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FEATURE: Sikura embracing the development process

Dylan Sikura made significant strides in 2018-19, even if the offensive numbers weren't there

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

The word "panic" doesn't appear in Dylan Sikura's vocabulary. 

Sure, 2018-19 was challenging at times but there was never an urge to hit the big red button.

For being an offensively dynamic 23-year-old forward, Sikura's production wasn't near what he or anyone else might have expected in his first full professional season. He tallied no goals and just eight assists in 33 NHL games through two separate stints.

But to his credit, Sikura kept jumping over those boards. Shift after shift, game after game, he kept on putting in the effort to pull it all together.

But it was still a bit of a rollercoaster. He was up with the Blackhawks and then he was down skating with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. He was up again and then he was down again.

"You don't really know what to expect until you get [to the pros]," Sikura said. "I know there are a lot of cliche phrases used but they're true. It really is a grind. I think this year for me, going up and down a couple of times kind of takes a toll on you a little bit mentally. But I think I've had a good approach every time I've been up or down."

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BLOG: Four CHL prospects in action during weekend slate

Nicolas Beaudin, MacKenzie Entwistle, Alexis Gravel and Jake Ryczek begin playoff series

by Austin Siegel / blackhawks.com

Four Blackhawks prospects are in action this weekend, as the Canadian Hockey League playoffs have reached the semifinals. 

In the Ontario Hockey League, MacKenzie Entwistle and the #4 Guelph Storm are facing the #2 Saginaw Spirit in the Western Conference Finals. Entwistle grabbed two third period goals in the Storm's come-from-behind Game 7 win over Adam Boqvist and the London Knights this week. 

After trailing 3-0 in the series against London, Entwistle and Storm battled back to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2014. Entwistle has five goals and eight assists in OHL playoff action. 

The Storm play Game 2 against Saginaw at 6:05 CT on Saturday night in Michigan, after falling 7-2 in Game 1 on Thursday. 

In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, three Blackhawks prospects will face off in the QMJHL Seminfinals, as Nicolas Beaudin and the #2 Drummondville Voltigeurs battle the #3 Halifax Mooseheads. 

Halifax will feature 2018 NHL Draft pick Alexis Gravel in net and Jake Ryczek on the blue line. 

Despite coming into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Halifax has faced a difficult road to the semis. They survived Quebec in a seven-game first round series before sweeping Moncton in the second round. Drummondville took care of Gatineau and Sherbrooke in a pair of five-game series to book their spot in the semifinals. 

Beaudin is one of the most decorated Voltigeurs in team history and won QMJHL Second Star of the Week honors for his performance in the first round against Gatineau. Gravel will have his hands full looking to stop the QMJHL's highest scoring team, but the Mooseheads goalie ranked among the QMJHL's top five in save percentage during the regular season. 

Drummondville and Halifax begin their series with a pair of games this weekend, beginning tonight at 6:30 p.m. and continuing with Game 2 on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m from Drummondville. 

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FEATURE: Mitchell returns to college, searching for another level

Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell is returning to the University of Denver for his junior season as he looks to continue his development before his NHL leap

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

While it's every young hockey player's dream to make it to the National Hockey League, Ian Mitchell isn't rushing it.

The 20-year-old defenseman believes returning for his junior year at the University of Denver is the best thing for his development as he eyes long-term success in the pros.

"I guess I just didn't necessarily feel I was ready physically and mentally to make the step to pro hockey quite yet. Those were the things that led to my decision," Mitchell said.

The Blackhawks organization and their prospect, who they selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, kept the dialogue going throughout the decision making process with Mitchell eventually settling on a third collegiate campaign.

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THREE STARS: Entwistle, Beaudin advance in CHL Playoffs

A weekly look at how Blackhawks prospects are performing at their various levels

by Austin Siegel / blackhawks.com

Every Thursday throughout the 2018-19 season and playoffs, Blackhawks.com will highlight prospects who have stood out for their junior, college or professional team in the previous week's action.

Here are this week's Three Stars.

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FEATURE: Red Deer duo took next step in Rockford

Brandon Hagel and Reese Johnson impressed in Rockford after starring in the WHL

by Austin Siegel / blackhawks.com

Spotting an Erie Otters sweater at the United Center became something like birdwatching this season.

Fans of the minor league team that once featured Blackhawks teammates Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome began showing up in the crowd, behind the glass and in line for concessions.

Thanks to Brandon Hagel and Reese Johnson, a Red Deer Rebels sweater might be your next United Center double take.

