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High On The Hog: Bringing Up Goalies

The Rockford IceHogs currently have a plethora of net-minders as their season winds down next week. Taking a look at the list of goalies in town really got me in a pondering mood.

In one corner, we have Lars Johansson, brought from across the ocean as a potential future backup in Chicago. Across the way, we have Mac Carruth, a 2010 draft pick who’s days could well be numbered after spending parts of four seasons with the Hogs.

The plot thickened back in January when Jeff Glass was brought in on an AHL deal to compete for crease time. The new kid (literally)  is 18-year-old Wouter Peeters, last summer’s third-round selection of the Blackhawks, having his tires kicked on an ATO.

Peeters was in Rockford solely to practice with the IceHogs and get a close-up look from the organization; Rockford released him from his tryout Sunday morning. Still, four goalies on the roster gave me pause to think. What may we expect from this youngster in terms of an NHL future? For that matter, what lies ahead for the rest of this motley crew?

Corey Crawford is 32. Deal with it. At some point Chicago will have to find it’s next great (or even good) goaltender. Will it come through nabbing a late blooming prospect or via the draft?

And The Hawks Select…

First off, those of us who fantasize about Chicago drafting another Corey Crawford may be in for a bit of a wait. In the entirety of the NHL Draft-era, there has been one home-picked goalie who has played a substantial part of the Hawks history.

That would be Corey Crawford, who has played all of his 381 career games in the Indian head sweater. Having spent parts of ten seasons in Chicago, the last seven as a major player, Crawford is the only Blackhawks draftee who has proved to be a top-line starter…with Chicago.

Including Crow, there are eight goalies in 54 years of drafting that have played as many as 100 NHL games. The bulk of those games were spent with other clubs. Here’s that list, minus Crawford, who was drafted in the second round back in 2003:

Craig Anderson (3rd round, 2001)-505 NHL games, 56 with Chicago.

Michael Leighton (6th round, 1999)-110 NHL games, 43 with Chicago.

Jimmy Waite (1st round, 1987)-106 NHL games, 58 with Chicago.

Dominik Hasek (10th round, 1983)-735 NHL games, 25 with Chicago.

Eddie Mio (7th round, 1974)-192 NHL games, none with Chicago.

Mike Veiser (3rd round, 1972)-139 NHL games, 62 with Chicago.

Gilles Meloche (5th round, 1970)-788 NHL games, two with Chicago.

That list includes a Hall-Of-Famer (Hasek), two decent starters (Anderson and Meloche), three journeyman backup-types in Leighton, Mio and Veiser, and one current Hawks goalie coach in Waite. That’s 246 games those picks have played for the Blackhawks, compared to the 381 Crawford has logged.

Veiser and Waite both spent several years backing up Chicago legends (Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour, respectively). Hasek was stuck behind the Eagle and found his star in Buffalo and Detroit. However you slice it, the draft has not been the answer.

Since selecting Crawford, the Blackhawks have spent picks on eleven goalie prospects over the past 14 drafts. In order, here’s that bunch:

Mike Brodeur (7th round, 2003)-Seven NHL games with Ottawa.

Joe Fallon (6th round, 2005)-31 games with Rockford from 2009-2011, now plays in England.

Joe Palmer (4th round, 2006)-Never rose about the ECHL, now Director of Hockey Ops at Cornell.

Josh Unice (3rd round, 2007)-Never signed with Hawks or Rockford, last played in Australia.

Kent Simpson (2nd round, 2010)-Relieved Nikolai Khabibulin in one game with Chicago in 2013.

Mac Carruth (7th round, 2010)-Some success in Rockford last spring, is likely moving on this summer.

Johan Mattsson (7th round, 2011)-A year of juniors in Canada, one in the USHL; now back in Europe.

Brandon Whitney (7th round, 2012)-Unsigned by Hawks, spent time in the ECHL, one AHL appearance.

Matt Tomkins (7th round, 2012)-2.48 GAA, .909 save percentage at Ohio State in his final season.

Ivan Nalimov (6th round, 2014)-Has been playing in the KHL for the past three seasons.

Wouter Peeters (3rd round, 2016)-Spent the past season playing for Jokerit’s under-20 team in Finland.

