Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, will soon be opening their 2019-20 season. The Flying Piglets of Winnebago County will take to the BMO Harris Bank Center in hopes of furthering the careers of Chicago’s prospects. I’m back for another season of bringing you my takes on the (Olive) garden party down Rockford way.

Rockford went 35-31-4-6 last season, finishing seventh in the eight-team Central Division. My thoughts on the 2018-19 campaign can be found here. If you don’t have the time to read, here are the Cliffs Notes: The Hogs couldn’t score, so they missed the playoffs.

After taking over for the promoted Jeremy Colliton in November, Derek King was officially named Rockford’s head coach this summer. The Blackhawks will measure King’s success in how he handles the organization’s young talent.

In Rockford, winning takes a backseat to development. The Blackhawks have made this abundantly clear over the years in the way they have assembled the IceHogs roster. This year is no different.

Actually, the landscape in Rockford is even more devoid of veteran presence than usual. Veterans like Peter Holland, Jordan Schroeder, Andreas Martinsen and Andrew Campbell weren’t re-signed by Chicago. Players like Anthony Louis and Luke Johnson were not tendered offers. Rockford elected not to re-sign popular winger William Pelletier or AHL vet Terry Broadhurst.

This leaves a lot of openings for playing time. The bulk of it is going to go to the slew of prospects set to join the team. In terms of grizzled veterans, the cupboard is mostly bare. With one notable exception.

The big name at the top of the roster (as well as this post) is two-time Stanley Cup winner Kris Versteeg. Let’s examine why he’s here. Versteeg, who spent last season in the KHL and SHL when he wasn’t injured, signed an AHL contract with the IceHogs back in April. Signing that early really surprised me, as usually a veteran like Versteeg would test free agency in hopes for some NHL ink later in the summer.

Nothing has fallen off the 33-year-old winger so far in training camp. He was dutifully assigned to Rockford last week and will be among a handful of AHL signees to make the Hogs roster. There hasn’t been a captain named by the team the last two seasons. Whether King elects to make it official or not, consider that role to be Versteeg’s.

The Blackhawks can’t bring him aboard for a third tour with Chicago unless he’s signed to an NHL contract. I have trouble envisioning that scene, though it certainly could happen at some point this season. I think that Versteeg is prepared to spend the full season in Rockford. By the way he’s spoken publicly, he seems pretty happy to be on the farm. How that time plays out depends on his health as well as his leadership abilities.

“What leadership abilities?” comes the call from above.

Well, Versteeg has been with seven NHL teams (eight including the Bruins, for whom he never played) and I don’t recall anyone ever putting a letter on his sweater. He does, however, have a 643 games of NHL experience and eight trips to the playoffs. It stands to reason that he is fully aware of his role in the scheme of things and can put his considerable experience to use in Rockford.

The ceiling on this move: a fit and motivated Versteeg plays 60-plus games, puts up some respectable offensive numbers, mentors the piglets on and off the ice and helps draw a few curious fans into the BMO this winter. If the brass in the Hawks organization have another plan mapped out for Versteeg, I don’t see it.

As for the remainder of the roster? Things won’t be set in stone for a couple of weeks, but lets take a look…

 

Forwards

Glad To Have You Back

Rockford is not long on returning players at forward. The ones coming back each have something to prove.

Dylan Sikura was Rockford’s Rookie of the Year, with 35 points (17 G, 18 A) in 46 games. The question for the organization is whether Sikura’s game can translate to NHL production.

Matthew Highmore, spent most of 2018-19 out of commission after a shoulder injury in late October. He’ll be looking to rebound in his third season in Rockford. With Sikura, Highmore will be counted on early this season to provide steady scoring at the top of the lineup.

Alexandre Fortin is in dire need of finding a finishing stroke as he enters his third season. Graham Knott and Nathan Noel are other players on the last year of their entry contracts.  Both may find ice time harder to come by as new prospects flood the roster.

Jacob Nilsson was placed on waivers by Chicago Sunday. Provided he clears, the IceHogs get last season’s MVP back in the fold. He was solid at both ends in his rookie season and will be a key player on special teams for Rockford.

