A look ahead

IceHogs rookie class should make greater strides in 2014-15

Season number 15 is in the books for the Rockford IceHogs and with another offseason here, it’s time to take a peek into what the 2014-15 campaign may hold for the club. At first glance, the team might look a lot like the 2013-14 version, and that is a good thing.

But if training camp in 2013 taught us one thing, it’s that we shouldn’t anticipate anything. Going into training camp last September, it looked as though the IceHogs were going to have one of the stronger defenses in the American Hockey League.

But Ryan Stanton was claimed off waivers and eventually so was Mike Kostka. Then Dylan Olsen was traded to the Florida Panthers and goalie Antti Raanta became a permanent fixture with the Blackhawks in mid-November and all of a sudden the IceHogs were second from the bottom in goals against (3.45) in the AHL.

So why again is it a good thing that next year’s team could look like the 2013-14 version?

Well, for starters, last season’s crop of rookies made more progress during their first full pro season compared to any group of rookies during Rockford’s AHL’s era. A fair comparison would be the 2010-11 crop that featured Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, Brandon Bollig, Kyle Beach, Dylan Olsen, Ryan Stanton, Shawn Lalonde and Peter LeBlanc.

Every player in that above listed group has played at least one game in the NHL with the exception of Beach.  But you compare that group to the rookie class that just completed their first full professional season which includes Alex Broadhurst, Mark McNeill, Garret Ross, Joakim Nordstrom, Phillip Danault, Drew LeBlanc and Mathieu Brisebois, the group compares pretty favorably in terms of first year progress.

Remember, Morin was injured and missed most of the season in 2010-11 and Pirri scored more than half his points in the final two months of the season.  This past season’s group of rookies was much more consistent and I felt had a much steadier growth curve and a greater impact on their respective teams.

So on building next season’s roster, we’ll start with the above listed group. Of the listed, Nordstrom has the best chance of making the Blackhawks in the fall.  We also have to toss in Stephen Johns and Ryan Hartman who will both be playing their first full season in the pros. On a side note, Hartman could technically return to juniors next season, but the way he played during his nine game stint in Rockford (3g-4a-7pts), I believe he is ready for the pro game.

With Nordstrom, who could make the Blackhawks in the fall, that’s eight players right off the top that could/should return next season.

Other players under contract for next season include defensemen Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and Viktor Svedberg; forward Brandon Mashinter and goalies Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth.

Terry Broadhurst is a restricted free agent and makes sense to get re-signed and return.  Counting the elder Broadhurst, Rockford could have up to 15 players on next season’s Opening Day roster that played down the stretch with Rockford. This also does not include Teuvo Teravainen who could also see time in Rockford in 2014-15, but we’ll succumb to the hype and keep him off the list for now.

Plus we need to throw in the next crop of prospects that could be in the mix which include defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dillon Fournier who are both already under contract with the Blackhawks. Up front, other potential first-year players include Vincent Hinostroza and possibly Kevin Hayes. Unlikely, but something else to consider would be a skater or two from this June’s NHL Entry Draft.  It’s unlikely because in Rockford’s first seven years as the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, just one player (Andrew Shaw-2011) began the season in Rockford in the same year in which he was drafted and he signed a AHL contract.


–Mike Peck

Rockford IceHogs