Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview: Meet the IceHogs

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Lost in the shuffle amid all the roster moves that were made today by the Chicago Blackhawks as they prepare for their regular season opener on Friday was the fact that the roster for the Rockford IceHogs, their AHL affiliate, was solidified as well. Several players who were sent down today, including Brandon Pirri, Dylan Olsen, and Marcus Kruger, undoubtedly will be looked at to make a big impact on the upcoming season for the Hogs, who are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished in last place in the West Division. The injury-depleted Blackhawks didn’t help matters in terms of prying players away from Rockford, but so is the life of an AHL affiliate.

At any rate, it is a new year beginning on October 8th when the IceHogs take on the Grand Rapids Griffins at BMO Harris Bank Center (formerly known as the Rockford Metrocentre). Who will be the biggest stars on the team? Which players are most likely to spend more time with the big club in Chicago than with the baby Hawks? Can the Hogs make the playoffs after last year’s disappointment? Those questions and more will be answered as we go forward, but we’ll do our best to predict that future, and to begin, we will examine the IceHogs’ roster.

Forwards: 

*Note: All stats were achieved with the IceHogs in the 2009-10 season

Kyle Beach – 71 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 163 PIM

Beach, a first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has largely failed to live up to expectations in the time since his selection. He has always been known as a guy who has the potential to put up big offensive numbers (he scored 52 goals for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL in 2010), but also rack up the penalty minutes in a big way. He did way more of the latter than the former in his first full season in the pros, and he was never a serious threat to make the Blackhawks roster coming out of training camp. He will have to improve his offensive production and improve his discipline if he is going to live up to the potential the team saw in him when they drafted him.

Brandon Bollig – 55 GP, 4 G, 0 A, 115 PIM

Bollig is more of a defensive center than he is an offensive one (he had 38 points in 78 games at St. Lawrence University), and he definitely lived up to that last year. He managed a minus-7 for the IceHogs last season despite their lackluster campaign, and he will be looked at to provide defensive strength up the middle this season as the team has acquired some more offensive talent at the center position.

Chris DiDomenico – 25 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 6 PIM

A tremendous offensive weapon with Saint John and Drummondville of the QMJHL, DiDomenico hasn’t quite reached that production level in his time in the AHL and ECHL. Acquired from Toronto before last season in the Kris Versteeg trade, DiDomenico didn’t really have a shot at making the Hawks’ roster coming out of camp, but will be looking to stay healthy (a significant obstacle for him), and improve his numbers to increase his chances of an injury-spurred call-up this year.

Rob Flick – n/a

Flick, a 4th round pick in 2010, has been playing for Mississauga St. Michael’s (OHL), and he has put up some respectable numbers. He scored 46 goals and dished out 53 assists in 181 games with the Majors, and he had a great playoff in 2011, scoring eight goals and eight assists in 20 games. He will be looking to make an impact with the Hogs this season, and it will be interesting to see in which role head coach Ted Dent will use him in.

Jimmy Hayes – 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 2 PIM

Hayes spent most of last season with Boston College, and he had a solid season. He scored 21 goals and added 12 assists in 39 games, and was a late addition to Rockford’s roster down the stretch. He is the brother of 2010 first round pick Kevin Hayes, and although he doesn’t have the notoriety of his brother in that regard, he showed some serious game during the preseason. He will likely spend a full year in Rockford, but he very well could join the Hawks in the future and with his height and defensive prowess, could turn into quite the number two center behind Jonathan Toews.

Rob Klinkhammer – 76 GP, 17 G, 29 A, 63 PIM

Klinkhammer has spent four seasons in the AHL, and the 25 year-old winger has only played one career NHL game. He has all the makings of a lifer at the minor league level, but he could find himself on the Hawks’ roster for brief stints if he can maintain his solid production levels that he has achieved during his career.

Marcus Kruger – n/a

Kruger came over from Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the Swedish Elite League last season for a brief stint with the Blackhawks. He didn’t have any points in seven regular season games, and he played five games against the Vancouver Canucks as well, picking up one assist. He was a contender for one of the center spots for the Hawks in camp, but the team has opted to let him marinate at the minor league level. If he can adjust to the American game, and if the Hawks have an injury problem come up, Kruger could very well find his way in a nice limo from Rockford to the United Center.

Peter LeBlanc – 57 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 12 PIM

LeBlanc has shown some good offensive production at various levels of hockey, and he had a good year last year in splitting time between Rockford and Toledo of the ECHL. He will be looking to avoid heading back to the Walleye this season, and he is definitely worth watching considering that he could be nearing the end of the line with the Hawks organization, considering that he was a 7th round draft pick in 2006.

