Mark McNeill’s Breakout Season Has NHL Implications Looming

By Skylar Peters

There’s lots to be excited about around Chicago right now, as the Blackhawks continue to remain among the top teams in the NHL. With nearly everyone pitching in, fans can be extremely happy with their personnel, from first line to fourth.

However, just down the road in Rockford, Illinois, the Rockford IceHogs are putting on a show of their own. The IceHogs are currently atop the AHL’s Midwest Division, and in similar fashion, each and every Blackhawks’ prospect is making a contribution.

None have contributed more so, arguably, than the Blackhawks’ 2011 18th-overall pick, Mark McNeill. The second-year pro is second on the team in goals, with 11, and ranks third in points, with 22 in 26 games. He is well on his way to surpassing his totals from his rookie season, with 15 points to go, while playing 50 less games thus far.

McNeill was one of only two IceHogs to play all 76 regular-season games last year, and that experience undoubtedly paid off in the long run for the then-rookie. Though he had a hot start, at one point leading the team in goals, McNeill’s play hit a mid-season slumber, and finished with humbling point totals considering the pace he was on at the beginning of the year.

A lot has changed since then, with Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri both gone from the Blackhawks’ organization, and Teuvo Teravainen playing full-time at the AHL level (until his recent call-up to the Blackhawks), it has opened the door for the Blackhawks’ super-prospects to showcase their skills, and lead the IceHogs to their first Calder Cup Playoffs berth in 5 seasons.

Everything is going according to plan, as the season reaches the half-way point, and if McNeill can keep up this pace, the NHL may come calling as early as next season. With one year remaining on his entry-level deal, an extension is certainly in McNeill’s future, but where he plays come September is still a toss-up.

Granted, with things going as smooth as they are, both in Chicago and Rockford, not too many people are worried about next season just yet. If McNeill can stay healthy for the rest of the season, and rise to the occasion should the IceHogs make the playoffs, there will certainly be an opportunity for the young forward on the Blackhawks’ roster next year.

With such a stacked team, it is a rarity to see a player make a team of the Blackhawks’ caliber after only playing a couple of seasons as a pro. Even Teravainen, one of the highest-touted prospects in the game today, is still struggling to play consistently since he was recalled.

This may be a case of patience paying off, for both the Blackhawks and McNeill, but this player is certainly one Blackhawks’ fans should be checking up on as the season rolls forward.

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