Blackhawks Growth Despite Losses Provides Hope for the Future

We’re officially through the first week of December and the Chicago Blackhawks are losing a lot of games, to no one’s surprise. We might all be disappointed, bored, disgruntled and even apathetic. But no one is really surprised about where the rebuilding Blackhawks stand. Their current record is 7-14-4, and they’ve dropped 10 of their last 11 games.

Related – Blackhawks News & Rumors: Reichel, Mitchell, Toews, Soderblom

Despite all the losses, if you look closely, the Blackhawks are slowly but surely making some strides in the way of growth and development. The idea is to build a strong foundation that will eventually allow the team to thrive. Let’s highlight some of the recent positives for the players and the team.  

Firsts for Katchouk, Entwistle, Johnson

I know this is a bit ironic considering the Blackhawks have been shut out in their last two contests. But if you look back to the previous two matchups, a few unlikely players have been busy making contributions. In the Edmonton Oilers game on Nov. 30, Boris Katchouk earned his first goal of the 2022-23 campaign with a deflection off a shot by defenseman Jack Johnson. MacKenzie Entwistle also picked up his third assist of the season on the play.

MacKenzie Entwistle Chicago Blackhawks
MacKenzie Entwistle and his linemates are providing some offensive punch for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Later in the game, the Blackhawks were mounting a comeback when Entwistle also tallied his first goal of the season. Linemate Reese Johnson notched his first assist. These three players make up the fourth line for the Blackhawks. Besides excelling at their checking role and being hard to play against, it’s nice to see this trio get on the board offensively. Teammate Max Domi specifically recognized Entwistle after the game.  

Domi, unprompted, on Entwistle’s goal tonight:
“First of all, it’s great to see Twisty get rewarded. He’s been playing so hard and he’s such a great kid, we all love him in here. To see him get his first of the year like that… He’s been all over it. So it’s awesome.”

In the Blackhawks’ recent lone win against the New York Rangers on Dec. 3, Johnson also scored the first goal of the game (his second of the season). Katchouk’s helper on the play was his first of the season as well.

While it might seem silly to applaud all these firsts by the fourth line, it takes depth and contributions from all to make up a good, solid team. Plus it helps these guys feel like they’re helping the team win; which they are!

Kane Notches 1200th Career Point

He might not be a part of the future for the Blackhawks. But he’s certainly been the face of the franchise for many years, and a huge contributor to three Stanley Cups. Plus, he’s still currently with the team, and the younger players are gaining valuable lessons from Patrick Kane’s talent and leadership. So we should definitely celebrate another milestone and huge achievement for Kane, that being his 1200th career point.

Kaner reached the 1200-point mark with an assist on Taylor Raddysh’s power play goal against the Rangers. He also assisted on Max Domi’s PP goal and scored his own PP goal earlier in the game, to round out a three-point night.

Toews Passes Hull in Games Played for the Blackhawks

Not to be outdone, the Rangers game was also a milestone moment for the Blackhawks’ captain, Jonathan Toews. It was his 1037th career game played, putting him past Bobby Hull in franchise history.

Yes, it’s true both Toews and Kane are in the last year of their contracts, and most believe they won’t even finish out the season with the Blackhawks. Nonetheless, congratulations to both. We should enjoy them while we can.

Reichel Makes His Season Debut

Later in the Blackhawks’ road trip Toews woke up with flu-like symptoms. The decision was made to hold Toews out for the tilt against the New Jersey Devils. But instead of going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, the organization recalled top prospect Lukas Reichel from the Rockford IceHogs and flew him out for the game.

Related – Blackhawks Roundtable: Kane, Toews, Adjustments & Predictions

The 20-year-old slotted in on the left wing of the second line, alongside Jason Dickinson and Raddysh, even though he’s played the center position in the past. He did end up taking four faceoffs and winning three of them for a 75% success rate. He played 13:58 minutes of ice time, 1:14 of which were spent on the second power play unit. It was a tough game and opponent to draws into, but Reichel for the most part held his own.

Lukas Reichel hasn’t been too noticeable but here’s a flash moment that shows his skating ability and nice hands. #Blackhawks

After the game, head coach Luke Richardson indicated it was a good time to call Riechel with Toews being out. Toews’ absence left a top-six role open, which is ideally where Reichel should be. Richardson said it doesn’t make sense to have him into a checking role.

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It was a short-lived trip, as the youngster was sent back down the next day. But the experience gives Reichel something to build on. Hopefully he’ll get a few more of these chances as the season progresses.  

Mitchell Draws In

Also in the Devils game, Ian Mitchell drew back into the lineup. The 23-year-old defenseman was sidelined with a left wrist injury earlier in the season. He returned to the IceHogs, and then suited up with the Blackhawks for two games in late November before being sent down again. It’s been a tough road for the young blueliner as he embarks on his third season in the league. It’s a pivotal campaign for Mitchell, one that might determine whether he stays with the Blackhawks, and/or can break into the NHL as a full-time player. Understandably, he wants to make an impression every chance he gets.

Ian Mitchell Chicago Blackhawks
Ian Mitchell is trying to make the most of his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In the Devils game, Mitchell lined up on the third defensive pairing with Filip Roos, while Caleb Jones took the night off. Mitchell logged a healthy 17:19 minutes of ice time, 1:11 of which were on the second power play unit. He contributed one shot on goal and one blocked shot, and wasn’t on the ice for any goals against. It will be interesting to see what playing time Mitchell receives moving forward, and what he can make of those opportunities.

Is Soderblom the Future in Net?

The plan was for veteran netminders Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock to essentially hold down the fort this season while the Blackhawks embraced their rebuild. Prospect Arvid Soderblom was supposed to benefit from starting goaltender duties with the IceHogs. Unfortunately, injuries to both Mrazek and Stalock have forced the organization to rely on Soderblom in net with the Blackhawks.

The six-foot-three Swedish goaltender has currently played in 12 games this season, which is more than both Mrazek (9) and Stalock (7). While this wasn’t the plan, Soderblom (or Arvid, as people have taken to referencing him by his first name) has done an admirable job stepping up to the plate.

Arvid Söderblom Chicago Blackhawks
Arvid Söderblom of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

He boasts a .906 save percentage and a 3.19 goals against average, which isn’t too shabby considering the less than stellar defense in front of him. Arvid has been extremely calm and poised in the crease, leading goalie coach Jimmy Waite to draw comparisons to another legendary Blackhawks’ goaltender.

It’s pretty impressive how calm he is. It almost makes me nervous how calm he is. [I ask him], ‘Are you ready to go?’ And that’s how [Corey] Crawford was — so calm.

We have a young guy that’s probably our future. The sky is the limit for this guy. I really like him, and the organization loves him.

The Blackhawks were concerned playing in the NHL too soon might thwart Soderblom’s confidence and development, but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Hopefully Mrazek and/or Stalock will be ready to return soon to take some of the pressure off the 23-year-old. But for the time being, Soderblom is gaining some valuable experience.

Related – Blackhawks Should Consider Recalling These 3 IceHogs

While the Blackhawks would certainly like to start winning more games, they’re making some strides in the right direction. Development and progression is key in this rebuilding campaign, so that should be the priority. Watching depth players make an impact and young prospects receive opportunities should be applauded.

The rest of December awaits, with six of the next seven games at the United Center. Can the Blackhawks benefit from some home cooking and pull out some wins? Regardless, perhaps there will be more firsts, and more growth and development along the way.

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