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Blackhawks' Ethan Del Mastro looks steady, confident in NHL debut

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Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Ethan Del Mastro wasn't too nervous going into his NHL debut on Friday at the United Center. Well, except for one part.

"I'm more-so nervous for the rookie lap more than anything," Del Mastro said on Thursday. "Usually they post it so you don't want to be looking dumb in that one."

Del Mastro got through the rookie solo lap without falling and remembering to grab the pucks — which Landon Slaggert forgot to do. So he passed the test.

"Not too bad," a smiling Del Mastro said of the lap. "I mean, obviously nerves are kicking then, but didn't step on a puck and didn't fall, so I’ll take that as a win."

Del Mastro also passed the eye test on the ice. He looked steady and comfortable in his first game at the highest level.

"Pretty surreal when you step on the ice for the warmups, and then hearing the crowd for the start of the game is pretty special," Del Mastro said following a 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators. "Obviously not the result we wanted, but pretty awesome playing your first game."

Del Mastro skated on the third pairing with Connor Murphy, who returned from a groin injury after missing the last 35 games. They were solid together.

"He's great," Murphy said. "For a big guy, he seems to have good handles on the puck and good instincts to use his body. I thought he had a great first game. I can imagine it's not easy coming in at the end of the season like that and playing against a playoff team."

When Del Mastro was on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks outshot the Predators 13-10 and outchanced them 12-10, per Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, the Blackhawks were outshot 24-8 and outchanced 17-9.

Del Mastro had that success despite having zero offensive zone shift starts.

"As the game went along, I thought his best period was his third period," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He looked confident on the offensive blue line, keeping pucks in and shooting it. It was a fast turnaround for him and first game in the NHL against a team that’s going to make the playoffs. It’s a big, strong team, it’s tough for a young D to come in, especially at this time of the year, let alone the beginning of the year. But he looked confident and fine. Hoping to get him in another game and just build off that."

Del Mastro also logged 18:35 of ice time, and all but 11 seconds of them came at even strength, which ranked second on the team and third among all skaters.

"You're playing against some top players," Del Mastro said. "[Roman] Josi’s an amazing player that you watch and you see. I mean, talking about [Ryan] O'Reilly, I was just watching him in the playoffs last year. And as a hometown Leaf guy you’re watching him try to chase your Cup. And then you're playing against him, it's pretty cool."

Del Mastro didn't seem to be overwhelmed by the speed of the game.

"Obviously a little bit faster, but I think there's a little more space than you think and a little more time when you're handling the puck," Del Mastro said. "A lot of players are in the right spot so it makes it a little bit easier."

Del Mastro, who's listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, looks to be a dependable all-around defenseman in the making. He has taken a step in every year since being drafted by Chicago in the fourth round in 2021, and most notably was named an AHL All-Star this season for the Rockford IceHogs in his first professional campaign.

Del Mastro didn't get any special teams work on Friday like he's done in Rockford, but the Blackhawks weren't shy about giving him a heavier workload. He handled it well, and the first one is officially in the books.

"It's pretty unreal," Del Mastro said. "You work your whole life to try to accomplish this. And to have my family in the building, people that kind of helped me through this whole kind of journey, it's pretty awesome. And then the history of the Blackhawks, it's just an awesome experience."

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