The Rockford IceHogs season has come to a close after being swept in the Central Division Semifinals of the Calder Cup Playoffs by the Chicago Wolves.
While that may seem like a disappointing ending, the IceHogs overachieved this season just by making the playoffs, considering their shallow forward group and the young age of the the team — second youngest in the AHL. The older, much more experienced Wolves team is a special group that broke several player and team franchise records and is expected to win the Calder Cup. While the IceHogs did win 8 of 12 regular-season games against the Wolves, it was always a long shot to win much of anything in the playoffs against them — and there’s no shame in that.
Now that the Blackhawks organization is finished in all regards, let’s take a look at the final stretch of the regular season and their short playoffs foray for the IceHogs. Up first, the forwards.
(21 goals, 36 assists in 56 regular-season games; 2 goals in 5 playoff games)
Despite not officially being named one of Rockford’s MVPs, it’s hard to overlook how important Reichel was to the IceHogs’ success. It didn’t matter who was on a line with Reichel — and there was a lot of shuffling thanks to injuries — the young German always produced, and did so at a high level. In his final 12 AHL games, he finished with just under his normal season point-per-game rate with 10 points (2 G, 8 A). Reichel also spent six games with the Blackhawks and got his first NHL point (an assist) in his second to last game (before his ice time was inexplicably cut short for unknown coaching reasons).
In the AHL playoffs, Reichel was at a bit of a disadvantage: not only were the IceHogs even more shallow than normal with the loss of Brett Connolly, but it’s simply easier to shut down a single player in a playoff series than it is in the regular season. Reichel scored the IceHogs first goals against both Texas and Chicago, but the opposing teams really concentrated on defending against him. Reichel still had his chances, but they were more limited. He’s at his best when forechecking to create opportunities or in open ice, where he can work his puck-handling magic, but the Wolves closed in on both him and his linemates. Also, Reichel had been a responsible defensive player this season, but he had his worst stretch of defensive play against Chicago, which a good team will do that even to the best players.
Ultimately, Reichel’s 57 points during the regular season were the most points for a rookie in IceHogs history, six more points than the previous record of 51 points set by Vinnie Hinoztroza in the 2015-16 season — and Reichel did it in 10 fewer games.
What’s next for Reichel?
In the short term, it’s unknown yet if Reichel will join team Germany at the IIHF Worlds. In the long term, it seems highly likely Reichel will be in the NHL next season, but fans shouldn’t be looking to rush the young forward — either to the NHL or into a top-six center role immediately. Reichel looks to be on a similar development path to Teuvo Teräväinen and Nick Schmaltz: they both spent two years in non-NHL leagues — Liiga and NCAA, respectively — before making it to the NHL at age 20. However, both of those playmakers also spent some additional time in the AHL that same first season, to their betterment, so a patient approach to Reichel’s development and progress next season is key for the Blackhawks.
LUKAS REICHEL (#27 in white) SCORES HIS SECOND OF THE PLAYOFFS!!! Great job forcing a turnover and taking advantage of the Wolves pinching. #Blackhawks #IceHogs #EBB #DEB #HawksProspects pic.twitter.com/90fO3c5Ciq— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) May 13, 2022
(13 goals, 18 assists in 60 regular-season games; 1 assist in 5 playoff games)
Reichel’s most common linemate down the stretch was also vote Rockford’s Most Improved player: Teplý, a 2019 fourth-round pick. After an incredible 1.2 point-per-game campaign in the WHL the season after his draft, the expectations for Teplý were high going into the 2020-21 season before he seemed to crash and burn. The young Czech was oft injured that season. And when he did play, he didn’t make much of an impact with just five assists in 18 AHL games. This season started much the same as he was pointless in his first 15 games, and it wasn’t looking good, but some injuries and call-ups to the NHL opened a spot up on the top line with Reichel and Teplý came alive. He finished at nearly a 0.7 point-per-game rate over his final 45 games in the AHL, including nine points (3 G, 6 A) in his last 12 regular season games. He also had one assist — on Reichel’s goal against Texas — in the playoffs. He’s a big-bodied, playmaking forward who isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas to score.
What’s next for Teplý? He turns 21 on May 27 and there’s no need to rush Teplý to the NHL. It may be in his best interest to develop a bit more in the AHL. It’s impossible to say if Teplý was only producing because of Reichel or if he just needed to be with another skilled player to compliment his own above-average playmaking ability. However, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Teplý with the Blackhawks next season depending on the moves the team makes in the offseason. If they opt for a young roster next season for their rebuild, Teplý is definitely one of the top names from this iteration of the IceHogs that deserves a look.
