Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHLN US, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Street Fight Radio: The Cannon

After basically the entire work week off in an unofficial early season bye, the Hawks venture to Ohio for the second and only road game of another thee-in-four-nights stretch that sees them facing down a Columbus team that still isn’t quite sure what the hell it actually is at this point.

At 4-2-0 to this point in the seaoson, the Jackets are at least making a fist of it while unholy terror Seth Jones remains absent from the blue line. To this point, they’ve beaten Detroit, Florida, Philadelphia, and Colorado, with only the latter of which actually playing well to start the season, as their other three victories have been over teams that are presently total messes. Their losses came to a speedy and spiky Hurricanes team, and the Bolts who dropped an 8-burger on them. So for right now, it’s fair to call them the middling team that they are with Jones out.

That’s not to say they’re bereft of any kind of punch. Erstwhile Style Boy Artemi Panarin has put up 9 points in 6 games so far to pace the Jackets, and is in full on “Fuck you, pay me” mode with his bridge deal coming to a close at the end of this year and lacking the mega-paper he’s seeking, which the Jackets seem slightly hesitant to give him. He flanks former first rounder P-L Dubois with Cam Atkinson on the other side, and this line has shown plenty of speed and creativity in the early going. The Jackets’ middle six has been getting plowed over on the possession ledger however, with the de facto second line of Duclair (remember him?), Wennberg, and SANDPAPER Captain Nick Foligno and the third line of Boone Jenner, Riley “Not A Purported Wiener Tucker” Nash, and Josh Anderson contributing intermittent offense, but certainly not enough to balance out the top line and force opposing coaches to pause when trying to get matchups. The fourth line of Sonny Milano (OHHHH!), Lukas Sedlak, and Dane Oliver Bjorkstrand has at least tilted the ice to spell the other three units.

With Jones out on the blue line, Zach Werenski has been partnered with David Savard, and they’ve been getting their skulls kicked it at a 41% clip, and if Werenski isn’t pushing the play on offense, he’s not a world beater in his own end, particularly when he is basically covering for Quebecois Wisniewski as a partner. Markus Nutivaara, a seventh round pick and a 24 year old and not a Finnish candy bar, however, has been the beneficiary of the top line taking a pounding, and flipped the ice at 60% clip with the will-he-ever-get-his-shit-together Ryan Murray. Adam Clendening (remember him too?) has landed here because he’s a right handed defenseman with the vague threat of offense in his game, and he and Scott Harrington have been turned into paste in the 20 even strength minutes they’ve played together on the third pairing.

Long the strength of this team, two time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky has had a slow start to the season, with only an .888 at evens and an .875 overall. Clearly those are not up to his high standards of play, and if that continues, that type of goaltending will torpedo just about any team, let alone one that’s been as reliant as the Jackets have been on Bob. But for as much as he’s slumped, he’s still fully capable of power-windmill breakdancing in the crease all night long on any opponent, as Bobrovsky remains one of the best combinations of size, athleticism, and positional soundness in the sport.

As for the Men Of Four Feathers, while their first regulation loss was probably overdue, they certainly didn’t play terribly against the Yotes on Thursday, or at least the names that are supposed to matter didn’t. The ones everyone expects to be terrible gift wrapped all three goals for Glendale, and Corey Crawford’s return to the cage didn’t have the storybook finish that was hoped for despite looking as solid as can be asked of a goalie after having not played in over 300 days. He’ll get the nod again tonight with a sterner test, particularly from the top line with Panarin’s ability to pick corners as a “bad shot maker”. In front of Crawford will be the same defensive configuration as the past few games, which means it’s duck and cover time with Manning and Rutta on the ice, particularly unsheltered on the road.

Among the forwards, because the Hawks actually lost, Quenneville predictably used it as an excuse to do what he’s presumably been dying to do since the start of camp, and that’s move Anisimov back to the #2 center slot between Schmaltz and Garbage Dick. Schmaltz has been scuffling a little bit, but having Alexandre “2009 Troy Brouwer Redux” Fortin continually biff chances tilts the scoring sheet a little bit, and Wide Dick Artie isn’t the best answer to sparking Schmaltz long term. Fortin was platooning with Martinsen at last report this morning, which results in the splitting up of the speedy Saad-Kruger-Kampf line that could use some more time in a true shutdown role to see if it really could end up being a thing. Instead, Chris Kunitz will play with Saad and Kampf, and Kruger will get some combination from the Fortin/Hayden/Martinsen turd grab bag.

