The Rockford IceHogs cannot wait to erase the 2018-19 season from their collective memory. After a fantastic playoff run during the spring of 2018, which took them all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the IceHogs struggled through much of the season. Their anemic offense made it very tough for them to gain ground down the stretch as they finished in seventh place of the AHL Central, seven points out of a playoff berth.
Offseason Roster Moves
- C-Peter Holland
- RW-Jordan Schroeder
- LW-Anthony Louis
- RW-Victor Ejdsell
- LW-William Pelletier
- D-Gustav Forsling
- G-Anton Forsberg
- D-Henri Jokiharju
- C- Luke Johnson
- D-Andrew Campbell
- LW-Andreas Martinsen
- LW-Henrik Samuelsson
- D-Blake Hillman
- LW-Terry Broadhurst
- D-Carl Dahlstrom
- LW-Kris Versteeg
- C-Mikael Hakkarainen
- C-Dylan McLaughlin
- C-Reese Johnson
- LW-Brandon Hagel
- C-Philipp Kurashev
- LW-Aleski Saarela
- LW-Tim Soderlund
- RW-MacKenzie Entwistle
- LW-Anton Wedin
- D-Chad Krys
- D-Philip Holm
- D-Jake Ryczek
- D-Adam Boqvist
- D-Nicolas Beaudin
- D-Jack Ramsey
IceHogs Offensive Should be Fun to Watch
The IceHogs offense, or lack thereof, was a major issue last season. They were dead last in the AHL in scoring with just 184 goals and were the only team to score less than 190 goals during the regular season. They did not have a 20-goal scorer on their team and only had one player score 45 points. Things should go a little differently in 2019-20. With the Chicago Blackhawks having built up their prospect pool over the past couple of years, the IceHogs roster will have an influx of talent this season.
One of the biggest additions to the offense will be Saarela, who came over in the trade that brought defenseman Calvin de Haan to the Blackhawks from Carolina Hurricanes. Saarela, 22, is coming off a career season with the Charlotte Checkers. He scored 30 goals and added 24 assists, which would have made him the leading scorer in Rockford last season with 54 points. He finished his great season by carrying the Calder Cup around the Allstate Arena ice last June. Saarela will start the season with the IceHogs, but he could make his way to the NHL and the Blackhawks at some point.
There will be a whole slew of first-year players who should add to the offensive attack this season. Kurashev is one of the Blackhawks top prospects up front and he will be an intriguing player to watch develop. He took major strides during the 2018-19 season by scoring 29 goals and 65 points for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. He also had six goals and an assist for his native Switzerland at the World Junior Championship and another goal and four points at the World Championship in May. If the 19-year-old forward continues to progress in his first professional season, an NHL debut should be in the near future.
Entwistle is another player looking to take the next step in career during his first professional season. He has progressed nicely since joining the Blackhawks organization by being part of the trade that sent Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes. He split his final season in the OHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Guelph Storm where he set career highs with 30 goals and 27 assists. Entwistle also made the final cut for Canada’s World Junior Championship team and scored three goals in five games. He is a big body who likes to throw his weight around, which is unique among the current prospect pool.
Related – Preseason Wrap Up, Roster Moves & More
Hagel, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last spring, could bring a lot to the IceHogs lineup as well. He scored 41 goals and 102 points last season for the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL last season before appearing in eight games for the IceHogs. He looked very good during the rookie tournament in Traverse City and even scored a goal in a preseason game with the Blackhawks. Hagel is a high-energy guy who can play up and down the lineup.
While we are focusing on some of the AHL rookies, a veteran of over 600 NHL games is back in the mix with the IceHogs. Two-time Stanley Cup winner Versteeg is back with the Blackhawks organization and will suit up for the IceHogs for the first time since 2008. He will embrace the role of being the veteran who provides the leadership for the young guys, both on and off the ice.
