The Chicago Blackhawks have assigned defenseman Gustav Forsling and forward Spencer Abbott to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, the team announced Friday morning. The moves come less than 24 hours after Abbott made his Blackhawks debut in a 4-3 win over the Sabres.
The more notable news here is Forsling, however. The 20-year-old is considered the Blackhawks’ top defenseman prospect, but his entry-level contract included an European Assignment Clause that prevented Chicago from reassigning him to the AHL before Dec. 1.
According to The Athletic’s Scott Powers, Forsling would’ve returned to the SHL in Sweden if he was removed from the NHL roster before Dec. 1. Since that date, he’s been AHL-eligible, so it appears the Blackhawks were just trying to be patient with him over the past five weeks.
Forsling’s game has never quite come together in his first NHL go-around, though. The defenseman has recorded one goal, three assists, and 39 shots on goal in 32 games this season. He’s been the team’s second-worst defenseman in 5-on-5 Corsi (47.3 percent), ahead of just Michal Rozsival (46.3 percent), and rarely plays on special teams now that Trevor van Riemsdyk has taken his power play spot.
There was also the problem of handedness for the Blackhawks. Forsling is a left-handed defenseman, but he was also clearly the team’s fifth-best lefty behind Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, and Michal Kempny. Putting Forsling into the lineup each night meant meant playing two of those guys on their offsides in order to accommodate the rookie. That’s part of why Campbell and Kempny have been scratched more than you’d necessarily expect.
By sending Forsling to Rockford, he can get extra reps on the IceHogs’ top pairing, and Chicago can stabilize its defense a bit with Keith, Campbell, and Kempny on the left, and Hjalmarsson (who doesn’t mind playing his offside), Brent Seabrook, and TVR or Rozsival on the right. Given that van Riemsdyk has in many ways outplayed Forsling over the past few weeks, you can see why the move is being made.
As for Abbott, it became pretty clear in his debut against Buffalo that he wouldn’t cut it next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. He got bumped to the fourth line before the end of the game, and now he’s already back in the AHL. It turns out that a 28-year-old journeyman didn’t become a 28-year-old journeyman by accident.
The Blackhawks now have 22 players on their active roster, but only 12 active forwards due to Marcus Kruger’s injury. Don’t be surprised if these moves signal that others are on the way (even if it’s something minor like calling back up Nick Schmaltz).