Blackhawks report cards: Connor Bedard, Jason Dickinson lead forward group

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Blackhawks report cards: Connor Bedard, Jason Dickinson lead forward group

Grading a team in the first full year of a rebuild is a fool’s errand. How do you evaluate a team of first-year players, developing prospects and stopgap veterans less than a year removed from an outright tank season?

But amid a franchise-record 59 losses (53 of them in regulation), individual Blackhawks moved up and down the organizational depth chart — some of them playing their way into Chicago’s future, some of them playing their way out. This week, we’ll break down each individual player’s season, assigning him a grade and assessing his future in the rebuild.

We’ll start with the forwards and assess the defensemen and goalies later this week.

Summary: Anderson had to wait until late November for a call-up from Rockford, but he made the most of his NHL opportunity. He was one of the Blackhawks’ best players for the rest of the season. He admits his game isn’t pretty, but he proved he can be an effective all-around player.

Season-defining stat: Anderson had the second-highest Corsi percentage (48.04), highest expected goals percentage (46.88) and second-highest actual goals percentage (52.94), according to Natural Stat Trick.

Future: Anderson is a restricted free agent and will likely be re-signed. He could make sense alongside Jason Dickinson and Nick Foligno next season.

Grade: B

Summary: Coming off a 20-goal season and having been given a new contract, there were high hopes for Athanasiou this season. He fell well short of them. He failed to score in his first 11 games, then missed nearly four months due to a groin and hip injury and produced two goals in his final 17 games.

Season-defining stat: Athanasiou scored 0.37 goals per 60 minutes in all situations this season compared to 0.77 last season.

Future: Athanasiou is entering the final year of his contract and will have a $4.25 million cap hit. If he can bounce back next season, he’s someone the Blackhawks might look to move at the deadline.

Grade: D

Summary: Bedard arrived with the hopes of a franchise on his shoulders and lived up to the hype. His 0.89 points per game as an 18-year-old is third only to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid among active players.

Season-defining stat: The Blackhawks averaged 1.42 goals per 60 minutes in all situations during the 14 games Bedard missed due to injury.

Future: Bedard has two more years on his entry-level contract. He could get a new linemate this offseason.

Grade: A

Summary: Blackwell missed nearly seven months due to a sports hernia injury. He returned in December and had stretches where he was one of the most noticeable players on the ice. His hat trick in March was one of the most memorable games of the season.

Season-defining stat: Blackwell led the Blackhawks in Corsi percentage (48.36) and was second in expected goals percentage (46.69).

Future: Blackwell has been open about wanting to re-sign. A case can be made to re-sign him, too, but it feels like they may let him walk.

Grade: B

Jason Dickinson, 28

Summary: It’s almost hard to believe Dickinson was a “bad contract” the Vancouver Canucks gave Chicago a second-round pick just to take off their hands last season. Not only did Dickinson more than double his previous career high with 22 goals, but he did so while shutting down the best forwards opponents had to offer. On a team that was minus-84 at five-on-five, Dickinson was a plus-9. He’ll appear on Selke Trophy ballots this season.

Season-defining stat: The Blackhawks allowed a team-low 2.04 goals against per 60 minutes in five-in-five play with Dickinson on the ice.

Future: Dickinson signed a two-year extension with a $4.25 million cap hit.

Grade: A

Summary: Donato bounced around the lineup more than anybody this season. He played everywhere from the first to the fourth line. He had some ups and downs, but his numbers were noticeably better higher up in the lineup.

Season-defining stat: Donato was the only forward who had a positive goals-for percentage with Bedard in five-on-five play this season. In 220:01 of ice time together, the Blackhawks outscored opponents 12-11.

Future: Donato has one year remaining on his contract and a $2 million cap hit.

Grade: B-

Summary: Entwistle showed signs in training camp that he could have a breakout season, but that didn’t come to fruition. His third full NHL season wasn’t much different from his first two as a bottom-six forward.

Season-defining stat: The Blackhawks were outscored 41-15 with Entwistle on the ice in five-on-five play. His 26.79 on-ice goals percentage was second-worst among Blackhawks who played in at least half the season.

Future: Entwistle is a restricted free agent. He could come back as a depth NHLer or veteran AHLer, but the Blackhawks may not re-sign him either.

Grade: D

Nick Foligno, 36

Summary: GM Kyle Davidson brought Foligno to Chicago to be a mentor to Bedard and a veteran voice in the room. He was up to the task, quickly becoming the Blackhawks’ de facto captain. More surprising was his offense. With Taylor Hall hurt, Foligno often found himself on Bedard’s line and he scored 17 goals, his most since 2018-19.

Season-defining stat: Per Evolving Hockey’s goals-above-replacement metric, only Dickinson (16.3), Alex Vlasic (15.7) and Anderson (9.1) were more effective than Foligno (8.7).