“Since I signed that contract I’ve gone full bore,” Versteeg told the Blackhawks official website. “I haven’t taken any time off, really, except maybe two or three weeks after the season. I’ve been skating and working with skating coaches and skills coaches – something I’ve never done in the past – so when I get to Rockford, I can show that this is no joke. I’m ready to play.
“The motivation is there because I missed so many good years and I still want to play at a high level. I felt like I missed out on quite a bit.”
It is not all about the newcomers this season as the IceHogs will have some key pieces returning for the 2019-20 season. Dylan Sikura, who was second on the team with 17 goals last season, will start the season in Rockford after failing to make the Blackhawks roster out of training camp. Jacob Nilsson and Alexandre Fortin are also back for another season with the IceHogs. They combined for 21 goals and 23 assists last season.
Finally, a returning Matthew Highmore will provide a huge boost to the IceHogs forwards. He missed all but 12 games last season due to a shoulder injury. He has 27 goals and 52 points in 76 career AHL games. Had he not gotten injured early in the season; he likely would have earned a call-up to the NHL roster at some point. Highmore will bring some toughness as well as scoring ability to the ice.
IceHogs Blue Line is Loaded with Prospects
This season’s defensive corps will feature some players who hope to become household names with the Blackhawks for years to come. The two biggest additions to this season’s roster are both 2018 first-round draft picks, Boqvist and Beaudin.
Boqvist showed off his offensive skill during the Traverse City tournament and his preseason appearances with the Blackhawks. There is no doubt that the is a dynamic player when he has the puck, but he needs some work on his defense. Time will tell exactly how long Boqvist will be in Rockford, but it will be exciting to watch him as he gets to play in all situations and work on his overall development.
Beaudin will likely spend quite a bit more time in Rockford than Boqvist this season. Not saying it is impossible for him to make his NHL debut in 2019-20, but it would serve him better to play a full season in the AHL.
“I am a quiet guy off the ice, but I do really enjoy and have fun seeing the fans—after all, they are the ones out here cheering for every night,” said Beaudin after the first day of IceHogs training camp. “On the ice, I’m going to be a dynamic guy and try to create offense every game. But I don’t want to just be an offensive guy. I want to be that two-way guy that coach can rely on in every situation.”
Krys is another prospect who is entering his first professional season and the Blackhawks have high hopes for him. Holm impressed during the preseason and will add more speed and smarts to the back end. This will be his second season in the AHL after splitting 2017-18 between the Utica Comets and Chicago Wolves.
Lucas Carlsson, Dennis Gilbert and Joni Tuulola will all be back for their second full seasons with the IceHogs. Rookies Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek, along with Josh McArdle, will add to the overall depth to the blue line as they will likely go back and forth between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.
Goaltending Remains Solid in Rockford
The one aspect of the game that never was an issue during the disappointing 2018-19 season was the goaltending. Whether it was Forsberg, Colin Delia or Kevin Lankinen in net, the IceHogs knew they had a solid backstop on the ice. The trio combined for a 2.68 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (save %) last season.
Forsberg has moved on to the Hurricanes organization and will start the year with the Checkers. Delia will be the number one goaltender, but there is not much of a drop off when Lankinen gets the nod. He finished with a 2.50 GAA in 19 games last season, just 0.02 points higher than Delia’s 2.48 GAA in 26 games.
The IceHogs’ third goaltender this season, in case of an injury or callup, will be Matt Tompkins. He progressed nicely and finished last season with a 3.04 GAA and .905 save % with the Fuel.
For the first time in a long time, the IceHogs have quite a few legit NHL prospects on their roster. They haven’t had this type of talent on their roster since prior to the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run when they had such players as Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson coming up through the system.
The bottom line is they will be much improved this season. Head coach Derek King will have plenty of options when filling out his lineup each and every night. A better pool of players will not only help the IceHogs in the quest to return to the Calder Cup playoffs, but it will also help the Blackhawks when they need to recall guys throughout the course of the long season.
The IceHogs will open their season on Friday, Oct. 4 at the Iowa Wild.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.