CHICAGO — After his second squandered golden scoring chance of the night — a post shot on a wide-open backdoor tip-in one period after he lost the handle and blew a tire on a short-handed two-on-none — MacKenzie Entwistle trudged back to the bench in frustration. So Tyler Johnson — who stared at the heavens after missing a wide-open net in the opening minute of the game — put his arm around his young teammate.
“He said, ‘Welcome to the club,’” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said, before pointing out that Taylor Hall, Lukas Reichel and even Connor Bedard had a few opportunities they’d like to have back after a 4-2 preseason win over the Red Wings.
Of course, Hall, Reichel and Bedard aren’t fighting for their hockey lives. Entwistle is. He’s on the roster fringe, desperately trying to earn the 13th or 14th forward spot on the Blackhawks. Sure, he scored in two earlier preseason games, and his versatility and offensive upside give him a leg up on his main competition (Boris Katchouk, Reese Johnson, Colton Dach and Joey Anderson). But every moment counts when you’re on the bubble, and Entwistle blew two of them on Tuesday.
But while Entwistle is surely dwelling on the fact that he didn’t score on those two chances, Richardson is focusing on the fact that he was in position to score at all. In fact, in the big picture, Tuesday night was likely a positive for Entwistle.
“He skated hard tonight, he put himself in those positions, he did a great job on the penalty kill with Boris, and they created some offensive chances,” Richardson said. “Guys are still shaking off the rust, but it’s a really good sign that he’s in those spots. If you ask him, he’s probably going to answer, ‘No I’ve got to bury those.’ But I think the coaches are seeing people get better and better every day individually and as a team. So we’re happy with what we saw.”
At the other end of the roster spectrum is Bedard, the No. 1 pick and No. 1 center who had two more assists and an empty-net goal to seal the win. Blackhawks fans at the United Center loudly celebrated Bedard’s first NHL preseason goal. His teammates and Richardson were happy for him. Bedard? If you simply gauged what he did by his facial expression, you would have most likely guessed he had committed icing.
BEDARD EMPTY NETTER 🥳🚨 pic.twitter.com/8ws2IcrrPU
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 4, 2023
“He’s kind of a humble guy,” Richardson said. “He doesn’t really want to celebrate that. He didn’t even really celebrate that coming in. He’s kind of bashful. He wants to score a nice goal. I don’t even know if he counts those for him, but I count them. There’s no picture in the column, right? It’s just the number.”
As unimpressed as Bedard may be with himself so far, everyone else continues to gush about him. And it’s not just his goal-scoring ability. It’s his playmaking, too. On Tuesday, two of his passes factored largely into the Blackhawks scoring goals.
“That’s what I said this morning,” Perry said. “Everybody talks about his shot, but if you look at what he can do with the puck and find guys and his vision, it’s probably right up there with the best thing he can do. He’s a special player.”
So Bedard’s in and Entwistle is battling. Let’s take a look at the rest of the roster and what it might look like in Pittsburgh next Tuesday:
Forward locks: Andreas Athanasiou, Connor Bedard, Jason Dickinson, Ryan Donato*, Nick Foligno, Cole Guttman, Taylor Hall, Tyler Johnson, Philipp Kurashev**, Corey Perry, Taylor Raddysh, Lukas Reichel
On the bubble: Joey Anderson, Colton Dach, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Boris Katchouk
* Donato missed Tuesday’s game with a groin injury
** Kurashev might not be back by the opener with a wrist injury
Dach probably begins the season in Rockford, but he did get a look on the second line with Lukas Reichel on Tuesday with Athanasiou (illness) and Kurashev out. Anderson, Entwistle, Reese Johnson and Katchouk all would have to go through waivers, so that could play into the upcoming roster decisions, too. It doesn’t sound like the Blackhawks have decided whether they’ll carry 13 or 14 forwards to begin the season. Colin Blackwell could also be back in the mix at some point, but he’ll likely begin the season on long-term injured reserve.
“Everybody that’s at this level this long at training camp, you’re a good hockey player, it’s just now you’re going to have to show a little intangibles that are consistently there throughout the game, not just maybe once and then (you) can’t make that play the rest of the game,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said on Tuesday. “It could be just a good interference bump, which you have to be subtle about nowadays, but roll off them when we have the puck and be available. You know, little things, we’re going to pay attention to detail the next two games and get down to business.”
