The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t going to take the league by storm, but there’s something already different in how it starts this year. A season ago, the core of Blackhawks championship teams remained, but it was clear that it was temporary. Four months from opening night, Patrick Kane was gone. April was the final skate for Jonathan Toews.
May was the stunning lottery win. June saw them draft Connor Bedard. Now, the games officially begin.
But for those fans hoping to see a major leap, it’s not likely to happen until later in the year. This team will need to figure things out as time goes on, and that means generational talent Bedard. Kevin Korchinski will be on the blue line. Lukas Reichel will be centering a line. Three players who the Blackhawks will be looking to help move out of a rebuild are up and ready.
Growing pains will most certainly be there. And the process will be painful at times. They’ve gone through it before, and will likely again.
But the hope is that the Blackhawks find the same success they did over a decade ago when their beginnings were pretty similar.
Blackhawks Prospects Will Lead the Way, But Also Stumble Along the Way
It’s said that every fanbase overvalues its own prospects. The Blackhawks have been blessed with a generational talent and have a prospect pipeline oozing with talent. But the question that always follows that statement is how many of them will actually play for Chicago?
It’s not an unfair question, either. Look at any sport and what starts with a great deal of hope is tempered by the reality of the situation. The Blackhawks past is littered with hope in Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Henri Jokiharju and Kirby Dach–none of whom are with the organization. The simple math involved shows that there are only so many spots available and only so many of those prospects will fill them.
The Blackhawks roster is already featuring six players getting their first real look at the NHL: Korchinski, Bedard, Wyatt Kaiser, Cole Guttman, Alex Vlasic and Reichel. Of the five, only Reichel has more than 25 games to his name.
#Blackhawks lines and pairings ahead of Opening Night:
Extras: Entwistle, R. Johnson, Zaitsev
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) October 9, 2023
If we’re to go off of the lines today, that’s a lot of inexperience that and some that will be interchangeable from here to Rockford. Isaak Phillips waits with the IceHogs. So does Joey Anderson. Nolan Allan had flashes of great play and needs time to figure things out.
Patience is required. And patience will be needed during what could be some tough stretches.
The Straight Truth
A glance at how the team is set up is for a team to be iced and contract to be as less cumbersome as possible. There was wailing and gnashing of the teeth when general manager Kyle Davidson signed veterans like Andreas Athanasiou, Corey Perry, and Nick Foligno to rich deals. But it’s the term that counts.
Their purposes for being here is to lead and show the ropes-while chipping in on the ice, too. Foligno’s leadership and genuine care for others has been written about extensively. There’s no wonder then that he and Perry will be alternate captains along with Connor Murphy and Seth Jones.
It might not result in the production needed to make the playoffs but it will pay dividends down the road.
This Blackhawks team is still several years away and there are still a number of question marks with the team. Namely:
- Can Bedard truly strap the team onto his back like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Auston Matthews can?
- Who are the young defensemen that can provide depth for years to come?
- Can Arvid Soderblom be the goalie the Blackhawks think he is?
- Is Lukas Reichel going to be the top six forward Chicago hopes for?
Last year’s team won 26 games, good enough for 59 points when you factor in the seven additional points from overtime and shootout losses. The 2022-23 version of the team was expected to be bad, and they lucked out by winning the lottery. Now, even with a team that is not even close to playoff contention, there are expectations.
Many of them stem from the questions above. There’s a clear focus now knowing that Bedard, fairly or unfairly, has the same plea ahead of him that Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, and Justin Fields have been given: Save us.
No it’s not a one man sport, hockey especially. But Bedard has the “it” factor that can dramatically turn a franchise around. If the right pieces are placed around him.
There’s been a lot of losing in Chicago, especially on the ice, for some time now. That’s not going to magically stop this season.
But there’s hope for certain. The vision is clear.
But patience, sometimes a lot of it, will still be required.
To take one I was right on about, I figured Kevin Korchinski would be a roster add and it looks to be correct. I was also very wrong on Ian Mitchell, who was included in the Taylor Hall trade back in June.
So here’s my best guesses on a number of things:
Blackhawks MVP: Connor Bedard
Barring an injury, it’s pretty obvious what he’s capable of. Lost in the shootout with Marc-Andre Fleury, where there was glee from many to see Bedard upended, he drew three penalties in that game. No, he didn’t get on the scoresheet. But those, as he gets acclimated to the league, that will only increase. Crosby had 102 points his rookie year, with 39 being goals. Matthews notched 40 goals and 69 points. McDavid had a rough year because of injury but still was over a point-per-game. The bets have Bedard getting 32.5 goals and I’m taking the over. I think he rivals his idol Crosby with 39 and falls somewhere between there and 43. His point total will be somewhere between 80 and 90–with the nod to more assists than goals.
The underlying factor of course is health but don’t get lost in the numbers. Bedard already does the little things–growing into the league and learning the different situations will be more important.
Projected Points Range: 55-67
Wins Floor/Ceiling: 24-29
I think a lot of people are hoping for a big jump but I’m going to pump the brakes. There’s an interesting factor that last season’s start of the season saw Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Max Domi on the roster. This is absolutely no disrespect to those acquired but they will not put up the same point totals off the bat.
The trio from last year combined for 49 goals. Hall, Perry, and Foligno tallied 38 together–and that’s a full season on teams that had far more talent. All three come to a rebuilding squad where there will be more asked of them in terms of production. If we take the final totals for Kane, and Domi, they added another seven goals elsewhere. That 49 becomes 56.
Now, with Reichel and Bedard on the team, they should make up the deficit.
However, there are a lot of unknowns and wouldn’t the Blackhawks want one more crack at a top three pick? There’s some design here to make sure they’re good enough and can help tutor the young guns. But not too good that they rise out of a good shot at another high pick. There’s also the chance that things just don’t work out and there’s a slight regression from the 26 wins a year prior.
Thats not an indictment on anyone, either. It’s just that sometimes things look great on paper, but don’t transfer over as anticipated.
Enjoy the season. In a city where losing has been the norm for too long, Connor Bedard brings a breath of fresh air and from early showings, is absolutely going to be the transformational player the organization needs. But a lot still has to go right. If you look back at the teams who were lucky enough to get that generational guy, they were in a little bit better of a spot with young talent. Crosby made the playoffs in year two. So did McDavid. Matthews saw the playoffs in his first year.
If we’re comparing to those talents, Pittsburgh seems the apt one. The Penguins were terrible in Crosby’s first year but saw a huge jump in his second season.