3 Blackhawks Prospects Most Likely to Make Opening Night Roster

As the Chicago Blackhawks enter the first full season of their rebuild, identifying what players could become part of the next competitive Blackhawks club should be an intriguing storyline. Thanks to a solid 2022 Draft, Chicago has noticeably improved its prospect pipeline this offseason.

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Now, Chicago’s rebuild is still young. It’s also unlikely 2022 first-round picks Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar, and Sam Rinzel make this year’s team. Having said that, the Blackhawks have some other solid pieces waiting in the wings, some of whom could crack this year’s club and earn a roster spot as early as October. Here are the Blackhawks’ three likeliest prospects to skate for the team come the season opener.

Lukas Reichel

Despite having a revamped front office in place since his draft year, if you think about it, Lukas Reichel was really the first young piece the Blackhawks acquired as part their current rebuild. Reichel, Chicago’s 2020 first-round pick, made his North American debut last season after spending his 2020-21 campaign with Eisbären Berlin in Germany. Though he had a mediocre start to his NHL career, recording just one assist in 11 games with the Blackhawks, he tallied 57 points in 56 regular-season games with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs last season.

Lukas Reichel Rockford IceHogs
Lukas Reichel, Rockford IceHogs (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

While he looked a little overwhelmed at times during his first few NHL games, Chicago fans should take Reichel’s start to his NHL career with a grain of salt. At just 20 years old, Reichel has already excelled in the AHL and has shown characteristics of becoming an effective top-to-middle six winger for the team. In his Blackhawks’ prospect rankings, Corey Pronman of The Athletic described Reichel as above NHL average in “compete” despite not being an overly physical player (from ‘Chicago Blackhawks rank No. 13 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2022,’ The Athletic, 08/24/22). This is a trait Chicago could use right now with the low expectations they’re facing.

Considering the Blackhawks burned Reichel’s first year of his entry-level contract (ELC), I’d say it’s likely he makes the initial roster. It’d be understandable for Chicago general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson to take his time developing the 20-year-old, so some time in Rockford would make sense. However, Reichel’s probably the most NHL-ready prospect the Blackhawks have. He could certainly find a spot in their top six come opening night.

Alex Vlasic

Like Reichel, Alex Vlasic made his NHL debut in 2021-22, skating in 15 regular-season games. Before that, the team’s 2019 second-round pick and the 21-year-old Chicago-area native spent three seasons playing for Boston University, where he earned Hockey East All-Star honors last season prior to signing his ELC in March.

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Though the Blackhawks have many solid defensive prospects, with Korchinski and Rinzel being some of the most recent additions, Vlasic stands out for his size as he’s 6-foot-6. While he hasn’t shown much offensively, his shutdown abilities could help him earn a role on Chicago’s third pairing this season. He’d also provide some nice contrast from some of the Blackhawks’ veteran defensemen, including Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe, and new addition Jack Johnson.

Vlasic, the cousin of San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouárd Vlasic, showed solid promise during his first stint with the Blackhawks last season. His lack of offense could prevent him from becoming a mainstay when Chicago becomes competitive, but he’s an intriguing prospect who has the characteristics of emerging, skilled defensive defenseman.

Ian Mitchell

Less than two years ago, entering the COVID-shortened 2020-21 regular season, Ian Mitchell was one of the most highly touted prospects the Blackhawks had. Mitchell, Chicago’s 2017 second-round pick, was coming off an impressive third year with the University of Denver where he captained the team and tallied 32 points in 36 games. Though by no means expected to be in the Calder Trophy conversation, his start to the NHL was a little underwhelming, tallying just seven points in 39 games with a minus-10 rating. In 2021-22, he skated in just eight games for Chicago, spending most of his time with the IceHogs.

Ian Mitchell Denver Pioneers
Ian Mitchell, Denver Pioneers, NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey West Regional Championship Semifinal, March 29, 2019 (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Mitchell’s stock has fallen in the last two seasons, yet I still think there’s a chance he becomes an effective NHL defenseman. Like Vlasic, he’d probably have to exceed expectations to become a key piece when the Blackhawks become good. That said, he’s shown he can thrive in the AHL and at the collegiate level despite a less than ideal start to his NHL career.

With a greater focus on player development and no expectations to compete, the Blackhawks have been wise to hang onto Mitchell and let him grow in Rockford. Even though he’s not a top-tier prospect, he will be one to watch this year. A good preseason could surely help him get a spot on this season’s roster, but it could just as much be a make-or-break year for the Alberta native.

Blackhawks Need to Stay Patient During Rebuild

There’s no doubt getting younger is a major goal for Chicago right now. However, there’s a reason the Blackhawks signed Johnson, Max Domi, and other veterans this offseason. Davidson has made it clear that unlike a quick retool, this will be a long-term rebuild. The Blackhawks can’t afford to rush any of their top prospects and should let them grow as much as possible, which they failed to do with Kirby Dach and arguably 2018 eighth-overall pick Adam Boqvist, too.

Even with that in mind, these three prospects could easily make Chicago’s initial roster. They all have some NHL experience, and in Reichel’s case, have shown characteristics of becoming an above-average player. Now, there will be unexpected call-ups this season, and a solid preseason for some of the team’s other prospects could also warrant NHL playing time. For now, though, these are three prospects to keep an eye on as opening night grows closer, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of these three earn a roster spot.

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