CHICAGO — Connor Bedard gave the Chicago Blackhawks a scare Saturday night.
In the second period against the Florida Panthers, Bedard stood his ground and blocked a shot off his right leg. He immediately fell to the ground and slowly got up. He returned to the bench in pain. The United Center was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he was back on the ice for his next scheduled shift.
“I think he was in that awkward spot, like 10 feet away, where it’s going to hurt a little more,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “But you know what? Did all the right things, stayed in the lane. That really lifted our bench. (I) like to see a young guy do that. Just kind of solidified a solid game by him. Scoring a real nice goal to give us a little extra cushion going into the third, but also being in the right spot in the D-zone to do that. I didn’t see him after the game with an icebag, so hopefully he’s good.”
A Bedard block, a Bedard goal and a Blackhawks win sent the crowd of 18,666 home happy. With Bedard in place, this season was always going to be a more interesting one for the Blackhawks, and that’s certainly been the case so far.
Through 10 games, here are 10 thoughts on the Blackhawks:
1. If you give Connor Bedard space, he’s most likely going to score
Four of Bedard’s five goals have been very similar. He’s had a ton of space and beaten the goalie with his shot. In time, he’ll figure out even more ways to score, but he’s quickly proved that his shot is elite enough to score on NHL goalies.
“I know he’s been working on things in practice that will correlate with that,” Richardson said. “Last game (against Arizona), it wasn’t even a one-timer, he just catches and releases quick. I think it’s the quickness of his release that even on the strong side, he has to catch and cradle and release and it was all in one motion, and I think the goalie’s still moving across and that throws them off. His ability to do that is probably the most intimidating thing for goalies. Sometimes they may over-slide and if he sees that, he might hang on to it for a half second more and that will throw them off even more. His ability to see that and read that at lightning speed is very elite and that’s something that even our players will have to learn to play with.”
Connor Bedard scores his fifth goal of the season pic.twitter.com/4AFYw2w9hH
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) November 5, 2023
Korchinski played in his 10th game of the season on Saturday, marking the official start to his entry-level contract. That was also the case for Bedard. The Blackhawks will now have to pay Korchinski and Bedard their second contracts after the 2025-26 season. That shouldn’t matter, though.
Coming into this season, general manager Kyle Davidson wanted to do whatever was best for Korchinksi’s development. If Korchinski didn’t show signs of being anywhere near NHL-ready, Davidson was prepared to return him to juniors. While it hasn’t always been perfect, Korchinski has shown more than enough that he is ready for the NHL and will only improve.
“Since (the start of the year), he had a good training camp and a really impressive start to the season the way he’s composed out there and his skating ability is NHL elite level already,” Richardson said. “But his decision-making has been really good. He’s getting better and better and he’s a bright kid. He takes a lot of information in and implements it in his game. There’s really no reason to have a conversation at this point. I think he’s deserved and earned this right.”
3. Overall, the Blackhawks have to be pleased with most of their young players
Bedard has been as good as advertised. Korchinski is nicely adapting to the NHL. Alex Vlasic has made a massive jump as a shutdown defenseman. Wyatt Kaiser has also shown progress in defense.
Lukas Reichel and Arvid Söderblom are probably the two young players the Blackhawks are hoping to see more from. It’ll be interesting to see how Söderblom bounces back from his game against the Coyotes when he plays the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
4. Wing may be the best bet for Reichel, at least for now
Richardson downplayed Reichel’s positive play Saturday being a matter of him playing on the wing, but it did look like Reichel was getting up ice quicker by playing higher in the zone as a winger. Whatever the reason, Reichel had one of his better games as of late and picked up his first point of the season on a secondary assist.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the wing,” Richardson said. “I think he decided like he was dominant. He really skated with the puck and took it to the net. Even on (Nikita) Zaitsev’s goal, I think he had a really good line rush there and Kurshy (Philipp Kurashev) picks up the puck and makes a really nice play and there was a nice shot. He did it a couple times tonight. You know what? In the third period, the most impressive thing was his wall work with his stick to get pucks out at the blue line just by the penalty box, and that goes a big way. It lifts the bench up because he’s doing the right things. When it was time to skate, he skated. When it was time to battle, he battled. I really liked his game tonight.”
Reichel did nearly pull this off, too.
Lukas Reichel putting together his And 1 Mixtape pic.twitter.com/0nlMVqxQYk
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) November 5, 2023
5. Petr Mrazek has been impressive so far
Outside of the young players, Mrazek may be the story of the season so far. He has a .923 save percentage, stopping 215-of-233 shots in his seven games this season. He has started six games and the Blackhawks have won three of them.
Mrazek has had to be crisp with the amount of shots he’s faced in his shifts. Saturday marked the fifth start he’s faced 36 or more shots. He’s seen 40 shots in four of the starts. He stopped 38-of-40 shots in Saturday’s win.
Considering Mrazek’s injury history over the past few years, Richardson is trying to be smart about how often the Blackhawks play him.
“At times (Saturday) we had a couple of big blocks,” but when we’ve needed him he’s been great all year,” Richardson said. “Just keeping it smart. Sody’s (Söderblom’s) probably going to play (Sunday) and he had lots of work tonight, so he’ll get a day tomorrow to rest, hopefully and the next day as well. So I think that’s probably smart with both of them, especially Petr with his history. I think it’s keeping him strong by doing that.”
6. Luke Richardson continues to seem like the right coach for this team
Richardson was the right coach for the tank phase. Now he seems like the right coach for the development phase. He appears on the same page with Davidson on how the Blackhawks want to bring along their young players and live with the ups and downs.
Richardson is undoubtedly going to get frustrated over the next two years, which are probably going to be similar development years, but where the Blackhawks are three to five years from now really depends on these next couple years.
7. This schedule has been brutal
The schedule hasn’t done the Blackhawks any favors. They have nearly faced every top team (some twice) in the NHL already. They’ve taken their lumps as expected, but they also have to be encouraged to have wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. By the way, the schedule doesn’t get much easier anytime soon.
8. The veteran additions seem to be working out
It’s difficult to exactly gauge how much the veteran presence matters, but it seems like Nick Foligno, Corey Perry and Taylor Hall have been positive additions to the Blackhawks dressing room. They certainly make themselves available to the media and say the right things. It seems like the young players are looking to see how the older players handle situations, too.
9. The Blackhawks are probably going to be an inconsistent team this season
Saturday was a perfect example of it. The Blackhawks played one of their best periods of the season in the first period. They followed that up with a rough second period. They did enough to get by in the third period.
Richardson might be driven crazy by that this season, but that’s probably the reality of having such a young team. There are going to be some good nights, some bad nights, some good periods, some bad periods. With that, they’re probably going to lose a lot more than they win. But as long as the Blackhawks continue to develop their young players, this season will be a success.
10. The Blackhawks are positioning themselves for another top-five pick
The team won’t care and will be fighting against it all season, but the Blackhawks will be better off in the future if they can finish again near the bottom of the league and have another shot at an elite talent. So far, it appears they’re headed in that direction.
It does sound like the Blackhawks have liked the progress of past first-round picks Frank Nazar, Sam Rinzel and Oliver Moore so far this season. Their development is also key to this all.
(Photo: Matt Marton / USA Today)