5 Blackhawks Poised for Breakout Success in 2022-23

While it may seem like there’s little for Chicago Blackhawks fans to look forward to throughout the 2022-23 campaign, those willing to test their loyalty by watching the whole way through may be rewarded with what they witness. Not necessarily in terms of seeing the rebuilding roster exceed expectations as a collective, but more so with regards to some impressive individual performances along the way.

The disjointed lineup that Kyle Davidson has strung together this offseason will have to work to form cohesion. Chicago’s locker room is currently occupied by a mixture of newcomers that have achieved modest success and familiar faces on the wrong side of their peak. Not the type of synopsis that teases an overly optimistic storyline for the Blackhawks.

RELATED: Kane Is Already the Greatest American-Born NHL Player of All-Time

However, there are some key names for fans to keep an eye on this season. Each anticipating an increased role with the club, all five of these athletes are poised to break out in meaningful fashion.

Lukas Reichel

Don’t let the fact that Lukas Reichel was only able to accumulate one assist through 11 games with the Blackhawks in 2021-22 deceive you. Instead, focus on what the then 19-year-old accomplished in his rookie season with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League (AHL) as a more accurate foreshadow of his potential to dominate the North American game.

Lukas Reichel Chicago Blackhawks
Lukas Reichel, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Having impressed overseas as a teenager, accumulating 51 points through 80 contests in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) and capturing a league championship, the former first-round pick made sure to maintain that momentum when he landed in Rockford last year.

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In fact, his 57-point campaign in 2021-22 now stands as the most productive debut season in IceHogs’ history. That total also ranked him fifth among AHL rookies. Having only made it into 56 of 72 scheduled games with Rockford, one can only imagine how much more impressive Reichel’s season could have been.

Touted as the Blackhawks’ top prospect, and for good reason, allowing a lacklustre debut sample size in the NHL cast any amount of doubt toward what Reichel is capable of would be irrationally short-sighted.

“One of the things that stands out about Reichel is everyone talked about how hard he works. He listens, he’s coachable. Teammates want to play with him. He exceeds expectations as he acclimates. I don’t think anyone at Eisbaren expected him to make the team last year, let alone to have the kind of impact he did.”

Reichel’s experience with the Blackhawks to date has been far too sporadic to effectively gauge his potential impact. Being moved around their lineup, through three separate call-up stints with the club, it was next to impossible for him to find or build upon any chemistry in Chicago.

Entering the 2022-23 campaign, it will be to Chicago’s advantage to allow Reichel the opportunity to own a top-six role. Not only will he then fill one of the various voids left in their lineup, but that added ice time will grant Reichel the minutes necessary to more effectively showcase that he is already the creative, intelligent, and skillful player that the Blackhawks need him to be.

Plus, any amount of playing time alongside Patrick Kane — Reichel’s favourite Blackhawk growing up — will do wonders for his confidence. So much so that no one should be surprised to hear the 20-year-old’s name mentioned in the Calder Trophy conversation, as one of Chicago’s most potent producers of 2022-23.

Philipp Kurashev

After making his presence felt during the first half of Chicago’s 2020-21 campaign, Philipp Kurashev‘s play tapered off throughout the later half of that schedule. He ended the season with 16 points through 54 contests.

Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks
Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even though he earned the right type of attention throughout most of his rookie year, there was a lot of room that remained open for future improvement. Especially given his impressive stat line through three years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), having amassed 69 goals and 110 assists before making the leap to the AHL in 2018-19.

“He’s such a skilled player,” Lankinen said. “You see that in practice pretty much every day. He can dangle guys, he can shoot the puck, he can make plays. I’ve known him a couple of years now, even last year in Rockford, he showed his skill. It’s just huge to see a young guy that can jump into the National Hockey League and do those things in the best league in the world, it’s really impressive. He’s a really valuable player for us now.”

Kurashev’s impact at the NHL level increased the following year. However, his 21 points through 67 games in 2021-22 still didn’t quite align with the highlight-reel he’s put together while performing at a higher peak.

That Kurashev has already become a familiar face for the franchise makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s turning 23 on opening night of 2022-23. The young forward’s potential is still seemingly untapped.

