Chicago Blackhawks: Rockford IceHogs, Team to Watch in 19-20
The Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, Rockford IceHogs, will also reap the benefits of a strong offseason.
A solid draft, a flurry of trades, and some depth signings have truly reshaped the present and the future of the Chicago Blackhawks, but all of these moves also will have a major effect on their AHL affiliate, Rockford IceHogs.
With the addition of veterans on defense, the promotion of prospects to professional hockey and the acquisition of players with potential the IceHogs and coach, Derek King, could be the beneficiaries of some exciting talent.
As we have highlighted throughout the offseason here on Blackhawk Up, there is going to be some major competition for limited spots on the NHL roster.
It is for this reason that fans in Rockford will also benefit from this injection of young and exciting talent.
This is a bit of a fun one, but Kris Versteeg is back in the Blackhawks’ organization and looks to take on a leadership role with the Ice Hogs this season.
Versteeg, of course, still has his eyes set on playing in the NHL, but his veteran status and positive attitude will be welcomed in Rockford.
Versteeg is also no slouch in the scoring department, as he was nearly a point per game player for Vaxjo in the SHL, albeit in a limited sample size.
Before his hip injury in 2017, he was a solid contributor for the Calgary Flames with 37 points in 69 games.
Versteeg will not be asked to carry a major load on the ice with his injury history and age becoming a factor, but the two-time Stanley Cup Champion will bring a much-needed level of fun and leadership to the Rockford locker room.
The Goalie Tandem
Rockford might have one of the most electric, young goaltending tandems in all of the AHL with the likelihood of Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen likely destined to share the net in Rockford.
Both spent time in Rockford last season, but with Corey Crawford‘s health issues, Delia would get only 26 starts with Rockford. Lankinen split time with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel and the IceHogs.
What makes this goaltending tandem so interesting is that I don’t think that many people pictured the current goalie situation to land this way.
As the season ended, Delia was penciled into the backup position behind Crawford with Lankinen getting the bulk of the starts in Rockford.
Lankinen’s strong play at this summer’s IIHF World Junior Championships significantly boosted his stock, where he led the Finnish team to a gold medal behind his solid play.
Now, the IceHogs have one of the top goalie tandems in all of the AHL. There will be an interesting competition for playing time between an established AHL goaltender, in Delia, and a prospect on the rise in Lankinen.
The acquisition of the Alexander Nylander left many scratching their heads, but it would appear as though the Blackhawks have big plans for the young winger.
With a big opportunity available on the Blackhawks top line, it could be one they hope Nylander seizes at camp. However, with his prior experience, it is likely he will be destined for more AHL seasoning.
If that is the case, he will play a major role with Rockford as likely their top offensive weapon.
He brings a ton of raw skill, and with his trade to Chicago, he has a ton to prove to his new organization. With limited spots on the big club, this likely means he will spend more time in the AHL in 2019-20.
Veteran Defensive Depth
It is clear that there is going to be a log jam on the defensive end for the Blackhawks this season with the likes of Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom, and recently signed Philip Holm all vying for the 7th defensive spot.
With so many veterans and youngsters looking to make the NHL club, it is likely that without any trades, the Rockford lineup will have a few defensemen with NHL experience.
This kind of defensive surplus could be of value to the young defenseman who will be in Rockford, such as Chad Krys, Dennis Gilbert and a player we will mention later, Adam Boqvist.
The injection of these veterans in the lineup can reduce the pressure placed on these young defensemen and allow them to develop at a proper, natural pace.
These veteran defensemen will absolutely help in the development of the youth, as well as give them a solid base to build upon. Rockford seems destined to field an extremely competitive AHL team.
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MacKenzie Entwistle is an early dark horse for the upcoming season. Some pundits see Entwistle as a player who could surprise and even grab a bottom-six spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup.
To me, Entwistle could use some seasoning at the AHL level and could play a major offensive role for the IceHogs.
Giving him a chance to develop his special teams abilities, as well as get some major top-line minutes, could help shape him into a top-nine forward in the future.
Although I don’t believe Entwistle will get the nod right out of camp, I could see him getting some looks when injuries inevitably crop up for the parent club.
If Entwistle can duplicate his junior success, he could be a major contributor for this young and talented IceHogs team that will be a major threat in the AHL.
This is the prospect that all eyes will be on come training came. Recently, it was discussed that Boqvist will be going pro this upcoming season and not returning to the London Knights of the OHL.
With newly acquired defenseman Calvin de Haan still recovering from shoulder surgery, it is possible that the Blackhawks could utilize him at the NHL level.
With an already crowded defensemen group at the NHL level, it would appear as though Boqvist will be spending the majority of his first professional season in the AHL.
This is a step that will gradually bring Boqvist up to speed with the professional game.
He will get a chance to play against men and allow for his body/strength to continue to develop.
Playing in the AHL is a path that another highly-touted defenseman, in Erik Brannstrom. The former Chicago Wolves’ defensemen will likely get full-time NHL action with the Ottawa Senators this upcoming season.
Much like Brannstrom, Boqvist could use this year in the AHL to develop his body and skills for an NHL push during the 2020-2021 season.
This could also be helped by the likely departure of a player like Erik Gustafsson, whose contract expires at the end of the 2019-2020 season.
Either way, this will be quite the formative year for the Blackhawks’ top defensive prospects and will go a long way in shaping the future of the Blackhawks’ back-end.
From players like Adam Boqvist to Kevin Lankinen to Kris Versteeg, the Rockford IceHogs are going to provide a fun and interesting group of players that will likely make them a fun and competitive group in 2019-20.