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High On The Hog: Players Under The Microscope

It’s early in the offseason, but the Rockford IceHogs are going to be a very different looking group come fall.

In the face of a trying 2016-17 campaign, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate looks to be setting up in a similar fashion as in previous seasons. That means getting young and learning on the job.

Decisions will have to be made as to how much turnover takes place in Rockford, with a host of free agents among this past season’s roster. Who do the Hogs re-up with? Who moves on to the next stop in their career?

A lot of these questions may well depend on the new coaching staff. With Ted Dent no longer the head man, the team could opt for a clean slate in terms of retaining veteran skaters.

I spent most of this past week taking a look at the players who finished the spring with Rockford. I submit to you my thoughts on the IceHogs roster and how those players fared over the past season.

 

NHL Forwards (That is to say, forwards on NHL one or two-way deals)

Brandon Mashinter-61 games, 15 G, 15 A, 30 P, minus-20 (UFA)

Mashinter was briefly the IceHogs captain before being called up to Chicago in 2015-16. He served as an alternate captain for much of this season. He’s a steady AHL forward capable of 15-20 goals and 30-35 points year in and year out.

Mashinter plays a simple game in the shadow of the opposing net. He’s big and more than able to play physically. He commands respect in the locker room and with coach Ted Dent. At age 28, he may have had his shot at the NHL (at least in Chicago), but certainly can be a productive veteran in Rockford for at least a few more seasons.

Trouble is, Mashinter was on a one-way deal this past campaign. It’s possible the Hawks re-sign him to a similar contract. Then again, in an expansion year, maybe Mashinter tries to put himself in position to make an NHL roster.

He’s a guy I would welcome back in a heartbeat, though I couldn’t fault Mashinter if he keeps his options open.

 

Kyle Baun-74 games, 14 G, 20 A, 34 P, minus-14 (under contract through next season)

Baun, who really had a bounce-back season after a lacerated arm kept him on the shelf for a good chunk of his rookie year. He plays a similar game to Mashinter, only he looks to be a little better passer with a bit more skill around the net.

Baun benefited from a lot of special teams action that wasn’t available to him last season. He also was a regular on the top-six. Does that continue to be the case with a deeper prospect pool?

Having signed after a college career at Colgate, the standard question tends to focus on how much better you can expect Baun to be (he turns 25 in a couple of weeks). It should be interesting to see if he can make a jump of some kind in his game.

 

Michael Latta-61 games, 5 G, 17 A, 22 P, minus-four (RFA)

Latta played in 32 games for the IceHogs, racking up three goals and 13 helpers. He came to Rockford from Ontario in exchange for Cameron Schilling.

Latta, who spent the last two previous seasons playing in the NHL, provides an experienced veteran option. He has some skill with the puck and can drop the gloves when needed. He wasn’t a standout in his time in Rockford in terms of filling the net, but he has shown goal-scoring potential in AHL stints with Milwaukee and Hershey.

He played well up the middle for the IceHogs in the last two months of the season. If the organization decides to clean house in terms of veterans, Latta could be a solid citizen on which to build next fall’s club.

 

Martin Lundberg-67 games, 9 G, 12 A, 21 P, plus-one (UFA)

Lundberg plays a steady, two-way game. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, he can be used on a checking or scoring line and not be terribly out of place in either role.

He wasn’t afraid to go into the corners or tussle with an opponent when he saw the need. Bringing him back would add a versatile skater to the mix in Rockford. This was Lundberg’s first season of North American hockey. He would be welcome depth for the IceHogs, but the money could be better for him in his native Sweden.

 

Luke Johnson-73 games, 8 G, 9 A, 17 P, minus-24 (signed through 2018-19)

Johnson, Chicago’s fifth-round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, went through his rookie season with few other prospects to battle over ice time. The former North Dakota forward spent the majority of his time in the bottom six.

Scoring his first pro goal December 9 in Texas, Johnson also had an assist in what was his only multi-point game of the campaign. He scored six of his goals in the season’s last three months but wasn’t really a productive offensive player for Rockford.

Johnson did play a lot on the penalty kill; however his all-around game still has a way to go. He is going to have to compete a lot harder for minutes with a host of prospects. If Johnson can’t raise his game, he may see the press box on occasion.

 

Tyler Motte-43 games, 10 G, 6 A, 16 P, minus-19 (signed through 2018-19)

Motte made an immediate impact when he was sent down from Chicago in January-four goals in his first seven games. He went through a ten-game pointless streak from January 18 until scoring a goal February 11 against San Antonio.

