Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks

2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks

Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the Chicago Blackhawks.

2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks

As most hockey fans know, the Blackhawks are not going to be competing for a Stanley Cup anytime soon, especially not this year. In fact, it’s possible they end up being the worst team in the NHL this season. Fans can look forward to a high draft pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, and a few bright spots on the team this season. But it’s mostly going to be about getting NHL ice time for young prospects and AHL call-ups.

2021-22 Season

Chicago finished with a 28-42-12 record, good for 68 points. After firing Jeremy Colliton 12 games in, interim head coach Derek King took over. They played a little better through October, but after that, it went downhill. The sexual assault scandal and cover-up of information were additional distractions for the players and made the organization look even worse. The team traded away some fan favorite players, and the losing record certainly didn’t help.

2022 Offseason

This offseason, it’s clear what direction management wants to take the team. Arguably the best player on the team last season was traded to the Ottawa Senators. This was a shocking move that signaled a full commitment to a rebuild. Many fans expected DeBrincat to stay through the rebuild, with Toews and Kane being traded to acquire picks. After about five years of rebuilding, DeBrincat would be 29 and surrounded by young talent. However, that wasn’t the direction the management saw their future going. In addition, former third overall draft pick Kirby Dach was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens, who then promptly signed a contract. Dach has been a pick that never quite seemed to be able to reach his potential on the Blackhawks, so trading him for picks was the best way to get value out of him.

Bringing in Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou has been some cheap, low-risk moves to hit the cap floor and somewhat help out the offence. Acquiring goaltender Petr Mrazek from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a cap dump move is another major positive from the offseason. Kane has been involved in some trade rumours, as well as Jonathan Toews, although to a lesser extent.  However, both of these players have no-move clauses on their contracts and can decide to not waive them. Overall, it was a net loss for the Blackhawks, but that is to be expected entering a full rebuilding season.

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Lineup Projections

All lineup projections are based on this writer’s opinion, not what the writer thinks the team will actually put out on opening night.

Forwards

Lukas Reichel – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane

Andreas Athanasiou – Max Domi – Taylor Raddysh

Sam LaffertyJujhar KhairaTyler Johnson

Philipp KurashevJosiah SlavinColin Blackwell

Top Six

Toews, Kane, Domi, and Athanasiou are all pretty much locked into the top six. Maybe Lafferty plays well enough to promote him to the second line, but that doesn’t seem likely if Athanasiou plays his best. However, the two interesting players are Reichel and Raddysh.

While Reichel is proven he can play well alongside Kane from last season, fans don’t know how he will do this season in a much more elevated role. He could shine and become a top point-getter on the team. Or, he could fizzle out and only get a point every few games. Time will tell. Raddysh is completely unproven and is a gamble. Acquired in the Hagel trade mentioned earlier, Raddysh is supposed to be an incredible prospect with a fantastic shot. A second-line role may be ambitious for a prospect, but for a player of his calibre, it could be the perfect fit.

Bottom Six

While the left-wing depth is solid for the Hawks, the right-wing and down the middle are lacking past the top six. The fourth-line center spot is up for grabs for pretty much anyone. Currently, this writer has Slavin filling in that open hole in the lineup. He’s played the most games at the NHL level, but it’s only 15. Dylan Sikura has five games and Brett Seney has two, so both could also jump Slavin in the lineup.

The bottom line for the bottom six is that there’s going to be a lot of switching and testing players out. This season is all about finding their young stars, so they will need to try out a bunch of them. This also means there won’t be much chemistry in the bottom six as players are rotated in and out of the lineup. But for a rebuilding team, who cares if they lose a bunch of games?

Defence

Connor Murphy – Seth Jones

Jack JohnsonAlec Regula

Jakub GalvasIan Mitchell

Top Four

This writer has chosen to make some substitutions on defence. It will be the most beneficial to the team in regards to developing young talent and also shipping out unnecessary players. Notably missing from the top six is Jake McCabe (back). He will be out for about 10 weeks, so he will miss the beginning of the season. Murphy and Jones are a great dynamic duo of shutdown and aggressive play. Stanley Cup winner Jack Johnson will be put on the second line, and will likely stay there unless one of the young players surpasses him.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. The Blackhawks have a multitude of young defencemen just itching to see NHL ice time. Regula has played the most out of any of them, but only 15 games. For now, this writer has him sitting in the second pairing, but that could easily change with other players developing.

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Bottom Pair

Notably missing from this lineup are Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones. Stillman and Jones contribute nothing to the back end and are usually responsible for mistakes and turnovers, leading directly to chances for the other team. Instead, they’re replaced with younger talent who will either help the team come out of this rebuild faster or can be trade pieces to contending teams at the deadline. In any case, this writer has Galvas and Mitchell rounding out the bottom pair. Both of these players have seen about 10 NHL games, and will certainly be ready for a full season.

Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, Nicolas Beaudin, and Filip Roos are all also waiting in the minors. They can, and likely will, be called up throughout the season in order to test their readiness.

Goalies

Petr Mrazek

Alex Stalock

This area of the team is much more straightforward than the other two. Mrazek will be given the starting job, and Stalock will back him up and play on the second night of back-to-back games. If there is an injury, or they want to give experience to someone else, Arvid Soderblom is the next man up. He’s played three games in the big leagues, although he didn’t see much success. It’s possible he stays in the minor leagues for this season to give him some more time to develop.

Players To Watch

There isn’t much to be excited about on this Blackhawks roster. There are a lot of young and unproven players looking to show their skills against NHL talent. However, there are two players fans should keep their eyes on this season.

Lukas Reichel

Lukas Reichel has the potential to be solidified top-six winger for years to come. His skill and vision of the ice are already fantastic and developing quickly under the eye of Kane. While he isn’t a shoot-first type of player, the hope is to either develop him into an elite passer or to instill that mentality into his head. If the Blackhawks are to have any success, he needs to help with offensive production. He only played 11 games last season, but expect that number to be in the high 70s this year.

Ian Mitchell

On defence, Ian Mitchell is another player to look out for. He’s been squandered his chance of serious NHL ice time for the last few years, but he’s going to have a real opportunity this season. The right-handed shot is a very offensively minded player, with 35 points in 57 games last season in the AHL. While the revolving door of defencemen might continue into this season, he could make a name for himself and permanently stay in the lineup.

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Prediction For 2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks

Seventh in the Central Division, 25-48-9, 59 points

There isn’t much hope for this team, as they will finish just slightly above the Arizona Coyotes in the standings. It’s going to be a rough season for fans as the losses pile up. But, there are plenty of fresh, young players eager to step foot on NHL ice and make their mark on the league. And this is the perfect team for them to get their chance.

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