While John Tortorella is assuredly A Moron, he’s not so entrenched that he doesn’t know that at home he’ll have some advantageous matchups that can be found for his top line. The key will be to minimize that damage and hope that Crawford makes some of the saves that Cam Ward wasn’t or couldn’t make, and that at the other end each save that Bobrovsky makes isn’t the one that snaps him out of the funk he’s in. Let’s go Hawks.

 

Game #7 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

After beginning the 2017-18 season 0-for-Cleveland, the Rockford IceHogs are back in action in friendlier confines this weekend. Chicago’s AHL affiliate kicks off the home portion of the schedule Saturday night vs Texas. Sunday, the IceHogs host the Hershey Bears.

Here’s an update on the piglets as coach Jeremy Colliton readies his charges for the weekend set, along with an in-depth look at the upcoming opponents.

 

Roster Moves

On Tuesday, Alexandre Fortin was recalled to the Blackhawks. He played Thursday night in Minnesota. He may be headed back to Rockford in time to take part in the festivities this weekend. If not, there’s a possibility that the Hogs could recall one of their AHL contracts in Indianapolis.

 

Texas Stars-Saturday, 10/13 @ 6:00 p.m.

The home portion of the season gets underway at the BMO Harris Bank Center when the Texas Stars visit following their Friday night tilt in Iowa.

The Stars are new to the Central Division, though Hogs fans are mighty familiar with this team from the 2018 Western Conference Final. Texas defeated Rockford in six games to advance to the Calder Cup Final, which they dropped to Toronto.

The Stars develop players and are also committed to winning, which they have done with regularity. Now entering their tenth year of operations, Texas has three trips to the Calder Cup Final, including an AHL championship in 2013-14. They have reached the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons.

There was quite a bit of turnover from last spring’s club. Several lynchpins to the Stars playoff run, like their Rockford counterparts, have moved on. This includes captain Curtis McKenzie, forwards Brian Flynn, Sheldon Dries and Jason Dickinson as well as swingman Brent Regner.

First on the list of familar faces is Travis Morin, who has been with the team since its inception. The 34-year-old forward is on an AHL deal with Texas and is coming off a 61-point season (10 G, 51 A). Center Justin Dowling (17 points in the postseason) is also a long-time fixture for the Stars who is capable of creating offense, as is Denis Gurianov (19 goals in 2017-18).

Texas added Park Ridge, Illinois resident Michael Mersch, a power forward who scored 49 points (21 G, 28 A) for Ontario a season ago. Also coming in to help up front is former Bruins farmhand Colton Hargrove, who is coming off a 33-point season (16 G, 17 A) with Providence.

Erik Condra, who spent the last two seasons with Syracuse, has 366 games of NHL action under his belt. He is still an effective two-way player at the AHL level and will bring a lot of experience to the table for Texas, much like Flynn did last season.

On the defensive side of the puck, AHL veterans Dillion Heatherington and Reece Scarlett (who injured his left leg in the season opener with Grand Rapids) are joined by Joel Hanley, who has spent time in Portland, St. Johns and Tuscon in his five-year pro career. Gavin Bayreuther is also back for his third season after a seven goal, 25 assist effort in 2017-18.

John Nyberg is beginning his first pro season, though he did square off with the Hogs in the playoffs last spring. Free agent defenseman Ben Gleason is also in his rookie year with Texas.

Mike McKenna, who anchored the crease for the Stars late last season, is now continuing his tour of the AHL with Belleville (his 15th AHL stop). Last year’s starter through much of the regular season, Landon Bow, should be the primary goalie for Texas. Joining him in net is rookie Colton Point.

 

Hershey Bears-Sunday, 10/14 @ 4:00 p.m.

Arriving at the BMO Sunday, after visiting Grand Rapids on Friday night, is the AHL’s oldest franchise, the Hershey Bears. The IceHogs have a home and away with the Bears after facing Hershey for the first time ever in two games last season. Rockford won both meetings.

The Bears were last in the Atlantic Division in 2017-18, missing the playoffs for only the second time in the last 13 seasons. A number of the team’s leading scorers are with other clubs, like Chris Bourque (53 points) and Wayne Simpson (42 points). Riley Barber (20 G, 18 A) returns to Hershey for his fourth season. Liam O’Brien (17 G, 9 A) is another holdover.

One new addition is center Mike Sgarbossa, a seven-year AHL vet who had 40 points (16 G, 24 A) with Manitoba last season. Another notable newcomer to Hershey is former Hogs forward Jeremy Morin. Back to the AHL after a year in Europe, Morin is on an AHL deal with the Bears. Morin had several productive campaigns with the IceHogs, including a 30-goal effort in the 2012-13 season.

