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There has been a chill in the air the last couple of days as fall is officially here. It’s time to bring your favorite hoodies and hockey jerseys out of the back of the closet. Today is the first official day of autumn, and the first time the 2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks will take the ice as training camp opens at the Fifth Third Arena. After a jam-packed summer that saw fans saying goodbye to the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Kirby Dach, a new era begins this morning.
This is the first full season under general manager Kyle Davidson, who used his summer to tear down this team and rebuild it in his vision of what a winning hockey culture looks like. New head coach Luke Richardson will run his first practice as the Blackhawks’ bench boss. While there are no expectations for playoff hockey in the Windy City next spring, there are still plenty of reasons to be intrigued this preseason.
1. Where does Lukas Reichel start the season?
All eyes will be on the Blackhawks’ 2020 first-round pick as he enters training camp. His first professional season in North America was a success. Reichel had 21 goals and 56 points in his 57 games for the Rockford IceHogs. Averaging a point per game as a teenager in the American Hockey League (AHL) is quite an accomplishment.
Heading into the offseason, most fans felt that Reichel was a lock to be on the opening night roster, especially after the team burned the first year of his entry-level contract by playing him in 11 games last season.
However, The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported in August that might not be the case:
“From everything I’ve heard, the Blackhawks are planning on him to at least start the year with the IceHogs. Once he’s up, they want him to stay up. If he’s not ready for that, they want him to get more time in Rockford.”
I love the new patient approach when it comes to prospect development. This is something the previous regime lacked, and it cost them dearly. But, if Reichel is ready to play in the NHL come Oct. 12, then he needs to be in the lineup. There is no reason why he isn’t one of the best 12 forwards on the current roster. Based on what we saw of him at last weekend’s Tom Kurvers Prospect showcase, there is not much more the AHL can do for him.
2. Which young defenseman takes the next step?
Heading into the season, the Blackhawks have a handful of intriguing defensive prospects that could challenge for an NHL spot. However, with the current veterans under contract, there isn’t much room in the Chicago locker room. Many fans wondered why veteran Jack Johnson was signed, but that move became clearer after it was revealed that Jake McCabe would miss a couple of months after cervical spine surgery.
Even with McCabe on the shelf until at least December, Connor Murphy, Seth and Caleb Jones, Riley Stillman, and Johnson are ready to go for camp. This means two roster spots are open, with seven guys looking to fill them.
Alex Vlasic and Ian Mitchell are the favorites to make the opening night roster. Vlasic showed impressive improvement during his stint at the end of last season as he spent significant time on the top pairing with Seth Jones. Mitchell played the entire season in Rockford and became their top blueliner, leading the power play while getting all the tough assignments.
Alec Regula is another youngster who impressed both with the IceHogs and Blackhawks. His combination of size and speed with some offensive ability could make him a valuable asset. In fact, IceHogs’ play-by-play man Joseph Zakrzewski told me last week that he feels Regula has the best shot to make the team out of camp.
Also in the mix are Isaak Phillips, Filip Roos, Jakub Galvas, and former first-round pick Nicolas Beaudin. Prospects Kevin Korchinski, Ethan Del Mastro, and Nolan Allan will all be heading back to juniors this season. No matter who starts the season in Chicago, the blue line in Rockford will be in good hands all season long.
3. What kind of coach is Luke Richardson?
Today will be Richardson’s first practice as a full-time NHL head coach. We know the kind of player he was, but we still don’t know the type of coach he will be. All indicators point towards him being an open-minded coach who will try to build his systems around his roster instead of forcing his roster into playing exact roles they aren’t fit for.
“There are 20 different personalities I am going to be dealing with every day,” Richardson told us last July. “I have to get to know them, especially with the veteran guys. That’s where I’ll start. To create that conversation that leads to trust. I am not going to tell them something they just want to hear and then act differently. What I say is what I am going to do, and I want them to trust that.”
We will learn quickly about the types of systems Richardson will employ and how he handles ice time. Obviously, he can’t do everything he wants during the exhibition schedule, but we will get a good idea of what to expect. With three assistant coaches on his staff, Derek King, Kevin Dean, and Derek Plante, it will be interesting to see which roles each takes on. There will be a lot to accomplish over a short time for this first-year staff, so every drill will be important.
Today is the day we all have been waiting for. Hockey and the Blackhawks are back! Even though there won’t be a lot of wins to look forward to this season, there are still plenty of things to watch out for and be excited about. The CHGO Blackhawks crew cannot wait to bring you our takes on all the ups and downs of the 2022-23 NHL season.
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