Friday, April 19, 2024

Blackhawks Priming “Next Alex Vlasic” To Join Strong Young Defensive Core

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While the Blackhawks’ defensive unit was perhaps the main concern for the team at the start of this season, the combination of youngsters and veteran talent has been a pleasant surprise, outperforming Chicago’s offensive unit on a nightly basis. One reason for that unanticipated result is one young skater who has somehow developed into one of the premiere defensive skaters in the entire NHL – Alex Vlasic.

The huge 22-year-old finally made the transition to the game’s top level this season, playing in 53 games (good for fourth on the team). Vlasic has only gotten into the scoring column 11 times, but the Blackhawks have enough offensive production from other defensemen like rookie Kevin Korchinski.

Where Vlasic sets himself apart is on the defensive end. He uses his long reach to shut down nearly every opponent and possesses impressive wherewithal for a young blueliner, making him easily the Blackhawks’ best defensive player.

As the Blackhawks and AHL-affiliate Rockford IceHogs trudge toward the end of the season, it becomes more apparent every night that Vlasic may not be the only young top defenseman arriving as a future cornerstone of the franchise. As the team’s top AHL defender, Wyatt Kaiser is quickly building a reputation as the “next Alex Vlasic”.

Though Kaiser began the season with the Blackhawks before being sent down after 23 games, he’s recovered tremendously and turned himself back into one of the team’s top prospects. The 2020 third-round pick logged his first multi-point game last week, with five points in his last five appearances.

But where Kaiser excels, like Vlasic, is in his defensive abilities. He’s a good skater and positions himself well to break up plays in his own zone. While the Blackhawks could certainly use him at this point in his career, Vlasic is getting valuable ice time and experience with the IceHogs, potentially priming himself to join the Blackhawks’ strong, young defensive core next season.

Their defensive talent isn’t the only feature that Kaiser and Vlasic have in common. Each played three years at the NCAA level before turning pro at the end of their collegiate seasons. Each spent the majority (but not all) of the following season at the AHL level. The 22-year-old Vlasic has been one year ahead of the 21-year-old Kaiser every step of the way, and the Blackhawks are certainly hoping that trend continues, with the latter becoming just as valuable a part of the organization as the former next season.

It’ll be difficult for the top AHL defenseman to replicate Vlasic’s production just one year later, but he’s been doing so every step of the way. If Kaiser can follow in Vlasic’s footsteps next season, he’ll become another crucial member of the Blackhawks’ young core. With Vlasic, Kaiser, Kevin Korchinski, Ethan Del Mastro, and Isaak Phillips among the 22-and-under group competing for a spot alongside Seth Jones, the Blackhawks’ defensive group could be formidable for years to come.

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