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Five-Year Forecast: Your 2023-24 Chicago Blackhawks

A changing of the guard up front will be bolstered by a blueline that has a couple of truly promising prospects. The challenge for the Blackhawks, however, might be finding a way forward in the crease.

Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.

Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Chicago.

FORWARDS

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Hard as it may be to believe, there does actually come a time when the twin eight-year, $84-million contracts signed by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come to an end. That time? The end of the 2022-23 season, which means the Blackhawks will need to re-sign both to keep them part of the roster come the 2023-24 season. We project they will, primarily because it’s migraine-inducing trying to picture either wearing another jersey. But from the current roster, Toews, Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are the only holdovers who have already made their mark in Chicago. The rest, from off-season acquisition and project prospect Alex Nylander on down through to current Penn State pivot Evan Barratt, are projected to be fresh faces. The boldest prediction here is that Kirby Dach will assume the role as top-line center. He’ll be able to study under Toews, who will help shepherd Dach into top-line duty.

DEFENSE

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The Blackhawks traded away Henri Jokiharju this summer, but that doesn’t render Chicago prospect-less on the blueline. In fact, if anything, Jokiharju was made expendable, so to speak, given the potential blue-chippers on the way. Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin should be lineup regulars for at least a couple seasons by the time 2023-24 comes to pass, and the same goes for Ian Mitchell and Alex Vlasic, who is about to embark on his NCAA career but has intriguing upside. As part of this exercise, almost every current blueliner has moved on, but it’s far easier to predict that will be the case when four of the top six defensemen – all of whom, save Olli Maatta, will be in their 30s – see their contracts expire before 2022-23 and mainstay Duncan Keith will be 39 when his deal ends ahead of the 2023-24 season. Brent Seabrook will be entering the final year of his deal.

GOALIES

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If drafting a starting goaltender was easy, every team would do it. But it’s not, and the Blackhawks’ crease prospects are proof positive that finding a potential heir can be one of the most difficult tasks a front office faces. Assuming current netminders Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner have moved on in five seasons’ time, which is a certainty for the former, though slightly less so for the latter, Delia is likely the best bet in Chicago with Gravel acting as the No. 2. Make no mistake, though, the Blackhawks will need to address their goaltending situation.

For so long, particularly during their semi-dynastic run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons, the Blackhawks’ success was predicated on the depth of its attack and some key blueliners. Come 2023-24, however, Chicago could be in for a reversal, with the defense guiding the team with a few key forwards shouldering the bulk of the offensive load. There’s going to be a lot of hope placed on the development of Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell in particular, and if DeBrincat, Strome, Dach and Nylander, who the Blackhawks are clearly hoping can be another Strome-esque success story, can be the drivers up front, Chicago stands to be in a good spot in five seasons’ time.

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