The Rockford IceHogs season didn’t come to as an abrupt or unexpected end as the Blackhawks season did, but disappointment is still a key word.
However, unlike the Blackhawks’ disappointment, the IceHogs’ was a long time coming. They started out the year being unable to score goals, but on the other hand they weren’t letting much in either. It looked like, and was written here, that defense would be a strong point for the team, but it wasn’t. With a team devoid of offensive talent, having a defense that lets in goals like it’s Christmas makes for a bad combo.
What does this mean for the possibilities of help from Rockford when the Hawks start the 2017-18 campaign in September? Let’s take a look.
The Hawks spent the year searching for somebody, anybody, to step up and be a consistent wing presence alongside Jonathan Toews on Chicago’s No. 2 line (Yeah, I said it.)
Rockford couldn’t fill the role, and don’t look for it to provide that presence next season, either. Top scorers Spencer Abbott (35 points in 53 games) and Sam Carrick, sixth on the team (28 points in 57 games) were traded away March 1 in a deal with Anaheim for prospect Kenton Helgeson and a seventh-round draft choice.
Helgesen, who’s he you might ask? Good question. After he was acquired he was sent to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, one step below Rockford. In 12 games there he amassed one goal and nine assists. As was reported here, the trade was more about the seventh-round draft choice than anything else.
Abbott had a one-game peek with the Hawks, and I wrote at the time that Abbott was the most offensively talented winger in Rockford, which he was. Out of any player there he had the best chance to provide offensive punch to the Hawks’ lineup, but at the same time, it’s not surprising at all that he quickly returned to Rockford, and was shipped off later. Mark McNeill, well, you know how that ended.
Taking a look at the rest of the top 10 scorers in Rockford you’ll find names that you’re familiar with. Kyle Baun (34 points in 74 games) and Brandon Mashinter (30 points in 61 games) were second and third in scoring, respectively. And, if this doesn’t give you enough of an idea about the lack of offensive help from Rockford, consider this: Ville Pokka and Erik Gustafsson were fourth and fifth.
So, what is there to look forward to from Rockford? There are a couple of names who might help Chicago. One with some scoring punch and another as a low salary, lower line option to help ease salary cap constraints.
Martin Lundberg was signed last summer as a free agent from Sweden. He has size and good speed and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. He could come into Chicago and skate on the fourth line as an energy guy. What was notable about Lundberg at Rockford this year when one looks at the stat sheet is that he was the only player who played more than 10 games at Rockford who had a plus rating. The. Only. One.
Lundberg is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but could be signed cheaply again for depth.
Matheson Iacopelli came in late in the season and was impressive. Drafted in the third round (84th overall) in the 2014 draft, Iacopelli brings size, speed, vision, and what appear to be excellent instincts for the game. In a short stint at Rockford he showed these attributes. He has an accurate pro-level shot. He showed skating ability and, surprisingly, an ability to handle the puck terrifically in tight spaces. This all while moving around as a big body winger. Iacopelli comes in at 6’3, 205 pounds. He probably will put in another year at Rockford and after this season, would be a welcome sight. If he does get a chance in Chicago, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that it would come with an opportunity to play center.
What was the knock on the Blackhawks when they were summarily dismissed from this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs? Lack of speed. Folks, you’ll find little to none of that coming out of Rockford for the Hawks next season.
People on this site have disagreed with me about Pokka and his chances to be an NHL defenseman. While Pokka could add some help with an accurate point shot on the power play, his extreme lack of speed would make him look silly attempting to play in an NHL game. We saw a little of him in the preseason with the Hawks. He looked slow in the preseason against teams that were not all NHL players. He looked slow in the AHL. He also has little in the way of hockey sense. Again, bad combo.
The only reason I can see that Pokka is still with the organization is that either nobody else is willing to take him, or the Hawks are holding out hope of something being produced from the forced, untimely trade of Nick Leddy. While Pokka was the highest regarded piece from that trade, he wasn’t even the best player who came in return for Leddy.
Of the other names with which you’re familiar, Gustafsson would be the most likely to provide defensive help. He can keep up with the NHL game. The question just might be if he can recover from that fateful play in Game 7 of the 2016 Stanley Cup first round against the Blues in the eyes of Joel Quenneville. That one is still a tough one to stomach for many Hawks fans. Viktor Svedberg is another name you know, but, like Pokka, his lack of foot speed prevents him from becoming an NHL regular. His strength is outright size. Time will tell how far that will carry him.
Pokka and Gustafsson are both restricted free agents this summer, so their futures with the organization are uncertain. But the Hawks still retain the rights to both of them, which means there’s a chance both return.
Names that aren’t as familiar are Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell, and Luc Snuggerud. I wrote here in October that I was excited about the promise offered by Dahlstrom. He’s a big body defenseman at 6’4, 223 pounds. He skates well with decent speed. He showed signs early of being a puck rusher and there looked to be many similarities between he and former IceHogs defenseman Stephen Johns. His offensive game didn’t advance throughout the season, but he offers good potential, which likely needs another season at Rockford before that it gets met.
Norell also offers some hope on the blue line, but will definitely need a full season in Rockford before advancing to the NHL level.
Late to arrive in Rockford after his season with Nebraska-Omaha was Luc Snuggerud. Like Iacopelli, Snuggerud came to the Hawks via the draft in 2014 (fifth round, 141st overall). He was impressive in his short stint in Rockford, quickly looking to be the most talented offensively of the Rockford defensemen. Really not saying much, but on the other hand, it was quite noticeable.
Snuggerud skates very well, is offensive minded, looks comfortable rushing the puck, and moves the puck well out of his own end with a good first pass. He was impressive in a few chances at the point on the power play as well. One would expect him to spend another season at Rockford, however, before making the jump to the NHL level. Expect him to continue to refine his defensive game, and he could be a second-pairing defenseman at the NHL level in the years to come.
Also, while Gustav Forsling spent a good deal of the season in Rockford, I don’t see him as a prospect to be commented on here for the future of the Hawks. He’s already on the team for the 2017-18 season.
Saved this for last. Short and sweet, the Hawks need to find a backup to Corey Crawford for next season. Don’t expect it to come from Rockford.