Longtime AHL veteran Aaron Ness is back for another season on the Hershey blueline after scoring four goals and 25 assists for the Bears last year. 6’2″ defenseman Lucas Johansen (6 G, 21 A) is back for his second season, as is Connor Hobbs (3 G, 13 A). Colby Williams is another experienced defender who returns to the Bears lineup.

The net duties are being handled by Vitek Vanecek, who is starting his third pro season in Hershey. He posted a 3.04 goals against average and an .888 save percentage in 32 games last season. The IceHogs beat him in 4-3 in an overtime game in Hershey back in February.

Rookie Ilya Samsonov was the Capitals second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old came over from the KHL, where he had played for the last three years.

Everything Else

With the prospects finishing up action in the Traverse City Tournament this week, the time has arrived to get cracking on the developing scene down Rockford way. Opening night for the IceHogs is less than a month away, believe it or not. Who will be skating for the piglets in 2018-19. Let’s see if we can figure that out.

I’m pleased as punch to be bringing you glimpses of the Blackhawks future from my seat at the BMO for another season. Rockford is coming off a memorable post-season run. Like a year ago, the IceHogs look to be filled with young talent that should be interesting to watch nightly.

Once again, don’t look for a lot of grizzled veteran faces under those helmets. Most of the catalysts from the team that reached the AHL’s Western Conference Final are long gone. There are holdovers from that squad, to be sure. That includes a lot of second and third-year players trying to take the next step in their careers.

The coaching staff is intact for another go; head coach Jeremy Colliton earned stellar marks for his efforts in his debut with the Hogs. Colliton is again joined by assistants Derek King (back for his third season in Rockford) and Sheldon Brookbank (year two with the IceHogs).

Colliton emphasized a high-energy game that proved to be exiting to watch. The IceHogs played at a rapid pace and could be counted on to turn in a 60-minute effort. Colliton will be looking to keep moving Hawks prospects toward NHL-level readiness.

With the lower half of Chicago’s roster comprised of inexpensive contracts, it is very likely that several players could yo-yo along I-90 in 2018-19. Looking up and down the organization, I have identified players who could be with Rockford for at least a portion of the campaign.

I could re-hash the feel good season that went down a year hence; I will steer you here instead for all the juicy details. I also re-capped the play of the goalies, defense, and forwards earlier this summer if you want the low down. Pressing onward, let’s see what the roster could resemble in a few weeks.

 

Forward

Camp Decisions-Viktor Ejdsell, John Hayden, Tyler Sikura, Jordan Schroeder, Andreas Martinsen. Matthew Highmore

The first four names on this list are currently on the Hawks roster (per capfriendly.com). I would imagine that the bottom four or five spots are up for grabs. Some of these forwards will move back and forth with some regularity between Chicago and Rockford.

Schroeder and Martinsen will have to clear waivers at some point to be assigned to Rockford. Depending on any moves made by the organization, most of the players above will don the Hammy Head sweater for a stretch or two.

Ejdsell was very impressive for Rockford in the postseason, while Highmore was the team’s most successful rookie for much of the first half of last year. Martinsen was a steady veteran producer for the Hogs but could find himself in a fourth-line role for Chicago with his size and physical style.

I imagine that Schroeder will be in Rockford more often than not, provided he passes through waivers. You’d think Hayden would be able to stick in Chicago full-time, but like several other Hawks prospects he may come down for seasoning or a confidence boost.

 

Key Returnees-Luke Johnson, Anthony Louis

Johnson’s second season in Rockford was a decided improvement over his rookie year. He took on a leadership role as well as any of the young guys and nearly doubled his point production. He has the makings of a solid two-way NHL forward and might be ready to fill a bottom-six role with another solid performance for the IceHogs.

Louis was the team’s top scorer (44 points) in the regular season but seemed to take a backseat to the veterans who joined the team in the spring. He’ll begin the season on a scoring line and needs to take advantage of his play-making skills.

 

Something To Prove-Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Matheson Iacopelli, Alexandre Fortin

These players need to make a splash early this season if they are to remain in the lineup. For one reason or another, the above foursome left a bit to be desired in their first pro seasons.

Noel’s campaign was derailed by injury and never really got the chance to show what he could do in Rockford. Fortin lacked the finishing ability that could have won him more playing time. Iacopelli had plenty of offensive clout but couldn’t find a consistent spot in the lineup.

Knott, a second-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2015, was a bit underwhelming despite playing 70 games for the IceHogs. He needs to distinguish himself at one area of his game to keep from being passed up by newer talent. Knott captained the prospects at Traverse City: maybe it’s a sign of a better showing for him in 2018-19.

