High On The Hog: No Defense, Part Two: Mining For Gems

Last week, I laid out the lack of success of the Blackhawks organization in developing defensive talent. Stan Bowman’s draft record is incredibly poor in this regard. However, there are other ways to replenish a blueline.

This week, we’ll recap Bowman’s track record in obtaining defensive prospects via trade or free agency. My criteria is going to be players that Chicago brought in to develop into solid pieces on defense, as opposed to veterans acquisitions.

The player at the top of this list would have to be Nick Leddy, who was obtained with Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker in February of 2010. It’s a stretch to say that Leddy developed in Rockford, but he did play 22 games for the Hogs in 2010-11 and was with the team during the NHL strike in 2012-13 before helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Leddy is currently in his tenth season. He’s a two-time All-Star and has avoided injuries in his NHL career. Chicago was able to hold on to Leddy for all of four seasons before having to move him to the New York Islanders. However, Stan Bowman was able to wrest the next defensive gem from the Isles. Or so it was thought.

Bowman sent Leddy and Kent Simpson to New York in exchange for goalie prospect Anders Nilsson, AHL juggernaut T.J. Brennan…and defensive prospect Ville Pokka.

Nilsson was traded the following summer; Brennan spent five months piling up offense in Rockford before he was traded to Toronto. Pokka was the piece that the Blackhawks hoped to polish into a top-four defender.

They didn’t.

Pokka put up solid numbers with the IceHogs for three and a half seasons but never played a game for Chicago. Bowman’s return for Pokka in February of 2018: three months of Chris DiDomenico for the IceHogs run to the Western Conference Final. Pokka is now skating in the KHL.

Another young defenseman Bowman traded for was Gustav Forsling, who the Hawks picked up from Vancouver. Having given up on Adam Clendening as a long-term solution on defense, Bowman had high hopes for Forsling, who skated for parts of three seasons in Rockford.

Unfortunately, that time was mostly spent following unimpressive stints in Chicago.

Forsling was sent to the Hogs mid-season in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. He was rather pedestrian in his time in Rockford, was moved this past summer in a trade with Carolina and has spent this season in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.

Bowman has also attempted to bring in defense via signing free agents and developing them in Rockford. This has produced a couple of players who have spent time in the NHL, Erik Gustafsson being perhaps the most prominent.

Gustafsson skated 120 games with the IceHogs, including all of the 2016-17 campaign. Like his tenure with the Hawks, Gustafsson was a one-way player who struggled mightily in his own end. However, he does have nearly 200 games of NHL experience at this point.

Chicago has had limited success with undrafted free agents. Ryan Stanton appeared in a game for the Hawks in 2013 and played two full NHL seasons with Vancouver. Viktor Svedberg, who spent five seasons in Rockford, played in 27 games for Chicago in 2015-16. You would have to credit Svedberg and Stanton’s time with the IceHogs for the two at least reaching the NHL.

Otherwise, the cupboard has been bare. Gustafsson is the only one of these players currently contributing to the Blackhawks defense. Bowman has not been able to replace veteran pieces on his roster effectively. It certainly is a big reason the organization is scuffling right now.


Anyway, Back To The IceHogs…

…who are mired in a four-game losing steak as they ready for this weekend’s action. Rockford (17-14-0-1) is in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. They have upcoming games with the two teams directly above them in the standings.

Friday night, the piglets are in Iowa. The Wild have won two of the three previous meetings in the season series, including a 6-2 pasting of Rockford last Friday. Iowa comes in the winners of four of its last five games.

Sunday, Rockford is back at the BMO Harris Bank Center for another tilt with the Chicago Wolves. The Hogs have won all five games against their closest rival in the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup. It’s been over a month since Rockford saw the Wolves; the IceHogs defeated Chicago 4-2 back on November 29.

Roster Moves

Matt Tomkins returned to the IceHogs on Wednesday following his stint with Team Canada, who won the Spengler Cup. Tomkins won in his only appearance in the tournament, a 5-1 victory over HC Davos.

Rockford also recalled forwards Matthew Thompson and Dylan McLaughlin from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Wednesday.



Tuesday, December 31-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3

The Hogs dropped a fourth-straight contest, buried by four Moose tallies in the opening 7:14 of the second period.

After neither team drew cord in the first twenty minutes, Manitoba quickly converted on two power plays in the middle frame. C.J. Suess and Kristian Vesalainen scored fifty seconds apart, at 2:58 and 3:48, respectively.

Emilie Poirier and Cole Maier struck in quick succession in the seventh and eighth minutes, leading to a goalie change for the IceHogs. Kevin Lankinen gave way to Collin Delia, who faced 20 shots the rest of the way but held firm, allowing Rockford to slowly get back into shouting distance.

Brandon Hagel got the Hogs on the board with a strong move into the Manitoba zone following a pass from Chad Krys. Hagel powered around the net and completed the wraparound successfully to make it 4-1 Moose 12:58 into the second.

Nicolas Beaudin’s ttempt from the high slot late in the period caromed high in the air, glancing off of Moose goalie Mikail Berdin and into the cage at the 18:05 mark.

Down 4-2 to begin the third period, the IceHogs displayed the tenacity that has been their trademark this season. Anton Wedin redirected a long pass from Joseph Cramarossa, who had swiped the puck back in the defensive zone seconds earlier. Wedin’s seventh of the season closed the gap to 4-3 at 9:02 of the third. That was as close as Rockford could get, however.

I will hopefully be sending out live tweets @JonFromi during the Wolves game tonight. Follow me for game updates along with my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.


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