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New Blackhawks forward prospects to watch in Rockford this season

I’ve never watched paint dry, but somebody did. At least enough to coin the phrase, “It’s like watching paint dry,” when discussing something boring. Watching the Rockford IceHogs last year was like watching paint dry. I found myself sleeping better on nights when I had been to an IceHogs game.

Their leading scorer was Spencer Abbott. Yeah, remember him? I wrote when he was brought up last year that he was at the time the IceHogs’ best offensive weapon, and he was. Altogether he played 53 games for the IceHogs and led them in scoring, despite playing 21 less games than the next closest scorer, Kyle Baun, who was jettisoned by the Hawks a few days ago. His numbers… for 53 games… to lead the team in scoring… 15 goals, 20 assists, 35 points. Zzzzzzzzzzz…. Oh, sorry, fell asleep there for a minute just thinking about it.

Enter the 2017-18 AHL season. And, for the first time in a few years, I’m looking forward to attending the IceHogs games. There are a lot of new faces, 12 in fact, throughout the lineup. What should make this team especially fun to watch is its skating. The new faces on the roster bring excellent speed into the lineup.

Let’s take a look at some of the exciting new names to the roster this season, all coming from the offensive side of the game.

When we start the discussion on speed, Matthew Highmore is right up there. He’s a terrific skater who brings excellent two-way ability to the game. These are both things the IceHogs lacked last season. (Well, the IceHogs lacked most things last season.) He’s certainly a player to keep an eye on to see how he develops.

Laurent Dauphin is another player who brings good skating ability to the game. Like Highmore, Dauphin is strong at both ends of the ice. He’s a hard worker whose motor keeps going all the time. He’s a Swiss Army Knife of a player. He does a lot of things well. One can think a little bit of Marcus Kruger when thinking about Dauphin. Dauphin brings a top-end work ethic to the rink, and that serves any player well. All of this and some NHL experience will likely make Dauphin an early call-up for the Hawks should there be an injury, or if a Hawk gets off to a slow start.

For Alexandre Fortin what stood out from his stellar performance at the 2016 Hawks Prospects Camp was how he was always in the right place at the right time. He showed great instincts during that camp and I look forward to seeing those exhibited over the course of a season. He’s a terrific skater and seems to have a great ability to make plays at a high speed. Similar things have been said about Nick Schmaltz.

Next on the “brings great speed to the game” list, David Kampf. Kampf has a little more size than any of the aforementioned players to go along with his wheels. He impressed during Hawks training camp as his speed was evident. Kampf is another player at the top of the list going into the season for a recall from the Hawks should they need it. He may be the most intriguing player in this group. He can play a bottom six role in the NHL, but has the offensive ability and skating prowess to potentially find himself in a top six position as well. I look forward to seeing his skills on display on a nightly basis in Rockford.

Hmmmm… Let’s see… What does Anthony Louis bring as a major asset to the game? Yep, it’s speed. Louis is small on size but makes up for it with his skating ability and his skills with the puck. Louis had a decent prospect camp this past summer, but made a few defensive mistakes in the end of camp scrimmage that he’ll need to clean up should he want to find himself playing for the Hawks anytime soon. Moving on to the size category, this year’s new crop brings three players.

This season’s Rockford IceHogs will be young and hungry

Matheson Iacopelli (6’3”, 210lbs) did spend eight games with the IceHogs at the end of last season in which he scored an impressive four points. Iacopelli has come on in the last year or so in the Blackhawks’ hierarchy of top prospects. For a big man he boasts pretty impressive skating ability. In his stint last year in Rockford he showed good instincts for the game, the ability to stickhandle in tight spaces, good vision, and was able to unleash his very impressive shot.

Graham Knott comes in at 6’4, 200 pounds. Knott moved from being completely unimpressive at prospect camp in 2016 to having a fairly impressive camp in 2017. He seemed to improve his skating ability while making a move from wing to the center position during the camp scrimmage. Knott was skating at wing last year, although he has played center earlier in his career. Like the others in this group, he brings a real quality shot to the game.

Radovan Bondra rounds out the size contingent of this group, coming in at 6’5, 221 pounds. Bondra needs to continue to work on his skating, which seemed to improve immensely from the 2016 prospect camp to 2017. In addition to his size, one thing that stands out here is his shot. He planted a wrister in the back of the net during prospect camp 3-on-3 from about 20 feet out that I never saw from release until the back of the net bowed.

Those last three are big body players with NHL frames and it will be exciting to see them develop as they move through the season.

The IceHogs open the home season on Oct. 14. Last year there was little excitement about this team going into the season, and that lack of excitement came to fruition. It was often painful to take in an IceHogs game. This year is looking like a whole different story. I’ll keep you posted.