 

New Faces-Dominik Kahun(?), Jacob Nilsson, Jordan Maletta

For first-year Hogs, this group has a bit of expirience. Kahun comes of of four professional seasons in Germany. He totaled 41 points (12 G, 29 A) in 42 games with EHC Munchen last season. Kahun would have to have a real change of heart to wind up in Rockford. He plans to hold Chicago to a clause that has him returning to Germany if he doesn’t crack the Hawks roster, per Scott Powers of theathletic.com.

The 24-year-old Nilsson played for Colliton in the Swedish Hockey League. Maletta had a decent rookie year with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters two years ago, then spent most of 2017-18 on the injured list.

 

Getting Out The Shovel-Marcus Kruger

The way Chicago’s roster is comprised, Kruger still looks to have a part to play. However, maybe a younger player (David Kampf, perhaps) steps into the defensive stopper role Kruger was so good at in the past. Maybe a post-hernia surgery Kruger just isn’t the same player of a few years ago. Maybe the Hawks need a little cap space to facilitate a trade.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for Chicago to get Kruger through waivers and assign him to the IceHogs. After all, Carolina sent him to the AHL last season.

 

Rockford’s AHL Signees-William Pelletier, Henrik Samuelsson, Terry Broadhurst, Brett Welychka, Radovan Bondra, Connor Moynihan

Three of these players could wind up factoring in heavily to Rockford’s fortunes this season. Most prominent on this list is Pelletier, who was a permanent fixture in Colliton’s lineup in 2017-18.

Pelletier (14 G, 15 A) was second among IceHogs forwards with a plus-13 skater rating. Despite his 5’7″ frame, he had no problem getting into the mix in the corners. His speed was a huge asset that I have to think Colliton will want on the ice as much as possible.

Samuelsson has plenty of AHL experience, as does Broadhurst, who comes aboard for his second tour with the IceHogs. Last season, Broadhurst had 32 points (13 G, 19 A) in 49 games for the Cleveland Monsters.

Bondra, who signed an AHL deal a year ago then missed the bulk of the season to injury, may have an uphill battle getting ice time in Rockford. Bondra, along with Welychka and Moynihan, will spend most of their seasons with the Indy Fuel.

Welychka is 24 and played eight games for Manitoba last spring. The 5’11” center wore a “C” for his Carleton University squad last season, picking up 12 goals and 19 assists in 28 games. Moynihan, 22, has put up nice point totals in the ECHL the past two years, including 41 points (14 G, 27 A) in 48 games with Kalamazoo last season. He was scoreless in an 11 game stint with Utica.

 

Overall Outlook At Forward

Provided that players like Highmore, Sikura, Johnson and Louis take their games up a notch, coupled with better and healthier seasons from Fortin and Noel, Rockford is perhaps a bit more talented up front than the group that began the 2017-18 season. Quick adjustments to North American rinks by Nilsson and Kahun (if he was convinced to take the assignment) could be a big x-factor for the Hogs.

 

Defense

A lot of Rockford’s 2017-18 blue line will be elsewhere this fall. Depending on how many defensemen Chicago elects to carry to start the season, Colliton could be using four or five rookies on the back end on a given night.

The defensive corps that propelled the IceHogs deep into the playoffs has been scattered to the winds. Cody Franson? Gone (KHL). Adam Clendening? Gone (Blue Jackets). Viktor Svedberg? Gone (PTO with Calgary).

At this point, I would think Carl Dahlstrom is in the mix for a roster spot in Chicago. Gustav Forsling isn’t due back from surgery until at least November. Robin Norell was loaned out to Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Hockey League last month.

Introducing…the defense.

 

The Mentor-Andrew Campbell

The 30-year-old journeyman has ten seasons of professional experience under his belt. Most of that has been spent in AHL rinks with Manchester, Portland, Toronto and Tuscon. He has 43 games played in the NHL, most recently with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.

Campbell was a part of this summer’s trade of Marian Hossa and all the folks that were included in said deal. His role should be very well defined in Rockford. He will likely spend the entire season helping to raise a full littler of piglets.

He should be well-equipped to handle a leadership role for Colliton. Campbell has worn a C for three different clubs. He isn’t a big offensive threat, though he did have a couple of 20-point seasons for the Marlies a few seasons ago.

Campbell plays a steady game and can use his 6’4″, 207-pound frame in a physical manner when needed. He rarely drops the gloves (13 AHL scraps in ten seasons), but that isn’t a factor considering Rockford did fine without a pugilist last season. I am not analyzing this move from the perspective of Campbell’s usefulness to the Hawks. As an AHL veteran leader, he more that fits the bill.

