Rockford Report: A look at 5 IceHogs who don’t get much attention
Remember Erik Gustafsson? He’s one of several AHLers who have taken a backseat to the big-name rookies this year.
The NHL trade deadline is only a few days away, but Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has insisted the deadline will come and go with little to no actions made by his office. It’s possible the acquisition of Tomas Jurco from the Red Wings is the biggest move Bowman makes over the next week.
Fans may find this hard to believe with the amount of talent around the league up for grabs this season. However, with players like Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz, and Ryan Hartman making a name for themselves in Chicago, it’s no surprise that Bowman is choosing to cultivate talent from within the organization rather than playing the market this year.
But with so many rookies emerging at the NHL level, some names in the AHL have fallen by the wayside. Here’s a look at five guys in Rockford who are providing organizational depth this year.
Center — Mark McNeill
McNeill leads the IceHogs’ centers in points, scoring six goals and 21 assists in 56 games. He also knows how to play smart and avoid bad penalties, only taking 23 PIM this season. His most notable trait is his ability to convert power play opportunities into points on the board. He also knows how to make a play into a goal, putting up over three times more assists this season than goals.
Even though he is second-highest in points overall on the IceHogs, McNeill is in a slump season. In fact, McNeill is on track to have his worst performance season of his AHL career. In recent years, his full season goal tallies have been in the twenties, and this may be the first year he doesn’t make it to double digit goals. In addition, he has a rough shot percentage, at 4.4 percent with only six goals in 137 shots.
The IceHogs are drudging through a bad season, and McNeill is part of the problem. He is still making good pace with his average season assists but his shooting options are questionable. If the Blackhawks were to call McNeill up, his biggest weakness would be taking bad shots. If they could keep him patient enough to set up good plays, he could be viable in a time of need.
Right Wing — Spencer Abbott
Aside from top prospects Vinnie Hinostroza and Tyler Motte, Abbott is arguably the best choice if the Blackhawks are in need of extra help in the forward department. He is the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals and 19 assists in 51 games. He’s careful, and has only taken 14 PIM this season. His biggest attribute is his ability to shoot well, as his 11 percent shot percentage is second only to Mashinter on the active roster.
Abbott’s biggest weakness is his age. At 28, he’s only played two NHL games in his career and his performances in both weren’t memorable. He is also in a slump, on track for his lowest total points season since his 2012-13 year with the Toronto Marlies.
If the Blackhawks were in need of a depth forward for the last leg of the season, Abbott would be a reasonable candidate. His level of playing may not be up to par with the Blackhawks, as we saw in his lone game with the team this season but he may be an option elsewhere in the NHL. At the very least, he helps set up prospects with good scoring opportunities in the AHL, and that’s valuable as the Blackhawks try to develop their young players.
Left Wing — Brandon Mashinter
Mashinter is on track to be the IceHogs’ top scorer with 11 goals in 41 games. His 70 SOG is relatively low for this late in the season. When he does shoot, he’s accurate, as his 15.7 percent shot percentage is the highest on the roster. He’s also no stranger to playing on NHL ice, in his career he’s played 64 NHL games with the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks.
The left wing does come with a bit of baggage. He’s no stranger to bad penalties, as he currently has 53 PIM in 41 games with the IceHogs. Also, though he has some NHL experience under his belt, his overall NHL stats are four goals, one assist, and 50 PIM, which is anything but impressive.
Experience seems to have little to no effect on Mashinter’s ability to keep a cool head on the ice. He plays a heavier game than a lot of the IceHogs, but his inability to stay out of the penalty box is a weakness. Especially since this season the Blackhawks have had a tough time killing penalties. With that being said, Mashinter is a big body who can occasionally score, and that’s keeping him in the pros.
Defense — Erik Gustafsson
Gustafsson’s greatest quality is his ability to play smart, clean defense. He also has a bit of NHL experience, as he played 41 games with the Blackhawks in the 2015-16 season. As far as points go, he is the only player on this list that is on track to have the best season of his career. He’s also still young (24) and though he didn’t make a big impact on the Blackhawks last season, he’s hungry for an opportunity to play in the NHL again.
The young defenseman might not look like much on paper, but his talents surpass his stats. His biggest weakness will be offense, which is an area where Blackhawks’ defensemen are notoriously above average. Gustafsson knows how to assist, but he will need to keep up with the pace if he wants to be successful and possibly earn a spot on the Blackhawks’ roster.
Of all the players on this list, Gustafsson might be the most likely candidate to end up in a Blackhawks sweater sometime this season. At the very least, he may be brought up to spot hold for a healthy scratch towards the end of the season. In fact, with Niklas Hjalmarsson being evaluated with an upper body injury, we could see Gustafsson on the roster as early as Sunday if the Hawks still want Gustav Forsling getting AHL reps. Last year, Gustafsson was able to rack up 14 assists in 41 games. This year he’s having his best season of his career, this is definitely a player to keep your eyes on to see how he progresses.
Goalie — Jeff Glass
Glass has spent his career jumping between the AHL and KHL. He has no problem making a smooth transition to a new team, as he’s played on 11 in his professional career. He’s been relatively consistent in his save percentage, especially in recent years, it currently sits at .911 overall.
Although the goalie has gained a great deal of experience, he is 31 and most likely in the last leg of his playing days. More importantly, none of that experience has come from playing in the NHL.
Glass is a suitable goalie to provide relief for Crawford or Darling. He’s well-seasoned and has no problem adjusting to a new team overnight. He’s been solid during his time in the AHL, which earned him an NHL deal from the Blackhawks this week, and could potentially compete for he backup role in Chicago next season if Darling leaves as a free agent.