Now that we’re deep into the offseason, we can take a step back and evaluate what the Chicago Blackhawks will look like when camp opens in September. New faces like Connor Bedard and Taylor Hall will get all the attention and excitement, but with these additions to the roster, it has created a major logjam in the forward group.
The logjam is most prevalent at the bottom of the roster, where they currently have six forwards battling for one final spot in the lineup. Here’s a look at who will be in the running for those final spots in the lineup and who should stick as a healthy scratch.
Chicago’s Commitment to Veterans
Last season, the Blackhawks had to rely on youngsters to fill out the roster with injuries, trades, and their commitment to tanking. The focus now seems to be on creating a strong culture for up-and-comers like Lukas Reichel and Bedard. This offseason, general manager Kyle Davidson made it a point to add veterans like Hall, Nick Foligno, Ryan Donato, and Corey Perry.
These four players will help insulate the young core and will likely take up most of the remaining roster spots, leaving only one spot upfront for one of the following players. Of course, there will be injuries and likely subtractions at the trade deadline, so even if a few of these players do not make the opening-night roster, we will likely see their faces in the lineup at some point during the 2023-24 season.
Cole Guttman had a strong rookie season that was split between the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL), producing 30 points in 39 games with the Rockford IceHogs and six points in 14 games with the Blackhawks. Guttman’s season would sadly end with a shoulder injury that would require surgery and will likely eat into his off-season training.
I think he has the inside track on that final spot in the lineup because aside from his strong rookie season playing pro, Guttman was also signed as a college free agent who will be 25 years old by the end of next season. It will be important for the Blackhawks to have a good idea of what he is at the end of next season and if he will be part of this future competitive Blackhawks team.
The Blackhawks signed Colin Blackwell on the first day of free agency last season, a deal I was very much a fan of, but once he hit the ice, his play did not seem to come together. Hampered by injuries and inconsistent play, Blackwell only dressed for 53 games with the big club, putting up a meager 10 points in what should have been an elevated role.
A good veteran presence for a young team in 2022-23, the need for a play of his ilk looks to have been filled by the addition of players like Perry and Foligno. Blackwell could find himself in the press box come next season or on the waiver wire at the end of training camp.
As part of the Brandon Hagel trade, there were decent expectations of Katchouk coming into last season. However, much like the team overall, Katchouk struggled mightly with 16 points in 58 games with the Blackhawks.
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Katchouk had a strong end of the season when he was one of their better players, scoring nine points in his final 16 games. One thing that could potentially loom large for Katchouk is the sexual harassment investigation into the 2018 Hockey Canada team, a team that he played on. If he was found to have played a role, which he has denied, it could lead to a suspension and spell the end of his time in Chicago.
Mackenzie Entwistle has played 126 games with the Blackhawks over four seasons since 2020-21. The former 2nd-round pick has not evolved into much more than a fourth-line player at the NHL level, but the team knows what they are getting with him.
He brings great energy to the lineup, and head coach Luke Richardson liked him last season. The rub for Entwistle is that he’s likely reached his ceiling and could easily clear waivers to provide some depth in Rockford.
Similar to Entwistle, Johnson has seen action with the Blackhawks over the past three seasons but has even less of a scoring touch. His game is about toughness and defense from the center position. Johnson, 25, appears to have maxed out his potential as a fringe NHL player. He might be better suited for the IceHogs where he would likely take on a leadership role and help the influx of young talent that will be headed to Rockford this season.
Acquired at the trade deadline in a package that sent Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty to the Maple Leafs, Anderson got a good look at the end of last season, when he was one of Chicago’s most effective forwards. While he did not put us a ton of points, six points in 24 games, he seemed like the perfect fit for Luke Richardson’s system as a player who delivered intensity and a solid forecheck. Anderson signed a two-year, two-way deal this offseason, so management must have him in their plans for next season and beyond.
However, expect him to play most of next season in the AHL with the influx of forward talent that is joining the Blackhawks’ lineup. Anderson will likely see some NHL games next season after starting the campaign in Rockford.
Who Makes the Cut?
For my money, the last available forward spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup is Guttman’s to lose. He is already on the older side for a prospect and deserves a longer look. He has the style of play coach Richardson is looking for in a bottom-six centerman, and on a team that is lacking true center depth he feels like he has an upper hand on the competition.
If Guttman isn’t ready for training camp in September, expect to see the veteran Blackwell earn that spot, as he can play all three forward positions and would probably be a good fit with players like Foligno and Perry.
The health scratch slots will also be an interesting spot to look at during training because many of these players will require waivers to be sent to the AHL. Of the remaining players Blackwell and Katchouk have the best chances of remaining with the NHL club next season because of Blackwell’s veteran status and Katchouk still having a bit of that untapped potential as a former 2nd round pick.
It will all come down to their play, but so far this offseason, Davidson has created a competitive forward environment for a rebuilding Blackhawks team.