Blackhawks Focused On Future In Richardson's First Season

Chicago Blackhawks' Cole Guttman (70) celebrates his goal with Seth Jones during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Blackhawks' Cole Guttman (70) celebrates his goal with Seth Jones during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson wants to build a team in his first year with his new franchise.

“I think that's the first step that we need,” he said. “Before we talk about success on the ice, we have to have success as a team and gelling this team together and finding some chemistry, whether it's lines or (defensemen) pairings, just even in the room.”

Of course, that room would look a lot better with Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov — two of the top prospects in the loaded 2023 NHL draft. But there is a season to play in the meantime, and it could be a long year for Richardson and the Blackhawks.

The focus in Chicago is on the horizon after general manager Kyle Davidson ramped up his rebuilding project over the summer, trading high-scoring winger Alex DeBrincat and young center Kirby Dach for draft picks.

The moves could put the Blackhawks in the mix for Bedard or Michkov. But the short term is pretty bleak.

Even with Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews sticking around — for now — there are questions all over the lines. Seth Jones is back for his second season with Chicago, but fellow defensemen Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy and Ian Mitchell are coming back from injuries.

“I know a lot of people are counting this team out and what we can do, but I think we have a lot of motivated players and motivated coaching staff as well,” Kane said.

WORTH WATCHING

The Blackhawks signed forwards Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou and Colin Blackwell in free agency, replacing some of the scoring they lost when they traded DeBrincat to Ottawa. Domi and Athanasiou each got a one-year deal, and Blackwell received a two-year contract.

The 27-year-old Domi set career highs with 28 goals and 44 assists for Montreal during the 2018-19 season, but he hasn't come close to reaching the same level of production since then. He could begin this season on Kane's line, giving him a chance to improve on his recent numbers.

TRYING AGAIN

Tyler Johnson played in 26 games in his first season with Chicago after he was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay. The 32-year-old forward, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Lightning, had neck surgery in December.

Johnson has 164 goals and 204 assists in 615 career regular-season games, reaching a career-best 29 goals twice. If Johnson can return to form, he could provide a big lift.

PROMISING START

Taylor Raddysh made a strong first impression after he was acquired in a March trade that sent Brandon Hagel to Tampa Bay. The 2016 second-round pick had six goals and four assists in 21 games with the Blackhawks after he collected five goals and seven assists in his first 53 NHL games with the Lightning.

While Lukas Reichel, another top forward prospect who made his NHL debut last season, is likely heading for more seasoning in the minors, it looks as if Raddysh is going to log major minutes for Chicago.

IN GOAL

The Blackhawks have a new tandem at goaltender. They acquired Petr Mrazek in a July 7 trade with Toronto and signed Alex Stalock in free agency.

The 30-year-old Mrazek is hoping to bounce back after he had a career-low .888 save percentage and a career-high 3.34 goals-against average in 20 games for the Maple Leafs last season. He has two years remaining on an $11.4 million, three-year contract.

Stalock, who likely slots in as Mrazek's backup, agreed to a $750,000, one-year deal. The 35-year-old Stalock has appeared in just one NHL game in the last two seasons.

HIT THE ROAD

Beginning on Jan. 19 at Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have a stretch of 18 games that includes 13 on the road. They also have a brutal five-game trip in March that concludes with games at Colorado, Washington and Minnesota. The season opener is Oct. 12 on the road against defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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