 

Back End Holdovers-Carl Dahlstrom, Luc Snuggerud, Darren Raddysh, Gustav Forsling

If Dahlstrom somehow winds up in Rockford for a third full season, good for the Hogs. The way the depth chart looks on defense, however, I don’t see how he doesn’t occupy at least the seventh d-man spot in Chicago. As previously mentioned, Forsling won’t be in action for a few months.

That leaves two Hogs coming off their rookie seasons. Raddysh, who was a regular in the lineup and saw action in the playoffs, and Snuggerud, who wasn’t…and didn’t.

To be fair, Snuggerud was injured for several stretches and did put up 17 points (5 G, 12 A) in the 40 games in which he played. A healthy 2018-19 could see him take on a bigger presence for Rockford.

Raddysh, who earned an NHL entry contract for his efforts last year, and Snuggerud will have competition for playing time, with all the rookies joining the organization.

 

Rockford Rooks-Joni Tuulola, Dennis Gilbert, Blake Hillman, Lucas Carlsson, Henri Jokiharju

Training camp should reveal if any of these players crack the Hawks roster. For now, I will assume that all five will be in Hogs sweaters come October.

Rockford fans got a look at Tuulola at the close of last season. He also skated in four playoff games for the Hogs.

Gilbert (Notre Dame) and Hillman (Denver) arrive from the college ranks. Carlsson crosses the pond after time in the Swedish Hockey League. Jokiharju put up 71 points (12 G, 59 A) for Portland in juniors; I am laboring under the impression that he is eligible to play AHL hockey despite his age.

 

Rockford’s AHL Signees-Josh McArdle, Neil Manning

With all the new prospects on defense, Norell was not going to get much in the way of playing time. For the third and final year of his entry contract, Norell will skate in Europe.

There won’t be much room for the two defensemen the Hogs signed, either. Most of their skating will be done in ECHL rinks for the Indy Fuel.

Manning, 27,  has two years of pro experience in Italy after a four-year college career at the University of British Columbia.

McArdle, who hails from Rockton, Illinois and skated in the Junior IceHogs program, was signed following his college career. The 24-year-old McArdle was the team captain for Brown last season. It would be fun for the BMO faithful to see him skate a few games for the Hogs, plus he’s a right-handed shot (see below).

 

Overall Outlook At Defense

Unlike the last few seasons, this is not going to be an experienced group. Nor will there be many right-handed shots (Raddysh and Jokiharju by my count). Young defensemen tend to make mistakes. The positioning and decision-making learning curves will dictate how well Rockford performs on this side of the puck.

 

Goalie

Here’s where things get interesting. So much of the picture hinges on the availability of Corey Crawford. If, as many speculate, the Hawks number-one net-minder is not ready for training camp, the organizational pecking order is pretty clear, if not entirely settling.

If Crow is ready to roll, the Hogs tandem will be in question.

With Crawford and Cam Ward the planned-upon pair in Chicago, one would wager that Anton Forsberg begins the season with the IceHogs. To do this, he would have to clear waivers.

It would be easy to forecast Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen as the Hogs goalies heading into the season. If Forsberg winds up in Rockford, however, there are two ways for things to go down:

  1. Rockford carries three goalies on its roster.
  2. Either Delia or Lankinen is sent to Indy for steady playing time.

I guess Chicago could carry three goalies (Crawford, Ward and Forsberg) and the Delia-Lankinen alliance go proceed as scheduled. (Crazy thought: would it be completely insane to think Crawford could be sent to Rockford at some point for a conditioning assignment if he isn’t ready for camp?) That also means that the Hogs would be assigned another player to make room for the extra goalie.

Barring injury or trade, the only sure things I see are Ward with the Hawks and Matt Tomkins (Rockford’s AHL signee) in Indy to man the pipes for the Fuel.

Should Forsberg be assigned to Rockford, the Hogs will have a more-than-capable AHL goalie. That is, so long as his attitude is right following what amounts to a demotion.

Delia could be looking at 40-50 starts in net for the IceHogs if things break his way. Last spring, he was very good. His challenge is to maintain his late-season standards for a full slate of games. Delia is also likely to be fending off higher-percentage shots due in part to a less-experienced defense in front of him. If he can accomplish this, his stock in the organization should continue to rise.

Lankinen, 23, was signed to an entry deal this spring. He posted a 1.33 GAA for HIFK Helisinki in the Finnish Ligua after returning from an injury. The Hogs net could be without at least one veteran presence for the first time in a good while.

 

Outlook In Goal

With no Michael Leighton or Jeff Glass to lend a steady glove between the pipes, Colliton will need to establish the confidence of both his young goalies. Consistency may be the biggest hurdle for whatever combination of players Rockford showcases in net.