Chicago currently holds the rights to Tomkins, Nalimov, and Peeters. I would speculate that Peeters is a couple of seasons from trying North American hockey. Nalimov likely stays in Russia. Perhaps Tomkins gets an AHL contract from Rockford, possibly an entry deal from the Blackhawks.

Maybe the next master of the cage for Chicago is to be selected this summer in front of the hometown fans at this year’s draft. Don’t bet on it, though.

 

I Do Wanna Bet…Why Can’t The Hawks Develop Goalies Like They Did With Crow?

Simple. Patience.

Crawford developed at a time where there was no urgency to call up a young goaltender. The Blackhawks weren’t a contender of any sort. This wasn’t too long ago; I’m sure we all remember.

Following his selection, Crawford played two more seasons of juniors. Upon turning pro in 2005, he was assigned to the AHL, where he spent the next five seasons in Norfolk (two) and Rockford (three) learning the tricks of the trade in the minors. He didn’t just sit and watch, either. Here are Crow’s goals against numbers in each of those seasons, along with the number of appearances:

2005-06 (48 games): 2.94

2006-07 (60 games): 2.84

2007-08 (55 games): 2.83

2008-09 (47 games): 2.59

2009-10 (45 games): 2.67

Crawford played 255 AHL games over five seasons, in which he was entrenched as the primary starter, on teams that were way more talented than they’ve been in recent IceHogs seasons. In those 255 games, he posted an overall goals against average of 2.78 and a .908 save percentage.

By way of comparison, Carruth has played 50 games over four seasons, during which he was the primary starter for about three or four weeks, for Rockford teams that were nowhere near as deep in front of him. In those 50 games, he posted an overall goals against average of 2.95 and a .900 save percentage.

Simpson, like Crawford, a second-round pick, played 34 games for Rockford before being dealt to the Islanders (and 24 AHL since). How might these goalies had fared had they been given steady work for more than a stretch of a couple of months?

Crawford had FIVE FULL SEASONS to work out the kinks in his game. Don’t fool yourself; he was every bit as inconsistent as the young men that have passed through Rockford. This was true even several seasons into his tenure in the minors.

Crawford’s talent had a lot to do with his development; he was a second-round pick. However, the timing was right for him to grow and mature before taking over the starting job in Chicago at age 26. No Blackhawks draft pick before or since had the benefit of that kind of gestation time.

Are the Blackhawks currently patient enough to let Peeters play in Europe for two or three more seasons, then give him 40-plus starts in Rockford for two or three more? Time, as they say, will tell.

 

Maybe We Can Develop An…Older…Guy

Aside from obtaining a starting goalie via trade, as was the case with Esposito (and to a lesser extent, Murray Bannerman and Jocelyn Thibault), the only choice a team may have is to take a shot on a free agent. As opposed to big-money signings like Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet, let’s focus on goalies who Chicago signed hoping to find a late bloomer.

The gold standard in this category is obviously Belfour, who signed with the Hawks in 1987 and became a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. Incidentally, that was after spending most of his first three pro seasons playing in the minors (90 games) and with Team Canada (33 games).

In addition to the Hall-Of-Famer, Chicago has had pretty decent luck finding some quality goaltenders in recent years. Certainly no Belfours, mind you, but guys who figure to have decent NHL careers.

Since Crawford was drafted in 2003, the Blackhawks have signed four free agents who have tasted NHL success. Most of these names are still fresh on the mind, but here we go:

 

Antti Niemi 

Signed at age 24 following the 2008 season from Finland’s Liiga, Niemi split time in Rockford with Crawford in 2008-09 before making the Blackhawks roster the following season. After anchoring Chicago’s first Stanley Cup in 39 years, he went on to a five-year run with San Jose before spending the last two seasons in Dallas.

 

Antti Raanta 

Chicago went back to Liiga for Raanta, who at 24 was promoted from Rockford in November of 2013 when Khabibulin was injured. Raanta had a sensational start to his NHL career, being named the Rookie Of The Month for December of that season.

Scott Darling’s ascension in 2014-15 saw Raanta back in the Rock for a stretch, though he had a 1.89 goals against average and a .936 save percentage in the 14 games he played for Chicago. Raanta has spent the last two seasons with the Rangers following his trade there in the spring of 2015.