It’s up to Chicago to put Kurashev in a position to succeed, as they’ll need to rely on his contribution to compensate for the output that they’ve lost this offseason. Add in that he’ll most certainly see an increase in ice time, having averaged only 12:57 through his first two seasons, and it makes sense to assume that his production will align.

Combining the best parts of his game with an elevation in responsibility, let alone that having only re-signed for one year means that how he performs during this campaign will set the tone for his next negotiation, Kurashev is set to smash his former career highs.

Taylor Raddysh

Given Brandon Hagel’s status as a fan favourite in Chicago, it was easy for frustration to cloud the judgement of supporters when he was traded away at last season’s deadline. However, a narrow-minded perspective doesn’t diminish the return that Davidson was able to secure from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not only did Chicago receive a couple of much-needed first-round picks, but Davidson was also able to acquire Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh in the process. Both sold as depth pieces based on where they were slotted into Tampa Bay’s lineup, Raddysh could easily surpass that stereotype to become a far more important aspect of this transaction.

Taylor Raddysh Chicago Blackhawks
Taylor Raddysh, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

After being drafted by the Lightning in 2016, Raddysh was finally able to crack their lineup in 2021-22. Through his first 53 games in the NHL, though, he was only able to accumulate five goals and seven assists. Not an overly impressive debut for the second-round pick, but playing in Tampa’s bottom-six for around 11:00 on most nights did little in the way of setting him up for individual success.

Fast forward to the remainder of his rookie campaign and it’s clear that how the Blackhawks utilized Raddysh allowed him to enjoy a far more impactful presence.

However, in terms of expected goals above replacement, Raddysh was more valuable to the Blackhawks, with 1.6 xGAR in Chicago and 0.6 xGAR with the Lightning. Raddysh was a better scorer for the Blackhawks at 5-on-5, with 1.7 points per 60 at 5-on-5 with Chicago and 1.17 with Tampa. Raddysh had a higher shot percentage (10% vs. 7.14%) with the Blackhawks and more expected goals (0.92 as a Blackhawk, 0.82 with the Lightning).

Gaining over 4:30 of ice time per night, and managing a mostly top-six role in Chicago, he was able to accumulate six goals and four assists through his final 21 games of 2021-22. Good for a pace of 0.48 points per game. A drastic increase from the mark of 0.23 he set as a Lightning.

What’s more, Raddysh is a proven winner who has continually illustrated the right type of progress. Despite not having been part of Tampa Bay’s back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, his resume is still loaded with accomplishments that would excite any rebuild. Including, but not limited to, an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) title, multiple medals at the World Junior Championship, and being named to an AHL All-Star Game.

The additional opportunities Raddysh will get in Chicago this season, let alone that he’ll be playing alongside their top talent throughout, will help set his bar much higher than he was ever able to in Tampa. Making it even easier for fans to realize that Chicago won this trade.

Ian Mitchell

Advertised as a speedy offensive defenseman, Ian Mitchell has only collected three goals and five assists through 47 games with the Blackhawks since 2020-21. Yet, it’s unjust to gauge the former NCAA star’s potential on that sample size alone.

Ian Mitchell Denver Pioneers
Ian Mitchell, former Denver Pioneer (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Mitchell dominated during his time at the University of Denver. On top of winning a National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Championship and being named to an NCAA All-American Team while there, the blue liner tallied 89 points and a plus-42 rating during his three seasons at school.

He also captained the team for their 2019-20 campaign, which was the same year he captured a Spengler Cup representing Canada. It’s no wonder the Blackhawks scouting report gave him such a glowing review.

“He’s a great skater. He’s very mobile and he’s shifty with the puck. That’s good in breakout situations, getting back on pucks. He can make forecheckers miss and with his skating ability, if he gets a step on a guy, there’s no way that they’re going to catch him.”

That he’s failed to live up to that reputation to this point in his professional career doesn’t mean all is lost. Although Mitchell was only able to accumulate seven points in his debut campaign with Chicago, after averaging 15:02 through 39 contests in 2020-21, it’s what he accomplished when being granted a more appropriate opportunity to develop that deserves the attention.

Mitchell notched 11 goals and 24 assists through 57 contests as an IceHog in 2021-22. A total that ranked him best in offensive output among his fellow defensemen, while tying him for third across the entire roster.

Such progress should be enough to earn a more mature Mitchell the chance to further his storyline in the NHL. As the Blackhawks make a more cognizant effort to encourage development, they’ll be starving for offense. The 23-year-old can help in both regards.