 

I’ll save my predictions for the season for next month when the roster picture clears up. It’s safe to say that right now, the IceHogs will be a prospect-loaded bunch comparable to last season’s group.

Get yourself ready for my many takes on the happenings in Rockford this season by following me @JonFromi on twitter. I’ll try to keep you abreast of transactions and upcoming opponents throughout the piglets journey through the next eight or nine months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

There were many new faces at forward for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2017-18 season. On a roster that went through some changes in the latter half of the campaign, there was a lot to cover in this area.

I’ve previously cast a magnifying glass on the goalies and defensemen in recent posts. For now, let’s move forward with the forwards from Rockford’s big season.

Rookies

Matthew Highmore-64 games, 24 G, 19 A, minus-six

Rockford’s rookie of the year was the big story throughout the first half of the season. Highmore epitomized the fast-paced style Colliton emphasized, with 15 points (9 G, 6 A) in his first 21 games. His nose for the net resulted in Highmore pacing the team in goals.

An appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, coupled with a spring call-up to the Hawks made for a memorable first-year of pro hockey for the free-agent signing. Highmore is definitely in the mix of prospects who could find themselves in Chicago in the coming years.

Like a lot of the prospects, Highmore’s numbers dipped just a bit with the veteran influx in February. By the playoffs, he was skating on one of the lower lines while still playing solid hockey. In 13 postseason games, he was a plus-eight to go with a pair of goals and seven helpers.

 

Anthony Louis-70 games, 14 G, 30 A, plus-six

Louis was Rockford’s point leader (44) in the regular season, though the addition of the veterans had a big effect on his game down the stretch. To say his role was diminished is probably an understatement.

Skating a little lower in the Hogs lineup, Louis still managed 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in the last two months of action. However, the physical nature of the playoffs seemed to take a toll on his effectiveness. After five assists in 9 games, Colliton sat Louis in favor of Samuelsson three games into the conference final.

Louis is a strong passer and can flourish with linemates who can finish the chances he creates. I think he’ll be a player to watch as he makes the adjustments to raise his game in his sophomore campaign.

 

Alexandre Fortin-53 games, 4 G, 17 A, minus-one

Based on the expectations of a player who had such a strong training camp in 2016 before being sent back to juniors, Fortin was an under-performer in his first season with the IceHogs.

To be fair, he missed a couple weeks in January and three more in March due to injury. His speed was often on display, though there were many instances of Fortin streaking out of control and committing turnovers. A shooting percentage of 4.3 did him no favors; finishing scoring plays and playing under control should be at the top of Fortin’s list of improvements heading into next season.

 

Matheson Iacopelli-50 games, 11 G, 7 A, plus-seven

The real head-scratcher among the piglets. Iacopelli brought offense, scoring 20 goals between Rockford and Indy, where he had nine in ten games for the Fuel. He is arguably the best sniper the IceHogs had this season. So…why couldn’t he find a place in the lineup?

With someone to get him the puck, coupled with a net hound who can convert on rebound opportunities, Iacopelli could be a dangerous AHL forward. He is going to have to improve on his skating as well as find a way to create space for his shot. The question will be if he can do that at age 24.

Iacopelli often found himself on the bottom line with players more suited for checking roles. He’s not that type of player right now. Hopefully he got a list of things to work on this summer. If he can carve out a steady spot on a scoring line, we could see big numbers out of Iacopelli.

 

Graham Knott-70 games, 4 G, 5 A, minus-one

There isn’t much offense to Knott’s game. He had three separate 11-game pointless streaks while skating fourth line minutes and killing penalties. In his final 38 games this past season, he had three goals and no apples.

Knott held down the fourth line through the regular season; he did not appear in the playoffs for Rockford. On the other hand, he was a frequent winner of the Schnucks Grand Prix over speedier teammates Alexandre Fortin and William Pelletier.

Knott is still just 21 and has two more years on his entry deal to develop at both ends of the ice. With most of the new faces coming in on defense, he may still have the spot in the lineup to do so next fall.

Nathan Noel-17 games, 1 G, minus two

Noel really deserves a redo button; his season never really got on track after being injured in training camp.

By the time he was set to return, there was no spot in Rockford to be had. Noel went to Indy, where he played 17 games before getting hurt and missing a couple of months. He was brought up to Rockford in mid-February and had limited chances to develop into the IceHogs agitator.

Until Chris DiDomenico arrived, that job was up for grabs. A healthy Noel might have run with that role. My interest was peaked in the short stint Noel was with the IceHogs.

Finishing the regular season with the Fuel, Noel played well in Indy’s short playoff appearance. If Noel is in game shape to start 2018-19, he may be able to find his niche.

