Five key storylines to follow during Blackhawks training camp

Connor Bedard’s acclimation to Chicago, Kevin Korchinski’s attempt to prove his NHL readiness and Luke Richardson’s line combinations and mentality toward prospects will all be interesting to watch.

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Connor Bedard (right) with Rockford coach Anders Sorensen.

Connor Bedard (right) will prepare for his official NHL debut during training camp starting Thursday.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Blackhawks will begin training camp Thursday at Fifth Third Arena, giving them just under three weeks to prepare for their regular-season opener Oct. 10 at the Penguins.

Here are five key storylines to follow throughout the Hawks’ camp and preseason:

Bedard’s play and linemates

The gap between Connor Bedard and the rest of the Hawks and Blues’ prospects proved to be enormous last weekend.

But now Bedard will be competing against established pro players in the best league in the world. He’ll obviously be good, but whether he’ll be immediately dominant remains to be seen. An 18-year-old forward requiring some time to adjust to the NHL — even an 18-year-old with the talent and hype of Bedard — wouldn’t be surprising.

It will also be interesting to see who Hawks coach Luke Richardson rotates through the other wing spot on the first line alongside Bedard and Taylor Hall. Tyler Johnson, Taylor Raddysh and Andreas Athanasiou are three possibilities.

Bottom-six forward battle

The Hawks might not be much better overall in 2023-24 than they were in 2022-23, but one thing they have significantly upgraded is their forward depth. It appears inevitable that several forwards who were NHL regulars last season will get cut during this camp.

Penciling in 11 guys — Bedard, Hall, Johnson, Raddysh, Athanasiou, Lukas Reichel, Philipp Kurashev, Jason Dickinson, Ryan Donato, Nick Foligno and Corey Perry — as locks or near-locks to make the team, that leaves two or three more forward spots available.

Competing for those remaining spots will be at least six guys with viable chances: Cole Guttman, Colin Blackwell, Boris Katchouk, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson and Joey Anderson. The camp battles between that group should be fierce.

Rookie wave on defense

It’s very possible the Hawks could open the season with three or four rookies in their defensive corps.

General manager Kyle Davidson said Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, Isaak Phillips and Filip Roos are all “either ready or knocking on the door” of the NHL, and doors will indeed be left open for them to earn roster spots.

All five of those prospects are left-handed shots, so they could end up comprising the entirety of the Hawks’ left-side defensive depth chart while right-handed veterans Seth Jones, Connor Murphy and Nikita Zaitsev (or left-handed Jarred Tinordi) comprise the right side.

There will be an especially bright spotlight on Korchinski. The Hawks foresee him as a future top-pair defenseman, but he currently sits right on the cusp of NHL readiness. His performance will determine whether he stays in Chicago or gets sent back to his Seattle junior team.

“We’ll watch [Korchinski] closely in camp and in the preseason and see what’s best for him,” Davidson said.

Richardson’s approach

Last season, Richardson — as a first-year coach — demonstrated some favoritism to veterans over prospects in certain instances. His insistence on keeping Jack Johnson and, later, Zaitsev in the lineup over the likes of Phillips, Kaiser and Ian Mitchell was perplexing at times.

This season will be unquestionably more about prospect development than last season was, and that directive has been passed along to Richardson, but it’ll be interesting just how substantially he’ll change his approach. Will he be willing to let rookies experience more trial by fire?

“[I’ll] let Luke figure out what lineup he feels comfortable with, [such as] not putting maybe a young defenseman into too tough of a position,” Davidson said.

Last-minute additions?

The Hawks acquired Dickinson with a last-minute trade and Tinordi with a last-minute waiver claim during training camp last season and were pleased with the results.

Davidson said he might consider similar moves in the weeks ahead, depending on who’s available.

He could take advantage of a team with a roster or salary-cap crunch to land another Tinordi-like veteran defenseman — or perhaps an experienced third goaltender for depth behind Arvid Soderblom and Petr Mrazek.

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