Saturday, May 18, 2024

Blackhawks Shockingly Call Up Defenseman Prospect, Put “Nail In Coffin” For Disappointing Veterans

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Tasked with putting on an extraordinary performance to fight for NHL jobs Wednesday night, veteran defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nikita Zaitsev did just the opposite. The pair of 32-year-olds found themselves on the wrong end of a number of embarrassing plays in the 5-2 loss, seemingly squandering one of their last chances at securing a spot on an NHL roster through free agency this summer.

Still, Tinordi and Zaitsev expected to have a few more opportunities with the Blackhawks this season to at least make some sort of impact. On Thursday, though, Chicago may have put the nail in the coffin for one or both players.

The Blackhawks announced Thursday morning that they would be calling up defenseman Ethan Del Mastro from Rockford. The 21-year-old is nearing the end of his first professional season in the AHL and has registered seven goals and 37 points. The IceHogs’ star blueliner represented his squad at the AHL All-Star game earlier this year.

According to head coach Luke Richardson, the 2021 fourth-round pick is being called up as a reward for his impressive season.

“[This is] a cookie as an appreciation for the work that he did. [It’ll give us] a chance to see and evaluate where he is at this level when he’s playing at his best hockey.”

– Luke Richardson

The Blackhawks’ plan is for Del Mastro to play in Chicago’s final two home games on Friday and Sunday before returning for the AHL playoffs. While the star won’t finish the season with the Blackhawks, his presence is still a tough scene for Zaitsev and Tinordi.

Del Mastro’s presence in the lineup Friday won’t be the only change for Chicago. After a lengthy stint on the injured list with a groin issue, Connor Murphy is also expected to draw back into the lineup. He spent some time in Thursday’s practice on the same third line as Del Mastro and is likely to play over Zaitsev, who also spent time in that role. Tinordi, on the other hand, got some work on the top line with Seth Jones. However, with Alex Vlasic taking a maintenance day due to soreness from a fight Wednesday, the youngster is expected to take over that spot as usual. For those counting, the Blackhawks would have eight defensemen and nowhere to put two of them. Could Zaitsev and Tinordi find themselves as the odd men out? The Blackhawks’ Thursday decision certainly doesn’t help their long-term outlook.

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