New Blackhawks defenseman Alex Vlasic an early bird on first day
Vlasic, who signed with the Hawks out of Boston University on Tuesday, impressed interim coach Derek King with his quick, hard first pass.
Alex Vlasic was told to arrive at Fifth Third Arena just before 9 a.m. Thursday for his first Blackhawks practice.
Not wanting to miss anything, he showed up at 8:15.
“I came in [and] didn’t really know what to do with myself, to be honest,” he said. “I talked to the equipment guys, got all my gear. And then I was waiting around, walking around, killing time, waiting for people to show up. I was stressed a little bit. Then I had breakfast, introduced myself to some guys.”
Vlasic, who signed his entry-level contract on Tuesday after finishing his junior season at Boston University, is a significant addition to the Hawks’ defensive prospect pool and, at the moment, a significant addition to their active NHL roster.
Interim coach Derek King said he’s hesitating to throw Vlasic directly into the fire Saturday against the Wild, but because of contract rules, Vlasic will stay in the NHL the rest of the season regardless.
“He closes well, he’s got a good reach, [and] his first pass is hard,” King said after watching Vlasic practice Thursday. “He snaps that puck around pretty good. And when he did . . . the players were like, ‘I like this kid already.’ Then I’ve got to chime in and say, ‘It’s about time we got a defenseman who can make a pass around here.’
“Good for the kid. It’s got to be an exciting time for him. I always like seeing guys like that when they get their first game, whenever it is: the excitement, the nerves, seeing how they react.”
Vlasic grew up in Wilmette and frequently attended Hawks games as a fan — but not a Hawks fan. His cousin, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, has been a staple of the Sharks for 16 years.
“We would always go when they played the Hawks, wear the Sharks jerseys, get booed,” Vlasic said, laughing.
Not too many years later, Vlasic is wearing a No. 43 Hawks sweater, collecting a paycheck from the team and mingling with the likes of Patrick Kane in the locker room.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like I’m on the team — it just feels like I’m just practicing. To everybody, I was just like, ‘Wow, I’ve been watching you on TV for a number of years now.’ It was definitely surreal.”
At BU this season, he learned how to play with the physicality and strength to match his 6-6 frame while also receiving pro-hockey pointers from assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, a former Devils forward. This week, as Vlasic weighed whether to sign with the Hawks or return for his senior year, Pandolfo told him he was ready to move up — so he did.
Beyond his physicality, he still has more offensive and puck-moving skills than one might expect — hence, King’s praise for his passing. His confidence with the puck helped him adjust quickly Thursday.
“Sometimes it’s easier at the NHL level because you find guys are smarter and faster, and when you have the puck on your stick, they’re just in the right spots,” Vlasic said. “That’s what I found today, honestly. Playing the five-on-five ‘O’-zone drill, with the puck on my stick, guys were getting open. Obviously, playing defense, [though], guys are a lot stronger and faster, so that was a lot harder.”
Note: Center Tyler Johnson (concussion protocol) briefly skated by himself on the second rink Thursday, showing some progress since his latest injury Saturday.
“Gradually you’ll see him, and finally you’ll probably see, eventually, [defenseman Connor Murphy], too, start skating and going through the protocol stages,” interim coach Derek King said.