Blackhawks prospect Alex Vlasic has developed the physicality to match his size

Now a junior at Boston University, Vlasic — the defenseman chosen with Hawks’ 2019 second-round pick — has impressively grown into his 6-6, 212-pound frame.

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Blackhawks prospect defenseman Alex Vlasic has developed steadily at Boston University.

Rich Gagnon/Boston University Athletics

Blackhawks prospect defenseman Alex Vlasic never has played like most 6-6 defensemen.

For a long time, his athleticism developed faster than his physicality. He’s an ‘‘elite skater for his size,’’ in the words of his Boston University coach, and he can contribute some offensively. He always has appreciated his frame more for the long reach it provides than for its brute size.

That’s all great because it makes Vlasic, a 20-year-old native of Wilmette, more than a one-dimensional defensive defenseman. Instead, he’s a well-rounded weapon who could fill a number of roles at the pro level.

To make it there, however, Vlasic had to start using that height and size more to his advantage. And this year — his junior year in college — he has.

‘‘When he came out of the [U.S. National Development Program in 2019], he was not that physical, to be honest,’’ Boston University coach Albie O’Connell said. ‘‘We were trying to get him to really engage at the net-front, engage off faceoffs. He was always talented, but some of it was strength, some of it was time, some of it was failure . . . and he’s really come a long way.

‘‘He has played with a lot more ‘oomph’ to him. He’s starting to figure out how to use his body well, and he has become really tough to deal with for any opponent. He’s arguably one of the best defensemen in our league.’’

Vlasic, the Hawks’ second-round pick in 2019, is one of many promising defensemen in their system, but he boasts one of the highest upsides of all of them. He has become the Terriers’ No. 1 defenseman, helping spark their second-half turnaround with Hawks prospect goalie Drew Commesso.

Vlasic’s weight gradually has increased through the years, from 199 pounds at the draft to 215 pounds last summer, before he setted in at around 212 pounds in-season. O’Connell estimated his ideal eventual weight might be as high as 225 to 230 pounds.

‘‘He’s got the body that he can carry that weight and still keep up [being] really athletic on his feet,’’ O’Connell said.

There’s more to strength than just weight, however, and Vlasic points to two games this season that proved that to him — and exemplified his growth.

The first was a 6-4 loss Nov. 27 to Cornell.

‘‘I was more used to using my stick and my reach to end plays, with getting my stick in lanes and breaking up pucks,’’ Vlasic said. ‘‘But Cornell had some bigger, stronger forwards, and you couldn’t really do that; you had to play more physically and use your body. That’s what [my coaches] saw — they didn’t think I was closing fast enough — and they told me to trust my skating ability and my size and my reach.

‘‘Ever since then, I haven’t looked back. I’ve started to play more physically, and with every game that goes by, I gain more and more confidence.’’

Vlasic then talked over the holidays to his two primary Hawks contacts — mindset performance manager Vinny Malts and assistant general manager of player development Mark Eaton — about his plan to play more physically. The Hawks were fine with that.

The second game was a 7-1 victory Jan. 7 against Arizona State during which he was hit with 15 penalty minutes and learned a lesson.

‘‘I got kicked out because I hit this guy,’’ Vlasic said. ‘‘I didn’t mean to, but it was from behind — a bad play. But I didn’t think I’d be able to hit him as fast and as hard as I did. I took that as [a sign that], ‘Hey, I can go into the corner against anybody and win any battle.’

‘‘[I’m now] using my strength almost just to manhandle guys at this level. It’s eye-opening to me how much stronger I actually am than I thought I was.’’

In addition to his physical maturation, Vlasic has learned a lot about the habits and style he’ll need to succeed in the NHL from former Devils forward Jay Pandolfo, who joined Boston University this season as an associate head coach.

‘‘He talked about closing earlier in the corners, just taking those few hard strides to end plays,’’ Vlasic said. ‘‘And another thing everyone has been able to learn from him is knowing that mistakes are going to happen . . . but it’s just about how you respond to that and what you’re going to do to fix it.’’

Vlasic has eight points and 50 blocked shots in 31 games. The Terriers, who fell to 4-9-2 with that loss to Cornell but have gone 14-2-1 since, will begin postseason play next week with the Hockey East tournament, perhaps followed by the NCAA tournament.

With the end of the season so near, Vlasic said he’s focusing on enjoying time with his teammates — and trying to bring home a trophy or two — and hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll turn pro this summer (or even for the final month of the NHL and American Hockey League seasons).

When he does sign with the Hawks, he’ll join a crowded pool of defensemen he’ll need to leapfrog in the pecking order. At his current rate of development, however, that seems very doable, if not likely.

‘‘Getting him in the second round is a credit to the [Hawks’] scouting staff because he looks like a first-round pick all day,’’ O’Connell said. ‘‘The sky is the limit for him. I don’t want to say he’s a unicorn, but he’s very different than a lot of other guys.’’

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