In a deep pool of Blackhawks defensive prospects, Alex Vlasic has established himself as a core piece of the team’s future blue line.

After a breakout season where the 22-year-old was as one of Chicago’s most consistent defensemen, the Chicagoland native inked a six-year contract with a $4.6 million salary cap hit on Thursday to cement himself as a key part of the team’s future.

“Alex made enormous strides this year and proved he is a legitimate top-four defenseman in the NHL,” General Manager Kyle Davidson said. “In his first full season in the NHL, Alex established himself as an important piece of our young core, and we’re excited to have him with us for the next six years.”

In his first full NHL season, the blueliner skated in 76 games, logging 16 points (2G, 14A), as well as an average of 21:29 of ice time per game, second-most on the team.

For a Chicago kid who grew up a Blackhawks fan, it’s a dream come true to be staying home long-term.

“It’s amazing to be able to play for (my) hometown team, the same city I grew up in,” Vlasic said. “I want to be here as long as possible.”

Vlasic’s success over the past year is a byproduct of his own hard work since being drafted in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft.

He spent three seasons at Boston University, progressing over his time into the team’s top shutdown defensemen by the time he left school. In his junior year, Vlasic served as an alternate captain and led the team with 51 blocked shots, earning a Hockey East Honorable Mention All-Star nod before he turned pro.

Vlasic joined the Blackhawks right away in March of 2022, playing in 15 games down the stretch his rookie season, scoring a goal and an assist in his first taste of NHL action. Last season, Chicago sent the defenseman to Rockford with the sole goal to play a big role on the AHL blue line the entire season. He established himself as a top-pair guy over 56 regular-season games and added 19 points (2G, 17A). He posted another five assists in five Calder Cup Playoff games in his second pro year.

He obviously wanted to play in the NHL as soon as possible, but it’s a step Vlasic credits today as a big part of his success this past year.

“It's never easy to get set down,” Vlasic said last week, looking back on his development path. “I remember being pretty upset about it. But looking back now, it's a decision that was made in the best interest of where I could get to and to improve my development. I'm very happy with the results. I think I gained a lot of confidence, I kind of got a pretty big leash there, luckily, and I was able to do what I wanted and push things and kind of see what I can get away with (in situations). And that was huge for me coming into of this year. It made me feel confident about my skillset and where I was at.”

“It's not an easy transition to make from the amateur ranks, whether it's college or junior into the NHL,” Davidson said. “I thought obviously Alex benefited greatly from experiencing that year in Rockford. And that was a nice step for him to take on his way to the NHL and having a really solid year this season.”

Take a deeper look at Alex Vlasic and the rest of the young Blackhawks core in the latest episode of Every Shift: Paths of Progress

Right from the start of Vlasic’s first full NHL season, he was a bright spot on Chicago’s blue line.

“It was incredible from day one what he accomplished this year,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “With the composure that he played with, and just the skating ability laterally, he just stole pucks all over the place and turned them into line rushes. It was incredible to see.”

“I think I took a lot of big steps and improved my game,” Vlasic said of his year. “Coming in, I didn't know what to expect myself and I think I exceeded my expectations of what this year is gonna look like for me and very happy with it.”

Now, heading into the offseason with a long-term contract locked up, Vlasic plans to continue putting in the work that’s gotten him to this point, in hopes of continuing his progression forward.

“Continue to put on some weight in the offseason and get bigger and stronger and kind of use that as one of my assets,” he said of his summer focus. “Playing every night against the other teams' top lines, I've gotta make sure that I make it hard on them and using my physicality. I think I can (also) work on my shot. That's a big thing that I'm going to try and develop this summer and just kind of have that shoot-first mindset and be a threat up top at the point.”

“He’s just 22,” Richardson added. “He's just going to start to fill out because he's so long and rangy. If he keeps that lateral skating ability and mobility, and puts on another 10-15 pounds of solid muscle and strength, he's gonna be a hard man to play against for sure.”