Brett McLean – n/a 

One of the resident old farts of the team, McLean has spent the last two seasons with Bern of the Swiss-A league. He had 60 points (23 G, 37 A) in 84 games across the pond, and the Hawks signed him early in free agency to try to add some veteran depth to the club. They decided early in camp that things weren’t working out, however, and they waived him and sent him down to Rockford. He could see time with the big club this season if injuries become a concern, but there are other good young options that could go up ahead of him.

Brandon Pirri – 70 GP, 12 G, 31 A, 50 PIM 

Pirri was another player who was thought to have a decent shot at making the Blackhawks roster when several players succumbed to injuries, but in the end it was decided to let him further develop his game in the minors. Pirri did make one appearance with the Hawks last year, subbing for Patrick Sharp when he missed the team’s home opener. Look for Pirri to be on the short-list of call-ups should Chicago need a healthy body, and he should be able to step right into the starting lineup with little trouble. He had a solid preseason, and should be a full time Hawk within the next season or so.

Brandon Segal – n/a

Segal split time last season between the Texas and Dallas Stars, scoring five goals and adding five assists in 46 games with the big club. He will start the season in Rockford, but could see time with Chicago in the near future. He’s played nearly 100 games in the NHL, but at 28 years of age, he may be running out of opportunities.

Andrew Shaw – n/a

Shaw, a fifth round pick of the Hawks in 2011, will be looking to build on the success that he had as a member of the Owen Sound Attack. He scored 22 goals and added 32 assists in OHL play last season, and he also scored 10 goals in 20 playoff games with the club. He will be looking to make an impression on team brass with a solid campaign with the Hogs.

David Toews – n/a

Toews, acquired from the New York Islanders in a trade over the summer, will look to prove himself as a talent that was worthy of a third round pick. He may not have the skill of his brother Jonathan, but he still has a hunger to prove himself and could eventually find his way up to the big roster. Unfortunately for him, unless several other options are exhausted, that will not happen this year.

Defensemen: 

Brian Connelly – 80 GP, 11 G, 41 A, 39 PIM

Connelly is an offensive dynamo, but unfortunately for his NHL chances, he has a logjam of defensemen ahead of him in the NHL. His chance to shine will likely come after the Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto contracts end, but even then he will still have to compete with other blue liners like Dylan Olsen for a spot. If he can have another solid campaign in Rockford, he could position himself well for next season. He isn’t under contract with the team, but could easily be offered a deal at some point.

Brian Fahey – n/a

The 30-year old Fahey is going to be looked at to replace veterans like Jassen Cullimore and Garnet Exelby on the IceHogs roster. He split time between the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears last season, playing seven games with the big club and picking up an assist for his efforts.

Shawn Lalonde – 73 GP, 5 G, 27 A, 76 PIM

A 2008 third round pick of the Blackhawks, Lalonde is still one of the team’s top prospects, and will look to prove himself yet again in the minors. Drafted for his offensive prowess, Lalonde came into his own well in his first season in Rockford, but he will need to work on his defensive skills in order to round out his game well enough to be called up at any point this season.

Joe Lavin – 2 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 4 PIM

After two seasons at Notre Dame, Lavin will be looking to finally transition into the pro game. Drafted by the Hawks in the fifth round in 2007, Lavin has bounced around from team to team, and he’s a longshot to be anything but a lower line defensemen for either Rockford or Toledo.

Dylan Olsen –  42 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 10 PIM

Olsen, who played for University of Minnesota-Duluth for two seasons prior to signing a three-year entry level contract with the Hawks last season, has made quite the impression with the team’s coaching staff. In 53 games with the Bulldogs, he scored two goals and added 22 assists, and he could eventually end up on the Hawks’ blue line if he is able to develop a more consistent all-around game.

Ryan Stanton – 73 GP, 3 G, 14 A, 76 PIM

Stanton, an undrafted free agent, started his career with the IceHogs after five seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL in 2010, and has become a mainstay on the team’s top defensive line along with Connelly.

Goaltenders: 

Alec Richards – 44 GP, 17-21-1 record, .899 save percentage, 2.89 GAA 

Richards is entering his third season with the IceHogs following a four year career at Yale University. He was the team’s primary starter last year after Corey Crawford joined the Blackhawks full-time, but he struggled at times and really didn’t get helped out much by the team’s defense. He will battle Alexander Salak for the starting role this season, and is certainly in line to see his games played number dip.

Alexander Salak – n/a

After losing out to Ray Emery to be Crawford’s back-up in Chicago, Salak will try to toil away in the minors until he gets the big league call. After splitting time between the Florida Panthers and Rochester Americans in 2009-10, Salak went back to Sweden and had a solid season with Farjestads BK Karlstad, racking up seven shutouts and putting up a sparkling 1.97 GAA. Salak will probably end up starting a majority of the games for the IceHogs this year, and will always have one eye to the health of Chicago’s two netminders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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