 

Welcome To Winnebago County

King’s roster will be brimming with new faces up front. Mackenzie Entwistle, Brandon Hagel, Reece Johnson, Philipp Kurashev, Tim Soderlund, and Mikael Hakkarainen will be entering their rookie campaigns when the season begins.

The IceHogs will likely see several new acquisitions by the organization in action for at least part of the 2019-20 season. John Quenneville is a pickup from New Jersey who has 50-point potential in a full season of AHL play. He was a point a game player with Binghamton last year with 39 (18 G, 21 A) in 37 games.

A player like Aleksi Saarela could put up big offensive numbers if he winds up in Rockford with the proper mindset. Saarela had 30 goals for Charlotte last season, but it appears that he feels he belongs on an NHL roster. That could be an issue if Saarela comes to Rockford and sulks.

Several additional players should be coming down from Chicago once training camp winds down. Waiver-exempt players like Anton Wedin, Alexander Nylander or Dominik Kubalik could join a veteran or two who passes through waivers to bolster the Hogs roster.

 

AHL Deals

In addition to Versteeg, the IceHogs signed five other forwards to AHL contracts. Tyler Sikura, the MVP of the 2017-18 Hogs, is back on an AHL deal following seven-goals, twelve assists in 50 games for Rockford last season.

Sikura the Elder was hampered by a thumb injury but should be a regular in King’s lineup. Other than Nick Moutrey, who adds some bottom-six muscle, don’t expect the other Hogs signings to be at the BMO all that much.

That includes former 2014 Hawks draft picks Liam Coughlin (fifth round), who signed an AHL contract after finishing his college career at Vermont, and Jack Ramsey (seventh round), who signed after four years at Minnesota.

Matthew Thompson had 50 points (21 G, 29 A) for the Indy Fuel last season and figures to be in Indy for most of 2019-20.

 

Defense

The few returning players at defense are led by Lucas Carlsson and Dennis Gilbert.

Carlsson was Rockford’s Defenseman of the Year after a 33-point (9 G, 24 A) rookie season.

Gilbert was the IceHogs most consistently physical presence most nights. He’ll be looking to find a bit more offense in his game in his sophomore season, totaling 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in 2018-19. Joni Tuulola (4 G, 10 A in 52 games) could be Rockford ‘s only other returning player on defense.

Chicago did not ink a veteran defenseman to mentor the blue line, as was the case with with Andrew Campbell last year. The Blackhawks did sign Philip Holm to a two-way deal. Holm, who is currently going through waivers, spent last season in the KHL and has just one career NHL game to his credit.

Provided he doesn’t make the Blackhawks out of camp, expect Adam Boqvist to lead the host of rookie piglets. Nicolas Beaudin and Chad Krys are also new faces who should inject some excitement.

Rockford re-signed Josh McArdle to an AHL contract and also secured the services of Dmitry Osipov and Jake Ryczek. McArdle (19 games) and Osipov (eight games) both saw time with the IceHogs and will find themselves in the lineup when not in the ECHL with Indy.

Ryczek, a seventh-round pick by Chicago in the 2016 NHL Draft, spent most of last season in the QMJHL with Halifax.

 

Goalie

It’s in this area that Rockford can enter the season with a measure of confidence. If things break Chicago’s way health-wise (keep ’em crossed), then the IceHogs may have one of the top goalie tandems in the AHL.

Collin Delia is coming off a season in which he was ninth in the league with a 2.48 GAA. His .922 save percentage was second in the league among qualified net men. As good as Delia has been for the Hogs, the other half of the goalie picture could wind up to be even better.

Kevin Lankinen was the odd man out for much of last season but played very well for Rockford in the latter stages of the 2018-19 campaign. He then followed up his rookie season in the AHL with an outstanding performance to win a gold medal with Finland at the World Championships.

I would expect the organization to balance the minutes in net, though either Delia or Lankinen should be able to handle full-time work in Rockford if need be. In a best-case scenario, both will man the crease 35-40 times for the IceHogs. If that doesn’t come to fruition, Rockford has two players under AHL deals.

