The Chicago Blackhawks are just about finished with their offseason work. The only loose ends that need to be tied up is a Philipp Kurashev extension — his arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 20 — and a Connor Bedard entry-level contract announcement.
Bedard isn't eligible to play in the American Hockey League next season due to Canadian Hockey League rules, which means he has to play in the NHL or return to the Western Hockey League. He probably knows he's going to make the NHL roster but he's being professional about it, like the humble kid he is.
"It’s hard to make the team," Bedard said. "I’m not going to say I’m a lock on the team or anything, I’m just going to train as hard as I can this summer and try to try to make the team. I couldn't give you percentages on if I will or not, so we'll see. But I'm going to try to do everything in my power to hopefully make that happen."
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
No worries, Connor. You don't have to say you're a lock to make the team. I'll do it for you.
So with that being said, here's an early projection of the Blackhawks' Opening Night roster for the 2023-24 season, which includes Bedard centering the first line to start:
Taylor Hall — Connor Bedard — Tyler Johnson
Lukas Reichel — Andreas Athanasiou — Philipp Kurashev
Ryan Donato — Jason Dickinson — Taylor Raddysh
Nick Foligno — Colin Blackwell — Corey Perry
Extras: Joey Anderson, MacKenzie Entwistle, Cole Guttman, Reese Johnson, Boris Katchouk
Alex Vlasic — Seth Jones
Kevin Korchinski — Connor Murphy
Jarred Tinordi — Nikita Zaitsev
Extras: Wyatt Kaiser, Isaak Phillips, Filip Roos
- Hall is a virtual slam-dunk to play with Bedard. The question is, who's the other winger? Donato, Kurashev and Raddysh were all under consideration, and part of me wondered about Perry — at least to start — but I talked myself out of it because there are too many other options. I went with the veteran T. Johnson, who should get the first crack because of his pedigree and leadership intangibles.
- One of the reasons the Blackhawks re-signed Athanasiou is because of his chemistry with Reichel. It's a natural fit between two players that like to play fast. Athanasiou finished the season at center and it resulted in a late heater. I wonder if Reichel gets a chance to prove himself as a center before he inevitably gets bumped back to the wing, where I think he's best suited. Nonetheless, these two are likely to start together.
- As far as who plays with Athanasiou and Reichel, Kurashev seems like the most logical candidate. The three of them logged more than 110 minutes together down the stretch, with Kurashev serving as the center of the line. They didn't really click, but perhaps they'll get another look with Kurashev on the wing this time. Donato or Raddysh would be my second choice.
- I could see Dickinson, T. Johnson and Raddysh reuniting at some point during camp or early in the regular season. They played a lot together down the stretch last season, finishing with a +10 shot attempt differential and +3 scoring chance differential when the three of them were on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick.
- Foligno said he felt re-energized about joining the Blackhawks because he wanted to part of the leadership group that helps build a strong culture for the new core. But he also was excited about the possibility of playing more minutes. Right now, I have him slotted in on the fourth line, but I wouldn't be surprised if he started on the third. I'm just not sure who gets bumped down if it's a fully healthy lineup.
- Guttman had a strong showing in his 14-game stint with the Blackhawks last season before being shut down with a shoulder injury. He is expected to be ready for camp after undergoing surgery in March. If he picks up where he left off, it will be difficult to keep him out of the Opening Night lineup. But because he's waivers exempt, he might start the season in Rockford and be the first call-up whenever there's an injury or a spot in the top-nine opens. And once he's called up, it feels like he could be up for good.
- A few players that played consistent roles last season might be on the outside looking in going into camp. The names include Anderson, Blackwell, Entwistle, R. Johnson and Katchouk. It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out if the forward group gets through camp relatively healthy.
- I believe Korchinski will be on the Opening Night roster. I do not, however, believe he'll finish the season in the NHL. I think 15-25 games might be the sweet spot. At some point, he will likely be reassigned to Seattle in the WHL because he's ineligible to play in the AHL next season. The most logical partner for him would be Murphy, who can serve as the veteran, stay-at-home defenseman, which would allow Korchinski to play his game and be an offensive driver from the back end.
- Vlasic was playing in all situations for Rockford at the end of last season, which included top power-play time. He's ready to be a full-time NHL player. I like him with Jones out of the gates because they balance each other out. It also might be the tallest pairing in the league, with Vlasic at 6-foot-6 and Jones at 6-foot-4.
- Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has not ruled out the possibility of adding a depth player on the back end, whether it be via free agency or trade later in the fall, or a potential waiver claim like they did with Tinordi. Would a depth addition squeeze out Zaitsev or would that just mean they're adding insurance for whenever Korchinski is sent back to the WHL?
- The Blackhawks appear to be very comfortable going into the season with Mrazek and Soderblom as the 1-2 punch. It was the right move for Soderblom to spend another full year in Rockford last season, but it's time for him to show what he can do at the next step on a more permanent level, even if it's to be the 1B option.