A full season in Rockford from Motte might have seen him finish as one of the Hogs more productive scorers; obviously that didn’t happen.

 

Pierre-Cedric Labrie-52 games, 1 G, 7 A, 8 P, minus-12 (UFA)

I certainly wasn’t expecting to get another 20-goal season from the big man. However, what we did get was not enough from a veteran forward.

Labrie’s solitary goal came in the ultimate garbage time-the waning moments of the IceHogs final game. On his best day, it would be hard to call him fast. This past season, he seemed even slower on his skates. Maybe I never noticed Labrie ending his shifts 10-15 seconds earlier than his line mates in the past, but it happened with some frequency in 2016-17.

He has been a fan favorite in Rockford and deservedly so; he plays physical and works hard when he is on the ice. A lower-body injury kept him out of action for about a month. I suspect he was a healthy scratch on occasion as well.

Early in the season, you could make a case for some bad puck luck. However, Labrie scoring chances were few and far between the last three or four months. Injuries could also have factored into what was his least productive AHL season for the Hogs.

At 31, Labrie has some mileage on him. Could he be back in Rockford for a fourth season? I would suspect not, unless it’s on an AHL deal.

 

AHL Forwards (all of whom are UFAs)

Jake Dowell-66 games, 4 G, 11 A, 15 P, minus-10

The Hogs captain did not enjoy a repeat of last season’s career-high scoring numbers (11 G, 24 A), but wasn’t too far off from his usual offensive output.

Dowell isn’t in Rockford to score. His role is to mentor, win faceoffs, and play hard in his own end. He has worn a C on his sweater longer that any IceHogs player. Will that continue in 2017-18?

I don’t know.

Dowell is 32. His days as a legit NHL competitor are long in the rear-view mirror. After an uncertain future concerning his long-term health, Dowell and his wife had their first child this season. He also played in his 500th AHL contest.

He’s a known commodity; if the IceHogs offer him another one-year AHL deal, they know what they can expect. Does Rockford still value his leadership? Does Dowell want to continue this phase of his hockey career?

 

Jeremy Langlois-66 games, 8 G, 6 A, 14 P, minus-four

Langlois was Rockford’s most productive AHL contract by far. Like Lundberg, he could fit in in a number of areas at both ends of the ice.

In what was about a one-month stretch in the middle of the season (Jan. 27-March 3), Langlois shone brightly. In 17 games during that run, he had six goals, four helpers, and was a plus-four. Langlois saw time on special teams. For an AHL signing, he brings a lot to the table and would be a welcome addition to next year’s IceHogs.

 

Evan Mosey-41 games, 4 G, 5 A, 9 P, minus-one

The Downers Grove, Illinois native made the jump to the AHL from several seasons in lower-tier European hockey. He fared pretty well; his goals-for relative to team was fourth-highest among the Hogs regulars. This despite playing almost exclusively on the lower lines with defensive oriented line mates.

Following the season, Mosey played very well for Great Britain in the IIHF World Championships in the IB Division. He led his team with seven points (3 G, 4 A) and helped them win a gold medal. Great Britain will be promoted to the second tier of the World Championship structure.

The 28-year-old Mosey adjusted well to the step up in class and is certainly worth another AHL deal from the IceHogs.

 

Chris DeSousa-36 games, 4 G, 1 A, 5 P, minus-eight

DeSousa played the same type of game he was known for in 2015-16. The 5’9″ forward finishes checks and looks to initiate physical play.

He started the fall injured and never really got rolling the way he did the season before, when he totaled 13 points (7 G, 6 A) in 67 appearances with the Hogs.

 

Tyler Barnes-25 games, 4 G, 3 A, 7 P, minus-six

Barnes is a point-a-game producer in the ECHL who signed on with Rockford but did not finish the season with the IceHogs. He did play in a career-high 25 AHL games, splitting his time between the Hogs and the ECHL. Barnes had 15 points (5 G, 10 A) in 15 games with the Indy Fuel before being loaned out in the spring to the Allen Americans. There, he totaled six goals and six helpers and helped Allen advance to the second round of the ECHL playoffs.

Bryn Chyzyk got into two games with Rockford without making a dent in the score sheet. He played 30 games with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel (5 G, 7 A, minus-22).

