Rookie Tournament: Storylines

This season is already shaping up to be one of the more intriguing of the last decade, if only for the fact that there are so many unanswered questions heading into the preseason. The Blackhawks did very little to make major improvements to their forwards group, high-end defensive depth, or address the looming question of what their long-term solution would be in net if goaltender Corey Crawford does not return to the level he has played at for the last handful of years.

Heading into the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, the Blackhawks will have an opportunity to showcase a few players that could answer a number of these questions. Here are a few storylines to follow at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament and preseason training camp begin.

Loaded Defensive Depth

As stated before, the Blackhawks did not address their need for HIGH-END defensive depth this offseason. What they did do is back-load themselves with potentially NHL-ready defensive prospects and veteran NHL players who are now on the NHL/AHL fence themselves. Players like Brandon Manning, Brandon Davidson (PTO), and Andrew Campbell joined the Blackhawks this offseason and will be in the mix with Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson for the bottom-pairing spots in Chicago.

While it’s more likely that Rutta and Gustafsson are the defacto 5th and 6th defensemen on the Blackhawks roster, players like Manning, Davidson (PTO), and potentially Henri Jokiharju, could all push for NHL ice-time this season. Not to be forgotten is defenseman Gustav Forsling, who will miss the opening month of the season after having wrist surgery over the summer.

The 6th/7th defenseman log-jam that the Blackhawks roster moves created then slides into what the Rockford IceHogs will have to deal with for their defensive core. Last season the IceHogs finished with Forsling, Carl Dahlstrom, Cody Franson, Darren Raddysh, Adam Clendening, Viktor Svedberg, and Luc Snuggerud rotating through the defensive group on a regular basis. Gone are the likes of Franson, Svedberg, and Clendening, and added to the fray are players like Andrew Campbell as mentioned above, and Joni Tuulola, Blake Hillman, Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson, and potentially Henri Jokiharju. It will be interesting to see how Jeremy Colliton navigates his first-world problem of having too many quality AHL defenders on his roster.

NHL-Ready Forwards?

On the flip-side of the defense, the Blackhawks NHL-depth at forward is thin. Adding veteran winger Chris Kunitz this offseason did little to move the needle on the spectrum of “franchise changing” but it filled one hole in the Chicago Top-12 forward group. Kunitz will play in a bottom-6 role, but questions still loom in the top-9 of the group. Who will play the top-line wing position with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad? Will Nick Schmaltz be a reliable second-line option at center? Who fills out the bottom-6 forward positions? All of these are still on the table for discussion by the Blackhawks heading into the preseason and training camp.

The blessing the Blackhawks have is that they at least have a number of decent options to fill the gaps, but those options may not fall under “franchise changing” either.

As mentioned above, players like Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura could more than likely earn themselves opening night roster spots with quality camps and showings in the preseason. Other names in the mix would be John Hayden, David Kampf, and Matthew Highmore. While it may be the most open competition the Blackhawks have this summer, forward depth is going to be hard-stretched to fill for Chicago by only looking in-house.

Options do remain in Rockford as well as players like Anthony Louis, Tyler Sikura, and Luke Johnson could push for NHL ice-time, but the Blackhawks will need strong showings from the forwards group to quell the doubts perceived by the Blackhawks fan community.


Here’s the full schedule for the Traverse City Rookie Tournament:

What To Watch For: Chicago Blackhawks Rookie Tournament

Traverse Cityt2018 Rookie Tournament Schedule

The Blackhawks will look to defend their 2017 tournament championship against the Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars. Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers.

The championship game will take place on September 11 between the winners of the Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay divisions.

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