As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Who are the Blackhawks thankful for?
Is there any debate here? Bedard represents the highlight of the Blackhawks’ roster for both the present and future. The 18-year-old leading the way with ten goals and seven assists in 20 games – on pace for 41 goals and 70 points – will be a repeated refrain throughout the next decade-plus. The team has struggled by design, not quite ready to emerge from their rebuild. Some veterans have stepped up to the plate to complement their star teenager. However, the leading point producer among those veterans, Corey Perry, is no longer a member of the organization after a workplace incident earlier this month resulted in the termination of his contract.
GM Kyle Davidson is a close second here. A strong performance at the 2023 NHL Draft in the later rounds has positioned the Blackhawks’ prospect pool even more robust than it already was. But make no mistake – this season is going exactly as planned. They currently rank last in the Central Division, remain in contention for a lottery pick in 2024, and have the rookie performance from Bedard that everyone expected.
Bedard’s strong play also serves the same role Patrick Kane had the past few seasons. His strong point production is boosting the numbers of the Blackhawks’ pending free agents, making players like Nick Foligno and Tyler Johnson likely to fetch better returns at the 2024 Trade Deadline. Jason Dickinson, also a pending UFA, may have the most value with 12 points through 20 games and a +4 rating, but he hasn’t seen much time with Bedard as a fellow centerman.
What are the Blackhawks thankful for?
A strong goalie trade market.
Multiple teams will be looking for help in the crease on the trade market. The Oilers’ need is the most publicized, but tandems for the Devils, Hurricanes and Wild have also stuttered. Those teams could look to make a short-term upgrade.
Luckily, the Blackhawks have one of the more appealing options in Petr Mrázek. While injuries and inconsistency have plagued him throughout his career, he has shown the ability to be a high-end tandem option in a good year. 2023-24 looks like one of those seasons.
With Mrázek in the crease, the Blackhawks’ record is 5-6-0 – much higher than it should be. He’s got a .906 SV% that remains above league average on a porous defensive team and has posted eight quality starts in 11 tries, according to Hockey Reference’s determination. He’s also a pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $3.8MM that can easily be reduced via salary retention. There should be callers here. If the Blackhawks retain 50% of his contract to make his AAV $1.9MM for an acquiring team, they should be able to fetch a second-round pick. That would be quite the return on their investment after the Maple Leafs paid the Blackhawks to take on Mrázek’s contract by moving down 13 slots in the 2022 draft.
What would the Blackhawks be even more thankful for?
Signs of life from Lukas Reichel.
This season, the Blackhawks expected big things from Reichel, their 17th-overall selection in 2020. Behind Bedard, Reichel was supposed to anchor the team’s second line and build on last year’s strong showing, during which he notched 15 points in 23 games and put up nearly a point per game in the minors.
Unfortunately, the trains on the Reichel track have all come to a screeching halt. The German-born center/winger has scored just once in 20 games this season and has only five points overall, having a team-worst -15 rating and a 43.1% Corsi share at even strength that ranks near the bottom of the team.
The goal of this season is still development. With that in mind, it’s a bit confusing why there have been no reports of the Blackhawks considering assigning Reichel to the minors, especially given he still carries waiver-exempt status.
For now, it would make sense to keep him on the NHL roster on a performance basis. He’s one of the higher-ceiling players available to the team, and they’re in desperate need of secondary scoring after losing Taylor Hall for the rest of the season with a knee injury. However, given their place in their rebuild, that shouldn’t be the Blackhawks’ frame of thinking. Reichel’s development into a bonafide top-six forward needs to resume without haste. It would greatly relieve the organization if he could get things going one way or another as the calendar shifts to 2024.
What should be on the Blackhawks’ holiday wish list?
A clear, long-term linemate for Bedard coming into view.
Hall was supposed to be the solution to the above question. When the Blackhawks acquired him from the Bruins last summer, he had two years remaining on his contract and was likely to partner with Bedard for almost all of the 164 games he’d play in Chicago on that deal.
Injuries limited (and will limit) Hall to just ten games this season, after which he’ll be a pending UFA and is only signed through 2025.
Bedard is flanked by Foligno and Philipp Kurashev, the latter of whom has produced 12 points in 14 games. However, Kurashev is likely not a long-term top-line option, leaving the Blackhawks with more questions than answers about how they’ll fill out their top unit as they turn the corner to contention.
Could that linemate come in the form of U.S. National Team winger Cole Eiserman, a remarkable goal-scoring threat (25 in 19 games this season) expected to go second overall in 2024? Could it be more playmaking-inclined threats expected to go in the top ten of the 2024 draft, like Finn Konsta Helenius? WHL Spokane forward Berkly Catton? The options will be there for Davidson and company on draft day.
The only other internal option who’s a wing and carries a potential long-term first-line ceiling is University of Michigan winger Frank Nazar, who has 17 points in 16 contests this year after the Blackhawks selected him 13th overall in 2022. It’s important not to rule him out just yet.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.