Blackhawks prospect defenseman Alex Vlasic doesn’t take himself overly seriously.
It’s not that he isn’t a hard worker because he is. But even as a 21-year-old, he doesn’t get too stressed out by the inevitable day-to-day fluctuations of professional hockey.
So this season with Rockford — aware he’s in the AHL purely to develop before he almost certainly earns a full-time NHL promotion to the Hawks — he has pushed himself outside his comfort zone.
”[I] just try to use my skating a little bit more, try to beat guys one-on-one if I can,” Vlasic said. ”Obviously, that’s not really going to be my game [in the NHL]. But I’m just pushing my limits, testing things out here, because I want to grow as a player.
”I want to learn what I’m capable of doing, and I’m only going to learn from making mistakes. I can’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s my mindset.”
A big part of Rockford coach Anders Sorensen’s job is watching and evaluating how players react mentally to miscues, so those words are music to his ears.
”The mistake is easy to point out, but I want to see what happens after that,” Sorensen said. ”We want to see, if the play continues, how he reacts after the mistake. And then we want to see how he behaves and reacts the next shift. Those are big measuring sticks for us.”
And Vlasic has measured up very well.
”His defensive positioning [has] been really good,” Sorensen said. ”We have allowed him to explore some things offensively. We encourage him to hang on to more pucks, be up in the rush more and be more patient on the point. And he has improved in those areas.”
Vlasic’s stat line at Rockford — one goal and five assists in 24 games — doesn’t jump off the page. In spite of his experimentation, he’s not an offensive defenseman and, considering his 6-6 height, probably never will be.
But the Hawks are excited about the progress he has shown this year, his first full season as a pro after getting a 15-game taste of the NHL in the spring.
Vlasic skates smoothly for his size and has worked on being more physically aggressive at the right times. He has proved comfortable handling huge minutes. And he healed very quickly from a fractured fibula in December, returning last weekend after three weeks.
”[I’m] being a little bit more of a beast defensively, trying to use my size and my skating to really shut down other teams’ top players,” he said. ”I’ve had a lot of confidence with the puck, too. My offensive abilities have not necessarily translated too well on the scoresheet, but I’m hanging on to pucks for a couple of extra seconds.”
Said Sorensen: ”His positioning on the ice has been very good, and because of his length and his reach, he’s hard to get around. You add the positioning with that, and it’s really hard to play against him.”
When Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson decides to rotate Isaak Phillips back to Rockford and give another defensive prospect some NHL time, Vlasic likely will be first in line.
More prospect updates
It has been a strange first half of the season for Hawks prospect goalie Drew Commesso at Boston University.
Commesso was hampered in the fall by a hamstring injury and an illness, and his .910 overall save percentage is significantly weighed down by two disastrous starts — a 9-2 loss to Michigan and a 9-6 loss to Boston College — in which extenuating circumstances were involved. He’s 10-2-0 with a .936 save percentage in his other 12 appearances.
How he fares the rest of the season with the Terriers should be more telling. The Hawks remain excited about the future of their goaltending unit, thanks to Arvid Soderblom and Commesso, who likely will sign his entry-level contract at the end of his season.
It also would be wise not to judge Hawks prospect forward Landon Slaggert’s season by surface-level stats. Compared with his 26 points in 40 games with Notre Dame last season, Slaggert’s five points in 21 games this season look bad.
Nonetheless, the Hawks remain optimistic about his potential. The Fighting Irish have been disappointing all around, and offense never was going to be Slaggert’s calling card anyway. His versatility, which enables him to play all three forward positions, stands out most.
Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston, another Hawks prospect, has managed to put up better numbers. His 15 points in 22 games rank second on the team. The Hawks acquired Rolston’s rights from the Avalanche in the trade for Carl Soderberg in 2021 and might sign him after this season.
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