Del Mastro a big part of Blackhawks’ future plans

Photo: Todd Reicher

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

The Chicago Blackhawks’ future plans go well beyond Connor Bedard.

They include potential building blocks like Rockford IceHogs defenseman Ethan Del Mastro, the 20-year-old rookie who came to the Chicago organization as a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Now Del Mastro is heading to the 2024 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Tech CU in San Jose on Feb. 4-5. It’s the latest accolade for the Freelton, Ont., native who won back-to-back gold medals for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2022 and 2023. He also won gold at the U-18 Worlds in 2021.

Going into tonight’s visit to Grand Rapids, Del Mastro ranks fifth among AHL rookie blueliners with 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 35 games. He also leads all Rockford defensemen in scoring. That production follows a career performance last season in the Ontario Hockey League, where he put up 59 points (seven goals, 52 assists) in 52 games between Mississauga and Sarnia.

Last season provided another growth opportunity for Del Mastro, who was team captain in Mississauga. Then he found himself on the move to Sarnia as a key piece of a deal to a contending club. His arrival helped Sarnia to qualify for the OHL postseason, and he ended up playing 16 playoff games while contributing 10 assists.

Del Mastro cites earning the Mississauga captaincy as a big career step. Coming out of the disruption of the pandemic and only a couple of years older than his younger teammates, it was Del Mastro’s job to establish a proper culture and atmosphere for those players.

“I think it was a confidence boost from the coaching staff to wear the captaincy at a younger age,” Del Mastro said. “It instills a lot of confidence in you and trust from them.”

Then came the trade, Del Mastro’s first time going through that process. But he immediately adapted to Sarnia and a new set of teammates that featured several players who are now in the AHL, including Luca Del Bel Belluz (Cleveland), Christian Kyrou (Texas), Sasha Pastujov (San Diego) and Ty Voit (Toronto).

“I think that’s going to help me in my career,” Del Mastro said of being involved in a trade. “That room, the guys we had, everyone was kind of around a similar age. A lot of them were on NHL contracts, so we were all working toward that same kind of goal. And it was just a really close group as well. The staff there was awesome. It was really fun coming to the rink every day and working with them.”

Del Mastro showed that he could handle change and disruption, something that any pro player will have to manage at some point. He came to Rockford ready to take additional steps.

Now Del Mastro is part of a developing group of young blueline talent in Rockford. Start with rookie Nolan Allan, a teammate of Del Mastro’s in international play and a first-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2021. Drafted a year earlier, rookie third-rounder Wyatt Kaiser has already earned NHL time in Chicago. The Hawks also appear to have hit on a 2021 seventh-round pick in rookie defenseman Louis Crevier, who has logged 14 games with the Blackhawks along with 18 in Rockford.

This is a group that can grow together, first in Rockford and then, management hopes, later in Chicago. That may be soon enough. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Del Mastro arrived in Rockford ready to handle the pro rigors of the position. While any defenseman must first handle responsibilities inside his own zone, the Rockford coaching staff has been willing to give him freedom to jump into the play when warranted as well as logging some time on the power play.

That has translated to production on the scoresheet.

“It’s being given an opportunity and trying to take as much as you can and run with it,” Del Mastro said.

Now he has a trip to San Jose coming soon.

“It could have gone to anyone on the team,” Del Mastro continued. “Super-exciting to have parents probably come out, and it will be fun for them to come out and watch.”