Defense locks: Seth Jones, Wyatt Kaiser, Connor Murphy, Jarred Tinordi, Nikita Zaitsev
Likely in: Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic
On the bubble: Filip Roos, Isaak Phillips
There’s not a lot of roster drama left for the Blackhawks, but it’s probably more among the forwards than the defensemen. That’s likely bad news for Roos and Phillips, who were really going to have to impress in camp to have any shot at sticking.
Goalie locks: Petr Mrazek, Arvid Söderblom
Next man up: Jaxson Stauber, Drew Commesso
You can expect Mrazek and Söderblom to both get their fair share of starts this season. The Blackhawks don’t want to overload either for different reasons. For Mrazek, it’s keeping him healthy after a few injury-riddled seasons. For Söderblom, it’s about not overworking him as he adapts to his first full NHL season.
First line: Taylor Hall — Connor Bedard — Ryan Donato
Donato missed Tuesday’s game with a groin injury, so this could be in flux. But Donato has been a fixture at Bedard’s side throughout training camp. The 27-year-old scored 30 goals over the past two seasons for Seattle, and the Blackhawks think he can be even more productive with Hall and Bedard, which amounts to the jackpot spot in the Blackhawks lineup this season.
Second line: Andreas Athanasiou — Lukas Reichel — Philipp Kurashev
Luke Richardson said Tuesday it was possible Kurashev could miss the beginning of the season with his wrist injury. The Blackhawks will probably have a better sense of that as the week goes on. Kurashev is expected to resume skating this week. His status could determine whether one of the players on the bubble at least breaks camp with the NHL team.
Third line: Tyler Johnson — Cole Guttman — Taylor Raddysh
If anyone in this top 12 is vulnerable, you’d think it would be Guttman, who played in all of 14 games last season before being shut down for shoulder surgery. But the Blackhawks are high on Guttman, and while Entwistle, Katchouk or Reese Johnson are scrapping for the spot, it’s Guttman’s to lose. He’ll get every chance to prove he belongs in the top nine early in the season.
“Camp’s been good, especially compared to last year, a little more comfortable, knowing the guys, knowing what’s going on,” Guttman said after the morning skate on Tuesday. “Just getting close to the season is an exciting time and get into some games, feel good. … (The shoulder) is back to normal, all taken care of, 100 percent now.”
Fourth line: Nick Foligno — Jason Dickinson — Corey Perry
This trio of scored the first goal of the night on Tuesday, with Perry cleaning up after both Foligno and Dickinson took the puck to the net. This might not be the prettiest line in the Blackhawks lineup, but Foligno and Perry still have some goals left in them, and they bring plenty of grit to the lineup. Dickinson, who prefers the grinder role to the skill role he filled (admirably) at times last season, seems to be a nice match for the two cagey vets.
Extras: MacKenzie Entwistle, Boris Katchouk
Entwistle and Katchouk are probably the favorites among the bubble players.
First pair: Wyatt Kaiser — Seth Jones
Despite all the hand-wringing over his contract, Jones was actually quite good last season on an awful team, effective in all zones and all situations. Whether a smooth-skating puck-mover like Kaiser or a more defensive-minded partner like Alex Vlasic is a better complement to his game remains to be seen, but count Jones as a fan of Kaiser, who’s been turning heads all camp.
Second pair: Kevin Korchinski — Connor Murphy
Korchinski likely begins the season in the NHL, but there’s no guarantee he’ll remain in it. General manager Kyle Davidson may even burn Korchinski’s contract season by playing him more than nine games and still send him back to juniors. It all really depends on how Korchinski continues to look against NHL competition and where the Blackhawks believe he’ll best develop. Davidson does have the luxury of time with the decision.
Third pair: Alex Vlasic — Nikita Zaitsev
Something Vlasic really worked on last season and again this offseason was feeling more comfortable with holding onto the puck a bit longer. He’s gotten a lot more confident with that aspect of his game, and he’s hopeful it translates to opening up more chances for his teammates. That said, the Blackhawks will still count on him most for his defensive ability to break up plays with his size.
Extra: Jarred Tinordi
Tinordi is the perfect defenseman for that seventh spot. He’s used to bouncing in and out of the lineup and understands his role. He’s also a veteran the younger defensemen can lean on for advice.
(Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski /USA Today)