Before the Blackhawks went on their latest run, there were many questions. A few changes to the top six and continued improvement from rookies have found them atop the Central Division early in the 2016-17 season.
Before their recent success, I was wondering what they were going to do to get help. In this look at the IceHogs, we’ll take a look at some of those rookies — many of whom played at Rockford last season — to see who is looking like they could offer some help to the Hawks should the need arise.
Let’s focus on the positives first. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve been around the game for over 40 years, and I fancy myself as having a pretty good eye for talent. Okay, so I’m patting myself on the back. I’ve been providing information to some bloggers in Chicago for a few years now, and they’ve come to know that I have a pretty good idea as to what I’m talking about. There have been hyped players that I knew from the first time I saw them that it wasn’t going to work out as the organization had been saying for these players. There are those where it doesn’t take long to figure out that they’ve got something.
For those rookies contributing to the current Hawks roster, it comes as no surprise to me. I mentioned last spring to one of those bloggers noted above after his first couple of games at Rockford that Tyler Motte was the most likely to make the Hawks roster this season. That opinion was bolstered at prospect camp, and it has born out pretty well on the ice this season.
I believed that Ryan Hartman could be a quality third-liner, maybe even a second-liner, if he could just keep his head on straight. He has the talent, as we’ve seen. I knew he had the chance to, at minimum, be a good replacement for Andrew Shaw, and that’s going pretty well so far. I first saw Gustav Forsling at prospect this past summer, and it was immediately evident that he belonged in the NHL. While he certainly makes some mistakes, it’s normal for a rookie. He sure looks good so far. Geesh, remember when Brent Seabrook came into the league? If you don’t, it wasn’t exactly pretty.
That brings us to the current crop of Rockfordians and what’s out there as far as NHL help, focusing on some known commodities. There’s NHL talent there, but nothing that’s eye-popping. There’s nothing that’s top-six on the front end, or top-five on the back end.
The thing is, this should come as no surprise to anybody. A look at the Blackhawks’ drafts beginning in 2009 shows them picking no higher than 18th in the first round (2011, McNeill and 2012, Teravainen) and two years where they’ve had no first-round picks at all. It’s difficult to get top-end talent drafting in those positions year after year. I mentioned in my last post that the best thing they had going for them was defense. That’s still the case.
The IceHogs currently sit sixth in the AHL Central Division with a record of 6-8-1. Most of those games have come on the road, so there is a bright side out there. In 14 games this year, they’ve mustered a total of 30 goals. You can do the math, it makes me too sick to think about it. Brandon Mashinter and Spencer Abbott are tied for the team lead in goals with four apiece, and Mashinter just had a hat trick Saturday night. ‘Nuff said. Abbott leads the team with 10 points.
Mark McNeill continues to put up points at the AHL level -- he’s second on the team with nine — and is the most puzzling to me when wondering about players who are in Rockford. That’s not so say he belongs in Chicago right now with the performance of the rookies so far. He’s not a top-six NHL talent. He’s long been a favorite of mine when it comes to prospects, but it almost appears that it’s time for the Hawks to move on and give him a shot elsewhere. The Blackhawks’ best forward prospect isn’t in Rockford — that’s Alex DeBrincat.
Otherwise, when it comes to forward names you know, let’s hope things improve. On the defensive side we’ve seen Viktor Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson in Chicago. While they could be there again this year, should the need arise, I wouldn’t want them higher than a 5D, and that would be a stretch. Gustafsson is a minus-8, while Svedberg is a respectable, for this team, minus-1. Then again, Gustafsson is among the AHL’s league leaders in shots on goal by defensemen, so his offensive ability remains apparent.
Ville Pokka is the last remaining piece acquired in the Nick Leddy deal, and unless something changes, I don’t expect he’ll make it to an NHL roster. If he does, it’ll be as a 6, and certainly not with the Blackhawks. If the Hawks were to have a need to bring up a D at this point, I’d look to Cameron Schilling or Carl Dahlstrom, as long as the Hawks would be okay with their lack of NHL experience. Schilling takes care of his own end very well. He moves both himself and the puck terrifically, too. Dahlstrom was mentioned in my first report of the year. Look for more consistent posts going forward as the Hogs will be having more home games coming up as we move into late November/early December.