The Blackhawks Are Already Exceeding Expectations, But Who Gets the Credit? Part I

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The Blackhawks Are Already Exceeding Expectations, But Who Gets the Credit? Part I

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks finished October with a 4-3-2 record. For a team that was supposed to lose every night, the mission was a failure. But for a team that doesn’t care about what you or I think about what they’re allegedly trying to do, the 2022-23 Blackhawks have far exceeded expectations already. Indeed, losses to Edmonton and Minnesota that felt like they could/should have been wins is an indication of how well this team has played.

So let’s grade the performances from the squad thus far. Because it’s a big roster, we’re going to break it up and start with the first-year head coach and forwards here. We’ll double back with the blue line and goaltender groups later.

Luke Richardson — A+

The rookie head coach has been exactly what the Blackhawks need… unless losing was really what they wanted. Because he has a team that was supposed to be historically bad offensively competing every single night. His coaching staff has done a good job of putting players in a position to succeed. The penalty kill has shown flashes of brilliance; they have doubled last year’s short-handed goal total already. But they need to stay out of the box because they’ve been exposed in their last few games.

Patrick Kane — A

There were some out there who had concerns about the perceived lack of offense on the Blackhawks’ roster impacting Kane’s potential trade value. Now, those same people should be somewhat concerned that Kane might want to hang around a little longer because he — like Toews — is having fun again. Kane’s a point-per-game player still (nine in nine) and has helped his linemates look great.

Max Domi — A+

I just mentioned Toews ranks fourth in the NHL in faceoff percentage. You know who’s first? Max Domi, who’s winning 67.2 percent of his draws. And after scoring 11 goals in 72 games last year, he’s got four in nine starts this season. If he wants to stay at a 30+ goal pace and keeps winning faceoffs at a 60-percent clip, his one-year deal will be a huge win.

Andreas Athanasiou — B

Athanasiou, like Domi, signed a one-year deal with the intent that he produces well and gets flipped at the deadline. Chicago was hoping to get the 30-goal version we saw in Detroit in 2018-19 and not the guy who had 32 goals 130 games over three seasons since. He’s been solid and has helped the special teams units as well.

Jonathan Toews — A

Toews leads the Blackhawks with five goals through nine games. For the sake of perspective, it took Toews 47 games to get to five goals last year. Chicago’s captain also ranks fourth in the NHL in faceoff win percentage (min. 50 faceoffs) at 64.9 percent. He gets an A instead of an A+ because of late-game gaffes the last two nights, but this has been a vintage Toews to start the season and I’m here for it. Go ahead and prove ’em all wrong, 19.

Tyler Johnson: B

Johnson got off to a great start, but the injury bug caught him again. It sucks that he’s going to miss some time with a sprained ankle because he was having a really nice season (six points in six games).

Taylor Raddysh: B

Raddysh, 24, was stuck in the minors behind the depth up front in Tampa for three years. He finally got a look at the NHL last year, only to get traded to the Blackhawks in the Brandon Hagel deal. Raddysh had six goals in 21 games for the Hawks last year and has three already in nine games to start this season. He also has 16 hits in nine games and has done well on the Blackhawks’ second line. He’s taking full advantage of his first real NHL opportunity.

Philipp Kurashev: B

Kurashev started the season on the Blackhawks’ third line even though he probably has more offensive upside than that role would indicate. When Tyler Johnson went down, he got an opportunity to show that skill on the Hawks’ second line and might get long look there. He has six points in nine games and has done well on either line.

Sam Lafferty: A

Raise your hand if you had Lafferty grabbing a third-line role and putting up seven points in nine games to start the year. And be honest, because I know if you aren’t Sam or his family that hand isn’t going up. Lafferty had 11 points in 46 games after coming over from Pittsburgh, so he’s rolling to start this season, too.

Jason Dickinson: B+

This trade is one of the big early wins for Kyle Davidson as Chicago’s GM (with Nylander for Lafferty). He took on a little bit of salary from Vancouver and got a second-round pick to do it, moving out a depth defenseman who would have further complicated the depth issues the Blackhawks had before Seth Jones got hurt. Dickinson has six points in seven games and has far exceeded what the Canucks thought he was when they dumped him.

MacKenzie Entwistle: B

Entwistle is centering the Blackhawks’ fourth line most night and doing an effective job. He understands his role is to use his size and speed to be hard to play against and he’s done that effectively. Entwistle is winning 57.5 percent of his (albeit limited) faceoffs and has seen time on special teams as well. He’s been a very nice player this year so far.

Colin Blackwell: B-

Blackwell was the only NHL free agent to get a two-year deal from Davidson over the summer and he’s slowly finding himself in the lineup as a fourth line contributor. He has just two assists in nine games but has 15 hits, five takeaways and four blocked shots while averaging 12:03 per game.

Jujhar Khaira: B-

Khaira has been out of the lineup the last two games with Boris Katchouk off IR but he’s done the role asked of him well. He has 20 hits in seven starts and his one goal is of the short-handed variety. After dealing with injuries his entire career, he may have found a niche as a depth player and penalty killer for the Blackhawks.

Reese Johnson: B-

This isn’t a full report card for Reese because he was in the press box frequently before the injury to Tyler. But he scored a goal in his first game back in the lineup and continues to be an energy guy who plays like a wrecking ball. He’s asked to hit people when he gets on the ice and he does that (for under 10 minutes per game in four appearances).

Boris Katchouk: Incomplete

Katchouk missed most of October because of a sprained ankle but returned with a bang this past week. He’s got seven hits in two games at under ten minutes per night, so he — like Reese Johnson — is on this roster to hit people. And he’s doing that. I would imagine Katchouk, Khaira and Reese Johnson will rotate on the bottom line until someone grabs a role and keeps it (or a trade happens).

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab