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Pigs in Zen: IceHogs Season Preview

It’s been a long summer for the IceHogs and their fans after the team missed the playoffs by a mere 2 points to the Milwaukee Admirals in 2012-13. The Hogs finished 9th in the Western Conference with a record of 42-31-2-1 (87 points). The roster turnover will be noticeable this year for Rockford, which is different from last season where the majority of the team was the same from the year before.

The biggest unknown for the IceHogs going into the 2013-14 season is their group of forwards. While the talent level is high and the potential is there to do big things, there is no guarantee.

The rookie forwards on this roster include:  Phillip Danault (1st round, 26th overall pick in 2011), Mark McNeill (1st round, 18th overall pick in 2011), Alex Broadhurst (7th round, 199th overall pick in 2011), Garret Ross (5th round, 139th overall pick in 2012), Pat Mullane (free agent signee, AHL contract), Drew LeBlanc (free agent signee, 2-way NHL contract) and—assuming he gets reassigned to Rockford in the near future—Joakim Nordstrom (3rd round, 90th overall in 2010).

While Danault, McNeill, Ross and Nordstrom all saw time with Rockford at previous points in their careers, this will be their first full pro seasons. Broadhurst comes to Rockford from spending all year with the London Knights of the OHL last season where he put up 63 points (23 G, 40 A) in 65 games played; in the OHL playoffs he racked up 28 points (10 G, 18 A) in 21 games and in 5 games played in the Memorial Cup tournament, he tallied a goal and 3 assists. LeBlanc and Mullane come to Rockford from St. Cloud State University and Boston College respectively. LeBlanc put up 50 points (13 G, 37 A) in 42 games with the Huskies and Mullane scored 43 points (16 G, 27 A) in 38 games with the Eagles.

If these 7 rookies can continue to produce offensively, the IceHogs will be in for a treat. It’s all a matter of getting adjusted to the pro game for these young guns and finding consistency as soon as possible; consistency in the first half of the year is something Rockford has struggled with for, at least, the past 3 seasons.

Gone are veterans such as captain from last season Martin St. Pierre (signed a 1 year, 2-way contract with Montreal), Rostislav Olesz (1 year contract with New Jersey), Brandon Svendsen (MIA—he hasn’t signed anywhere yet), Kenndal McArdle (1 year deal in Sweden), Mathieu Beaudoin (signed in Austria) and Max Sauve (PTO with Anaheim).

It’s almost 100% certain that Ben Smith will not be back in Rockford and that he will earn a full-time role with the Blackhawks as his contract turns into a one-way deal this season.

The other big question mark for the guys in RockVegas is who they will be getting back from the Blackhawks out of the group of center Brandon Pirri, “center”/winger Jimmy Hayes and winger Jeremy Morin. All are vying for essentially 2 spots in Chicago, with one spot being penciled in for Smith.

Having Pirri back would be great for Rockford as he led the AHL in scoring last season with 75 points (22 G, 53 A) in 76 games played. He’d be the no. 1 center and would be a key piece on the power play and would also see his role as a penalty killer increase. But, Rockford is not where Pirri belongs anymore; he needs a shot at the roster in Chicago at being the no. 2 center. Unfortunately, a lower body injury kept him out of most of training camp and set him behind the 8-ball, and all indications from coach Joel Quenneville point to veteran Michal Handzus getting the job.

The same goes for Morin. The Hogs would love to see their leading goal scorer from 2012-13 back in their line-up, but he’s ready for the NHL. Morin can play in any and all situations and can excel if just given the chance; he scored a team high 12 power play goals and a team high 3 shorthanded goals for the IceHogs last year—overall, Morin put up 58 points (30 G, 28 A).

From what it looks like from articles and tweets from the Chicago beat writers, Hayes is just slightly edging Morin out in the race for a roster spot. Hayes was moved to center last season which hampered his offensive production at times, but he did put up 45 points (25 G, 20 A) and was the Hogs’ 6th leading scorer. Hayes is also 6-foot-6, 221 pounds whereas Morin is 6-foot-1, 192 pounds.

Having any combination of those 3 back in the line-up would be fantastic for the Hogs—although not as fantastic from their standpoint. These forwards would be returning with the likes of Brad Mills, who is a key penalty killer, shootout guy, and veteran presence for Rockford; Wade Brookbank, who is another key veteran guy for the room; Kyle Beach; Terry Broadhurst; Byron Froese and David Gilbert.

Defensemen

The group on the backend has quite a few familiar faces in it from the group in 2012-13. Sophomore AHL-ers Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck are back, as well as Dylan Olsen, who is entering his 4th season with the club.

Ryan Stanton could be back with Rockford, depending on how things shake out with the Hawks. He’s vying for the 8th defenseman spot as the 7 D that won the Cup are all back with the Hawks.

Stanton isn’t alone in that battle though. He has veteran defensemen Michael Kostka and Theo Peckham to contend with. All three of those guys could be in Rockford this year; at the very least two of them will be (as long as no one gets taken on waivers).

In addition to those guys, Viktor Svedberg and veteran Jared Nightingale were signed to AHL contracts in the summer.

The veteran presence of the blueliners should help steady the young group of forwards as they transition into pro hockey. The least of any Hogs’ fans’ worries should be the backend as they look to be a solid group in 2013-14.

Departures:  Joe Lavin (1 year deal with the Springfield Falcons), Shawn Lalonde (signed in Germany), Steve Montador (signed in KHL), Ben Youds (signed with the Providence Bruins).

Goaltending

There have been 3 goalies reassigned to Rockford from the Hawks: Antti Raanta, Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth. It’s going to be quite the duel for crease time for the Hogs.

Raanta comes in from Assat Pori of Finland where he put up a 21-10-11 record and recorded a .943 save percentage as well as a 1.85 GAA. If he can continue to play the way his numbers indicated that he did in Finland, that will be good news for Rockford.

The number one job isn’t necessarily Raanta’s for the taking though. Simpson played last season with the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) and put up a 20-14-5 record, a .912 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA. Simpson played well in his two games with Rockford last year, including when he helped salvage the last game of the year in Texas when he replaced Henrik Karlsson in net early in the 2nd period and went on to record his first AHL win.

Carruth spent the past four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL; after he was cut from Hogs camp and sent back to juniors last year, Carruth went on to rack up a record of 30-7-2, pitched 7 shutouts, had a save percentage of .929 and a GAA of 2.06. Without a doubt, he is a serious contender for one of the goaltending spots in Rockford.

At the end of the day, one of these guys is getting sent Toledo for this season. I’d hate to be the one to have to make that decision.

Departures:  Carter Hutton signed a 1 year, 2-way deal with the Nashville Predators this summer; he’s in position to be Pekka Rinne’s back-up with the Preds. Hutton was very serviceable for the IceHogs in his 2 year tenure with the organization. It’s good to see him get a legitimate chance at being a full time NHL-er. Henrik Karlsson signed a contract in Sweden not long after the Hawks’ Stanley Cup run was over.

Prediction

If the Hogs can pull everything together and not get off to a slow start this season, they can make the playoffs. If being the key word. It has become a trend the past couple of seasons to start slow and then heat up towards the end of the year for a playoff push. But if the young forwards can produce and stay consistent, they get a few key veterans back from Chicago, and as long as the defense and goaltending continue to be strong, they have a chance to make it into the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10.

Upcoming Preseason Games

-Wednesday, September 25 at Chicago (at West Meadows Ice Arena in Rolling Meadows) at 7 pm

-Friday, September 27 at Milwaukee (at Kern Center) at 7 pm

  • red palace

    Ah-Ah-Ah-Our Kimwrona!

    That looks like a potent group of goal scorers, more so if Morin and/or Pirri spend some time in Rockford.

    Will the Hogs repeat as AHL PIM champs?

    • kimwrona

      Trololol, I would say they definitely have a shot at it! I think nothing really surprises me anymore when it comes to these guys and their PIMs haha.

  • Joe Banks

    Kim Wrona in mid-season form!

    Impressive research throughout this article – Monty in KHL? – I did not know that! Pirri, Morin, and Hayes fighting for 2 spots? – never looked at it that way.
    I’m very excited to see what Danault, McNeill, Broadhurst, and Ross (To name a few) can do out of the gate. (followed their games in Juniors)

    With Raanta, Carruth, and Simpson, (Whitney someday soon) the future looks very bright in Goal. But Carter Hutton backing up Pekka? Wow.

    Aye, Aye, Aye, Kim Ka Wrona!

    • kimwrona

      Thank you, Joe! :) I’m excited to see what they can do, too. There’s so much potential and I just hope they can live up to it! Oh yes, the future’s very bright in goal. That’s just as–if not more–exciting for the organization!

  • tom

    A lot of people think I have shit for brains so maybe that’s the problem, but with some many supposed NHL ready player in the hawks system I don’t get why the Ice Hogs aren’t a stronger team year in and year out.

    • kimwrona

      I don’t get it either, to be honest. Last year during the lockout, they should have been much better than they were, but they under-performed. I guess it’s just one of those strange things :/

    • neo1978

      The AHL is an adult league. There are 30 year-olds playing in that league. The prospects are still kids. Teams with a heavy dose of prospects are at a disadvantage in the A. The big club wants those players developed even at the expense of winning hockey games in the A. And once the prospects actually get experienced enough to compete in the A they are probably playing for the big club.

      Even a player like Ben Smith (being a little bit older) has an advantage competing against the younger prospects. And the A has players much older than Smith.

      • tom

        Good answer. Thank you for your time.

  • 07GreyDigger

    I’m definitely going to catch another Ice Hogs Vs. Wolves game this season since I’m pretty much priced out of Hawks games at this point. I went to the season opener last year and there are sure a lot of Wolves fans still hanging on to the fact that they’re a real hockey team and not a minor league team.

  • justforkicks

    Excited to be seeing these again! Hope the Hogs have a breakout year this year, and hope Beach keeps it together.

  • Why

    I suppose I should say thank you as well. With the cap being what it is and the Blackhawks committed to six or seven core guys at big dollars, the development of players in Rockford and elsewhere is going to be a bigger deal.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to be especially interested in how well the guys who barely miss the cut in Chicago react (in terms of play) to what is surely a huge disappointment. The big club is either going to need the guys that make the team to step up, or they’re going to have to get replacements from somewhere. It’ll be nice to hear how the replacements project.

    • https://me.yahoo.com/a/44fak0g2q.G32UKhg7hlazUZntG3TIVDbFlLpmI_nWPMtA--#8dfd2 Guest

      It’d be nicer if Q or whoever would stop being so reluctant to put them in the lineup. They’re never going to know if they can develop as NHL players if they don’t play in the NHL. But the Hawks seem determined to keep the Handzus’ and Bollig’s in front of them.