 

Scott Darling

Originally drafted by Phoenix in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL draft, Darling had nearly drunk his way out of hockey before turning things around. Chicago signed him to a two-way deal in the summer of 2014 after a strong AHL showing in Milwaukee. The rest, they say, is history.

 

Carter Hutton

This is the one that doesn’t scream success to Hawks fans because Hutts played one game for Chicago before departing the organization in 2013. However, I think his is a story worth telling.

After finishing his college career at UMass-Lowell, Hutton had a one-year deal with San Jose and played 22 games with Worcester in the AHL. In the fall of 2011, he signed an AHL contract with the IceHogs and spent most of the first two months of the season with Toledo in the ECHL.

Hutton was recalled by the Hogs in December, went on a marvelous run, won the starting job and was signed to an NHL contract by Chicago in February. After another one-year deal with the Blackhawks that saw him in Rockford for the bulk of the season, Hutton signed with Nashville.

Since leaving Chicago in 2013, Hutton has established himself as a dependable backup in both Nashville and in St. Louis. He was more than serviceable for the Predators when Pekka Rinne was suffering from a hip injury in Hutton’s first season there. This year, Hutton played in 29 games for the Blues, finishing with a 2.32 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

At 31, Hutton (who certainly benefited from the 120 AHL games he played over three years) has carved out a pretty fair career as an NHL goalie, considering his humble beginnings. Don’t agree? Let’s see how his numbers stack up against the other three guys:

Player            NHL Games     With Hawks     W       L        OTL/SOL   GAA    Save %    Win%   Point%

Neimi            423                     42                        227    125    51                 2.49    .913          .563      .626

Raanta           94                       39                        78      47     27                 2.33    .917          .513       .602

Darling          75                        75                        39      17      9                   2.37    .923         .600      .669

Hutton           105                     1                           87      45     14                 2.50    .911          .583       .631

 

His numbers aren’t as gaudy as those of Raanta and Darling, but Hutton has given his teams a strong chance to win. That’s what you want in a backup; the Thunder Bay, Ontario native has played that role in five years of NHL service.

Hutton is also the only goalie of the four who skated across the BMO Harris Bank Center ice to pummel current Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek. So there.

 

What About The Current Rockford Foursome?

I’ve spent some time discussing Peeters and Carruth; what about the players that comprise the current tandem for the IceHogs?

Johansson and Glass had nearly identical numbers over their past five starts going into this past weekend. Over the course of the season, that has also been pretty similar:

Johansson (37 games): 12-15-4, 2.70 goals against, .908 save percentage.

Glass (20 games in RFD): 8-10-2, 2.63 goals against, .914 save percentage.

Glass, who has a smaller sample size by half, has 155 AHL games (in addition to 173 KHL games) under his belt,. Johansson missed about three weeks of action sitting in Chicago as an unused backup. It took a bit for him to settle back into game shape.

If you want to consider Johansson an older version of Niemi or Raanta and Glass an older version of Hutton or Darling in order to fit some sort of narrative, that’s your prerogative. The key word there is “older”, as in five or six years older.

Though both goalies are well into their careers, neither Johansson or Glass have a single game of NHL experience. There obviously wasn’t enough confidence in either net-minder to give them even a cursory spin around the crease when they were recalled.

Based on their recent play, I think that either goalie could handle such a role in a limited capacity if circumstances dictated. That said, hopefully, their services won’t be needed in Chicago during the playoffs.

If this was the tandem Rockford starts the 2017-18 campaign with, I think the two make a very solid tandem. Of course, Johansson is a restricted free agent at season’s end, while Glass will likely be exposed in the expansion draft. Besides, I am not sure a pairing of a 30-year-old goalie and a 31-year old goalie allows for developing a player that may be needed in the next couple of seasons.

 

What’s In The Hopper?

Well…

Carruth, provided he is signed to an extension. That doesn’t look to be in the cards; even when he’s played well it has failed to win him steady work for more than a few weeks. Could he get two seasons of 30-40 AHL starts and become a feel-good NHL late-bloomer? Nothing’s impossible, but there is no reason to believe he’ll get those starts with this organization.

