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Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist becoming driving force for London Knights

Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist becoming driving force for London Knights

After getting drafted eighth overall by the Blackhawks this past summer, Adam Boqvist admitted he still feels 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL on a full-time basis. After all, he was only 17 years old then.

So going into training camp, there weren't any immediate expectations of Boqvist. It was more about getting him acclimated to the organization, coaching staff and absorbing as much as he can from the veteran players who have won three Stanley Cups.

And then he made things interesting.

Boqvist was turning heads. He was making the Blackhawks think hard about keeping him in the NHL for a nine-game tryout to get a taste of the action. But then they decided to stay the course and sent him to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, where he is growing into his own and becoming a driving force for one of the most high-powered offenses in juniors.

After scoring only once in his first 15 games, Boqvist is on an absolute tear with eight goals in his past seven games and 11 points over that stretch. It was only a matter of time before he broke through.

"I'm trying to shoot faster," Boqvist told NBC Sports Chicago on why he believes the floodgates have opened in the goal scoring department. "Get the puck to the net. I worked on it a lot with my D coach. That's the biggest reason, I think. ... It's harder to play on the smaller ice. They do everything quicker. I feel more comfortable now and that's biggest thing."

His 24 points and 62 shots on goal in 22 games ranks first among London defensemen. Six of his points (three goals, three assists) have come on the power play. The chances were always there, and he was mostly creating them. Now he's found the finishing touch.

"It takes a little bit of time when you're coming from playing on an international ice surface to a North American rink," Knights GM Rob Simpson said. "Just how you play the game, how you create offense. Obviously plays happen a lot faster and a lot quicker, and I think it took Adam a little bit more time to adjust to that and get back to playing his style of game, which is an offensive game where he can jump into the rush and create offense from the blue line by being able to get a shot off, by moving attackers with his skating.

"He has a good ability to pull pucks and over the last three or four weeks he's really gotten used to how quick everything happens on the smaller ice surface. Now he's more comfortable and he's making his moves and his deceptive moves a little more quicker, which has opened up more offense and got him back to what you saw him doing last season."

The one part of his game they're really trying to work with Boqvist on is his defense, especially at his size of 5-foot-11, 168 pounds where being strong on the puck and in your own end is crucial. Former Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell has made several trips to London to help work with him on the ice and break down film together. It's been a good learning experience for Boqvist.

"He's helped me a lot," Boqvist said. "He's played in 1,000 games in the NHL, so he shows me video of games, clips, of what I can do better. It's everything. If I need to have a tighter gap or play the puck quicker, more give and go, all that stuff. He's been a good guy to help me."

There have been conversations between London and Chicago about whether Boqvist may be better suited as a forward, according to a source, because of his forward-like instincts and defensive inefficiencies, but the Blackhawks view him as a defenseman and believe he can be a franchise-changer on the blue line because of the way he drives possession.

Erik Karlsson, who Boqvist hasn’t been afraid to say is his favorite player and somebody he tries modeling his game after, went through the same thing as a teenager. He was drafted 15th overall in 2008 by the Ottawa Senators, and there were real concerns about his size (5-foot-11, 157 pounds) and whether he can turn into an all-around reliable defenseman. Karlsson has heard the criticism about his defensive play throughout his career, but two Norris Trophy’s later and he’s considered arguably the top player at his position. He's still not the best defender by any stretch, but it doesn't matter if you're controlling 55 percent of the shot attempts when you're on the ice.

The Blackhawks are hoping Boqvist can follow that same path. He’ll certainly need to shore up his defensive game in the long run to do so, but he's slowly making strides.

"When you're not 6-3, 6-2, you're an offensive defenseman that skates extremely well, you're going to have to be strong on your skates," Simpson said. "You're going to have to have that strength there to be able to box out men at the NHL level more to be able to win those 50/50 battles and the corner on pucks. He's going to be a player that uses his speed and brain and his skill to defend than anything, but the more you can complement that with strength is going to help him. So he's going to have to continue to work on that.