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BLOG: Pair of prospects named to Finland's roster

Henri Jokiharju and Kevin Lankinen are on Finland's preliminary roster for the 2019 IIHF World Championships

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

Blackhawks prospects Henri Jokiharju and Kevin Lankinen will join Finland's national team ahead of the 2019 IIHF World Championships in May.

Tweet from @leijonat: Tervetuloa Henri, Juho & Kevin! Kolme uutta nime mukana ensi viikon MM-leirityksess: https://t.co/p8k6WYqnOS #Leijonat @KLankinen @henrijokiharju @NHLBlackhawks @FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/vq9OQX5sbr

Both will have their opportunity to make the squad and participate in the tournament, which runs May 10-26 in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia.

Jokiharju has represented his home country on multiple stages, including the 2019 World Juniors earlier this year in which the defenseman and the Finns won gold.

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: "Two or three years from now he's going to look back on this when he's a steady player in the NHL and he's going to say 'that was probably the best thing for me.'"#HawksProspects https://t.co/acs8u2DGj0

Lankinen, a goalie, has also represented Finland before at the junior level in various stints.

They'll potentially join Patrick Kane at the tournament, who was named captain of Team USA on Monday. More Blackhawks are likely to officially commit to the tournament soon.

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BLOG: Entwistle scores twice to help Guelph advance

MacKenzie Entwistle and Guelph downed Adam Boqvist's London Knights in Game 7

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

In Game 7 on Tuesday night, MacKenzie Entwistle scored two goals in the third period to help close out a 6-3 victory for the Guelph Storm over Adam Boqvist and the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

The two Blackhawks prospects have battled things out in a series that began 3-0 in London's favor before the Storm bounced back to win four straight.

Tweet from @OHLHockey: Pair from @5twisty5 puts it away @NHLBlackhawks prospect adds 2 of insurance as @Storm_City secure series with a fourth straight win to become just fifth #OHL team to erase a 3-0 deficit.#OHLPlayoffs | #LDNvsGUE pic.twitter.com/6FXSzythQP

Entwistle was acquired in a package deal from Arizona on July 12, 2018. Through these playoffs, Entwistle has five goals and seven assists for a total of 12 points in 11 games. He has back to back multi-point games.

Boqvist, taken eighth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, sees his postseason run come to an end with an impressive team-leading 10 goals and three assists in 11 games for London.

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FEATURE: Big minutes helping Jokiharju develop in Rockford

Henri Jokiharju has been logging a ton of minutes, flashing offensive upside and becoming a leader down in the American Hockey League

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

If all goes according to plan, Henri Jokiharju will be a steady force on the Chicago Blackhawks blue line sooner rather than later. The 19-year-old Finnish defenseman has all the tools to be a top-notch defender in the National Hockey League.

At the beginning of the season in Chicago, Jokiharju flashed that potential. He shouldered big-time minutes early in his rookie season, showing great poise and producing solid possession metrics. But sometimes, the best long-term plan for young prospects is to turn down the heat a little and allow them to simmer down in the minors.

After recording 12 assists in 38 games in the NHL, Jokiharju was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League - where he's done more than just simmer.

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BLOG: Mitchell's season ends in semifinals

The University of Denver lost 4-3 to Massachusetts on Thursday night

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell and his University of Denver squad were eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four in the semifinal by Massachusetts on Thursday night in Buffalo, NY.

Denver outshot UMass 40-28 in the game but freshman d-man Marc Del Gaizo's one-timer in overtime ended Mitchell's tournament run. UMass took the 4-3 victory and will now battle Minnesota Duluth in the national championship game on Saturday.

Mitchell was taken in the second round, 57th overall, of the 2017 NHL Draft by Chicago. The Alberta native has spent the last two seasons in college, racking up awards and honors, such as being named to the NCAA NCHC Second All-Star Team this season.

The offensively inclined defender recorded 27 points (6G, 21A) in 39 games this season for Denver.

Mitchell also wore an "A" for Team Canada at the 2019 World Juniors tournament, scoring a goal and adding two assists in three games.

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THREE STARS: Mitchell prepares for Frozen Four bout

A weekly look at how Blackhawks prospects are performing at their various levels

by Austin Siegel / blackhawks.com

Every Thursday throughout the 2018-19 season and playoffs, Blackhawks.com will highlight prospects who have stood out for their junior, college or professional team in the previous week's action.

Here are this week's Three Stars.

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