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High On The Hog: IceHogs Season Preview

With the rookie tournament in the books, Blackhawks prospects will soon be gathering out West (of Chicago on I-90 anyway) for another season skating in the name of the pig.

I’ll be posting on all things Rockford this season for TCI (when I can tear myself away from the Olive Garden, that is). My name is Jon Fromi and I have been contributing to The Third Man In for the past few seasons. I spend a few dozen nights at the BMO watching tomorrow’s stars today and will try to keep you abreast on those players the Hawks have entrusted to the Forest City.

Chicago’s collection of current and future IceHogs, along with several amateur free-agent hopefuls, dropped all three games in the tournament. The squad, helmed by Rockford coach Ted Dent, lost 4-2 Saturday night to the Leafs. They then came up short in shootouts with Pittsburgh Sunday and Ottawa Monday.

With the onus on player development over bringing in a slew of AHL vets, the IceHogs generally take a while to gel while a good portion of the roster settles into professional hockey. Expect a streaky club that could develop into a solid team that misses the postseason by…that much. Or not. Hey…they’re kids. Who knows?

A new wrinkle for this season may lay in Indianapolis, where the Fuel is an ECHL affiliate of our very own, as opposed to sharing a team with the Hated Red Wings (tabbed as such while playing NHL 94 on more than one occasion). Whether this prompts a few more players to be inked to AHL deals by Rockford management remains to be seen, but it could be a factor because it might get a little crowded in the pig pen.

I’m just going to take a quick look around the farm and speculate on what Rockford’s opening night roster could look like and what players could be in for in the 2014-15 season. Pay no mind to the smell, try not to step in anything and here we go…

Forwards

Besides Teuvo Teravainen, who I believe will play at least the rest of this calender year in Rockford, several guys are to be watched closely. Philip Daunault had himself a pretty solid weekend with a goal and three assists in Chicago’s games with Toronto and Pittsburgh. Hopefully that’s an omen because Daunault had troubles getting on the score sheet for a large part of last season.

Mark McNeill impressed me in his first full pro campaign and should get a lot of time with Terevainen on Rockford’s top line (if Teuvo hangs around, that is). Alex Broadhurst is back after a 45-point season in 2013-14, though older brother Terry has apparently signed an AHL deal with the Wolves.

Based on what I have seen from Ryan Hartman, his junior career is over. I’m looking forward to seeing him all year in Rockford. Same goes for Garret Ross, who put up 15 goals and 19 assists in his first season with the Hogs.

Matt Carey should also be a player to keep an eye on as he attempts to avoid the pit fellow college free agent Drew LeBlanc fell into last year. LeBlanc seemed overwhelmed with the speed of the pro game but should be back (at NHL money, however, as his contract is one-way this season) to prove one way or another if he can play at the AHL level.

Assuming that Jeremy Morin is going to stick on the Hawks roster, I would expect to see Joakim Nordstrom back in Rockford. If Q can resist sending Brandon Mashinter onto the United Center ice, he’ll be a solid contributor for the IceHogs.

My official take on Mashinter is this: he’s a bigger, more skilled version of Brandon Bollig. He scored 14 goals in 47 games for Rockford and guys weren’t lining up to fight the guy. Take this opinion however you like as I am currently wearing my Mashinter tee shirt as I write this. I did refrain from cutting off the sleeves, though.

Aside from the sprinkling of journeymen the Hogs/Hawks will use to add veteran presence, Dennis Rasmussen (a Swedish prospect signed by Chicago this summer) should find a spot on the team. He had a goal Sunday afternoon against the Penguins.

Defense

Here’s where I see a logjam that could result in some players headed to Indy. There are seven defensemen in Chicago. Let’s pretend that number doesn’t change until someone is dealt. Klas Dahlbeck could win a spot at the bottom of the defensive pairings provided the Hawks move some blueline talent. If not, by my count there are 11 players that I could make a case for sticking on Rockford’s roster.

Zach Miskovic is on an AHL contract and is an early front-runner for IceHogs captain. I don’t think he would have signed with Rockford if he wasn’t expecting to be playing AHL hockey this season.

Here’s what the Blackhawks have as far as signed defensemen: Adam Clendening, Dahlbeck, Matthieu Brisbois, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg, Steven Johns, Kyle Cuminsky and rookie Dylan Fournier. Steven Holl and Kirill Gotovets are signed to AHL deals. Even if coach Ted Dent decides he can’t live without nine defensemen, at least a couple of guys will be playing for the Fuel come fall.

Holl and Gotovets are likely battling Fournier for a spot. However, a lot may hinge on how Chicago’s defensive corps looks when the Hawks break camp.

I think Dahlbeck is ready to handle third-pairing minutes in Chicago if needed. Johns handles the puck pretty well and likes to use his size but probably needs a full season in Rockford. Clendening is a guy who needs to show some improvement in his own zone in what will be his third AHL campaign.

This year is huge for Clendening, in my opinion. Can he make the improvements in his defensive game and make the leap to being a solid NHL defender or simply become another Brian Connelly (a former Hawks prospect who could provide offense but couldn’t get past the defensive questions)? Chicago’s 2011 second-round pick has second and first team all-star selections in two AHL seasons but needs to get it done on both ends of the ice to get to Chicago.

 

Goalie

Chicago’s two main goalie prospects are Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth. Both players are entering the final year of their entry deals and neither has managed much success in AHL action. Simpson backed up Antti Raanta and Jason LaBarbera for the Hogs last season, posting a 3.64 goals against average and an .891 save percentage.

Carruth, who gave up eight goals in his two games in the rookie tourney, struggled to find playing time last season. He made 32 appearances in 2013-14, mostly with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. There, he went 8-15, gave up 3.36 goals a contest and had an .898 save percentage.

Scott Darling was signed by the Hawks this past spring. Michael Leighton is back in the organization. Barring a need for a goalie in Chicago, Leighton should be the main man in net for the IceHogs.

There is room for two goalies in Indianapolis and that’s where we will find either Simpson or Carruth. Darling is 25 and has bounced around the low minors for several years. However, he is 6’6” and was impressive in 26 games with Milwaukee of the AHL last season (2.00 GAA, .933 save percentage). It wouldn’t shock me to see Simpson and Carruth sharing the net in Indianapolis.

 

A few spare thoughts from the rookie tournament…

The new AHL overtime rules were in effect for the weekend. It’s seven minutes of extra time, before which the ice is resurfaced. The teams will play four-man hockey for the first four minutes, dropping to three-man hockey at the first stoppage past the four-minute mark. If no one scores, there is a three-round shootout.

Sunday, Matt Carey tied the game with less than two ticks left in regulation and off to OT the Hawks and Penguins went. The refs must have gotten confused at the new rules and went to 3 on 3 with 3:15 left in OT. The following night, they followed protocol and the teams kept four players on the ice for nearly the entire extra frame before there was a stoppage.

Teravainen dished three assists on Monday night, two of those going to McNeill. The two look like they could hook up for goals quite often if they get extended work together. Both players were healthy scratches Sunday afternoon.

London Knights forward Brett Welychka skated for the Hawks on an amateur tryout and had a couple of goals on the weekend. On Monday he made a nice play to keep a puck in the Penguins zone, leading to a Hawks goal. He took a puck off the back of the head late Monday night and left the game. Welychka skated with Carey and Hartman Monday and also saw time with Teravainen and McNeill. He skated with Carey and Broadhurst Sunday and could possibly be a guy the Hogs look to sign to an AHL deal this fall.

 

 

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