Today is part three of my 5 part article series on the keys to a successful offseason for the Blackhawks. In part one, I discussed the need for moving on from the past. In part two, I investigated who could be the best option for next Blackhawks coach. Today, we focus on...
Lean Into The Development of Youngsters
Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula, Lukas Reichel, Kirby Dach, Reese Johnson. These are the names of just a couple of the promising young players that have found playing time for the Blackhawks this season. As alluded to in the last section, development of these young players is paramount and current head coach, Derek King, if he is retained, would be good to continue to invest in these promising players.
Kirby Dach is probably the player worth investing the most into. He is finishing his third year in the league and his production is not what you would want to see from a third year player. In 70 games during the 2021-2022 season, Kirby Dach has 9 goals and 17 assists. Barely an improvement from just a 64 game stretch during his rookie season: 8 goals, 15 assists. Not only has this been a concern with 6 more games this season than in 2019-2020, but with similar statistics, but Dach is averaging nearly 4 minutes more of ice time per game than his rookie year. He is up to 18:03 of average ice time, which means you should be getting far more production offensively than what we’ve seen thus far. Probably the most glaring number for him is -18 for his +/- production. That is 17 points worse than his rookie season, in which he ended with -1. I still believe in Kirby Dach. I believe he has the potential to be a very good player in this league. Probably not to the level of a typical 3rd overall selection, but I think he could still be a very valuable piece to a rebuilding team. Dach’s greatest advantage is his age. Though he is completing his third season, he is only 21 years old, which means there is still plenty of time for him to learn and develop. Hopefully the next coach will be able to aid him in that.
Just 13 games into his NHL career, Alec Regula has shown some promise. He just scored his first career goal the other night and has held his own defensively with 12 blocks, 13 hits, and 6 takeaways. This over the span of only 10 games in the 2021-22 season. Overall, he is averaging 16:47 of ice time and has an even +/-. Little is known of what he can be, but again, like Dach, is only 21 years old. He is another young piece for a rebuilding team.
Reese Johnson has shown himself to be a very capable fourth line forward for the Blackhawks. This season, he has appeared in 31 games with 6 points and a +/- of -10. Not amazing numbers, but he is fourth line for a reason. Considering his role, he serves an average of 10:33 minutes of ice time a game, but what stands out the most is his aggressiveness. His 125 hits have helped contribute to the 11 blocks and 11 takeaways he has credited to him. The aggression and resilience is something the Blackhawks have been lacking. Clearly General Manager, Kyle Davidson likes what he has seen from Johnson this season, in a supportive role, that he rewarded him with a $800,000 contract extension. Not a star by any means, but the 23 year old role player is worth keeping around as the rebuild commences.
Alex Vlasic has played very little for the Blackhawks, but nevertheless, it is exciting to see a young, Chicago-area native given a shot. In 9 games, the defenseman has 9 blocks, 11 hits, and 1 takeaway. Nothing earth-shattering, but Vlasic is only 20 years old, and should be given a few more years to grow into what he will become for the Hawks.
Last, but surely not least on this list is the young player with possibly the most potential: Lukas Reichel. Reichel played 11 games for the Blackhawks this season and recorded his first point, an assist, the other in the loss to the Nashville Predators. He was only playing for 13 minutes a game, and he is a very rough prospect, but surely that will be refined with time, seeing that Reichel is only 19 years old. His promising season with the Blackhawks’ AHL team, the Rockford Icehogs, is what’s more uplifting. With Rockford, he has 21 goals and 28 assists in 49 games. That makes him a point-per-game player on the AHL level. So the potential is there. If Reichel can bring that production to the NHL level, the Blackhawks may have something there in the young stud.