The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, begin their first season under new ownership in a couple of weeks. The new owners? The Chicago Blackhawks.
The organization purchased the Hogs back in April and are currently making renovations to the BMO Harris Bank Center. As a result, Rockford will be on the road for their first six games before opening the home schedule November 6.
For the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets, the AHL season begins October 15 in Grand Rapids. What kind of club hits the ice against the Griffins? The roster looks to be similar to the youth-laden squad that finished last in the Central Division by a fair sight in the Reader’s Digest-sized 2020-21 campaign.
Based on the lack of signing organizational depth, the IceHogs are going to be short on veteran leadership when the season begins. Today, I’ll begin breaking down the roster possibilities. Let’s start in net.
Rockford could be looking at several different scenarios between the pipes as the 2021-22 season quickly approaches. They could boast a veteran tandem that could anchor a young roster in the early part of the Hogs schedule. They also could be as green as the remainder of the roster.
It would appear that the Blackhawks will be going with Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen in net this fall. It also seems unlikely that the Blackhawks will carry three goalies on their cap-strapped roster.
In addition to Fleury and Lankinen, Chicago has three goalies under contract. Two of those players, Collin Delia and Malcom Subban, spent last season with the Blackhawks. Subban served as the primary backup to Lankinen, while Delia struggled to find playing time after the initial few games.
Things got so bad for the Cucamonga Kid that he requested and received a rehab assignment to Rockford on February 27. He was terrible in his first two starts of the four-game stint. Despite righting the ship in his final two appearances, Delia wound up with a 5.16 goals against average and an .858 save percentage.
Delia has had stretches where he been a very good AHL net minder. He also has been subject to several funks in his four-year pro career. He was clearly the odd man out last season in Chicago. Like Subban, Delia is in the final year of his NHL contract.
Both Subban and Delia are subject to waivers if they aren’t on the Hawks roster to begin this season. There is a strong chance that one or both could be claimed if/when Chicago attempts to assign them to Rockford. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the Hawks are hoping one gets snatched up by another team, with the other clearing waivers and providing a bit of depth in case of injury.
Matt Tomkins, who was Rockford’s primary starter in goal last season, signed with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League in the offseason. In his place, the Blackhawks signed Arvid Soderblom to an entry contract this spring after a strong performance last season in the SHL. Soderblom does have a European Assignment Clause in his contract. If Subban and Delia both wind up in Rockford, it’s a possibility that he opts to play in Sweden for another season.
The Blackhawks seem to be planning on getting the 22-year-old Soderblom steady AHL work. Because of this, they may choose to work out a trade of Delia and/or Subban to keep a spot open for a younger goalie.
The IceHogs could see a tandem of Delia and Subban in the crease to open the season. One of the veterans could be paired with Soderblom if a trade or waiver claim materializes.
A solid option for the IceHogs would be for Soderblom to pair with former Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris for the workload in net. Morris is on an AHL contract with Rockford and showed promise in limited action in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign.
The 21-year-old Morris made five starts and two relief appearances for the IceHogs last season, posting a 2.52 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. He’s earned an increased role, providing the Hawks thin the herd at goalie in the coming weeks.
Rockford also has Tom Aubrun under AHL ink for another season. Aubrun, 26, saw most of his action with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. He did make three appearances in Rockford (4.46, .864) in 2020-21. Aubrun will likely bounce from Indy to Rockford when needed.
As will be the case throughout the Hogs roster, the way Chicago’s roster takes shape will factor into the makeup of the piglets. Next time, I’ll continue the season preview with a look at the defense.