"And I think it's just repetition too, and playing games and getting practices in the North American style game. He's actually shown to be a quick learner and picking things up extremely fast for, even other imports that we've had here that have taken a little bit of time. But his strength is the big thing and then obviously just learning how to defend as a smaller offensive defenseman is a big thing as well."

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has taken a couple visits to London himself and is encouraged by Boqvist's progress, seeing it first-hand.

"He didn't score a goal for a while," Bowman said. "I know we was sort of frustrated. He had so many opportunities. I had seen him play a couple games, and he had great chances. He gets a lot of shots every game. Now it's like he broke through and is scoring quite a bit now. 

"The biggest thing with Adam is just getting acclimated to the game in North America: the rink, the lifestyle, the culture, speaking English every day. All that stuff were things we were looking forward to him experiencing. Hockey-wise, his talent level is so noticeable. If you go watch a game and didn't know who is a good player and you were just a casual fan, you would say 'that guy there, watch him.' He does something every shift. He stands out. You don't have to go looking for him. So, very happy with his progress. I think he's going to continue to get better when he's in an environment like that."

Boqvist's OHL campaign will soon come to a pause. But for good reason. He was selected to Team Sweden's preliminary roster for the World Junior Championship, which consists of the best players around the world under 20 years of age — it runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2019 in British Columbia.

It's difficult to see him not making the roster, and it would be his first appearance. He was named the top defender at the under-18 World Juniors a year ago after leading all blue liners with three goals and six points. This will be a good measuring stick on where he's at against the best players at his own age and on a bright stage.

"Any time you go to a specialty tournament like the World Juniors, you're going to play against the elite at your own age," Simpson said. "And it takes the pace to another level. Obviously there's a ton of pressure there, so learning how to deal with that in key moments and being one of the key factors for your team winning and losing is all development opportunities. And if you're lucky enough to be able to do well in the tournament and your team win, you can't take that away from somebody. Once they have winning behind their name, it just carries with you and there's a certain level of confidence that comes with that.

"So any time you can play against the best and give yourself a gauge of where you're at, it's going to help in your development because you walk away going 'OK, I maybe did really well in these areas but I know there's my next point in my development that I saw in my game when I was playing against the best, maybe I need to work in this spot more.' It's just an added level of understanding of where your game is at, but also confidence in yourself that you've been in those tough situations."

After that, Boqvist will return to London, where he will help lead the Knights down the stretch and into the postseason. It's up to them how far they go — that's how loaded they are.

And when that run comes to a close, all eyes will be on what lies ahead for next season and whether he did enough to speed up his NHL timeline. But Boqvist isn't looking that far ahead, even though it's motivating to see 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju step in after a year in juniors and solidify a top-pairing role on the Blackhawks.

"I try to watch every Blackhawks game," Boqvist said. "It's fun to see Jokiharju play well and play big minutes too. I'm taking it day by day though, I'm not thinking about next year yet. We'll see what happens."

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2019 Blackhawks development camp: Final thoughts and takeaways from scrimmage

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Final thoughts and takeaways from scrimmage

Thoughts and takeaways from the final day of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena, which featured the prospect scrimmage:

1. The standouts

In the middle of the week, GM Stan Bowman singled out Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Ian Mitchell and Alex Nylander as the four players who had stood out so far, in large part because they're on another level in terms of talent. Dach was taken No. 3 overall, Boqvist and Nylander were drafted No. 8 overall and Mitchell has first-round talent and the confidence to go with it.

In particular, Boqvist and Dach were easily the most noticeable prospects during Friday's scrimmage. They were flashy, creative and produced on the scoresheet. Boqvist finished with a primary assist — a beautiful setup, which you can see in the video below — while Dach scored two goals and added an assist. They were all over the ice. Check out the clips below, as the two of them dominated the highlight reel.

2. Additional observations

—  Josiah Slavin had a hat trick, including the game-winning goal with 6.9 seconds remaining. He made the most of his scrimmage, no doubt.

