This is the summer of Connor Bedard for the Chicago Blackhawks. He is expected to be the most dynamic rookie to come into the NHL since Connor McDavid was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015. When the Blackhawks won the NHL's Draft Lottery, they knew they would have a winning offseason because they gained the opportunity to draft a generational superstar.
Nevertheless , expectations are low in Chicago. Hockey insiders don't expect Bedard to dominate right from the start, because only the most elite players can do that.
Actually, that sounds like the description of Bedard before he was drafted. Perhaps the 18-year-old phenom can show off his dynamic skills throughout his rookie year.
But the franchise may need a year or more before the team can get back to playoff form. The Blackhawks have added some talented veterans through trades and free agency, but they may need to augment their roster throughout the season in order to put Bedard and his teammate in a position to succeed.
Taylor Hall adds speed and explosiveness
The Blackhawks have made several moves, both through trades and free-agent signings to give Bedard enough support that he will feel comfortable in his first season with the team.
The Blackhawks were one of the NHL's worst teams last year, and they lacked playmakers, toughness, leadership and an understanding of what it would take to win games.
The best addition to the Blackhawks will likely be Taylor Hall, who was acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins. Hall was once the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, earning the position in 2010. Hall and No. 2 pick Tyler Seguin were both highly regarded when they were drafted. Neither one was in the McDavid-Bedard category, but perhaps in the next category after that.
The 31-year-old Hall still has explosive speed, and he has the ability to create plays for himself and his teammates. He scored 16 goals and 20 assists in 61 games last season, and that came after he scored 20 goals and 41 assists in 2021-22 for the Bruins.
Hall can make some highlight-film plays, but he is not necessarily the kind of player who will come through with big plays when his team needs them most.
Veterans Nick Foligno and Corey Perry
Hall's teammate with the Bruins, Nick Foligno, came with him in the trade. Shortly after that deal, the 35-year-old Foligno signed a free-agent deal with the Blackhawks.
At this point in his career, Foligno has demonstrated excellent leadership skills in the lockerroom. That may be his best asset, as he is not a big-time scorer. He figures to be a fourth-line player, and there is a good chance that he can be successful in that role.
The Blackhawks also picked up another cagey veteran in Corey Perry, who may be third- or fourth-liner at this point in his career. The 38-year-old Perry is known for his ability to make plays around the net, and that includes deflecting shots, alertly picking up rebounds and creating havoc in front of opposing goalies or defensemen.
Neither Foligno nor Perry have the legs they once did and the lack of speed and quickness will be difficult to overcome. Both men have significant savvy and toughness, but that will not come through on an every-night basis.
The Blackhawks don't have a lot of bona fide offensive talent that will scare many opponents outside of Bedard and Hall. However, they have enough savvy veterans up front who should be quite competitive on most nights.
The defense is quite another story. This is an area that was troubling throughout the 2022-23 season, and the top pairing of Seth Jones and Kevin Korchinski does not inspire a lot of confidence. Jones has some solid offensive skills, but he has significant deficits on his defensive play. It may not have all been his fault, but Jones has delivered back to back seasons of minus-37 and minus-38 the last 2 years.
The other two defensive pairings are unlikely to be any better than the Jones-Korchinski duo.
The other area of concern is Chicago's goaltending. Petr Mrazek figures to be the team's No. 1 goaltender, and it is going to be quite difficult to keep opponents from filling the net. He was 10-22-3 last season in Chicago, with a 3.66 goals against average and an .894 save percentage.
Mrazek has had some decent seasons, including 2019-20 with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was 21-16-2 that season with a 2.69 GAA and a .905 save percentage.