Future: Foligno was a good bet to be flipped at the trade deadline, but the Blackhawks signed him to a two-year extension after seeing what a good fit he was. He might even get the “C” for the next two years until Bedard is ready to take the mantle.

Grade: B

Cole Guttman, 25

Summary: Guttman closed out last season showing he might have a chance to be part of the Blackhawks’ future. But coming off a shoulder surgery, he couldn’t rediscover that form to begin this season. He seemed to put himself in good spots but lacked the execution. He did play much better for the IceHogs later in the season and may have been considered for another call-up if he hadn’t suffered an upper-body injury.

Season-defining stat: The Blackhawks were outscored 21-6 with Guttman on the ice in five-on-five play this season.

Future: Guttman is a restricted free agent after the season and is expected to be re-signed. He’s flourished in Rockford the last few years, but he needs to show he can do the same in likely a lesser role in Chicago.

Grade: D

Taylor Hall, 32

Summary: The assumption was Hall would be Bedard’s primary linemate coming into this season. For 10 games, Hall played with Bedard more than anybody and they showed some promising signs. The Blackhawks created more five-on-five scoring chances than their opponent with the two players on the ice. But Hall had a few injuries and was eventually shut down for the season in November to repair his right ACL.

Season-defining stat: It’s a small sample size, but the Blackhawks were actually competitive with Hall in the lineup. They were 4-6-0 in the 10 games he played. They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Future: Hall is entering the last year of his contract and has a $6 million cap hit. If he can stay healthy, he should be motivated next season.

Grade: Incomplete

Summary: Johnson did what Johnson does, playing with boundless energy and a physicality that few other Blackhawks have while also getting healthy scratched a lot. He had just two goals and three assists in 42 games.

Season-defining stat: No other Blackhawks player was as unlucky as Johnson; based on expected goals, the Blackhawks should have been outscored about 19-15 with Johnson on the ice. The actual goals were 30-10. His PDO was a team-low .915.

Future: Johnson was scratched 24 times before missing the last 15 games in concussion protocol. He might be a long shot to return as an RFA, but he could earn a spot as a 13th or 14th forward; someone who brings work ethic, energy and leadership but can also be scratched regularly without much complaint.

Grade: C-

Summary: Johnson had his best season since 2018-19, scoring 17 goals in just 67 games as a middle-six center and power-play regular. A foot injury might have cost the Blackhawks a chance to trade the two-time Stanley Cup champion to a contender at the deadline.

Season-defining stat: Johnson had the lowest expected-goals share among Blackhawks forwards at just 39.05 percent. The Blackhawks were outscored 40-15 at five-on-five with Johnson on the ice.  

Future: Johnson will turn 34 this summer and will make a nice veteran depth addition for a team in a different situation than the Blackhawks.

Grade: C

Summary:The Blackhawks fought Kurashev in arbitration to give him less than the $2.25 million cap hit he was awarded. Kurashev had something to prove this season, and he did just that. He developed chemistry with Bedard and they were inseparable most of the season.

Season-defining stat: Kurashev had 66 points in his first 191 NHL games. He had 54 points in his 75 games this season.

Future: Kurashev will be entering the final year of his contract. If he can repeat what he did this season, he could position himself for an even larger pay bump.

Grade: B

Summary: Perhaps no Blackhawks player had a more disappointing campaign than Raddysh, who had just five goals and nine assists in 73 games. He was a healthy scratch for four of the last seven games of the season.

Season-defining stat: Raddysh didn’t score a goal over his final 44 games.

Future: Raddysh looked like he could be a long-term piece after his 20-goal season a year ago. Now it looks like the RFA won’t even be given a qualifying offer.

Grade: F

Lukas Reichel, 21

Summary: Reichel took a significant step back after looking impressive late in the 2022-23 season. He looked timid and his confidence was shot for most of the season. There’s no getting around the fact he scored just five goals in 65 games. But after being sent down to Rockford, he looked more like his old self in a late-season call-up, and his spectacular goal in the season finale in Los Angeles should give him a good feeling heading into a crucial offseason.

Season-defining stat: Per Evolving Hockey, Reichel had the lowest goals above replacement on the Blackhawks roster at minus-11.2.

Future: Reichel could have been cashing in this summer as a restricted free agent. Instead, he could just get a qualifying offer and another chance to prove he can be a viable top-six player next season.

Grade: D+

Summary: Slaggert signed with the Blackhawks after his senior season at Notre Dame ended, posting a goal and three assists in 16 NHL games in a bottom-six role.

Season-defining stat: It’s a small sample size, but Slaggert far outperformed his metrics. The Blackhawks outscored opponents 8-7 at five-on-five with Slaggert on the ice despite a putrid 30.46 percent expected goals share.

Future: Slaggert is only 21, and could benefit from some time in Rockford next season if he doesn’t make the team out of camp. He only has one year left on his entry-level contract.

Grade: C

(Photo of Nick Foligno and Connor Bedard: Jamie Sabau / USA Today)