Matt Tomkins enters his third year as a Rockford signing, having spent most of last year with Indy. He was up in Rockford briefly but did not appear in a game with the Hogs. Chase Marchand was signed by Rockford and will likely be with the Fuel all season.

 

The Schedule

Division wins are going to make the difference for the IceHogs; 66 of the 76 games on Rockford’s schedule are within the confines of the AHL’s Central Division.

Rockford have two games each with Laval, Belleville and Toronto and another four with Cleveland. The IceHogs non-division games are all against Eastern Conference teams; Rockford will not play a game against a Pacific Division opponent this season…unless it’s in the Western Conference Final.

As usual, besting the neighbors will be vital. The piglets will attempt to wrest the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup from the Chicago Wolves. Rockford’s interstate rivals took the grail for the third consecutive season last spring; despite each team winning six of the twelve season contests, the Wolves earned more points in those games.

The Hogs also have an even dozen with Milwaukee again this season, though Rockford won’t see the Ads until December 7 at the BMO. The IceHogs square off with Grand Rapids ten times and have eight apiece with Iowa, Manitoba, San Antonio and Texas.

The schedule is fairly balanced throughout the season. Rockford has 24 home dates out of its first 46 games, then is at home in 14 of its final 30 games. The Hogs have a five-game home stand Oct. 30-Nov. 8 and a six-straight at home Jan. 25-Feb. 8. They have a five-game road trip at the end of February. Otherwise, there are no more than three consecutive games either home or away.

 

So…How’s This Team Gonna Do?

That, friends, is a question I’ll set about answering when the roster is more concrete. The Hogs kick off the season in Iowa October 4; I’ll be back with more thoughts on the upcoming season before then.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi throughout the season as I offer updates and musings on the scene in Rockford.

 

 

 

Hockey

I’m sure Traverse City is lovelier in the fall than I would guess or think, but it’s more fun to make fun of. Anyway, wouldn’t it be great if the NHL just combined all of these rookie tournaments somehow into one big one? Had their own Vegas Summer League thing? Probably makes too much sense.

Anyway, we’re only a week away, if you can believe it, from the 2019 Traverse City Tournament, which once again will feature the Hawks, as well as Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, the Rangers, and St. Louis. The Leafs are something of a new addition to this, thus making it THE MOST IMPORTANT PROSPECT TOURNAMENT EVER and definitely a harbinger of the four Cups in a row the Leafs are going to win in the next decade, minimum.

The Hawks announced their roster for it today, which is:

23 F Bignell, Luke***
54 F Coughlin, Liam*
77 F Dach, Kirby
55 F Element, Shawn***
58 F Entwistle, Mackenzie
38 F Hagel, Brandon
59 F Hakkarainen, Mikael
52 F Johnson, Reese
71 F Kurashev, Philipp
42 F McKay, Riley***
45 F McLaughlin, Dylan*
25 F Nurse, Isaac***
76 F Soderlund, Tim
53 F Teply, Michal
74 D Beaudin, Nicolas
27 D Boqvist, Adam
39 D Gilbert, Dennis
43 D Krys, Chad
62 D Moberg, Cole
85 D Ramsey, Jack*
75 D Ryczek, Jake
49 G Daws, Nico***
33 G Gravel, Alexis
80 G Marchand, Chase**

So, notes: Obviously, the names to watch here are Boqvist and Dach. The hope is that both completely dominate this thing (Boqvist should easily), and vault themselves into serious contention for roster spots in training camp. You get the feeling the last thing the Hawks want is for either or both of these players to make things tough on them and have to shelve a veteran (*cough* Seabrook *cough*) to put them on the ice. But it’s not like the Hawks haven’t been open to that in the past, as Alex DeBrincat just two years ago took a plus performance in Traverse City to training camp and essentially forced himself onto the Opening Night roster.

It feels like Dach has the much higher mountain to climb–imagine being so fixed on keeping Zack Smith on your team–but if he plays well enough, he’ll be harder to ignore. The floor for Boqvist seems to be he’ll end up in Rockford and just a phone call away, but either can start to change that next week.