Right now, there are no other goalies under contract with Chicago. The depth chart appears to be Crawford (duh), Darling, Glass/Johansson (pick ’em) and Carruth.

Rockford signed former Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand to an AHL deal before the season. He was in town for parts of three games (4.58 goals against, .868 save percentage). That included a good showing in an overtime loss to San Antonio back in December.

In 47 games with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, Hildebrand posted a 3.75 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. I don’t know if that merits a second one-year AHL contract, to say nothing of an NHL deal from the Blackhawks.

Perhaps Chicago can lure Nalimov to Rockford. Tomkins could be signed as mentioned above; maybe a college free agent is brought aboard. The best-case scenario would be a tandem made up of a prospect and a veteran, providing some insurance with an eye to the future. How that shakes out will be revealed in the coming months of the offseason.

Regardless of who winds up manning the pipes for the IceHogs next fall, the key is going to lie in providing an opportunity to grow into the type of player capable of providing the Blackhawks dependable help in net.

 

Yes, I Also Did Recaps

Thursday, April 6-Iowa 3. Rockford 1

The IceHogs rallied to tie the game in the third period but ultimately fell to a Wild team desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Tyler Graovac’s power-play goal at 4:01 of the opening period was the only notch on the scoreboard entering the final 20 minutes. For the most part, the Hogs had been outplayed and had little in the way of strong scoring chances.

That changed in the sixth minute of the final frame, when Tyler Motte won a faceoff just outside the Iowa zone. Kyle Baun won a scramble for the puck and nudged it to a waiting Jeremy Langlois. The snap shot from Langlois snuck between the pads of Wild goalie Alex Stalock and into Twinetown. 5:31 into the third period, Rockford had knotted the score at one.

Rockford pressed hard for the goal that could put them on top over the next few minutes. However, it was the Wild who regained the lead on Cristoph Bertschy’s off-speed shot from the left dot. The pace of the shot, coupled with Iowa’s Alex Tuch skating in front of the net, kept Lars Johansson from making the stop. The Wild led 2-1 11:17 into the third.

Iowa would sew up the contest a few minutes later. Mike Reilly flipped the puck out of his zone and across the Hogs blue line. Colton Beck gave chase, beating Luc Snuggerud to it and knocking the biscuit past Johansson at 16:24 for a 3-1 Wild lead. Despite Johansson being brought to the bench for an extra skater, that remained the final score.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Brandon Mashinter (A)-William Pelletier-Luke Johnson

Tyler Motte-Jake Dowell (C)-Kyle Baun

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Jeremy Langlois-Anthony Louis

Matheson Iacopelli-Michael Latta-Evan Mosey

Nolan Valleau-Ville Pokka

Luc Snuggerud-Erik Gustafsson

Carl Dahlstrom-Robin Norell

Lars Johansson

Power Play (0-3)

Mashinter-Pelletier-Baun-Gustafsson-Pokka

Iacopelli-Langlois-Louis-Dahlstrom-Snuggerud

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 0-1)

Dowell-Baun-Pokka-Valleau

Motte-Labrie-Snuggerud-Gustafsson

Johnson-Langlois-Dahlstrom-Norell

 

Saturday, April 8-Rockford 4, Milwaukee 2

The IceHogs prevailed on the road for just the ninth time in the 2016-17 season. They did so behind some timely goals and 32 saves from Jeff Glass.

Milwaukee went up 1-0 on a Jack Dougherty goal midway through the opening period. The Hogs rallied with a pair of goals in the second to take the lead.

Kyle Baun was the catalyst for the equalizer, sending a clearing attempt off the boards and into neutral ice. Michael Latta got to the puck with a head of steam, cruised into the high slot and beat Marek Mazanec with the wrist shot at 5:15 of the period.

Rookie Anthony Louis notched his first pro goal a few minutes later. Latta picked off a pass in the Milwaukee zone. He backhanded a short feed to Louis, who did the rest. Louis drove to the right dot and let go of a shot that was blocked by the stick of Andrew O’Brien. Staying with the play, Louis regained possession and found some room in the corner of Mazanec’s net. The IceHogs led 2-1 at the 9:32 mark.

