After 188 games across five seasons with the Rockford IceHogs, Mark McNeill will finally be a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. For how long remains to be seen.
McNeill was recalled by the club Monday morning ahead of tomorrow’s final game before the All-Star break, at Carolina. McNeill, a 6-foot-2 center by trade, was a first-round pick of the Blackhawks way back in 2011, going 18th overall. And he’ll rejoin fellow 2011 first-round selection Phillip Danault in the Indian Head.
McNeill was “the guy” still left in the minors who hadn’t yet broken on to the big club. With the ever-growing list of youngsters the Blackhawks have given trial runs to this season, it’s kind of surprising it took McNeill this long to get to the Blackhawks. Of course, he hasn’t played in all of Rockford’s games this season due to injury, but it’s always kind of surprising to see a first-round pick a team hasn’t soured on spend such a long time in the minors in this day and age.
McNeill this season boats nine goals and 10 assists in 19 games as well as no rating. McNeill was on a six-game points streak with the Hogs, having tallied four goals and three assists in that time.
The Blackhawks, as I noted last week, have been intentionally playing a man down for some time, and this puts them at the full 23 players. Interestingly, Richard Panik‘s name (at the time of this post) appears on the Rockford stats sheet on the team’s website, but his name has not been removed from the Blackhawks’ website roster, nor has anyone said Panik has been or will be demoted. So for now, the Blackhawks are rolling with 23 players.
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The timing of this move is somewhat interesting at face value, considering Chicago just has tomorrow’s game at Carolina before the All-Star break. Of course, playing against the lowly Hurricanes would be a great way for McNeill to make his NHL debut. Where he’d slot in isn’t entirely certain, as CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers notes the Blackhawks probably won’t practice before Tuesday’s game. The easy answer is he gives Rasmussen a breather, or one of McNeill or Rasmussen slots in on a fourth-line wing to prevent us from having to see more Brandon Mashinter.
Also, as pointed out by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, the Blackhawks have a three-game road swing through Colorado, Arizona and Dallas coming out of the break, so perhaps the team is being cautious in case of injury — a wise move, in my view.
Here’s how Hockey’s Future sees the 22-year-old McNeill:
“McNeill is a solidly-built forward that plays with keen awareness at both ends of the ice. He has the ability to impose his will in both zones, whether it be by forcing a turnover defensively or facilitating the play in the offensive end. He is versatile and can play both center and wing. When at his best, his presence makes opponents tentative. However, overall consistency can be an issue. McNeill has shown that he can be more than just a one-dimensional player as he has been used both on the powerplay and penalty-killing units. He has the size and hands to be an effective offensive performer, but needs to work on his focus.”
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“Stuck in one of the deepest organizations in the NHL, McNeill has the potential to be a top-six type forward in the future but has yet to get that opportunity with the Blackhawks. His size and responsible, well-rounded game would make him a fine depth player as well.”
McNeill is in the third year of his entry-level contract, so it’s probably about time the Blackhawks gave him a legitimate look. With all the wheeling and dealing Stan Bowman has had to do not only to keep his team successful but also to keep it under the salary cap, that McNeill has stuck around despite not yet making his NHL debut says something. The Blackhawks had the chance to bring McNeill along slowly, and they’ve done just that. Now they can see exactly what they have.
What do you think of McNeill’s inclusion on the Blackhawks’ roster? Let us know in the comments.