Blackhawks defenseman prospect Ethan Del Mastro off to a positive first pro season: Powers Points

The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t the only ones tracking their prospects’ development.

Other teams are as well.

The abundance of defenseman prospects in the Blackhawks’ pipeline is no secret around the league. While the likes of Kevin Korchinski and Alex Vlasic may be untouchable at this point, if a lot of their young defensemen develop into NHL-caliber players, there may not be enough space for them with the Blackhawks. It’s not a bad problem to have too many prospects pan out, but other teams are doing their homework to see if someone like Gustav Forsling might slip through the organizational cracks.

Ethan Del Mastro is one of those defenseman prospects many people are intrigued about. He isn’t as highly touted as some of the other Blackhawks prospects, but he was a top defenseman in the OHL, has played for Canada internationally and possesses some attributes that could translate well to the NHL level.

And so far in his first pro season, Del Mastro is showing he’s worth keeping an eye on over the coming years. He’s utilized his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to be a presence in the defensive zone for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL. He’s run the IceHogs’ power play and produced. He’s worked to be more aggressive, get his feet moving and not sit back so much against the rush. They’re all reasons why Del Mastro was selected by the AHL coaches as the IceHogs representative at the upcoming AHL All-Star Game.

“I think he’s come a long way with his overall play, especially his defensive habits,” IceHogs coach Anders Sorensen said. “His stick has gotten a lot better. How he defends the rush is better. And obviously where we saw some opportunity was as our power-play guy.”

Del Mastro’s skills with a puck are a bonus, but it’s his size and defensive-zone play that will be evaluated most in whether he cracks the NHL. Del Mastro also realizes he has to be patient.

“You know, first year, you’re not expecting anything crazy,” Del Mastro said about being promoted to the NHL. “It’s about being in the moment and getting better in the place you’re in. I think here in Rockford, I’m given a lot of opportunity as a young guy. I think that’s very valuable and should not (take) that for granted and kind of use that to the best of my ability to take steps and show them I’m ready for the next level. I think that’s where I’m kind of right now.”

The 21-year-old Del Mastro isn’t on the verge of the NHL just yet. There is a lot of development still to be done, but he is progressing. He is a left-handed defenseman, but he said he’s comfortable playing on the right side, too. The IceHogs haven’t tried him there yet. For now, there are other areas to focus on.

“We’ve been encouraging him to gap up early coming out of the offensive zone, kind of surf in on guys, taking on rushes skating forward,” Sorensen said. “He is a big guy, but he covers a lot of ice. The biggest thing for him is trying to get his feet moving and defending forward, but also having a good stick. Because he is so rangy, he can break up a lot of plays with that. And then the big thing is defending from the middle out, and we’ve worked with him a lot on that.”

Something Sorensen has worked on with Del Mastro and the other young defensemen prospects in Rockford differently this season is their defensive zone breakouts.

“As far as puck movement, we have created more of a roadmap for our D because we felt like we had a lot of young D coming in,” Sorensen said. “We put them in a lot of retrieval situations in practices and they have to know where our outs are. We have a structure where everybody knows where it’s going all the time. I think that’s helped our D be more predictable for each other, but also for our forwards.”

John Scott is probably lucky NBC Sports Chicago didn’t cut ties with him completely after offering his opinion about why Corey Perry’s contract was terminated on his podcast. The Blackhawks have done their best to say very little about what Perry did, but Scott defended Perry, nonchalantly suggested why he thought Perry’s contract was terminated — which also happened to put the focus on another person — and then downplayed everything.

I’m not going to repeat the claim because we haven’t been able to verify it. A team source who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the matter said it wasn’t true.

Needless to say, the Blackhawks were obviously quite upset. But because Scott is an NBC Sports Chicago contractor, it technically wasn’t the Blackhawks’ decision what to do with him. From what I’ve heard, Scott had to delete what he said on the podcast and apologize on social media and on his podcast. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to miss a lot of games with NBC Sports Chicago, though.

Multiple attempts to contact NBC Sports Chicago went unanswered.

I’m starting to put together a list of players the Blackhawks could potentially sign this offseason. As I’ve written before, I don’t expect them to go after a big fish. They don’t want to commit beyond a few years. They weren’t going to try to sign William Nylander if he hit the market, and I believe that’s true of the likes of Sam Reinhart, too.

I do think one intriguing player for the Blackhawks could be Jordan Eberle. He’s probably the type of wing that could benefit Connor Bedard. He can help set up Bedard with passes and score some on his own. He’s also someone who probably would take on a short-term contract if he was being paid over market value.

The Blackhawks’ offensive demise has been well-documented. They haven’t been creating a ton of chances, but the analytics say the Blackhawks should have more goals than they do. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Blackhawks have an expected 2.54 goals per game over their last 11 games without Bedard. The Blackhawks have scored just 1.26 goals per game in that stretch, though.

The most notable statistic is the Blackhawks’ shooting percentage. On 294 shots on goal in that period, they have scored 14 goals for a 4.76 shooting percentage.

Do you think the four Blackhawks prospects who won gold at the World Junior Championship are feeling since returning to their respective teams?

Frank Nazar has five goals and nine assists in his six games back with the University of Michigan.

Oliver Moore has four goals and nine assists in eight games with the University of Minnesota.

Sam Rinzel has 12 assists in eight games with Minnesota.

Finally, Gavin Hayes has seven goals and six assists in six games with the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL.

I don’t believe Moore’s recent offensive output changes how quickly he turns the pro. The Blackhawks are assuming he’ll return for his second season with Minnesota. He is a candidate to turn pro at the end of next college season, burn the first year of his contract and immediately play in the NHL.

Nothing has been determined with Nazar, but it’d probably be surprising at this point if he doesn’t turn pro after this season. If he were to play in the NHL this season, Michigan’s season is likely to end sometime in late March or early April. The Frozen Four concludes on April 13, so it wouldn’t be any later than that. The Blackhawks season runs until April 18, so he would have time to play in some games.

The same would be true of Landon Slaggert. The Blackhawks expect Slaggert to sign an entry-level contract when his season ends. Notre Dame will probably be a bubble team for the NCAA tournament.

Colton Dach hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 30 due to being in concussion protocol, but he is slowly working his way back. He’ll probably return to the IceHogs’ lineup sometime after the AHL All-Star break.

Prior to his injury, Dach was trending in a positive direction. The Blackhawks think he has top-six potential. If he can pick up where he left off, maybe he will get an NHL look by the end of the season.

Blackhawks forward prospect Ilya Safonov had a breakout season in the KHL last year with 19 goals and 18 assists in 64 games. There were a lot of people who wanted to see what he’d do this season before building up hype around him.

A season later, Safonov has come back down to earn. He has 11 goals and seven assists in 55 games. His shooting percentage and ice time are similar to last season. The main difference is his shots on goal. He had 127 last season and 76 this season.

Safonov isn’t likely on track to be an NHL star player if ever comes over, but he could still be a solid bottom-six-type player. He plays in all situations for Ak Bars. He also wins 57.2 percent of his faceoffs. He has another season left on his KHL contract, so we’ll see how that develops.

(Photo courtesy of Jake Alita / Rockford IceHogs)

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