Blackhawks prospect Ethan Del Mastro continuing development through whirlwind winter

A trade within the OHL immediately followed Del Mastro’s World Juniors championship with Canada. But the Hawks believe the 20-year-old defensive defenseman has, at this point, “gotten most everything out of junior hockey that he can.”

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Ethan Del Mastro celebrates winning the World Junior Championships.

Ethan Del Mastro won the World Junior Championships with Canada alongside fellow Blackhawks defensive prospects Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

While playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in late December and early January, Blackhawks defensive prospect Ethan Del Mastro suspected he would soon be traded within the Ontario Hockey League.

But he didn’t yet know where it would take him.

“I had a little knowledge that Mississauga was looking to sell,” he said. “It was a little weird when you’re there. You’re trying to focus on the tournament. Some of the guys . . . were trying to get you to come to their team, so it was funny.”

Two days after Canada defeated Czechia in overtime Jan. 5 to win the tournament, Del Mastro was indeed dealt from the Mississauga Steelheads — where he had played the last three years — to the Sarnia Sting, uniting him with Canada teammate Benjamin Gaudreau (a Sharks goalie prospect).

“It’s a whirlwind, getting traded right away,” Del Mastro said. “Finally [I’ve] settled in the past couple weeks and been able to get into a schedule.”

This winter might feel chaotic, but all of this experience should only help prepare Del Mastro for next season, his first as a pro. It’s guaranteed to be that because his three-year entry-level NHL contract is already on the books, albeit likely sliding this season.

The 20-year-old Ontario native is one of many standouts in the Hawks’ impressive pool of defensive prospects, and the organization harbors high hopes for him — even if he’ll likely end up starting 2023-24 in Rockford.

“Over a bigger sample size, he has been doing a lot of good things,” said Mark Eaton, the Hawks’ assistant general manager who oversees player development. “He has the size and skating ability that makes him a real effective defender with his range, and he can move pucks.

“You hope Sarnia makes a run and he experiences going deep into the OHL playoffs, but he has gotten most everything out of junior hockey that he can. The next progression for him is a pro season and just, day-in and day-out, playing against men.”

Del Mastro and fellow Hawks prospects Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan collectively formed half of Canada’s WJC defensive corps, and the three of them have become close friends while looking toward the future together.

Del Mastro, with his 6-4, 210-pound body, fits best in the “defensive defensemen” subsection of the Hawks’ pipeline along with Allan, Alex Vlasic and Isaak Phillips (although all four are left-handed shots). That makes his road ahead somewhat less crowded than it appears, considering Korchinski, Wyatt Kaiser, Alec Regula and Sam Rinzel are conversely more offensive guys.

But that means most of Del Mastro’s work at the moment is on offensive skills, since those are what must improve for him to eventually succeed in the NHL. The Hawks recommended he focus specifically on making plays more quickly.

“Being at the NHL camps, you see how fast they make plays and how quick their minds think,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve been working on a lot — trying to get that pro mentality and learn it a little earlier, so when I move to that next level, I already have a little bit of that skill. And also [I’m working on] shooting from the blue line, whether that’s creating lanes, having a harder shot, making a little move or putting it on net quick.”

After tallying just seven points in 57 games in his first OHL season and then 48 points in 68 games in his second, he touts 32 points in 30 games so far this season, including a torrid 10 in his last five games since getting comfortable in Sarnia.

“This team has been good at involving me and allowing me to adjust really quick,” he said. “I’ve found my play style [and] my game really fast.”

Added Eaton: “He’s right on track for that next step.”

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