The Chicago Blackhawks have had to plug lineup holes because of various injuries lately, but they added reinforcements Thursday: Austin Wagner was set to make his season debut against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center.
Wagner, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on trade-deadline day for future considerations, last played an NHL game May 12, 2021, when the Kings visited Colorado.
“He’s going to help out on a checking line right off the hop,” coach Luke Richardson said. “He reminds me a little bit of a left-handed (Sam) Lafferty. He’s got the size, speed and reach, and he’s not afraid to play aggressive.
“He can create some offense with just that breakaway speed, and we’re going to try to use him a little bit in the penalty kill tonight.”
Wagner’s debut was delayed for nearly a month because of a hand infection.
“The injury wasn’t ideal, but you know, we got it sorted here and I’m thankful for that,” he said. “They took really good care of me and got it all figured out.”
Wagner will try to figure out his place as one of four Hawks players in the spotlight.
The Hawks traded for Wagner on March 3 knowing he would miss time because his hand hadn’t fully healed.
Wagner couldn’t recall when it happened, it “just happened in a fight. I think I hit the guy in the mouth and unfortunately they usually clean that out because every human being has bacteria.”
Wagner kept playing with the AHL Ontario Reign until Jan. 25.
“It just got infected by playing with it and getting gross,” he said. “Learning curve — obviously learning how to take care of it better.”
The cut was pretty deep.
“I had surgery (later), so it was down to the bone,” Wagner said. “But it was just infected so it wasn’t closing up. It had a scab over it, but it was leaking pus and it wasn’t good. So they cleaned it up, they got all cleaned out and infection gone. Now it’s healing fast and ready to go now.”
Toews participated in the morning skate Thursday, his second this week, but it’s still too early to pinpoint if or when he might return.
Richardson hadn’t yet talked with Toews talking to reporters after the skate-around, “but he stayed out again (afterward) and he seems in great spirits. I think he was chomping at the bit to start his normal drill, and (Jujhar Khaira) took his spot, so he was slapping the puck around a little mad about that. So he’s becoming his old self again.”
Richardson said he’ll talk with Toews after Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Blues or Friday’s practice and assess whether he’ll join the Hawks on their three-game trip.
“That’ll be a good indicator (after) a full practice,” he said.
Richardson likes the speed Reichel brings to the lineup but wants him to know when to pull back.
“There’s been a couple of places where he just has to understand where he doesn’t need to make something happen there,” Richardson said. “Just make the safe play and if you don’t get scored against and don’t give up a scoring chance, that’s a win in this league.
“If you start forcing the issue and you give up three chances trying to get one, that’s not really a good equation for a guy who’s learning in this league.”
Reichel received such a lesson Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks. During a third-period sequence, Dakota Joshua ran him over in the neutral zone, and Elias Pettersson scored seconds later.
Richardson talked to him about it later.
”That was an area where you’re not going to make something happen,” he said. “The best thing you can do is about a second earlier, lay it off the boards in behind (the defense), let someone else do the work, and you can absorb that hit, roll off.
“Maybe you come down the middle and get a scoring chance instead of getting plowed, dusting the snow off your pants and getting up and backchecking,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t feel great. It was a good teaching point, and he kind of smiled with red cheeks and understood.”
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The season’s a wrap for Kurashev, who was ruled out because of a shoulder injury he suffered March 23 against the Washington Capitals.
“We hoped that it wasn’t that bad, but it hasn’t really settled down and it’s going to be something that doesn’t need any fixing, just time,” Richardson said Tuesday. “So that’ll be unfortunately the rest of the year.”
Kurashev had nine goals and 16 assists in 70 games.
The Hawks played Kurashev throughout the lineup, and he averaged the fourth-most minutes among forwards (17:25). But in the future, the Hawks want him to work on his aggressiveness at both ends.
He ranked last among forwards with a minus-32 rating.
“Kurshy individually has to get a little bit more fire in his desire in certain things,” Richardson said this month. “He does get a little bit revved up sometimes, but he needs it a little more consistently and a little more fire in shooting that puck.”
“Sometimes he likes to dust it off a little bit, look around. … He just needs to take a step up on his pace and his desire.”