-As you probably know, I’ll be keeping an eye on Philipp Kurashev. He’s not going to make the team out of camp but could be one of the first call-ups during the season with a couple steps. He’s got straight-ahead speed, which the Hawks still don’t have enough of even if they think they do.

-Feels like it could be a big tournament for Nicolas Beaudin. He doesn’t get mentioned like Boqvist or Ian Mitchell, but is still a first-round pick. He’s definitely headed for Rockford, and after playing in the Q his defensive game might need a total overhaul. And we’ve seen d-men start in Rockford and never get out alive. But still, if Boqvist blazes a path, Murphy and de Haan remain ouchy, Koekkoek continues to suck. and Gustafsson becomes deadline bait (which he should), there’s a way for him. Yeah, it’s a lot, and he’s got heads to turn, but it’s there.

-Entwhistle is another one who probably at least needs to make people notice a play or two. He’s not imminent of the big roster yet, but we know the Hawks love a big body (barf) and they don’t have too many who can actually play.

Everything Else

The 2016-17 Rockford IceHogs were not built for success. It should come as no surprise that the team went through the worst season in its ten-year AHL history.

There is much optimism for the team that will work the BMO Harris Bank Center ice come October. Let’s face it; after the recently-completed campaign there is no option but to look to the future for hope.

(Speaking of which, take a gander at that little girl’s face as she holds hands with Michael Latta for the anthem in Rockford’s season finale. I defy you to tell me her skates touched the ice as she made her way off the rink.)

I included this to give you a warm, positive feeling heading into this post. Feel better about the last couple of days? O.K., then. Let’s get to the Hogs season wrap-up.

No Rockford team, including the last nine AHL years and eight previous seasons in the UHL, has won fewer games than the 25 the Hogs won in 2016-17. Their .408 points percentage is by far the lowest since Rockford became a Blackhawks affiliate.

Last Saturday, after the IceHogs had dropped their 22nd home game of the season, the team claimed in their post-game video that Rockford had a winning home record for the tenth-straight year. I appreciate the need to place things in a positive light, but that just isn’t the case.

The Hogs had a .513 points percentage. However, they lost 22 games at the BMO; 15 in regulation, five in Gus Macker Time and two shootouts. Rockford was 16-22 at home, a .421 winning percentage.

Using this standard, the IceHogs also had losing seasons at home in 2010-11 (19-21, .475) 2011-12 (18-20, .474). Still, this is the worst Rockford has been in its own barn.

Away from the BMO, the Hogs were abysmal. No amount of spin-doctoring can remove the stink of the road.

Scoring only 1.92 goals a contest, Rockford staggered to a 9-24-4-1 mark. That is a .237 win percentage and a .303 points percentage. The IceHogs were the AHL worst out of their home digs this past season. The road wins (9) and road losses (29) are also franchise nadirs.

Three of those nine road wins came during what would prove to be the high-water mark of the season. Rockford won in Milwaukee February 10, then came home and won four straight. The season-high five-game win streak was broken February 18, but the Hogs went to Manitoba and swept the Moose in a two-game set.

At that point, Rockford had won seven of eight and was approaching some measure of respectability. Then the IceHogs went out to California and lost to San Diego and Ontario. Rockford returned home and the bottom completely dropped out.

In the space of two days, the Blackhawks sent the Hogs top three point scorers-Abbott, Carrick (who had done a lot of the heavy lifting during the Hogs surge), and Mark McNeill-to other teams via trades. From the time of the McNeill trade shortly before Rockford’s game with Manitoba on February 28, the team went 4-13-1 the rest of the way.

The severely undermanned Hogs put on a brave face and chose not to lay down in the bulk of those games. Despite the influx of some prospects on amateur tryouts and the refusal of the team to pack it in, the last 18 games yielded a .222 win percentage to go with a .250 points percentage.

For the season, the Hogs won four straight after dropping their first two games in Cleveland to begin the season on a positive tip. They won three straight just before Christmas and had the aforementioned five-game win streak in February.