There’s no reason to doubt Mitchell’s ability to turn the momentum gained with Rockford last season into fuel that sparks a more prolific campaign in Chicago through 2022-23. Especially since this will be the final year of his entry-level contract (ELC), so it’s imperative that he puts on the best show possible to maximize the value of his next deal.

Arvid Söderblom

Rather than favour familiarity by re-signing either Kevin Lankinen or Collin Delia, the Blackhawks opted for a new goaltending duo to control their crease in 2022-23 — Petr Mrázek and Alex Stalock. Yet, not to be forgotten within the mix is the only netminder that remains from the group of four who saw any action with Chicago last season — Arvid Söderblom.

Arvid Söderblom Chicago Blackhawks
Arvid Söderblom, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite it being Mrázek’s net to lose as the season gets underway and Stalock slated for the backup role, there’s no telling what the club should expect out of either given the downward trend each has experienced of late. Plus, because both come with a concerning history of injury, it’s only logical that the Blackhawks have a reliable option to call upon in the event that their No. 1 and No. 2 are deemed unavailable.

It may seem like a stretch to inset Söderblom into that part of Chicago’s equation, given his current stat line with the club. Having found his way into three NHL contests in 2021-22, Söderblom went winless with a goals-against average (GAA) of 5.01 and a save percentage (SV%) of .863. The worst numbers of any Blackhawk goalie last year.

However, witnessing Söderblom’s ability to battle despite the situations he was thrown into adds a perspective that his metrics don’t convey. His first appearance was a relief effort, he was peppered with 41 shots against in his second, and the Blackhawks simply failed to control play during his third outing of the season.

A more accurate analysis of Söderblom’s capabilities comes from his larger sample size with the IceHogs in 2021-22. Posting a record of 21-15-2, he also achieved a 2.76 GAA, 0.919 SV%, and two shutouts. Numbers that placed him among the better half of the league, let alone as Rockford’s most reliable netminder.

Even more impressive was what Söderblom had accomplished in Sweden the year prior, which is what attracted the Blackhawks to sign him in the first place.

Soderblom, 21, was second in the Swedish Hockey League with a .922 save percentage, shared second with a 2.03 goals-against average and four shutouts in 22 regular-season appearances during the 2020-21 campaign for Skellefteå AIK. He also appeared in two postseason contests and posted a .951 save percentage and 1.54 goals-against average. 

The amount of European experience on Söderblom’s resume correlates with the fact that he’s still a mostly unknown figure in North America. A similar scenario that Lankine faced, before surprising supporters in 2020-21. Until a suitable workload is granted, as it was for Lankinen, there’s no way to properly assess Söderblom.

Entering 2022-23 as an IceHog, it’s not far-fetched to presume that the 23-year-old will be called up to the Blackhawks sooner than later. Whether because his presence will align more directly with their rebuilding efforts or as a result of either member of Chicago’s tandem being unable to play their part.

At which point, Söderblom will be able to blossom in the same way that Lankinen did, while the averages across his profile balance more effectively than they were able to through a three-game stint.

With Söderblom’s contract set to expire at the end of this season, he has to prove himself as quickly as possible. As his starts pile up, he’ll do just that. Expect to see him take over Chicago’s net, both because the Blackhawks are forced to rely on his services and as a result of how effectively he’s able to manage the elevated role.

Blackhawks Will Elicit Progress Through Playing Time

Even though these five athletes are spread throughout Chicago’s lineup, affecting their results in drastically different regards, there is a commonality that unites them heading into 2022-23. They can all anticipate meaningful progress via additional playing time.

Chicago’s current mandate offers unparalleled access for those mostly unproven to take the next step in their career. Development is far more fruitful within a landscape that fosters it, after all.

Despite the lack of success expected in Chicago this season, supporters should at least stay tuned to witness what the organization’s most promising are capable of. Besides, enjoying a front-row seat to the future of the franchise should help ease the pain in the meantime.

RELATED: Blackhawks Well Represented at 2022 World Juniors

Reichel, Kurashev, Raddysh, Mitchell, and Söderblom are all poised for breakout success with the Blackhawks in 2022-23. A reality that will push Chicago’s plan further ahead, moving them that much closer to being able to contend again.

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