As the rebuild continues for the Chicago Blackhawks, new players will be in and out. Head coach Luke Richardson will toy with the lineup, giving young players a chance to make this roster. As the season progresses, Hawks fans are learning who will likely be around for the long haul: Connor Bedard, Alex Vlasic, and Kevin Korchinski among others.
The flip side of that is also true. Some players are playing themselves out of contention for long-term contracts. Two players who find themselves in that position are Lukas Reichel and Arvid Soderblom.
Let's look at Soderblom, and the goalie position in general.
In a rebuild, it is not ideal to be a goalie, especially a developing one. They face a lot of shots and generally play behind a defense that struggles. So, I'm sure Coach Richardson expects young goalies to give up goals. He also expects them to compete by being in good position, moving smoothly in the crease, keeping eyes on pucks, and at times, standing on their heads to make amazing saves.
Petr Mrazek has been significantly better than Soderblom so far. Mrazek is 7-9 on the season with a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 3.04 and a save percentage of .910. In all, not bad for a goalie on this team.
While playing only 18 games, he has faced the 15th most shots. Mrazek is 31 and is in the last year of his contract. At this point, there isn't an heir apparent ready to stand between the pipes next year. Signing him for one more year seems to be in order. Forcing Drew Commesso or Adam Gajan to step up too early could stunt their growth.
Soderblom is currently the other Blackhawks goalie getting playing time this year. He is 2-10-1 with a GAA of 4.00 and a save percentage of .872. He is struggling and has played himself out of the starting role. Much more of this and his confidence will falter if it already hasn't. He needs a trip down to Rockford to reset. If that happens, there is only one choice for his replacement- -Jaxson Stauber.
Stauber played five games for the Blackhawks last season. He won five of six games. While that seems like it would make him a lock, it's important to know that he was the lucky recipient of a lot of Blackhawks goals. He simply didn't have to be great to win.
This year in Rockford, Stauber is 4-5-1. He has a 3.66 GAA and a .885 save percentage. Simply put, he is not playing well. Bringing him up to Chicago would likely not go well, but there is no other choice.
Drew Commesso is the other choice for the Blackhawks. Many believe that he is the future Blackhawks goalie. He had a fantastic tenure at Boston University and is currently playing for Rockford. His numbers are outstanding, but they are better than Stauber's. He is 5-5-1 with a GAA of 2.99 and save percentage of .896.
Commesso is only 21 years old and has tremendous upside. Chicago wants to take their time with him and develop him naturally. Perhaps next year he can be called up briefly, but anything more than that is a no-go.
The case for Adam Gajan is the same as Commesso. Gajan is only 19 and has tremendous upside. In the World Juniors last year, he had an outstanding .936 save percentage.
He is having an excellent season for the Green Bay Gamblers as well. In his last nine games, he has a .913 save percentage. Next year, he will be playing for Minnesota-Duluth. He is at least two years from being a factor.
So, the Chicago Blackhawks have some decisions to make.
If they stay committed to goalies in their pipeline, they are another year away from having one ready. To maintain the growth of the team as a whole, they need some stability in the net.
For now, and probably next season, Petr Mrazek fits the bill. If he shines between now and the trade deadline, perhaps he could be moved to a playoff team.
The Hawks would then need another stop-gap goalie. No matter who that is, a veteran is necessary for the immediate future.