As we continue our “State of the Franchise” series, we shift our focus to the AHL level, to examine the NHL prospects of the players currently skating with the Rockford IceHogs.
It’s been a rough season for the Rockford IceHogs, who’ve dealt with a plethora of injuries and had to replace their head coach in November when Jeremy Colliton was summoned to the NHL level. But do any of their players have futures with the Chicago Blackhawks? Let’s find out:
Four of the players under contract are already 25 years old and likely don’t have a future in Chicago: Jordan Schroeder, Jacob Nilsson, Tyler Sikura and Andreas Martinsen. Other players, like Graham Knott, Nathan Noel and Matheson Iacopelli aren’t producing enough in the AHL to warrant further analysis here. As for the rest ...
Victor Ejdsell: In what’s been a common theme in Rockford this season, Ejdsell has missed significant time this season with an injury. But Ejdsell wasn’t supposed to be in Rockford this season: he was expected to break training camp with the Blackhawks. Instead, he’s been down in Rockford all season and now faces a long road to return to the NHL.
Alexandre Fortin: In 24 games with the Blackhawks this season, Fortin scored three goals and added three assists. Fortin’s speed was undeniable, but his finish remained in question. Fortin has six points in 21 games with Rockford, yet his skating ability alone may be enough to warrant a second look at the NHL level. Under contract for another season on an entry-level deal, the 21-year-old forward will likely have another opportunity to become an NHL fixture.
Matthew Highmore: Shoulder surgery robbed Highmore of a chance to return to the NHL after he debuted with the Blackhawks last season. In a very limited sample size, Highmore scored seven points in eight AHL games this season. But he needs to return to full health before anything else can happen.
Luke Johnson: Johnson made his NHL debut this season, playing 15 games in bottom-six roles while averaging 10:49 of ice time. He’s also produced with the IceHogs, scoring 14 points in 25 games. Johnson could be in the mix for a bottom-six role in the future, although he is a restricted free agent this summer. If Johnson gets another NHL look this season, it’ll likely be the most important time of his career.
Anthony Louis: The diminutive forward (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 151 pounds) had 44 points in the 2017-18 season and is Rockford’s leading scorer this season with 27 points in 46 games. A sixth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft who’s now 23 years old, the Winfield native is in the final year of his entry-level deal. Though he’s a restricted free agent in the summer, the time for him to earn an NHL look is running out — and may not be coming in Chicago.
Dylan Sikura: The story on Sikura is well-known at this point. There’s obvious talent here, but staying in college for all four years shortened the timeframe for Sikura to prove he belongs in the NHL. He’s been excellent in Rockford, scoring 26 points in 35 games. But in 11 NHL games this season, he had just three assists. Sikura seems likely to get another shot with the Blackhawks before this season ends. Can he make enough of an impact in that time to stay in the team’s future plans?
Andrew Campbell is 30, while Brandon Davidson, 27, already had his shot with the Blackhawks and his future isn’t going to be on that team. The rest of the defensemen playing for Rockford face a short wick to earn an NHL opportunity, with a slew of first and second-round picks inching closer to the parent club.
Lucas Carlsson: He’s impressed in his first professional season in North America, taking on an expanded role since Carl Dahlstrom was called up to the Blackhawks. Through 42 games, he has 22 points, tied for the most among Rockford defensemen. The Rockford blue line was loaded with players at the start of the season, so having Carlsson emerge as one of the top players while still being just 21 years old is a positive sign for the fourth-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft.
Dennis Gilbert: After three seasons at Notre Dame, Gilbert signed last April and has played 34 games with five assists. The 2015 third-round pick has the size (6-2, 201) that is lacking among other blue line prospects in Chicago and plays a defensively-oriented game that would pair well with the offensive-minded players in the system like Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. In December, Gilbert was suspended three games for this hit:
Here’s a video of the hit on MacEachern. As you can see, the principal point of contact is his head - yet no penalty was assessed for the hit. pic.twitter.com/Z6dbI7eCWw— Samantha Hoffmann (@SinBinWolves) December 2, 2018
Gilbert could be a candidate for an NHL promotion in the final months of the season, especially if Chicago makes trade that open up spots on the blue line. But a strong AHL finish to his rookie season would suffice as a worthwhile professional debut.
Blake Hillman: Like Gilbert, Hillman is a defensive defenseman that is in short supply in the Blackhawks farm system. Hillman, who’s 23, is a restricted free agent this summer and whether the Hawks re-sign him or not will be indicative of their faith in his ability to further improve.
Darren Raddysh: He’s tied with Carlsson for the team lead among defensemen with 22 points, another offensive-defenseman who’s played well in Rockford. He could be another player considered for a promotion following the trade deadline. If that happens, he’d be joining Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, two of his former teammates with the OHL’s Erie Otters. One major plus for Raddysh? He’s a right-handed shot. The Hawks are sorely lacking in that department.
Luc Snuggerud: Snuggerud has played just four games this season after suffering a concussion in November. Injury issues continue to prevent the fifth-round pick in 2014 from making his case for an NHL shot.
Anton Forsberg: He seemed like a potential goaltender of the future when acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Brandon Saad/Artemi Panarin trade. But it appears Forsberg has been passed on the organizational depth chart by Collin Delia. At only 26 years old, Forsberg could still develop into an NHL goalie. But his highest value, from a Blackhawks perspective, could be as trade bait, because it doesn’t appear he’ll be making it to the NHL level in Chicago.
Kevin Lankinen: Lankinen joined the Hawks last May after a stellar season in Finland. He’s bounced between the AHL and ECHL this season due to ongoing injury issues at goaltender within the organization, but has fared well whenever he’s been in net. At just 23 years old, Lankinen has done nothing to affect his standing within the organization. He’ll need more seasons before being considered for the NHL, but he’s a name worth watching over the next few years.