That was about it; Rockford won consecutive games on four other occasions. On the other hand, the IceHogs had losing streaks of nine, eight, seven, six, and four (three times) games over the course of the season. With the exception of two weeks in February, there wasn’t much for Hogs fans to be excited about.

How did this happen? Let me offer the following thoughts.

 

Whom Do We Sue?

If you’re the type that has to assign blame for a disastrous season in Rockford, let’s spare a few parties. This was not coach Ted Dent’s fault; Dent’s role is to develop young players and those were in short supply. The players assembled on the roster played to form for the most part. I credit Dent, along with the team leaders, for the IceHogs playing hard despite the long odds facing them on a nightly basis.

There were some underachievers that I’ll point out next week when I take a closer look at the players on this season’s roster.  Just know that this team was flawed in some key areas, and for that the blame must be squarely focused on Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.

Again, let’s not light any torches.  Bowman’s job is to win at the NHL level. The IceHogs are not run in a way that will make them perennial AHL championship contenders. Rockford feeds prospects to the parent club. The only fair criticism that can be made in terms of Bowman’s handling of the Hogs was that the cupboard was bare in terms of young players for Dent to develop.

This wasn’t a mystery going into the start of this season. This comes from my 2016-17 preview:

As of my writing this preview, I see just a few legit Hawks prospects on that list. (Luke) Johnson and (Tanner) Kero fit into that category. (Kyle) Baun has a lot to prove in order to retain the prospect tag to me, but if he’s on this list (Sam) Carrick deserves to be, too. The rest of the two-way guys are AHL depth signings.

Kero played just 28 games in Rockford, spending most of the season with Chicago along with players like Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte, and Vinnie Hinostroza. Most of the Blackhawks top prospects were pressed into service at the NHL level. Again, that’s the goal. However, very few replacements for those departed players were signed. The ones that were-Alexandre Fortin and Graham Knott-wound up back in juniors.

 

Offense

The seeds for a low-output offensive team were there at the start of the season. Again, from my preview:

Heading into the season, there is a lot to consider. Depending on what players make the club in Chicago, there could be a real dependence on veteran scoring this season. Like the parent club, the IceHogs look to be very solid on the defensive side and in net. Most of my question marks lie in who’s going to be around to put the puck in the opposing goal.

By the end of the season, there was practically no one.

The Hogs had Spencer Abbott as their only real veteran scoring threat. At the time of his February trade, Abbott was leading the Hogs in goals (15) and points (35). In fact, those numbers would still have topped the roster in both categories despite his playing elsewhere for the last six weeks.

Rockford headed into action on opening night with one real scoring type, a lot of role players who needed scorers to clean up after, little in the way of prospects at forward and a lack of team speed at the position. Sound promising? The Hogs battled to overcome the hand they were dealt but wound up with predictably lackluster results.

Rockford was dead last in the AHL with 175 goals scored. The goal output of 2.30 per contest was the worst in team history (including the UHL days) by a wide margin. The IceHogs power play operated at a 14.3 success rate, second worst in the league to Charlotte (who made it up to their fans by making the playoffs).

Fourth in the league in shots, Rockford was unable to get the puck into high-percentage scoring areas. This was a team that had to rely on dirty goals every night. The pickings were slim; not being able to create goals in transition or by efficient passing was on constant display.

 

Defense

If you’re looking for positives here, move along. Rockford was near the bottom of the league in this category as well. However…

Here’s where I have to apologize; the last few weeks, I have been reporting inaccurately on the number of goals that Rockford has given up this season. Somehow, I plucked out a number and ran with it. I was ready to pronounce a franchise-record regarding goals allowed until I went to confirm that final total and saw my gaffe.

Rockford did not set a team mark in defensive ineptness. I offer the most sincere mea culpa to all you friendly folks who tune in here each week as well as my twitter handle.

That said, they still weren’t that good.