 

Call Ups

Vinnie Hinostroza-23 games, 9 G, 13 A, plus-seven

Tomas Jurco-36 games, 13 G, 12 A, plus-four

David Kampf-33 games, 7 G, 11 A, plus-one

Laurent Dauphin-33 games, 4 G, 10 A, minus-six

These players, Hinostroza in particular, carried Rockford in the first couple of months. Hinostroza was recalled by the Hawks December 8, Kampf on December 27 and Jurco on January 8.

Kampf returned in April to finish up the season and playoffs for the Hogs. In 16 games, he managed just a goal (Game Five vs Texas) and two assists (in Chicago in the last game of the regular season).

Dauphin, who played with a full face shield following a altercation in San Antonio December 15, was traded back to Arizona in the Anthony Duclair deal. Adam Clendening came to Rockford was a key part of the spring resurgence; Dauphin played 17 games for Tuscon (5 G, 10 A) before being recalled to the Coyotes. He was injured blocking a shot March 11 and missed the rest of the season.

 

Reinforcements

Chris DiDomenico-22 games, 8 G, 15 A, plus-three

All this guy did was spark Rockford into its late-season push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Once there, he was the league’s top point producer (7 G, 11 A in 13 games) until the final games of the Calder Cup Final. If anybody saw this coming, step forward and be called Fibber McGee.

Returning to AHL rinks after several seasons abroad, DiDomenico was obtained for Ville Pokka in a trade with Ottawa in mid-February. Along with a heavy dose of veteran leadership that was injected into the piglets, DiDomenico brought a chippy element to a club that had practically none before he arrived.

By the time the playoffs started, you had skaters of all shapes and sizes finishing checks all over the ice. The motor was still firing, but the Hogs picked up a definite snarl that was a major part of the playoff success.

DiDomenico rides off into the sunset, having signed to play in the Swiss League for two seasons soon after cleaning out his locker at the BMO. One richly deserved stick tap, coming right up.

 

Lance Bouma-20 games, 7 G, 7 A, plus-seven

Chicago sending the physical forward to Rockford in February proved to be good for the IceHogs. Like DiDomenico, Bouma added veteran grit that was in short supply at that point of the campaign. Like DiDomenico, I would not expect to see Bouma in a Hogs sweater next season.

 

Tanner Kero-36 games, 8 G, 12 A, minus-ten

I’m finding out about the Hawks trade with Vancouver just as I was set to ponder Kero’s season for this post. Basically, Kero’s 2017-18 season has produced Michael Chaput.

Kero came to Rockford in December. He was out for about a month after an injury against San Antonio on February 18 and also missed a few games at the close of the regular season.

 

John Hayden-24 games, 5 G, 12 A, even

Arrived January 10 when he was assigned to the Hogs by Chicago, playing through the beginning of March before being recalled. Hayden was also with Rockford once the Blackhawks season ended.

Hayden was physical for sure…but he just didn’t seem to make the impact I imagined when he was sent to Rockford. That goes double in the playoffs; he delivered his share of hits but accounted for just three goals in 13 postseason games.

 

Henrik Samuelsson-25 games, 9 G, 3 A, minus-one

The former first-round selection of the Coyotes was skating in the ECHL for Idaho when Rockford inked him to a PTO in February. The move became a permanent arrangement when the IceHogs signed him through the 2018-19 season.

Samuelsson found the net in each of his first three games with Rockford, including a game-winner against San Antonio February 18. He worked his way onto a power play unit and was a steady presence through the rest of the regular season.

Samuelsson showcased some offensive know-how to go with a strong presence in the corners in his stint with the Hogs. After sitting out the first two rounds of the postseason, he was inserted for the last four games of the conference final with Texas.

 

Viktor Ejdsell-five games, 1 A, minus-three

Ejdsell, of course, made his mark in the postseason, where he totaled 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in 13 games. The lanky forward displayed a nice shot and enough skating ability to keep up with his linemates. He certainly didn’t look out of place in the smaller North American rinks.

The 23-year old Swede had a good sense of timing. Four of his postseason goals were game-winners, the most notable being the one that ended the Game 3 triple-overtime affair with the Wolves. Another came in an elimination game with Texas, where he had a three-point Game 4.

A full season in Rockford could prove to be very interesting, as Ejdsell could probably use a year to hone his skating before hitting NHL ice. Depending on the makeup of the Hawks roster, he could see himself riding the I-90 shuttle for parts of next season.

 

The Vet

Andreas Martinsen-64 games, 12 G, 16 A, plus-seven

So far as early season veteran presence, Martinsen was about it through the first months, save for Jurco and Dauphin. The big Norwegian was key to any physical element to the piglet’s game until the latter part of February when guys like DiDomenico and Bouma showed up.

