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When discussing a rebuild, whichever sport you may be talking about, the assumption is the roster will be made up of some veterans and a bunch of kids. This summer, as we projected which prospects might be getting a look with the Blackhawks in 2022-23, we made the same assumptions.
However, if you read the tea leaves of the preseason, this team likely won’t be as young as expected.
Let’s start with the Blackhawks’ top prospect, Lukas Reichel. Many of us had him penciled into a permanent roster spot, especially after burning the first year of his contract last year, and the dominance he showed in Rockford (21 G, 36 A, 57 pts in 56 games). As camp opened, one wouldn’t help but notice that Reichel wasn’t playing with top six forwards in preseason games. Also, if you’ve had the privilege of smelling, er, visiting the Blackhawks locker room, you probably noticed that Reichel doesn’t even have a proper locker. He’s basically set up under one of those iron wire shelving units you buy at Costco.
Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has preached patience since taking over the job, and that’s the right approach. As painful as it might be for Hawks fans to wait for Reichel, Davidson and company want him to come up to Chicago and stay up in Chicago for good. There’s no harm in letting him marinate a little more in the AHL. If he dominates offensively and improves upon the little things that make the difference in the NHL, he’ll be here to stay.
So if Reichel isn’t going to make the team out of camp, who might? That’s the big question. I think the Blackhawks will do their best to make the Ice Hogs as competitive as possible, so I would expect “bubble” players like Reichel, Josiah Slavin, Isaak Phillips, and Jakub Galvas to start the season in Rockford. Preseason standouts Kevin Korchinski and Samuel Savoie were sent to their Junior teams on Monday. The young players I expect to make the team are defenseman Alex Vlasic and MacKenzie Entwistle. I suppose Alec Regula has an outside shot, but unless Connor Murphy’s injury is a little more than they’re letting on, he’ll start in Rockford as well.
Here’s what I think the opening night lineup might look like:
FORWARDS (13): Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Tyler Johnson, Colin Blackwell, Max Domi, Reese Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Andreas Athanasiou, Taylor Raddysh, Jujhar Khaira, Philipp Kurashev, Buddy Robinson, and Entwistle.
(Boris Katchouk will miss 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain)
DEFENSE (7): Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, Jack Johnson, Vlasic and Filip Roos.
POTENTIAL EXTRAS: Forwards Dylan Sikura, Cole Guttman or Mike Hardman. Defenseman Alec Regula might also be a dark horse to make the team.
There is some belief the Blackhawks might look for a third goalie to carry so Arvid Soderblom can play the whole season in Rockford, even if Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock go down to injury.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring lineup in the world, but if the plan is for Rockford to thrive while Chicago tries to at least compete in the early going, this route makes sense. If one of the kids in Rockford shows that the AHL can no longer hold their talents, Davidson will make the right call. He has no loyalty to anyone on this roster, and that’s a good thing.
Staying patient can be difficult, but remember what rushing prospects to the NHL did for the development of Kirby Dach, Henri Jokiharju, and Adam Boqvist. Trust in the plan, hop on the ride. In the end, it will all be worth it.
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