— Antti Saarela scored two goals, one of which came on a penalty shot — see video below. 

— Nylander didn't seem as engaged as others, but his skill alone was enough for him to be noticeable. Good things happened when he was on the ice.

— Alexis Gravel was solid in net. He gave up only one goal and it came in the final minute of the first period when Dach scored on a breakaway.

— Nicolas Beaudin and Alex Vlasic were quiet, but in a good way. They were sound defensively.

3. Names to watch going forward

— Philipp Kurashev: A crafty playmaker with a heavy shot, Kurashev took a huge step in his development this past season. He led the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL with 65 points (29 goals, 36 assists) in 59 games and earned All-Star honors at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship after leading all skaters with six goals.

He's a smooth skater, fast, smart and strong on the puck. Kurashev will start the season in Rockford and is expected to play a large role. He was the hidden gem in the Ryan Hartman deal in 2018. The Blackhawks used their fourth-rounder acquired in that trade to take Kurashev.  

— MacKenzie Entwistle: This is a player to watch in Rockford this season simply because he knows his role and is really good at it. A bottom-six, versatile forward who can play center or win and is dependable on the penalty kill. Those are players coaches love to have at the next level because they accept their role and take pride in doing so. 

— Brandon Hagel: Here's a player who essentially fell into the Blackhawks' laps. The Buffalo Sabres drafted him in the sixth round (No. 159 overall) in 2016 but did not offer him a contract ahead of the June 1 deadline in 2018, so they lost his signing rights. The Blackhawks pounced in October by signing him to a three-year, entry-level contract.

And how did he follow his season up? By finishing fourth in the WHL in scoring with 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 66 games with the Red Deer Rebels for a points-per-game average of 1.55. It was a 43-point improvement from the previous season, albeit he played in 10 more games. 

Still, this is someone who the Blackhawks weren't expecting to have in their pipeline but he is and could turn into a solid player. A scout once told me Hagel is highly competitive, which is one of the top criteria for the Blackhawks when evaluating a young player. Hagel appeared in eight games for Rockford last season and compiled only one point, but it's a small sample size. It will be interesting to follow his progression in his first year as a pro and playing against bigger men.

Other notes:

— Jake Wise participated in on-ice sessions all week but did not play in the scrimmage. He's still working his way back from a shoulder injury.

— Other non-participants: Evan Barratt (hip), Parker Foo, Dominik Kubalik (rest), Niklas Nordgren (injury) and Tim Soderlund (visa issues).

Scrimmage videos:

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2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 4 thoughts and takeaways

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 4 thoughts and takeaways

Here are four thoughts and takeaways from Day 4 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. MacKenzie Entwistle's growth

When the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa's contract to Arizona last summer, Entwistle was perhaps viewed as a throw-in on the surface in the seven-player deal. But he certainly wasn't viewed that way by the Blackhawks.

Entwistle was drafted in the third round, No. 69 overall in 2017. The Blackhawks had the very next pick at No. 70 overall and were preparing to take him. They ended up selecting Andrei Altybarmakyan instead, but the organization had their eye on Entwistle and it was important for him to be included in the deal with the Coyotes.

Entwistle took a big step in his development this past season. He started the season as captain of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL, was traded to Guelph Storm and averaged more than a point per game. Guelph went on to win the OHL championship, and he was a key reason why.

In between all that, Entwistle represented Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. He scored three goals in five games and shined in a bottom-six, penalty-killing role. And that's exactly what he sees himself doing at the pro level, which the Blackhawks like to see when players accept what kind of players they are.

"I was kind of slotted into a role that was sort of an energy, penalty kill sort of type of player," said Entwistle, who's up 10 pounds from last year. "And I think for me that really helped me and it grew me as a player because at the next level that's sort of the player I'm going to be and I've kind of accepted that."

