Not much has changed and so much has changed for the Chicago Blackhawks. They continue with their inconsistent play, along with trying to determine how to make the most of the rest of the season. The players will tell you they’re still hoping to make a run, but we all know it’s time to look past that and prepare for more success in the future. In the meantime, the March 21 date deadline looms. Today Brook LoFurno and Gail Kauchak discuss four hot topics for the Blackhawks as we head into the last week of February.
Brooke: Hagel Trade Debate
Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff mentioned this week on his podcast that Brandon Hagel is a name to keep an eye on at the trade deadline. The Blackhawks are reportedly asking for a first-round pick and a prospect for him. He is a player I don’t see the Blackhawks moving. The report even says that the Chicago would prefer not to move him.
That said, the Blackhawks desperately need a first-round pick as they gave up their 2022 first-round pick to acquire Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer. It’s a tough situation because if teams are offering that draft pick, that’s hard to refuse, but Hagel makes it hard. He might be the one player on the Blackhawks’ roster that teams are willing to give up a high draft pick for.
If that’s the case, the Blackhawks might have to take it because they can not move forward in their rebuild without a first-round pick. However, they should test the market for anyone else before coming to that conclusion. Parting ways with Hagel should be a last-ditch resort because he carries too much value.
Gail: Reichel Returns
To the excitement of many, Blackhawks’ top prospect Lukas Reichel was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs on Friday. He made his NHL debut in mid-January, participating in two contests before returning to his AHL team. In this two-game stint, Reichel logged five shots on goal and averaged 15:03 minutes of ice time while playing in between Hagel and Patrick Kane on the top line. He certainly looked the part there, but the Blackhawks are trying to take a patient approach with their young prospect.
Although the 19-year-old has been dominating in the AHL. According to Phillip Thompson of the Chicago Tribune, Reichel has 14 goals and 19 assists in 33 games for the IceHogs. One could argue he’s ready for the NHL, but the Blackhawks are hesitant to burn the first year of his contract on this lost season. If they are sticking to their original plan, Reichel can only participate in nine games this season. Which is why he’ll likely just play a few games this time around, and then maybe come back up for some games closer to the end of the Blackhawks’ 2021-22 campaign.
Reichel picked up right where he left off on Friday, playing again on the top line with Kane and Hagel. He looked calm and poised out there, contributing two shots on goal and being credited for a takeaway in a healthy 17:41 minutes of ice time. He even got a 29 second whirl on the power play. And, he won four-of-seven faceoffs for a 57% success rate. Considering everybody not named Jonathan Toews has trouble at the dot, this is very encouraging.
It makes sense to give Reichel just nine games this season, but we should all be excited about what the German native will offer on a full-time basis come the 2022-23 campaign.
Brooke: Shootout Mess
The Blackhawks were defeated in a shootout against the Dallas Stars this past Saturday. The shootout loss wouldn’t sting so bad if the Hawks’ deployment had been different. The shootout sorely relies on whoever the coaches decide to put out there. The matchup went six rounds with the players picked, in order, being Alex DeBrincat, Kane, Reichel, Philipp Kurashev, Dominik Kubalik, and defenseman Jake McCabe.
It’s a hard roster to do shootouts with because outside of Kane and DeBrincat, everything else is a crapshoot. The offensive firepower just isn’t there. However, McCabe was a bad choice. The defenseman isn’t known for his offense, and the Blackhawks had other options besides him. They could have picked Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach, Hagel, or even Seth Jones. That choice by head coach Derek King in of itself may have costed them the win.
Gail: Blackhawks Injury Report
The Blackhawks have been dealing with their fair share of injuries this season, but it looks like a number of players are set to return soon. One of the most notable injuries was the loss of Toews to concussion protocol after he sustained a hit in the game against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 26. But the Blackhawks’ captain was seen on the ice before practice on Thursday, and then he was a full participant in the optional practice on Friday. Toews was officially placed on injured reserve Friday, but it’s retroactive to Jan. 26. This means he’s eligible to return at any time.
Center Tyler Johnson has been another big loss for the Blackhawks. He hasn’t played since Oct. 29. In early December, it was announced the 31-year-old was the second NHL player to undergo the same neck surgery Jack Eichel had. The good news is Johnson has been skating on his own, and participated in the Blackhawks’ last few practices. Coach King indicated on Friday Johnson is progressing well, and he should be able to return by the end of February. Johnson is a very versatile player who could offer some veteran depth and consistency to the lineup.
More good news is defenseman Riley Stillman (shoulder) and forward Reese Johnson (fractured clavicle) were both seen in white non-contact jersey’s this week at practice. Hopefully this means they will both be returning soon.
Moving on, goaltender Kevin Lankinen has been out with a hand injury he sustained in his latest outing against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 22. At the time, the Blackhawks thought he would be out for around three weeks. It’s been over four weeks now, and the team has leaned heavily on veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury in that time. Lankinen has been skating, so we shall see if he will be ready to play again in the near future.
Finally, Jujhar Khaira is dealing with a lower back issue that requires more tests. Back injuries can be lingering and troublesome. Unfortunately, the gritty forward was put on long-term injured reserve on Friday as well.
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Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.