 

NHL Defensemen

Eric Gustafsson-68 games, 5 G, 25 A, 30 P, minus-27 (RFA)

Like most of the blue line, Gustafsson suffered from the lack of finishers up front. With more talent at forward next season, he might be primed for huge offensive numbers.

In 2016-17, though, Gustafsson and the defensive corps were forced to fend off the attacks of opponents. It led to a lot of goals in the Rockford net.

In terms of offense, Gustafsson had a pretty decent season. He led the IceHogs with 185 shots on goal and 25 assists. Eleven of those came on the man advantage.  He played a prominent role on the Hogs power play unit, even though that group was one of the AHL’s least effective.

Like I said, re-signing Gustafsson and improving the skill at forward could result in him being a dangerous offensive weapon.

 

Ville Pokka-76 games, 6 G, 24 A, 30 P, minus-25 (RFA)

Interesting stat: Pokka did not score an even-strength goal this season. He had four on the power play, one via a 5-on-3, and a shorthanded goal. He was at his best on the power play, notching 18 of his 30 points when in that mode.

Like Gustafsson, Pokka had to play back on his heels quite a bit, limiting his effectiveness. At age 22, Pokka is still learning to be a solid defender. I don’t think he took a step back; he was a similar player as he was the past two seasons, minus a veteran partner. On the other hand, his defense is still a question mark if Pokka is to make it to the NHL.

 

Viktor Svedberg-51 games, 2 G, 9 A, 11 P, minus-seven (Signed through 2017-18)

As has often been the case with Svedberg, staying healthy was an issue this past season. He missed most of January due to injury and last played for Rockford on March 18.

When he was on the ice, Svedberg showed improvement in his defensive positioning. In a season where the defense was constantly facing odd-man rushes, you would think the 6’9″ Svedberg would be getting lit up right and left. That didn’t really happen.

Svedberg is a pretty good defender, provided he can keep an opponent at stick length and turn the play to the outside. If a skater gets inside Svedberg’s reach, good night. However, I think Svedberg is much more adept at compensating for his lack of mobility that when he first arrived in Rockford in 2013.

Svedberg could someday prove to be quite the capable defender. The question is in his durability.

 

Carl Dahlstrom-70 games, 6 G, 5 A, 11 P, minus-12 (signed through 2018-19)

In what was his first full season in Rockford, Dahlstrom showed potential at both ends of the ice. His size makes him a good candidate for an old-time defensive blue liner.

Paired with several teammates over the course of the season, Dahlstrom posted the best goals for relative to team of any of the defensive regulars. All his scoring occurred at even strength. Dahlstrom also led IceHogs defensemen with a 5.9 shooting percentage.

Bulking up his assist numbers will be an area to watch for the big Swede; at age 22, there is definitely room from improvement.

 

Robin Norell-65 games, 1 G, 8 A, 9 P, minus-21 (Signed through 2018-19)

Norell is another Swedish rookie who should be in the mix when putting together next season’s club. I wasn’t overly impressed with Norell’s game; I’m not sure what he does particularly well after watching him this season.

Ted Dent’s tendency to employ seven defensemen in the lineup gave Norell some extra time on the ice. He was most often a member of the bottom defensive pairing. He got 42 shots on goal, by far the fewest of any of the regular defensemen.

He doesn’t create a lot of offense. He’s not a physical defensive type. Norell is 22 and is signed for two more seasons. This was his first full season of North American hockey, so we should look to him being more aggressive and/or productive in his sophomore campaign.

 

Nolan Valleau-46 games, 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, minus-19 (RFA)

Valleau wasn’t used nearly as often as his rookie season, when he appeared in 62 games. In Valleau’s last 29 appearances, from December 31 to the end of the season, his offensive output was two goals and no assists.

Like Norell, Valleau was often a bottom pairing or seventh defenseman this season. I’m not sure he’s shown enough potential to garner an extension from the Blackhawks.

Technically, Hawks prospect Dillon Fournier was on the Hogs roster for the bulk of the season. He played four games in Indy, was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks November 7, and never appeared in a game for the IceHogs. This was the final season of Fournier’s entry deal. Two of those seasons were lost to injury, but right now it would be fair to term the second-rounder from 2012 a bust. I would doubt Fournier receives an extension.

 

AHL Defensemen

There weren’t many of these. Jonathan Carlsson was released mid-season after spending most of his season in Indianapolis. Nick Mattson skated 63 games for the Fuel (1 G, 15 A) and just two January contests for Rockford.

