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FEATURE: For Alex Vlasic, hockey is in his blood

Chicago's newest defenseman has the tools and pedigree to have an NHL impact

by Chris Kuc /

VANCOUVER - His cousin plays in the NHL. His father played junior hockey in Montreal. His uncle took the ice for McGill University in Canada.

The biggest influence in Alex Vlasic's life? Older sister Emma.

"She's always been there for me and tried to point me in the right direction," Alex Vlasic said moments after the Blackhawks made the Wilmette native their second-round selection (43rd overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft on Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. "She's been driving me since I was a kid."

The 18-year-old defenseman has a strong bond will all members of his family which includes older brother, Eric, Emma and father, John, and mother, Tara, but it is the one he shares with his sister that helped forge him into a hockey player that could be among the backbones of the Blackhawks defense in the coming years.

Video: Alex Vlasic on Draft Day

When the Vlasic children were growing up in the Northern suburb of Chicago, John Vlasic would build a rink in the backyard on which the siblings would skate for hours. When they weren't on the ice, they were in the basement pretending they were professional hockey players. Eric was always the goalie while Alex and Emma would often battle one-on-one up front.

"It got pretty competitive," said 22-year-old Emma, who played center for four years at Yale University before recently graduating. "It was a small area but we made it work. We had our music set up so we tried to make it just like the pros and try to live out that dream.

"The love of hockey is just what we do," she continued. "It's something we picked up when we were little and the bond grew between us and is still here today. I'm really happy for Alex that he got picked by Chicago."

While Emma has her sights set on signing with a NWHL team next season, Alex Vlasic took a big step toward realizing his dream when the Blackhawks added him to the organization with the first of five picks they made Saturday.

"I didn't know what team was going to pick me so when I heard my name I turned to my sister and I saw her face light up," Vlasic said. "And then I saw all of my family and my mom was starting to get a little teary-eyed so that was pretty special."

Truth be told, other than Eric, who is a goaltender for Chicago Special Hockey, the Vlasic children were not rabid Blackhawks fans growing up. Instead, the Sharks were their team due to the fact cousin Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a veteran defenseman in San Jose.

Alex Vlasic doesn't get a chance to speak with his cousin often-there is a 14-year age gap-but he plans to be in contact with him to pick his brain about playing in the NHL.

"Being able to be so close to someone who has been so successful with hockey and make it so far makes it kind of cool to see that it's a possibility for me," Alex Vlasic said. "I looked up to him when I was a kid. He's a great player and great person so if I can be like that I'll be on the right track."

Video: One-on-One: Kuc on 2019 draft

At 6-feet-6, Vlasic doesn't actually look up to many and that is one reason for his success. A former member of the Chicago Mission, he had four goals and 23 assists in 61 games for the United States National Team Development program in 2018-19 and also appeared in 27 USHL games during which Vlasic had two goals and 13 assists.

"My stick is a big asset with how long and active it is in the defensive zone breaking up plays," Vlasic said. "Being a bigger guy...with my skating I can keep up with my body and keep up with the smaller, more agile players."

The Blackhawks had Vlasic pegged as a first-rounder and were thrilled he was available when their second-round selection rolled around.

"He covers so much ground," Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman said. "He's a very good skater but he's a big, big guy with a long reach and really good defensive instincts."

Added Mark Kelley, Vice President of Amateur Scouting: "When you watch (Vlasic) play, his size and length gives him a great presence. He's very efficient (and) clean moving the puck. For a guy that size he has good mobility. (He's got) the whole package."

Vlasic is more of a long-range prospect and has committed to play for Boston University next season and likely beyond.

"I'm just looking to get a good experience with a new team and program and hopefully have a successful two or three years and then I'd like to see myself make the jump to the NHL," he said. "Being a second-rounder, most of the time it will take a couple of years for you to make it. I have total confidence that I will make it after two or three years."

Until then, Vlasic will rely on the memory of hearing his name called Saturday to help drive him toward achieving his NHL goal.

"I was shaking a little bit waiting for my name to get called and then all of a sudden it was it just kind of feels like all the hard work did pay off," Vlasic said. "But most of the hard work is ahead of me-I still have to make it."

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