Blake Hillman

Defending champion Blackhawks reveal loaded roster for Traverse City prospect tournament

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AP

Defending champion Blackhawks reveal loaded roster for Traverse City prospect tournament

Before officially getting into the swing of things for the 2018-19 campaign, the Blackhawks will get a chance to view their top prospects in a game-type setting — several of them for the first time — against other high-end prospects across the NHL when they participate in the Traverse City tournament from Sept. 7-11.

The Blackhawks roster includes 25 players (14 forwards, eight defenseman and three goaltenders) of drafted players, signees and amateur tryout invitees, highlighted by 2018 first-round picks Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin, 2017 first-round selection Henri Jokiharju and prospects Victor Ejdsell, Blake Hillman and Dylan Sikura, all three of whom got a brief taste of the action in Chicago last season.

The tournament serves as an opportunity for these players to make a strong impression heading into training camp, which Alex DeBrincat did a year ago when he led the Blackhawks to the title after scoring five goals in four games, including the overtime winner in the clincher.

"It's good for their development," Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton, who will serve as the team's bench boss for the second straight year, said after last year's tournament. "You want to play in games that mean something. Yeah, it's a rookie tournament everyone's going to forget likely tomorrow, but we want to win everything we do. We want to compete like it's life or death in everything we do."

The tournament consists of eight teams split into two divisions of four. Each team plays each other once in a round-robin format before squaring off on Tuesday, Sept. 11 to determine the final tournament ranking, with the winners of each division meeting in the championship game on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Check out the full Blackhawks roster below:

Blackhawks getting a deeper glimpse of the future with Dylan Sikura, Blake Hillman, Collin Delia

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AP

Blackhawks getting a deeper glimpse of the future with Dylan Sikura, Blake Hillman, Collin Delia

The final five games of the season are meaningless for the Blackhawks. In the standings, that is.

Three more players are expected to make their NHL debuts this week, starting with top prospect Dylan Sikura on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Blake Hillman and goaltender Collin Delia likely to get in on Friday vs. Colorado.

This comes days after Victor Ejdsell made his big-league debut with the Blackhawks in a top-line center role, making it the fourth player debut in a span of three games.

While it doesn't seem like a huge deal in the short term, all of this is crucial for the Blackhawks in the big picture as it gives management and coaches a chance to evaluate what they have in the pipeline and who could potentially step into a larger role next season.

Perhaps more importantly, it's a chance for those players to get a taste of the NHL action and build on that going into the offseason.

"Good for the kids, good experience," Joel Quenneville said. "They get some exposure, see the pace, strength, decision-making that goes on and the time factor. That gets them help to prepare going into the following year, having a good offseason, building yourself up strength-wise and quickness-wise. It's a thrill to get a chance to play in the NHL knowing from year to year you hope there's progression in your overall development."

Sikura is the one that will certainly draw the most attention. He skated on the second line with Ejdsell and Alex DeBrincat during Wednesday's practice, and figures to have a serious chance at playing in the top-six next season; certainly top-9.

"Just try to be a sponge and try to learn from the older guys and the coaching staff," Sikura said on what he can learn over the final week and a half. "It's a little adjustment, but just get a little experience here, get my five games in and hopefully learn as much as I can and come back net year."

Hillman is a wild card on defense. He's not flashy, but he's steady defensively and might be the most NHL ready given his size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and the fact he spent four years in college honing his game and getting stronger.

"I think I'm just a strong defensive defenseman," he said. "I pride myself on keeping the puck out of the net. These guys expect offense, too. They expect D-men to jump into plays. I'm able to do that. I feel like I'm a good skater and I can get up in the play and make the right decisions.

"There's going to be a little bit of an adjustment period between the pace and the bigger guys, but I think Denver's really prepared me well."

Delia is an interesting case in goal. He struggled in the ECHL to start the season but still worked his way to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, where he became a key part of their playoff push before getting called up.

"I know it’s a process," Delia said. "I know things don’t come easy. Especially at this level of the pro game, it’s a lot different than college, especially for a goalie. I think it’s good, though, to have some trials and tribulations and you can enjoy these moments that much more after being there. So it’s pretty special."

It's unlikely all three will be in the fold next season, but it's still an important part of the development process to go into the summer knowing what to expect.

The remaining five games are against teams desperately battling for a playoff spot or seed: Winnipeg (twice), Colorado and St. Louis (twice). It'll be a good test for everyone to play in a game where the opposing team will throw their best effort at you, even though the results don't mean much for the Blackhawks.

Blackhawks ink another prospect in defenseman Blake Hillman

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks ink another prospect in defenseman Blake Hillman

With the college season nearing its conclusion, more and more players have become available for NHL teams to sign and the Blackhawks have taken advantage so far.

Just two days after officially signing prospect Dylan Sikura, the Blackhawks signed defenseman Blake Hillman out of Denver. Hillman, a sixth-round pick in 2016, signed a deal through 2018-19 and will report to the Blackhawks wearing No. 55. 

Hillman was a junior at Denver, which got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in a quarterfinal on Sunday. This season Hillman tallied three goals and nine assists.

Like with Sikura, Hillman will get a chance to play in the final five games of the season. That means the Blackhawks get a chance to evaluate the 22-year-old and the way the deal is worked, Hillman can hit restricted free agency at the end of next season.