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Blackhawks' brutal early-season schedule testing young players: ‘It seems like it never stops'

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been through the gauntlet through the first month of the 2023-24 season. And they're still not out of the woods yet, either.

"It seems like it never stops," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said smiling.

I was curious to know whether the Blackhawks felt that was good or bad for some of their younger players. Does facing the best of the best out of the gates benefit them or could it be a detriment that they didn't get much of a warming-up process?

"I think it can go either way," Jason Dickinson told NBC Sports Chicago. "It depends on how they handle it. If they handle it well and they look like they belong and they look like they're playing good hockey, then I think it's extremely beneficial for them to be like: 'I've played these elite teams, I can do it, I'm an NHL player.'

"If they handle it poorly, on the other hand, it's potentially deflating, they get in their head, they start overthinking, they start trying to do too much or not enough and then it hinders them a little bit. So I think it all depends on — the results obviously matter, but more-so the process that they're taking in those games."

Said veteran Nick Foligno: "I think it’s how you mentally handle it. This is a great lesson for all of us and where we're trying to get to. You should be excited about playing these games. And anyone, you should be excited about playing in the NHL, regardless, but these games, especially, where you're playing against some teams that have won or know how to win. You should be taking little tidbits away from every game.

"It's a great opportunity to see where you stack up. I've always tried to look at the positives in any situation. And it's the reality we're in, we're playing some good teams, and we will play a lot of good teams as we go along here. We're in a position where we're working to become one of those so there's no night off for us in any game we play. And I think that's what we're trying to fight with, is the consistency, no matter who we're playing. It's easier probably to get up for these ones, but we’ve got to make sure we're ready for any game we play.

Said Richardson: "You know what, it is a challenge, and you’re playing them sometime, so why not play them early? It’s a good challenge for us to obviously work on our consistency."

The younger players seem to be enjoying the challenge.

"I think it's good," Connor Bedard said. "Every team in the NHL is really good. It's all the best players in the world. But obviously we've played a lot of teams that have been there and won. A lot of our schedule's been teams that have won recently and I think that's good for us to go up against those guys and see what they bring and how they got there."

Said Kevin Korchinski: "I think it's kind of cool going against those top guys. Obviously I haven't played a lot of the top guys ever, so going against those guys that have been in the league for so long and have proven what kind of caliber of players they are, it's cool. You learn from them and what makes them so special. As a competitor, you want to play the best competition whenever you're out there."

The schedule has seriously been no joke for the Blackhawks. Going into Tuesday, the combined record of the 10 teams they've faced this season through 13 games is 83-45-14. The combined goal differential of those teams: +61.

"Some of these guys are so good man," Wyatt Kaiser said. "They play their system so well and they just know what they're doing. It's been a tough schedule right now, but it's fun for me, a defensive challenge."

The Blackhawks have placed Boston twice, a team that won the Presidents' Trophy last season. They've played Vegas twice, the defending Stanley Cup champions. They've also played Colorado, which won the Stanley Cup two years ago, and Tampa Bay, which won consecutive titles in 2020 and 2021 — oh by the way, Tampa Bay will be in Chicago again on Thursday.

And then there's Florida, which was the Eastern Conference champion last season, and New Jersey, which had the third-most points in the NHL a year ago. Not to mention Toronto, which has the fourth-most regular-season points since 2020.

Heck, even Arizona has been surprisingly decent this season, and the Coyotes gave the Blackhawks their biggest spanking of the season so far, an 8-1 loss.

There are no breathers. And while Chicago's younger players certainly haven't been perfect, they mostly have been handling it pretty well to this point.

"Every team's elite in their own sense," Korchinski said. "There are no bad teams in this league. Whether you're playing the worst statistical team in the league or the best, they're always going to play their hearts out every game. For me, playing against better players is always better for development. It teaches you what you can become and what you've got to do in the present moment."

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