Obtained for Kyle Baun just before the start of the season, this trade was a definite win for the Blackhawks. Baun wasn’t terrible this season, with 22 points (5 G, 17 A) in Laval and the Toronto Marlies (with whom he won a Calder Cup despite not playing in the playoffs). For the IceHogs, however, Martinsen brought more to the table and was a good fit.

Aside from a spell in Chicago this spring, Martinsen was a mainstay in the lineup, often teaming with Sikura and Alexandre Fortin on what proved to be a very effective group. The 6’4″, 230-pounder re-upped with the Blackhawks for 2018-19. He should be able to skate fourth-line minutes in Chicago if needed and is a nice piece for Colliton to have in Rockford.

 

AHL Standouts

Tyler Sikura-74 games, 23 G, 16 A, plus-24

Sikura failed to stick in three AHL cities following his college career at Dartmouth. Before signing with Rockford, he was still looking for his first AHL point. This season, he earned the team MVP award and an NHL entry contract to boot.

Sikura was a hard worker in the first two months of the season, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. Through November, he had three goals in 19 contests. In fact, it wasn’t until the post-Christmas part of the schedule that Sikura started seeing the fruits of his efforts.

Starting on December 28 until signing his NHL contract for next season March 6, Sikura put up 13 goals and six helpers in 29 games. To celebrate his new ink, he had 14 points (7 G, 7 A) to close out the last 17 games of the regular season.

Sikura proved to be quite the redirection artist throughout the season. By the spring, not only was he killing penalties but was on the red-hot first power play unit. Sikura also showed that he can create scoring chances on occasion when away from the net.

This was by far the most productive season by a Hogs AHL-signing in the history of the franchise, eclipsing P.C. Labrie’s 2015-16 34-point explosion. Labrie, however, was between NHL deals at the time. Sikura truly announced his presence with authority in his rookie season.

What lies ahead for the elder Sikura brother? I don’t know if he can match last season’s 18.3 shooting percentage, but he’s welcome to try. It will be interesting to see how he follows up such a remarkable performance.

 

William Pelletier-69 games, 14 G, 15 A, plus-13

Another AHL rookie that kept several Hawks prospects out of the lineup was Pelletier, who came out of Division III Norwich looking to prove he could skate at this level. He did.

Pelletier’s wheels allowed the Hogs to send pucks way down the ice, knowing the 5’7″ forward could negate icing and chase down the biscuit. His fore check was tenacious all season and as the playoffs got underway, he started bringing the action to his opponents along the boards.

This was good to see, because Pelletier was a guy opposing teams loved to target on the ice with big hits. Dishing back a little physical business didn’t hurt his effectiveness. Pelletier earned an extension of his AHL deal with Rockford for his efforts and should yet again be a fun player to watch zooming up and down the ice.

 

Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson-73 games, 13 G, 17 A, minus-four

I’m giving Johnson his own category in this review. On a roster of first-year prospects and veteran additions, Johnson perhaps had the most to prove out of any of the returning players.

In last year’s season recap, I suggested that Johnson needed to step up his game from a 17-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 to avoid being pushed to the bench by all the new faces in Rockford. I’d say that Johnson took that step and then some.

Johnson was a steady producer at both ends of the ice for Rockford. He also was a player who took on some big dance partners when circumstances dictated. Four of the IceHogs league-low 11 fighting majors were attributed to Johnson.

In a very quiet manner, Johnson raised his position within the organization. He drew praise from NHL veteran Cody Franson as well as with coach Jeremy Colliton. John Dietz of the Daily Herald got both men to open up about Johnson’s game during the playoffs.

If Colliton names a captain for the 2018-19 IceHogs (after not doing so this past season), don’t be surprised if the C is slapped on Johnson’s sweater.

 

Coffee Cups

Alex Wideman

Tommy Olczyk

Kyle Maksimovich

These three players produced a grand total of zero points for the IceHogs this season. Wideman (13 games in Rockford) did have another good season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, with 16 goals and 32 assists. Most of his time in town came in January and February.

Olczyk saw action once for the Hogs, skating in Grand Rapids January 20. Maksimovich was signed to an ATO in March after scoring 31 goals in the OHL for Erie. He got into four games late in the season and was inactive once the playoffs got underway.

 

Unlike a year ago, there should be lots of returning faces up front for the Hogs. Depending on what kind of veteran skaters Rockford is afforded, there could be several players who could make big strides in their games. Like last season, it should be exciting to watch.

I’m sure there will be some activity worth shouting about in the coming weeks. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter just in case I think of something. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to sort through the summer.