Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Four Blackhawks Playing For Their Jobs In The Home Stretch Of The Season

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To the naked eye, the Blackhawks’ comeback win over the Sharks Friday may have felt more like a loss for many fans. After gaining two points in the standings over the NHL’s worst team, Chicago faces very slim odds of finishing last in the league in points, which in turn would give them the highest odds of winning the draft lottery and selecting Macklin Celebrini, who hasn’t garnered the same hype as Connor Bedard did last year but is still a consensus projected first-overall pick. With 11 games to play, the Blackhawks are ahead of San Jose by five points and will likely need a bit more luck in the lottery.

For the players currently with the Blackhawks, though, tanking for next season is the least of their concerns. Each skater on the roster has just a handful of games to accomplish a specific goal, whether that’s increasing their ice time for next season or getting the attention of scouts.

A handful of players in particular are playing for their jobs in this home stretch of the season. With 11 players set to hit some sort of free agency, Chicago will have a complete roster shuffle on its hands this offseason. Before then, though, a few players in particular have a lot more to prove, whether to the Blackhawks or other teams.

Lukas Reichel

The Blackhawks skater with perhaps the most to play for in the final 11 games of the season. He’s set to be a restricted free agent this summer, and at the beginning of the year, signing the former 17th-overall pick to an extension would have been a no-brainer.

However, this season has seen Reichel struggle like never before. He’s logged only 11 points in 54 games at the NHL level, and he was finally sent down to the AHL to reset in mid-February. He’s since returned to the Blackhawks, and while he hasn’t gotten in the scoring column more than before, Reichel has shown much more confidence on the ice. Will he be able to turn things around and secure an extension before it’s too late?

Taylor Raddysh

While Raddysh hasn’t exactly shown up in the scoring column this year (14 points in 66 games), his play jumps off the ice nearly every night. Always hustling to pucks and forechecking hard, it’s easy to see Raddysh’s value to the team.

However, Raddysh is 26 years old and may not be brought back in restricted free agency this summer. He has a few games left to prove he belongs in the future of the team, or to prove himself to another team on the open market.

Nikita Zaitsev

Since the 32-year-old defenseman’s contract was taken on in February of last year, it’s been all but confirmed that he won’t be brought back when it expires this summer. Constantly in and out of the lineup, Zaitsev has played in a total of 34 games.

He isn’t likely to start all 11 of the Blackhawks’ remaining games, but Zaitsev will look to make his presence felt in any opportunity he gets over the next few weeks. If he succeeds, he’ll have a chance to sign with another team in need of defensive depth.

Arvid Soderblom

The only player on this list whose issues aren’t contract-related, Soderblom could use a strong finish in a big way. He’s signed through the end of next season, but due to a combination of his recent lackluster play and the pipeline behind him, he’ll have to play his way onto the roster next year. If Soderblom doesn’t improve on his 4.01 GAA and .876 save percentage, he may be on the outside looking in next preseason.

With the Blackhawks firmly eliminated from playoff contention, they may be inclined to give the 24-year-old goaltender a longer look in the last few games of the year. With starter Petr Mrazek clearly returning to the role next year, they’ll want to give Soderblom the opportunity to prove he belongs there as well.

The Blackhawks as a team may not have much to play for over the next few weeks, but for a few individual players, the stakes are higher than ever. In order to be given consideration for roster spots next year, they’ll have to prove they belong in the final 11 games of this season.

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