Robin Press is a player I would figure to be back on an AHL deal, mostly because the organization seems to feel he has potential. After his team in the SHL found little use for him this season, Press was signed to an AHL deal with Rockford and sent to Indy for some much-needed playing time.

He got into 30 games with the Fuel, scoring two goals and adding ten assists. He got into nine games in the latter half of Rockford’s season but was pointless in that time. I never got the feeling that Press was comfortable on the ice in any of his appearances with the IceHogs.

 

NHL Goalies

Jeff Glass-20 games, 8-10-2, 2.63 goals against average, .914 save percentage (signed through 2017-18)

Glass was signed mid-season, initially on an AHL contract, and played his way to a two-year NHL deal a few weeks later. With Scott Darling’s rights now belonging to Charlotte, Glass is, on paper at least, Corey Crawford’s backup.

I cannot imagine that Chicago is content with this arrangement.

First off, Glass is likely to be the goalie exposed in the expansion draft. Secondly, he has zero NHL appearances at age 31. Is it possible that Glass is an older version of Darling? Put me in the camp that is not of that belief.

Glass, who toiled in the KHL for seven seasons before returning to AHL rinks, was solid for Rockford and could well find his way back with the Hogs as a veteran presence in net. I would have to believe that the Blackhawks will be signing a goalie with NHL experience this summer. If Glass beats that man out in training camp, so be it.

It’s quite possible that Glass has developed into a reliable goalie with NHL potential. I think he’ll have to continue to prove that for him to win a permanent spot behind Crawford.

 

Lars Johansson-39 games, 12-17-4, 2.75 goals against average, .907 save percentage (UFA)

I would imagine that an extension for Johansson depends heavily on what goes on above and below him. If Glass remains in the organization and Chicago elects to sign an experienced veteran, Johansson may find himself looking for work.

Johansson, like all the Hogs goalies, didn’t have a lot of help keeping pucks out of the net. He was up with the Hawks backing up Darling following Crawford’s appendectomy (playing zero games). Johansson was a bit shaky upon his return to the IceHogs, but was very solid the rest of the season.

Johansson turns 30 over the summer; are the Hawks confident enough in his NHL potential to re-sign him?

 

Mac Carruth-24 games, 5-11-5-3, 3.64 goals against average, .879 save percentage (UFA)

I can’t imagine a scenario that ends in Carruth being re-signed by the Blackhawks. He’s had an up-and-down run over parts of four seasons; that will likely end this summer.

From mid-January, when Glass arrived, to the end of the season, Carruth was given four starts. He was not very good in any of them. The sporadic work was clearly the writing on the wall for Carruth.

 

AHL Goalies

Rockford had former Michigan State net-minder Jake Hildebrand under contract, along with ECHL journeyman Eric Levine. As expected, neither player figured much into Rockford’s season.

Hildebrand appeared in three games for the Hogs in December while Johansson was up with Chicago. He posted a 4.58 goals against average and an .868 save percentage. In 39 games with the Indy Fuel, Hildebrand had a 3.75 goals against average and a .899 save percentage.

 

The Kids

It’s difficult to asses the slew of ATOs that arrived in the final weeks; these are players who have finished their respective seasons elsewhere and are getting their first taste of the next level. However, here are a few random thoughts:

As previously mentioned, the makeup of the IceHogs will be vastly different come fall, particularly up front. Currently, Chicago has eight players signed to entry contracts-Matheson Iacopelli, Anthony Louis, Matthew Highmore, Alexandre Fortin, Graham Knott, Nathan Noel, Alex DeBrincat, and (assuming his signs as expected) David Kampf.

The player who made the most noise was one that is not signed with the Blackhawks. William Pelletier made an immediate impact when he came in on his ATO in terms of scoring chances. The team put up a very nice article on the Hogs website on Pelletier’s success jumping from Division III collegiate hockey to the AHL. A great coda to that story would be Chicago or Rockford signing the kid to a contract.

Add in Baun and Johnson, along with possibly others like Motte, and Rockford is going to comprised mainly of young talent, at least the way it looks right now.

On the defensive side, Luc Snuggerud made an impression as a player who can get pucks to the net. Including the rookie, Rockford has four defensemen under contract heading into next season. This group could have a very similar look, barring some moves from the front office.

It was another fun season covering the IceHogs, even if Rockford’s fortunes weren’t the most sunny. I’ll be back in a few weeks to update you on signings and re-signings that may happen. I will also send out thoughts on my twitter feed (@JonFromi) on occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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