2. Alex Vlasic holding his own

The biggest skater at Blackhawks prospect camp is Vlasic, who was taken in the second round (No. 43 overall) in June. He's 6-foot-6, 198 pounds and is an absolute tower when you put him up against some of the undersized forwards.

He's a defensive-minded defenseman, and that's something the Blackhawks are excited about because he would complement their other offensive-minded blue liners well in the pros. At least that's what they're hoping.

Skating is going to be something he has to continue to work on given his large frame, but the Blackhawks feel he's ahead of the curve in that department and don't see it as a concern.

"He's pretty smooth," GM Stan Bowman said. "I think that's always the challenge with guys that big. He covers a lot of ground with his reach but his skating, he's kept up quite well being one of the youngest guys here. He's tough to play against, he defends really well and I think that's a strength of his guy. So I think it's just going to be a progression for him. He seems to have a pretty good understanding of his path and he's not trying to make the NHL [right away], he understands he's got some growth to do and I think those are the players that end up figuring it out as he's got a good idea of what it's going to take to become an NHL player."

Vlasic reiterated that he expects to play at Boston University for "maybe two or three years and then figure out what I'm going to do from there." Chad Krys recently turned pro after three years at BU, and Jake Wise is going into his sophomore season. Vlasic has been spending time around them this week, which has made it "pretty comfortable for me."

3. Nicolas Beaudin's transition to pro

The Blackhawks have high hopes for Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell, both of whom have been standouts at development camp. Same with Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander up front. 

Beaudin is kind of the forgotten guy, which seems odd because he was taken in the first round in 2018. But it might be because there's still a lot of room to grow in his game. 

After four years in the QMJHL, Beaudin is turning pro and is expected to start the season with the Rockford IceHogs. The Blackhawks like that they'll be able to have more of a hands-on approach in his development with him being under their roof on a daily basis.

"He's a smaller defenseman so it's going to be the defending part," Bowman said on what Beaudin's biggest transition might be. "We like his two-way ability. He was probably the top defenseman in the Quebec League last year. He was on a good team and played a lot of minutes. Played all situations there so you're trying to find your niche as a defenseman and I think the biggest thing is don't get away from what you do well.

"He's a pretty smart player, he's got some creativity to his game. He's not a high-risk player but he's got the ability to play offense as well as be defending and learning at his size how to play against bigger players. Have a good stick, use his feet and his brain to defend. All the attributes you want a player in the NHL to have. Good gap, force players to unload the puck before they're ready to and when he gets it he makes pretty smart decisions with it. So it's not one thing with Beaudin, it's becoming an all-around defenseman."

4. Dominic Basse’s side of the Mark Kelley story

One of my favorite stories from the NHL Draft came after the Blackhawks drafted Basse in the sixth round (No. 167 overall), and it waas told by Blackhawks VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley, who shared the journey he went on to scout Basse for the first time:

"The first time I went to see him this year I drove in a snowstorm. Luckily it was 45 minutes from my house to get there and I got there and I get situated and I look out there, watched a little warmups, the game starts and he was on the bench. So he was coming off between periods, he was the last guy and I said to him, 'Hey, you! When are you playing?' And he told me: 'I'm going to be the starter tomorrow and Monday.' So I came back. He caught my eye."

I caught up with Basse on Thursday and got his side of the story and whether he recalls the encounter:

"I actually remember him. Good thing I didn't say something bad. I thought he was just a parent. I was walking through and he's like, 'Hey! When are you playing?' I was just surprised and was like: 'Sorry sir, I play this day and this day.' And he's like, 'alright' and just left and I thought, 'OK, that's that.'"

That was the only time Basse had any interaction with Kelley. He saw the interview of Kelley explaining his side after the draft ended, but it wasn't until development camp when he actually put a face to the name.

"I kind of made a little sense of it when I came to prospect camp and I saw his face again and I was like, 'Oh wait I think I remember that face. I've seen him somewhere.' And then it all came together when he said that during the interview. It was pretty funny."

Other notes:

— Kyle Olson did not participate in the on-ice session because of an illness. 

Videos:

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