Early returns on the young, speedy IceHogs look good

The makeover in Rockford is going well under coach Jeremy Colliton.

During the 2016-17 season, Rockford’s top scorer averaged 0.6 points per game. He’s no longer with the team. The teams second-leading scorer last season scored at a rate of 0.45 points per game. He’s also no longer with the team.

Going into this year one couldn’t necessarily predict how the scoring would go for this team. What was known was that this was a young, fast team. There were eight players starting their first full professional seasons. Unfortunately with youth can come a lot of growing pains. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising to see this year’s version of the Icehogs ebb and flow for a while as the young players got their feet wet starting their professional careers. The ebb may very well come, but for right now, things are flowing very well.

As the team stands right now, after six games, there are 11 players who are averaging at or near a point a game. Unlike last year this team is highly enjoyable to watch. And the proof is in the numbers. Last season the team averaged 2.3 goals per game, while giving up an average of 3.2. So far in the early going, the team is averaging 4.7 goals per game and at the same time getting scored on at a rate of only 2.1 goals per game. The difference is striking. Last year one had to struggle to make it through an entire game because it was bad, boring hockey. So far this year games are highly entertaining as this young team is pushing the pace every time they step on the ice.

The team is lead in scoring by a familiar name to Hawks fans, Vinnie Hinostroza. With six games played Hinostroza currently stands at four goals and five assists for nine points, which works out to 1.5 points per game. He’s not likely to keep up the pace, but if he does, that’s good for everybody in Rockford.

No doubt Hinostroza has been able to use his speed to his advantage. And, when he wants to, he can make excellent passes to set up his teammates. If Hinostroza wants to take his offensive game to another level, he’ll need to become more consistent at giving up the pucks to his fellow Hogs.

In a recent game he brought back memories of a once heralded Blackhawks prospect named Ken Yaremchuk. Yaremchuk was the Hawks’ first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. After much fanfare as the next Denis Savard (yah, that’s what people said), Yaremchuk broke onto the scene with a play where he entered the offensive zone, skated around the net, back out to the blue line, and around the net again before heading back out to his own blue line, losing the puck there, and giving up a breakaway, which luckily wasn’t scored on. While Vinnie hasn’t done anything that ridiculous, he certainly has a tendency to hang onto the puck when he should be moving it to his teammates.

The young and incredibly speedy Matthew Highmore is second on the team in scoring early in the season netting three goals and three assists. Coming in Highmore was touted as a player who plays well at both ends of the ice. He has shown that to this point as he combines lethal speed along with skill for an offensive game while being adept at handling the defensive end of the ice. He also takes the ice for the Hogs’ top power play unit along with Hinostroza and Alexandre Fortin.

The second PP unit has included Laurent Dauphin, David Kampf, and Anthony Louis, who each have five points in six games this seaon. As was expected at the beginning of the season these guys are all doing it with speed and skill. All of these newcomers find themselves in the top 10 on the team in scoring. Louis can really pass the puck well. Passes are crisp, pinpoint, and often make it through tight spaces. Fortin shows some of the instinctual play that made him the phenom of the 2016 prospect camp, and we look to see more from him as the season progresses. Dauphin shows the speed that was expected of him with a terrific two-way game that includes seeing time on the penalty kill. Kampf has size to go along with his speed and skill and is certainly a player to keep an eye on.

As for other newcomers, Matheson Iacopelli finds himself sitting just outside the top 10 with two goals and an assist in five games. While Iacopelli doesn’t have the speed of the other youngsters, he possesses an NHL-size body coupled with terrific skills, at the same time not exactly being slow, either. He’s a player who was sent down from training camp fairly early, but remains extremely intriguing. He handles the puck in tight spaces and makes terrific passes, all while possessing an NHL quality shot that gets away quickly.

Iacopelli got off to a slow start after being drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Hawks, but has come on since last year and continues to impress. Keep an eye out for him.

Graham Knott has size and a good shot, but for now that is about where it stops for him. In the scrimmage at the end of prospect camp, Knott was playing at center, probably out of some necessity. At this point Knott needs to skate up and down the wing and shoot the puck when he gets it. Other than that he shouldn’t be allowed to handle the puck, and could use that size to throw more checks.

Darren Raddysh is a physical defenseman who, despite reports, seems to skate well. He needs to better understand that he’s a defenseman and not a forward. He has no problem being physical. This is something that is much needed for the IceHogs this year. Raddysh can certainly give that to this team while he gets his feet under him in his first professional season.

On a whole this year’s version of the Rockford IceHogs, to this point, are a fun, exciting, fast, skilled, smart team. They have added quite a bit of hockey I.Q. Quite often last season players would either make unintelligent plays or not make plays that were there to be made. There’s a sense that the best players have to make the right play at the right time, even when others wouldn’t see it there. This sense when combined with skill and speed makes the flow of play on the ice all that much better. The IceHogs young corps is showing that there’s a lot of potential in Rockford. Do yourself a favor, if you have the chance, or make the chance to, get out to Rockford and take in this terrific brand of hockey.