By: Andy Jachim
After one of the most exciting and emotional offseasons in franchise history, the Blackhawks are ready to roll in the 2023-24 season. They stunned Pittsburgh on the road on opening night, off three unanswered goals in the third period. Not only were the vibes high after the first victory of the season, but Connor Bedard registering his first NHL point was a reason to celebrate as well.
It only took the young phenom five minutes into the first period of last night’s 3-1 defeat against the Boston Bruins to notch his first career NHL goal. It will be the first of many for Bedard and is a sign of incredible things to come for this organization down the road.
But what does all of this mean for the team this season? What is the end goal and what are realistic expectations?
In all honesty, this still isn’t a very good hockey team. This is very much OKAY, as the foundation still needs to be laid down for the runs at the Stanley Cup that will soon take place in Chicago. The upcoming draft has plenty of talent that could help an already loaded prospect pool for the Hawks and can serve as help for Bedard moving forward. This on top of the decent free agent class set to hit the open market next summer makes all the sense in the world for a somewhat competitive club to take the ice next fall at the very earliest.
Even though this team won’t be super competitive, there is a different energy in the air compared to a season ago. For starters, having the best prospect since Connor McDavid in Bedard helps that case, but other youngsters beginning to scratch the surface makes this team an interesting watch every night.
This is Lukas Reichel’s first full season with the big club and he’s undoubtedly the forward to watch on this team that isn’t named Bedard. Reichel was the Hawks’ first-round selection (18th overall) in the 2020 draft out of Germany. After playing a combined 111 games in Rockford over the last two seasons and 34 games with the Hawks, this will be Reichel’s first full season in the show.
While he hasn’t done a whole lot in the first two contests of the young season, I’m expecting Reichel to be impactful as a top-six forward with limited talent on this roster. That will give him plenty of opportunities to be a focal point and flourish.
Another new face that stands out from the opening day roster and someone who also made their NHL debut alongside Bedard is Kevin Korchinski. The Hawks selected the defensemen with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft, which was acquired from Ottawa in the Alex Debrincat trade. Korchinski is the future of this d-core and has already looked pretty solid through the pair of games up to this point. The only question is if the organization will keep him in the show or send him back to Juniors or the AHL at some point this year.
Other young defensemen like Wyatt Kaiser and Alex Vlasic will be worth keeping tabs on as well as the season progresses. With the Hawks having so many left-handed defensemen in this prospect pool, getting the opportunity to see some of them crack the roster now is vital.
Goaltender Arvid Soderblom is the last young guy really worth looking out for this year. Splitting time with veteran Petr Mrazek, Soderblom is a prospect who could potentially be around this organization for a long time. Even if it’s not as the “1A” netminder, having him as a solid “1B” option moving forward would still be huge. With the other main goaltending prospect Drew Commesso down in Rockford, defining a role for Soderblom in this organization for the future is important this season.
All in all, this should be another uneventful season for the Hawks on paper and in the record books. However, there are many things to look out for when this team hits the ice. Whether it’s the sensation that is Connor Bedard, or any of the other youngsters getting their feet wet in the NHL, there is truly something to watch every night with this team. In just a couple of short years, we could be getting ready for some exciting playoff hockey once again in Chicago.