The Admirals knotted the game at two goals after Vladislav Kamenev’s long shot caught a piece of Jeff Glass’ pads and trickled across the goal line at 11:03 of the second. It stayed tied until early in the final frame.

The game-winner came on the prototypical Brandon Mashinter tally. The big forward got himself established in front of the net, gathered in a rebound of a Ville Pokka shot, and slid the biscuit pas Mazanec to light the lamp. Rockford now held a 3-2 advantage 6:12 into the third.

Glass and the IceHogs prevented Milwaukee from tying the contest. With less than a minute remaining, Rockford was called for too many men on the ice. Looking at their first power play of the night, the Ads pulled Mazanec. Jake Dowell won the subsequent faceoff, with Pokka gaining control and connecting on the long-distance, empty-net shorty to seal the victory.

With a goal and a helper on the evening, Latta was voted the game’s First Star. Glass, who made 16 saves in the third period, nabbed Second Star honors. Making his debut with the Hogs was Radovan Bondra, who signed an ATO with Rockford that morning.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Tyler Motte-Jeremy Langlois-Kyle Baun

Brandon Mashinter (A)-William Pelletier-Luke Johnson

Matheson Iacapelli-Michael Latta (A)-Anthony Louis

Radovan Bondra-Jake Dowell (C)-Evan Mosey

Luke Snuggerud-Ville Pokka

Erik Gustafsson-Carl Dahlstrom

Robin Norell-Robin Press

Jeff Glass

Power Play (0-2)

Iacopelli-Johnson-Louis-Press-Snuggerud

Mashinter-Pelletier-Baun-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Admirals were 0-1, Rockford notched a short-handed goal.)

Dowell-Motte-Pokka-Dahlstrom

 

Sunday, April 9-Chicago 3, Rockford 1

As has been the case over the last few weeks, Rockford turned in a gutsy effort. Lamentably, they couldn’t scrape together enough on the offensive end to beat the Central Division leaders.

Chicago’s top line struck first 4:29 into the contest. Kenny Agostino smacked in a rebound of Wade Megan to put the Wolves up 1-0.

Rockford tied it up after some outstanding work by rookie Anthony Louis. First, the 5’7″ forward blocked the shot of Chicago defenseman Kevin Tansey. Louis then swiped the puck from Vince Dunn and caught up with it as he crossed into Wolves territory. A nice saucer feed to Matheson Iacopelli led to a one-timer that was stopped by Chicago goalie Jordan Binnington. However, Michael Latta followed up the rush, cleaned up the rebound, and fired past Binnington at 14:15 to make the score 1-1.

It wasn’t long before the Wolves re-established a lead. Tansey sent a puck toward the net that was knocked out of the air by Samuel Blais and past Hogs goalie Jeff Glass. The goal came at 16:58, and Chicago took that 2-1 advantage into the first intermission.

That’s the way things stayed until the final minutes. Glass and Binnington took care of their respective nets until the IceHogs yanked Glass for an extra skater in the final minutes of play. With Glass on the bench, Agostino came up with an empty-net goal with 1:10 remaining to put the Hogs away.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matheson Iacapelli-Michael Latta (A)-Anthony Louis

Tyler Motte-Jeremy Langlois-Kyle Baun

Brandon Mashinter (A)-William Pelletier-Luke Johnson

Radovan Bondra-Jake Dowell (C)-Evan Mosey

Luke Snuggerud-Ville Pokka

Erik Gustafsson-Carl Dahlstrom

Robin Norell-Robin Press

Jeff Glass

Power Play (0-4)

Iacopelli-Johnson-Louis-Press-Snuggerud

Mashinter-Pelletier-Baun-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 0-4)

Dowell-Motte-Pokka-Dahlstrom

Langlois-Latta-Gustafsson-Snuggerud

Baun-Johnson-Norell-Press

 

Closing Out The Season

Rockford has three games in this final week of the season. They host Milwaukee Wednesday night and travel to play the Admirals in their barn Friday. Saturday night the season concludes at the BMO Harris Bank Center as the Hogs take on Iowa.

For game updates, team happenings, and an occasional independent thought on the IceHogs, follow me on twitter @JonFromi.

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