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For a long time this offseason, we didn’t know what to expect from the Chicago Blackhawks when general manager Kyle Davidson said that the team would be going full into a rebuild. After the opening of free agency and the NHL Entry Draft taking place, the messaging is clear that Chicago is transparently trying to land the best odds at winning the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery. Flippable contracts and trading away their best assets now for more shots at better assets later and the rebuild is off and running.
Now we are starting to get a sense of what this 2022-23 Blackhawks team is going to look like. It’s not complete just yet, or so I would imagine given the amount of cap space the team is still operating with. But with that in mind, here is how I would construct the 2022-23 lineup for the Blackhawks if I were in charge.
Line 1: Andreas Athanasiou – Jonathan Toews – Taylor Raddysh
Is this a top line for a rebuilding/not trying to win team? Yes.
Is it hot garbage? No.
The addition of Athanasiou this offseason by the Blackhawks did exactly what Davidson said he wanted to do and that was to get faster. Athanasiou is one of the fastest straight-line skaters in the NHL and his speed could pair very nicely with the slowed-down game of Toews. Last year was the reintroduction of Toews after missing all of the shortened 2021 season and it was evident he was not the player he used to be and will likely never be again. But the back-half of last season showed a more improved Toews for stretches. He played well with Raddysh on his wing and Raddysh mutually benefitted. If you were blindly betting on one of these three players being on the roster at the end of the season, I’m sure your smart money wouldn’t be on Raddysh, but here we are.
Line 2: Max Domi – Lukas Reichel – Patrick Kane
Like a lot of teams that are not contenders, the top-six forwards are interchangeable and arguing which line is the “top” line is splitting hairs. In this case, as far as potential for production and highlight-worthy play, this trio makes a better case than the previous group.
Yes, this is putting a ton of pressure and expectations on young Reichel, but this will be his fourth year playing in a professional league since turning 17-years-old and pairing him with a future Hall of Famer in Kane and a top talent like Domi gives Riechel the opportunity to center a highly-skilled duo of wingers. Plus, this will likely be the last and best chance to play your top forward prospect with your best player. At least for a portion of the season. The addition of Domi for this season should benefit the Blackhawks by having someone skilled enough to pair with Kane and allow Domi to maximize his potential trade value as both he and Athanasiou will be targets to move at the trade deadline.
Line 3: Philipp Kurashev – Tyler Johnson – Sam Lafferty
I don’t know exactly what to call this third line for the Blackhawks. It’s not a threatening “scoring” line, but it’s also not a terribly imposing “forechecking” line. It sort of just exists between the idea of a “fourth line” and the “top-six.”
I want to see Kurashev roll his late-season momentum into this year. He played well toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign and even produced on the top line. But he also found himself scratched at times. He has a legitimate chance to solidify his place in the NHL this season, but he’ll need to play with more offensive consistency to do so. Pairing him with a seasoned veteran like Johnson and a spark-plug like Lafferty should do the trick. Johnson missed most of last season due to multiple injuries, so having an offseason to get healthy and stay healthy will be key to his 2022-23 season. Lafferty, you don’t need to worry about him. He’ll likely give you everything you saw last season, speed and a high compete-level, and that’s about it.
Line 4: Boris Katchouk – Colin Blackwell – MacKenzie Entwistle
I low-key really liked the addition of Blackwell this offseason. He’s not a player that is going to move many needles, but he’s the kind of bottom-six forward that Chicago can either invest in, or flip at this year’s or next year’s trade deadline to a potential contender. He brings a game that should fit well with fellow fourth-line cutouts Katchouk and Entwistle. All this line needs to do is play physical, play fast, and keep things simple. All three are seasoned and skilled enough to do that.
Extras: Jujhar Khaira, Reese Johnson, Mike Hardman, Josiah Slavin
Pairing 1: Alex Vlasic – Seth Jones
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? Not that this was a perfect pairing whatsoever, but at the end of last season, it was clear that Jones and Vlasic had something working. Now fully into the beginning of his professional career, Vlasic is starting his professional development and what better way to help facilitate that than to put him alongside the best defenseman the Blackhawks have? Yeah, Jones is the best they have. If you haven’t accepted that by now, I don’t know what else I can do for you. Jones wasn’t perfect last season, but he was far from the biggest problem on the team. Now it’s up to him to improve on a bounce-back season last year. As with most or all of Chicago’s defensemen, the shift from head coaches Jeremy Colliton and Derek King to Luke Richardson should help do that.
Pairing 2: Jake McCabe – Connor Murphy
As of now, both McCabe and Murphy are expected to be with the Blackhawks when the season starts. A lot of rumors swirled leading into the draft and the beginning of free agency that one or both of them could be on the move as the team goes through a tear-down rebuild. Last season, expectations were that this pairing was supposed to be Chicago’s best shutdown pair. They weren’t.
This season, the expectations are likely the same given the rest of the roster. McCabe was coming off a knee injury last season and maybe that affected his play, along with playing in a new system and new city. Hopefully all of those hurdles are behind him. As for Murphy, staying healthy and consistent will be his biggest keys this season. The Blackhawks will need him on the ice and in the locker room when it comes to keeping things together in what will likely be a challenging season defensively.
Pairing 3: Caleb Jones – Alec Regula
Honestly, put six or seven or all eight of these final names in a blender and pick two of them. That could be the Blackhawks’ third-pairing at any point during the 2022-23 season.
For me, when I look at who I think is ready right now to be a regular in the NHL out of this group besides Caleb Jones and Riley Stillman, it’s Regula. I think his first real taste of the NHL last season went as well as expected for him in his rookie season and he should be able to build off of that experience just like Vlasic.
I’d like to see Jones begin the season as a lineup-regular. I’ve seen enough of him and Stillman to confidently say that it’s a coin-flip between the two of them. I’d give Jones the first crack, but again, this pairing is open to full interpretation all season until one or two of these players establish themselves.
Extras: Stillman, Ian Mitchell, Isaak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, Philip Roos, Nicolas Beaudin
Starter: Petr Mrazek
Backup: Alex Stalock
It’s a rebuild. This is a tandem made for a rebuild. One or both of these goaltenders may not finish the season on the Blackhawks’ roster by the time April rolls around. Both are looking to re-establish themselves in the NHL ranks, and Mrazek especially is trying to bounce-back from arguably the worst season of his career. If he can do that, good for him, but bad for the Blackhawks. If Marc-André Fleury had trouble behind this defensive group last season, I’m not sure how much faith I would put into this duo of Mrazek and Stalock.
Extras: Arvid Söderblom, Jaxson Stauber
As currently constructed, with Khaira and Stillman as healthy scratches and Kurashev and Caleb Jones signed to $900,000 cap hits, this Blackhawks roster comes in with $9.52M in projected cap space to begin the season.
I can’t say that I’m particularly proud of this roster, but given where the Blackhawks currently are in their rebuilding state, I feel this is as good as it gets for Chicago to begin the year. On paper, this doesn’t necessarily scream “Connor Bedard, come on down!” But then again, last season the Blackhawks were supposed to be a playoff contender on paper.
There are so many players from this list alone that could be moved at any point during the season and especially at the trade deadline, that if the Blackhawks were to be in the running for the best odds in the NHL Draft Lottery at the end of the year, there could be plenty of ground made up during the final stretch of the season after the trade deadline sell-off. I think there is enough talent in the roster to make some games interesting, but definitely not enough to take Chicago out of the running for the best chance at landing Connor Bedard, or Matvei Michkov, or Adam Fantilli when they make their first selection of the 2023 NHL Draft.
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