The Blackhawks’ minor league affiliate will have a hockey season, too.
Late Monday afternoon, AHL president and CEO Scott Howson announced that 28 teams will be playing in the upcoming AHL season that begins on Feb. 5.
Three AHL teams opted out, including the AHL affiliates of two of the Blackhawks’ Central Division foes: the Charlotte Checkers (the Panthers’ AHL affiliate), Milwaukee Admirals (Predators) and Springfield Thunderbirds (Blues).
The league already has a plan in place to accommodate the AHL prospects of NHL teams without an AHL affiliate this season:
With their AHL affiliates opting out, Nashville, St. Louis and Florida plan to sprinkle their prospects around the AHL where roster space is available. Most have agreements in place to help.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 4, 2021
Not only will there be a shuffling of where teams send their players, there’s also the possibility of an infusion of younger talent into the AHL this season, based on what happens with other hockey leagues north of the border:
It's primarily an NHL-CHL issue, but if major junior hockey does not start up again and NHL/CHL allow it, junior-aged players WILL be eligible to play in the AHL this season. Must have been 18 years old by Sept. 15.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 4, 2021
(No draft eligible players will be eligible for AHL.)
The IceHogs remain in the AHL’s Central Division along with the Chicago Wolves (Hurricanes), Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wings), Iowa Wild (Wild) and Texas Stars (Stars). The Cleveland Monsters (Blue Jackets) will be joining the Central Division for the duration of the 2021 season.
Rockford finish fifth in the Central Division in the abbreviated 2019-20 AHL season, tallying 62 points in 63 games. There were no Calder Cup Playoffs in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Given the Blackhawks recent focus on developing its younger players in the organization, having any sort of AHL season will go a long way towards developing that talent, including several players who were in Rockford last season like MacKenzie Entwistle, Philipp Kurashev and Nicolas Beaudin.