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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Slaggert joins former Irish players in the National Hockey League

The transition from college to professional hockey is unlike that of any other major sport in America. Top players complete their collegiate careers with a team’s draft rights attached to them, bypassing the offseason drafts that dictate football, basketball and baseball. When those players finish their final college seasons in March or April, the National Hockey League season has less than a month remaining. Most teams look to either solidify their Stanley Cup contender status or evaluate younger talent for future seasons.  

It’s the perfect time to bring a new player into the everyday picture, and that’s exactly what the Chicago Blackhawks did with Landon Slaggert.

Notre Dame’s senior captain and top left winger had his sights set on Chicago for a long time. The Blackhawks selected Slaggert in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, and the South Bend native answered the bell in the college ranks, posting 48 total points in his first two Notre Dame seasons. However, with a down year production-wise in 2022-23, Slaggert decided to take one more year with the Irish, and it paid off. A permanent fixture on Notre Dame’s top forward line, Slaggert exploded for 20 goals and 11 assists, leading the team in scoring.

Less than 24 hours after playing his final collegiate game at Michigan, Slaggert signed his two-year entry-level contract on March 10. Five days later, he took the United Center ice for his NHL debut against the Los Angeles Kings. Surrounded by recent first-round picks like Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar and Calder Memorial Trophy favorite Connor Bedard, Slaggert hopes to help Chicago snap out of its rebuild and back into contention. But for now, he’s focused on learning from older players like assistant captain Nick Foligno.

“Those [veterans] – they’re real pros and real great guys, just great character guys,” Slaggert said after a game against the Nashville Predators on April 12. “I’m just trying to be like a sponge and learn from them because they’ve got a lot to offer and a lot of experience over the years. [I’m] definitely a lucky guy to be around those guys in the locker room.”

As for his own results, Slaggert posted four points in 16 games to wrap up the 2023-24 professional season. He scored his first career goal on April 10 in St. Louis, roofing a breakaway attempt late in the third period. Less than two weeks into his first professional offseason, Slaggert understands what one month in the NHL revealed to him.

“It gives me a good roadmap on what to work on. Goal-scoring ability – obviously the goalies and defensemen are so good in this league – and the ability to play down low, too. I think that’s a big thing,” Slaggert said. “Holding on to more pucks and overall poise to make some high-level plays. It definitely gave me a good taste of how hard this league is, but also what I can improve on to be successful here.”

Irish alumni in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

While Slaggert’s Blackhawks will have an early pick in this summer’s NHL draft, a few other Irish players of the past have taken the ice for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The hunt for Lord Stanley began two Saturdays ago and will continue until the champion is crowned in the middle of June.

A journeyman on the blue line in his 14th NHL season, Ian Cole has looked comfortable in his first year with the hotshot Vancouver Canucks. Cole played at least 17 minutes in each of Vancouver’s first four games in the opening series against Nashville, notching an assist in Game 2. With 78 games under his belt in the 2023-24 regular season, Cole now owns 193 points in 826 career games played, having suited up for eight different NHL teams. The 35-year-old played his way to first-team all-CCHA and All-American honors with Notre Dame in 2008-09 after going 17th overall to St. Louis in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Cole spent three seasons in an Irish uniform, accumulating 65 points on 17 goals and 48 assists in 111 games played.

Though his New York Islanders could not get past Carolina in their first-round series, left winger Anders Lee produced quite well. New York’s captain recorded a point in each of the series’ first four games, scoring on the power play in Game 2. Lee is in his 12th NHL season — all with the Islanders, who took him in the sixth round in 2009 — and now owns 260 goals and 453 points at the highest level. A former Irish captain, Lee played at Notre Dame from 2010 to 2013, garnering second-team All-American status as a junior. During his time in South Bend, Lee amassed 61 goals and 55 assists for 116 points in 125 career games.

Lee’s teammate, right winger Kyle Palmieri, also carried momentum from a 30-goal regular season into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 14th-year NHL man scored in Game 2 and assisted on another tally in Game 3 of the Carolina series. In 818 career games, the former 26th overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks has 246 goals and 233 assists, good for 479 career points. Playing only his freshman season at Notre Dame before advancing to the NHL, Palmieri tallied 17 points and nine goals and eight assists in 2009-10.

After a March 8 trade sent him from Columbus to Boston, defenseman Andrew Peeke has helped the Bruins out to a strong start against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Peeke, who finished the regular season with 10 points and 88 blocks in 38 games, blocked three shots in his first two playoff games played. The second-round draft pick of the Blue Jackets in 2016 played at Notre Dame from 2016 to 2019. There, he put up at least 14 points in all three of his seasons, surging with 21 assists for 24 points in his 2018-19 campaign as the team’s captain.

Spencer Stastney, a fifth-round draft choice back in 2018, has seen action on the playoff blue line with the Nashville Predators. Through his first three games of Nashville’s series against the Vancouver Canucks, Stastney posted a +1 rating with a blocked shot. After making his NHL debut a season ago, he played 20 games in the regular season this year, scoring his first two professional goals, blocking 29 shots and recording a +9 rating. The former Irish defenseman from 2018-22 played 143 games with Notre Dame, accumulating 63 career points and 212 blocks. Stastney’s 7-goal, 27-point senior season earned him Honorable Mention All-Big Ten status in 2021-22.