The Hogs surrendered (checking again) 246 goals for the season, an average of 3.24 a game. That was 26th in the 30-team AHL. With most of the organization’s defensive prospects coming back, I figured that this would be a strength of this team. The problem was that the back end was set up to push the tempo and create pressure in the offensive zone, and the forward core was not set up to make that happen.

As a result, the IceHogs blue line found themselves perpetually on its heels, facing the rushes of opponents. They did not respond well to the change of style. Rockford defenders were often prone to turnovers in the vicinity of their own net.

More speed and skill up front could quickly turn this unit around. A couple of defensive-minded players would make a difference as well.

 

Goalie

This is an area in which I have written at length several times this season, so don’t expect me to belch out another 3000-words on the topic. I will say that being the last line of defense on a team that gave up so many point-blank chances and odd-man rushes was not a position to relish.

Lars Johansson had a decent debut season in the AHL, all things considered. Jeff Glass was a pleasant surprise, playing solid in net for his 20-game stretch. Mac Carruth did not enjoy the same success he had the previous spring and didn’t get a lot of steady work in the last few months.

Depending on how the chips fall in expansion and free agency, I would expect Johansson (who will be a RFA this summer), Glass (signed through next season), or both to be back in Rockford. Carruth (a UFA) likely moves on.

 

Comportment

Rockford set another franchise mark this season; fewest penalty minutes. The Hogs were tabbed for 973 minutes, far less that last year’s 1292 and way fewer that the previous franchise low of 1159 set in 2013-14. This is an all-time mark for Rockford, UHL or AHL incarnation.

The IceHogs were sent to the box on minor infractions 299 times. That was the second-fewest in the league to Bakersfield’s 273 (dispensed in eight fewer games). The penalty kill unit gave up 49 goals, tied for eighth fewest in the league.

Rockford was in the middle of the pack with a 81.1 kill rate, but they were much better in this area after a very rough start. Trust me, keeping teams from converting man advantages was the least of the Hogs worries this season.

Despite being eighth in the AHL in fighting majors assessed, Rockford earned just 39 in 2016-17. This is by far a franchise low. This could be expected in that all fights coming out of faceoffs would result in game-misconducts, and all fights from the tenth on would be subject to suspension. Here’s my early season hypothosis:

As a result of these rule changes, I would expect to see more players on each team drop the gloves, as it will be hard to keep one designated scrapper on the ice. It surely will be something to keep an eye on early in the season.

How’d I do? Well, here’s how things turned out…

Fights were down 28 percent around the league from a year ago. That percentage went down 34 percent in Rockford. In all, 391 players were given at least one fighting major over the course of the campaign. That was down from 418 the year before, which confused me a bit until I realized that fewer fights meant fewer players scrapping.

My theory that the top pugilists would be less active was correct, though I was still surprised how striking the numbers were in this area. In the 2015-16 season, 22 players had ten or more fighting majors. Mike Liambas led the league with 20.

How many players topped the ten-fight plateau this season? Two. Ross Johnston of Bridgeport led the league with eleven. Rockford’s Michael Latta earned his tenth in Rockford’s finale last Saturday (yes, he will be suspended for the first game in the AHL season come fall).

There were nine players who got to nine fighting majors, including Liambas. No one wanted to face the vacation time required to match the work rate of previous seasons. Jake Dowell led Rockford with seven scraps (Latta earned seven of his FMs in Ontario), while Chris DeSousa and P.C. Labrie followed with six apiece.

 

Come And See The Show (Or Not)

One area that predictably took a hit in the wake of a losing season was the number of butts in the seats.

For the first time in the past five seasons, the IceHogs did not set a new attendance mark. After a record 5014 per night average in 2015-16, Rockford averaged 4328 to the 38 contests held at the BMO this past season.

Attendance was not this low since the 2011-12 campaign (4244). This year’s final tally is the sixth lowest in the ten-years Rockford has been an AHL franchise.

The front office in Rockford promoted IceHogs hockey as “a beautiful combination of violence strength violence, speed and intensity. There wasn’t much violence, thanks to the AHL’s fight restrictions. There wasn’t a lot of speed, or skill for that matter, at least until some of the youngsters showed up in the final weeks.

