Connor Bedard breaks into NHL as Chicago Blackhawks look for more progress with rebuild


COACH: Luke Richardson (26-49-7 in his first season).

SEASON OPENER: Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh.

DEPARTURES: C Jonathan Toews, G Alex Stalock, D Caleb Jones, F Jujhar Khaira.

ADDITIONS: C Connor Bedard, F Taylor Hall, F Nick Foligno, F Corey Perry, F Ryan Donato.

GOALIES: Petr Mrazek (10-22-3-0, 3.66 goals-against average, 0.894 save percentage) and Arvid Soderblom (2-10-2-0, 3.45, 0.894).


LAST SEASON: Ugly, but that was the idea all along. The Blackhawks scored an NHL-low 202 goals on their way to the Central Division basement. It was almost worse, but Richardson directed the team to surprising wins against Boston, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Calgary in the final weeks of an encouraging first season in charge for the former NHL defenseman. Patrick Kane, Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty were dealt in a series of deadline trades that netted even more draft capital for the rebuilding team.

STRENGTHS: Patience. Even with the offseason additions of Hall, Foligno and Perry, the Blackhawks are going to be young and inexperienced at multiple spots on their roster. The Original Six franchise can afford to stay with its patient approach. Richardson and general manager Kyle Davidson have been widely praised for their work, and there is no real financial pressure on the organization — not with a supportive fan base energized by Bedard's arrival.

WEAKNESSES: The 31-year-old Mrazek is at the back end of his career, and Soderblom has appeared in just 18 NHL games. While the 6-foot-3 Soderblom is an intriguing prospect, it likely will be one of the league's worst goaltending tandems. The Blackhawks aren't exactly equipped to protect Mrazek and Soderblom, either. There's a lot to like about their young defensemen, but they are going to make mistakes that will create prime scoring opportunities for the opposing team.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Hope and signs of a turnaround, but a fourth consecutive losing season in the end. Bedard and Lukas Reichel are going to provide a lot of highlights, and All-Star defenseman Seth Jones could build on his strong finish to last year. But there isn't enough depth for the team to contend. Any significant injuries would put Richardson in a major bind.

PLAYER TO WATCH: It's all about Bedard in Chicago after the Blackhawks used an unlikely victory in the NHL draft lottery — the franchise's biggest win in years — to take the 18-year-old center with the No. 1 overall pick. Bedard's shot is his most famous attribute, but he drew praise during training camp for his playmaking ability and defensive awareness. He also has exhibited remarkable composure while being compared to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. It might not be very long before he is considered one of the league's biggest stars.



The Associated Press