#Blackhawks prospect, Michal Teplý (#53 in red) scores his 13th on the year! Mike Hardman (#86) picks up his 13th assist, Wyatt Kalynuk (#48) picks up his 20th assist. #IceHogs #HawksProspects pic.twitter.com/dzqCY5hsLH— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) May 1, 2022
(18 goals, 14 assists in 49 regular-season games; 1 assist in 5 playoff games)
The next best player for the IceHogs down the stretch was Slavin (seventh-round, 2018), who had nine points (6 G, 3 A) in 11 games. After his call-up to the NHL, Slavin was never put back on a line with Reichel and it took him a while to get back to producing. In the meantime, Slavin continued to be one of the best defensive players on the IceHogs, a quality that is more likely to impact his potential future in the NHL. Slavin often just outworks his opponents — both on puck retrievals and in open ice — and his strong transition play makes him an ideal checking-line forward who can flip the ice for more offensively minded players. Slavin was also exceptional on the penalty kill for the IceHogs: he not only often shut down opponents, but he led the IceHogs with three shorthanded goals. Along with his AHL production, Slavin had one point in 15 NHL games.
What’s next for Slavin? Slavin spent the second most time in the NHL among Rockford’s players and the Athletic’s Scott Powers says there are people inside the Blackhawks organization that see Slavin as a future NHL regular, so it’s very possible the 23-year-old is with Blackhawks next season. He really does feel like someone who could develop into the type of player that every winning team needs for a useful, shut-down fourth line.
(14 goals, 14 assists in 63 regular-season games; 1 goal in 5 playoff games)
(10 goals, 21 assists in 65 regular-season games; 0 points in 5 playoff games)
(19 goals, 13 assists in 43 regular-season games; 0 points in 5 playoff games)
Barratt (third-round, 2017), Altybarmakyan (third-round, 2017) and Hardman (NCAA free-agent, 2021) were really the only other three players of merit when it came to production for the IceHogs. Barratt finished the season with nine points (4 G, 5 A) in his last 12 games while Altybarmakyan (5 G, 5 A) and Hardman (4 G, 6 A) both finished out the season with six points in their final 10 games. All three play a similar, hard-nosed style with some defensive ability and have shown they can compliment higher-skilled players by being willing to do the grunt work.
Barratt finished the season on his best stretch of play, but it was still an underwhelming season overall, coming off a rookie season with 14 points in 27 games. He was the only other forward to score for the IceHogs in the playoffs. Altybarmakyan really made the most of playing alongside Reichel, and seemed to be a favorite of the coaching staff despite only finishing with a 0.48 point-per-game rate — just slightly above Barratt’s 0.44. Altybarmakyan missed all but two of the playoff games due to an unknown injury. Hardman impressed with the second highest point total among Blackhawks forward prospects — and he did so almost exclusively away from Reichel.
What’s next for Barratt, Altybarmakyan and Hardman? The Blackhawks are flush with players who are projected to be in the bottom six and these two are among that group. In terms of defensive capabilities, Hardman has an edge over the other two and he’s spent more time in the NHL already, so he might have a leg up. Barratt just hasn’t been able to recapture his NCAA glory in the AHL yet, so he should probably stay down at least another season to see if he can work out the kinks. Altybarmakyan is the most interesting as he was seemingly well-liked by the Rockford coaching staff, but he’s feels the most raw of the three, which makes it feel like the AHL will remain the best place for him next season.
(5 goals, 9 assists in 43 regular-season games; 1 points in 4 playoff games)
(6 goals, 2 assists in 44 regular-season games; 0 points in 1 playoff games)
Finally, the last forward prospect of note are Cam Morrison (NCAA free agent, 2020) — who had three points (2 G, 1 A) in his last five games — and Jakub Pour (European free-agent, 2021) — who had two goals final seven games. Morrison also had an assist in four playoffs games while Pour played in only one game with no points.
What’s next for Morrison and Pour? Morrison is an RFA after this season, and whether the Blackhawks or IceHogs resign him will depends on if they really need bodies in Rockford. He’s not without skill or usefulness — he’s a smart, big player who knows how to use his body well — but his feet and hands aren’t quite as quick as his mind. Pour is signed for another season, but he didn’t really stand out much with the IceHogs beyond being a solid defensive player. Morrison is about to be 24 while Pour is a bit younger at 23, but neither appear to be in the Blackhawks long-term plans.