In the midst of yet another rebuilding season, expected but certainly less so than the prior year, we enter now where most fans measure the games by progress and not necessarily wins. Progress can mean many things when looking at a rebuilding team. To many it means how are the young players acclimating to the NHL, perhaps it is how lines are playing with one another, or even if the coaching staff is adjusting to another team that is stopping our best forward groups.
Anyway you look at it, at 7-14 (14 points) in 21 games (just over the 1/4 season mark) the team is unlikely to crawl out of what appears to be another year inside the top 10 of the draft. So what is working and what is missing for this young Blackhawks team from an NHL roster perspective?
Connor Bedard, Tyler Johnson, Anthony Beauvillier, Nick Foligno, Jason Dickinson, Philipp Kurashev, Ryan Donato, Cole Guttman, Lukas Reichel, Mackenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Joey Anderson, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh (Taylor Hall - Injuried / Out for the season), Andreas Athanasiou (injuried)
Thoughts: When you look at the group, like most NHL rosters, it has clear divisions when looking at young players (Bedard and Reichel), middle 20s players (Kurashev, Entwistle, Beauvillier, Guttman, Raddysh, Katchouk, Anderson and R. Johnson) followed by the veterans of the group (T. Johnson, Foligno, Dickinson and Donato). In my view only about half of these players have "consistently" faired well in both the execution, effort, and talent categories of an NHL season (1/4 season to this point).
Played Well: Bedard, Kurashev, Entwistle, Anderson, Dickinson
Played to expectation: Raddysh, Katchouk, R. Johnson, T. Johnson, Donato
Played below ability: Reichel, Athanasiou
* not enough of a sample size as Blackhawks: Guttman / Beauvillier
Notes: While Bedard and Kurashev are the obvious ones here as they drive play and create chances for others, it's been Jason Dickinson that has truly stood out. Once a cap causality, it now appears he is a must keep at seasons end and someone that deserves a 2-3 year extension as a valubale piece moving forward.
The middle group to me has been inconsistent and thus the grouping. Sometimes good, sometimes bad although I must admit Boris Katchouk is showing that he belongs of late with his hustle. The last tier unfortunately only has two players: Lukas Reichel and Andreas Athanasiou. The odd thing is that Reichel actually scored a goal in the last game.... but didn't seem too thrilled about it. Not sure what is going on with the young speedster. Only thing I'm sure on is this; Lukas Reichel is a tremendous talent and a little confidence could go a long way once found.
After this season the orgnaization will likely look at the prospect group to seem if any are ready. The player with the first shot will likely be Colton Dach. The big winger is playing well in the AHL and is 2 years after his draft year typically when players start to mature into a more developed overall game.
Frank Nazar , Ryan Greene and Oliver Moore are playing good hockey in the NCAA although it's still undecided whether or not they will compete for an NHL spot as early as next season. For me, it's all eyes on Colton Dach as well as if we draft inside the top 3 and take one of Macklin Celebrini, Ivan Demidov, or Cole Eiserman. If we indeed draft that high again, this player could be a day 1 NHL addition and help the Hawks forward group.
Moving forward I'll look to the second 2 tiers and see if they can raise their play to help "progress" themselves, their lines, and the overall team. If they do not, it may be time to start trying out some new players towards the end of the season.