Updated: Nov 3
Ahhhh, beautiful hockey season; how much you've been missed—the true king of winter sports (no bias in that statement...). In a hockey season that will go all the way to summer, there will be much to cover, and what better team to discuss than the Chicago Blackhawks (again, no bias here)? Well, there are better teams, as the Blackhawks have been one of the worst teams in the league over the last few years. However, the Hawks officially started the rebuild last year after trading away franchise icon Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers. Captain Johnathan Toews took a step away from playing hockey. Even through the bad parts of last season, there are bright spots to look forward to in the future. One of those is the young phenomenon Connor Bedard. The young Canadian has been the favorite to win the Calder and is living up to expectations (more on Bedard below). Let's waste no time and get into some bullets!
No Mercy in the Schedule
Currently sitting at 3-6-0 on the 2023 campaign, the Hawks have had to battle against some of the top teams in the league. Chicago has had the honor of playing top teams like the Bruins twice, Vegas (once for the home opener in Chicago and beating them on the road in overtime), and the Avalanche, who shut out the Hawks in Colorado. Yes, there have been some tough opponents and some tough losses against not-so-tough opponents (here in Arizona, losing 8-1), but the Hawks have pulled out three nice wins against Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vegas. Even still, much hockey is yet to be played, and more challenging games are to come. I'll let the Hawks play-by-play man Chris Vosters explain more about the Hawks' schedule and what's to come.
Bedard Brings Brilliance
The 18-year-old forward has started stealing Blackhawks fan's hearts ever since he was drafted, and rightfully so. In the nine games Bedard has played, he has scored four goals (first among rookies) and has tallied two assists, which equates to six total points (second among rookies, as there are three players tied for first with seven). The kid remains the first-line centerman, and I'm sure they will stay that way for the remainder of the season.
Speaking of lines, the thing that has been troubling about Bedard is finding linemates that match his play style. Taylor Hall has worked well with Bedard at the wing, but Hall was placed on the IR with a shoulder injury. Luke Richardson has used a couple of guys to try to fill the top line, such as Nick Foligno, Taylor Raddysh, Ryan Donato, and Tyler Johnson. The 1st line currently consists of Foligno-Bedard-Kurashev. One guy I would like to see have a couple of shifts with Bedard is Luke Reichel. Reichel was Chicago's first-round pick in 2020 and scored his first NHL goal last year. So far this season, Reichel has been the second-line centerman but has yet to score a point in nine games. As of 11/1, Reichel has been moved back to the wing to increase his scoring opportunities. Again, a Bedard and Reichel combo could have the potential to be dangerous, or at least it's worth a try even, heck, even on the powerplay. Between Bedard's playmaking ability and Reichel's skill of feeding the puck, it could be something the Hawks try out, and why not? The Hawks are in the rebuilding phase anyway.
Still years away
With all the hype between Connor Bedard and the other draft picks that general manager Kyle Davidson has made, let's be honest: the Hawks are still years away from being Stanley Cup contenders. All the focus has been turned to Bedard and has created a new sense of hope for Blackhawks fans, and again, rightfully so. However, there are still missing pieces, mainly between the pipes. Petr Mrazek is getting up in age, and even though he has been the starting goalie, time will start running out. Arvid Soderblom has potential but has been wildly inconsistent; for example, Soderblom stopped 35 out of the 36 against Toronto but allowed seven goals against the Arizona Coyotes. Jaxon Stuaber is a name that could potentially fill the role, as he was the first Blackhawks goalie to start his career with three straight wins, but Stauber currently resides in Rockford.
The defense, which is starting to look up, is led by Seth Jones and Connor Murphy, with Kevin Korchinski (also a rookie) sharing a line with Jones. Alex Vlasic, who is currently injured, has also done well for the Hawks early as he leads the team in plus/minus at +4. Vlasic is projected to return on Sunday, per Luke Richardson. The Spring of Youth is the story of the Hawks' defense, which still struggles with leaving open one-timers in front of the net, making it hard for Mrazwk or Soderblom to make the save. All the while, it's important to remember that the Hawks are in rebuild mode, and these guys are still gaining familiarity, as some of them have never played on a line together.
Chicago will play two games this weekend, both at home against Florida on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday (yeah, I'm scared, too), but it'll be fun to see the Bedard vs. Hughes matchup. Stay tuned; more bullets are to come next week. Go Hawks!
(Photo by Zac BonDurant/Getty Images)