Rebuilding sucks. Even if you’re on board with the plan, enduring several seasons of bad hockey is painful, especially when you’ve invested yourself either emotionally and/or financially in your favorite team.
Our Chicago Blackhawks are mired in year one of their rebuild. They’ve won two of their last 10 games. They currently lead the Tank Standings, and could very well be losing (arguably) the greatest duo in Blackhawks history in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews by the end of the spring (or earlier).
Long story short, it sucks.
If you’re a Blackhawks fan looking for reasons to believe, you can turn on the World Junior Championships and watch Canadian draft prospects Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. The forwards are projected to go number one and number two, respectively, in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft.
Despite Canada’s 5-2 upset loss to Czechia on Monday night, both players flashed, especially Bedard who had a goal (assisted by Blackhawks d-man prospect Kevin Korchinski) and seemed to create scoring chances out of nothing on several occasions.
Bedard’s release is Auston Matthews level fast. His ability to get the puck from stick blade to back of the net is unmatched at his level, and virtually unmatched in the NHL.
Fantilli, who is bigger, stronger, and faster than Bedard, had some moments of brilliance as well. While he failed to score in the game, he attempted the famed “Michigan” goal early in the first period, and had some impressive rushes that didn’t result in chances this time around.
At this point, Bedard is almost assuredly the top pick because his scoring potential is that high-end, but Fantilli, with his size, speed, and total package, could be the better all-around player. Think Kane vs Toews, but at a potentially higher level for both.
Blackhawks Prospects representing Canada well
For Blackhawks fans, Bedard and Fantilli aren’t the only players to watch on Team Canada. Chicago has four prospects, defensemen Ethan Del Mastro, Kevin Korchinski, and Nolan Allan, and forward Colton Dach, representing the Great White North.
Korchinski picked up the second assist on Bedard’s goal, but forced the turnover that led to the marker. Allan and Del Mastro, who are more defensive-minded players, played steady defense, but also had a few moments of offensive confidence. Allan, at one point in the game, took the puck from the left point, all the way behind the Czechia net and around to set up a play at the right point.
Overall, Canada’s performance left a lot to be desired, but the round-robin rounds can be especially sloppy for teams like Canada. I’m confident they’ll find their way and end up with a medal, but that doesn’t matter as much for Hawks fans as the performance of their current, and potential, prospects.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, December 27 @ Carolina Hurricanes
6:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The Hurricanes have the second-best point total in the NHL, behind only the 27-4-2 Boston Bruins. Though a perennial Cup pick, they haven’t been able to bring home the ultimate prize just yet. Last June, they traded for San Jose defenseman Brent Burns, who added both scoring and star power to a team that needed that final piece. Burns has been excellent, with 23 points in 34 games. Carolina’s biggest question is in goal, but if Pyotr Kochetkov can maintain his current level (10-1-0-4, 1.94 goals against average, .928 save percentage), they’ll have a solid shot at hoisting their first Cup since 2006.
Thursday, December 29 @ St. Louis Blues
7:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The Blues are a tough team to figure out. They started out the season 3-0, then lost their next eight games. Then, they rattled off seven wins in a row. Then they lost six of seven. Then they won four in a row, leading into their current two-game losing streak. The end result is a .500 hockey team.
Jordan Kyrou is one of hockey’s most exciting young players, while Vladimir Tarasenko has bounced back nicely this season. Where this all leads for the Blues remains to be seen. CHGO’s Greg Boysen joked early in the season that St. Louis head coach Craig Berube (and his giant Berubes) would be fired before the Blues met the Hawks on November 16. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, but it’s tough to see the end game with this Blues team. Much like the Predators last week, they’re in that hockey limbo of, “not good enough to win a Cup, not bad enough to land a franchise-changing draft pick.”
Saturday, December 31 @ Columbus Blue Jackets
12:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago
The last time your Chicago Blackhawks played, they beat the lowly Blue Jackets 5-2, and had periods of dominance we haven’t seen from the Hawks all year long. Columbus, who is riddled with injuries, is one of those teams that will be at the top of the Tank Standings for a while, but if they can get a little bit healthier, they could bounce back to respectability by the end of the year. Teams looking to lose don’t sign Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.25 million deal. However, that signing, paired with a top five pick, could boost the Jackets into a place they hadn’t thought possible back in July.
Sunday, January 1 vs San Jose Sharks
6:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago
Yes, you read that correctly. Erik Karlsson has 46 points in 35 games. The speedy defenseman was basically written off as an albatross contract on a team whose best days were behind them. While the second part of that statement is true, Karlsson has discovered the fountain of youth. In fact, Karlsson hasn’t had a 46 point SEASON since 2017-18, where he finished the season with 62 points. I’m not sure if he can keep this going, but maybe the Sharks can find someone to take the next four years at $11.5 million per off their hands. No team would be that dumb, right?