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Isaak Phillips returns to Blackhawks with more confidence

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The Blackhawks recalled defenseman Isaak Phillips on Monday morning after defenseman Jarred Tinordi was placed on injured reserve because of a facial fracture, and it's hard to think of anyone else more deserving of a call-up.

Phillips hasn't just been one of the best defensemen for the Rockford IceHogs this season. He's been one of the top blue liners in the entire American Hockey League, where he leads all skaters with a +17 rating.

"I'm ecstatic," Phillips said. "I've been working really hard in Rockford and trying to show what I can do, compete every night. I look forward to my chance tomorrow."

Phillips, who was selected by Chicago in the fifth round (No. 141 overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft, has taken significant strides in quite a few areas since last season. His primary focus has been breaking out pucks in the defensive zone.

"That's my main job," Phillips said. "I want to just get it in the forwards' hands as quickly as possible and then help out in transition."

One of the other areas Phillips has improved on is protecting his own net and pushing players out from near the blue paint. He's using his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame to his advantage by "being firm and assertive."

Phillips is also putting up strong offensive numbers. After recording 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 64 games with the IceHogs last season, he has 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 25 games this season. That's a 76-game pace of 51 points (nine goals, 42 assists). For context, only two defensemen in the AHL last season had 50 or more points.

Phillips said there hasn't been a "huge" difference in his game from last season, it's more so his comfortability factor that's different and allowing him to thrive.

"I had a big summer," Phillips said. "I was working really hard. For me, it's just confidence with the puck. I have the ability to make that play, and if I see it, I'm going to try to make it.

"My skating and my size, I'm really working on my physicality. I'm really coming into my own this year and confident in my ability in the corner. Like, I go into a battle thinking I can win it. That's really been huge for me."

Phillips is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday when the Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators. He was skating on the second pairing at practice on Tuesday with Connor Murphy, so expect him to play significant minutes.

"Just playing much better down in Rockford," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said when asked what kind of reports he's gotten on Phillips. "Just having a look at him today, he looks excited. We were working on breakouts, Ds moving the puck quicker today and he looked real comfortable with that and ready to go.

"He'll be in the lineup tomorrow, and anxious to see him have a good start up here with me here."

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