You know what I can’t fault? The effort. I really can’t. This team was dead in the water even before Bowman waved the white flag and gave up on the Hogs season at the end of February. I can’t say the same for the players based on what I saw down the stretch.

About those players…

I’ve rambled on far enough this week without launching into a player-by-player assessment of the IceHogs this past season. I’ll be returning, possibly as soon as next week, to take a microscope to the roster.

I promise that I might offer my two cents as to who may be around to open the 2017-18 campaign, who impressed me out of the ATOs the last few weeks, and any additional thoughts not squeezed out of my brain.

 

 

 

Everything Else

Sometimes I wonder how much the Hawks were scarred by having Kevin Hayes spurn their advances and head to free agency after completing his college career. They’ve certainly never let that happen again, though I don’t know how much of a threat that was with any of their college prospects. There were some whispers that John Hayden was looking longingly at the open market, so the Hawks signed him up last night. And they did it by promising he could get int eh lineup this season, thus burning one of the two years on his ELC and getting him to a second contract that much quicker. Because that went so well for Kyle Baun Baun Kyle Baun Baun, Drew LeBlaahhhhh, and all the other jokers the Hawks have punted into a game from the college ranks at the end of a season.

Everything Else

This is something I haven’t done in a while, and I’ll try and get back to it every so often. As we’ve seen this season, the Hawks are going to be plugging in future holes with kids through the system, because a flattening cap isn’t going to provide them much room for any other method and no big money coming off the books soon. Might even be worse when Panarin cashes in here after the Hawks refuse to play hardball.

Any talk about the Hawks’ pipeline starts with Alex DeBrincat. And don’t you worry, he’s still getting in up the elbow on the OHL, with 60 points in 28 games. His OHL season is going to go on hold for a bit, because he’s on the preliminary roster for the US Junior roster and is pretty much a lock to be on the main one when things kick off on Boxing Day. You’ll actually get to watch him. Should be fun.

Everything Else

You best believe I’m going to start calling Alex DeBrincat “Top Cat” when he gets here. Try and stop me. He’s got cat moves and he’s got cat style.

You’ve probably seen this already, but if you haven’t the Hawks’ second round pick from June, Alex DeBrincat, is absolutely torching the OHL so far this season. Like, it’s Mongolian hordes shit. So far in just 14 games, Top Cat has 17 goals and 18 assists for 34 points. He’s also averaging almost five shots per game at 4.8.

I was curious what became of players the past few years who have averaged two points per game in the O. It has happened, and while the OHL is pretty free-wheeling it’s not the QMJHL. There are certainly some names here.

Everything Else

You may have missed it last night, happened kind of late, but the Hawks sent Adam Clendening to Vancouver, apparently the official city where the Hawks dump the d-men they don’t have room for, for another blue line prospecting in Gustav Forsling.

You knew something was going to happen as soon as Clendening got three games with the Hawks and then was sent back to whence he came and never heard from again. It’s been well-established that you either break into Quenneville’s Circle of Trust immediately or you never do. That’s why TVR’s return is hotly awaited, that’s why Nordstrom is now a fixture in the lineup, and that’s why Clendening is headed west even though his skill-set looks remarkably like van Riemsdyk’s.

Everything Else

vsHAM_A_Broadhurst1314bGH

The Rockford IceHogs are preparing to finish up their longest road jaunt of 2014-15. So far it has been a productive one with the Hogs taking five of six points in their first three games of the trip. Rockford bested Adirondack and Hamilton on Thursday and Saturday before losing a shootout to Toronto Sunday afternoon.

Everything Else

With the rookie tournament in the books, Blackhawks prospects will soon be gathering out West (of Chicago on I-90 anyway) for another season skating in the name of the pig.

I’ll be posting on all things Rockford this season for TCI (when I can tear myself away from the Olive Garden, that is). My name is Jon Fromi and I have been contributing to The Third Man In for the past few seasons. I spend a few dozen nights at the BMO watching tomorrow’s stars today and will try to keep you abreast on those players the Hawks have entrusted to the Forest City.