That’s why you should watch out for this weekend’s prospect games

Tonight, the prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks will face off against the youngsters of the Minnesota Wild. We have an early peak at the morning skate lineup and there are some interesting lines and defensive pairings.

The only guy on this list who will likely spend the majority of the upcoming regular season in the NHL is Luke Reichel. Many people feel Alex Vlasic can also be in play and Isaac Phillips and Jakub Galvas have already experienced some NHL ice time in their careers. (Note: Phillips and Galvas will not play in Friday night’s game.)

But the overwhelming number of questions and comments I keep seeing on Twitter are: do we really do you care about these games?

On Monday, we asked fans on Twitter if they were excited about the games. In full disclosure, we asked this before the list was released, so we didn’t know which prospects would be included. But the responses were overwhelming.

The leading vote getter was overwhelmingly negative, with more than a quarter of voters saying they would determine their level of interest after seeing the list.

Does this overall pessimism about the NHL product spill over into the potential excitement of having the next generation on the ice? Or do fans really not care about ice hockey coming back?

We Blackhawks fans should care about tonight’s game. It’s not necessarily who scores or who blocks a shot, although I’ll be watching it closely. But there’s a big reason we should care.

If you’ve been around this site much this year — heck, since last year’s MLB trade deadline — you’ll have noticed the amount of attention we’ve paid to Cubs prospects. The Cubs, like the Blackhawks, are rebuilding. And we’re not starting to see young players step up to the big leagues and show what they’ve got.

When your favorite team is rebuilding, it’s hard to watch the big league product very often. And this season won’t be easy for Blackhawks fans (spoiler!). But the front office’s energy and single-minded focus on developing the next generation — and the one after that — is why a prospect showcase like this is important.

This will be the first time Kevin Korczynski and Paul Ludwinski wearing a Blackhawks jersey against another team. Development camp in July was great to watch guys compete, but it felt more like a high school tryout than real game action most of the time. This will also be the first time Cole Gutman competes against pros and recent draft picks; he won a national title at DU last season, but this is the next level.

This is Ethan Del Mastro’s first game since the junior world championships. And that’s against the big(ger) boys, even though his Canada roster this summer was loaded with NHL talent.

Fans should invest some time and energy to see how the Blackhawks prospects play, not just this weekend, but throughout their seasons in junior, college and with the IceHogs in the AHL.

Because this is the future.

And in case you missed it, the future is the focus of operations at the United Center right now.

General manager Kyle Davidson gave a five-year timeline for the Blackhawks’ “comeback.” That’s a conservative estimate that buys him time to give players more appropriate time to develop so that when they’re truly NHL ready, they get their shot, not right after they sign their entry-level contract (cough , Kirby Dah, cough) .

There’s strength in numbers, and the Blackhawks certainly seem to have a good group on defense with an experienced group in Rockford this season and some other recent draftees — like Korczynski and Del Mastro — looking like the real deal … in practice. And their upcoming seasons will show us a lot about how they take the necessary steps to become NHL players.

But how well and how quickly these players develop is what will directly affect the recovery schedule.

So why do we care about these games? Because for the same reasons we write about Pete Crowe-Armstrong and other top Cubs prospects, this year will be about how well the next layer of prospects shapes the future of the Chicago Blackhawks. And tonight (and Sunday afternoon) will give us a glimpse of what some of the talent Davidson has assembled looks like together on the ice.

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