Mar 172011

As I had mentioned last week, I’ve been getting more email than usual of late regarding Hawks’ prospects in Rockford. So I decided to throw some of these up on the site with the emailers’ consent. We’ll break this up into parts since there are quite a few.

Enjoyed your (Kyle) Beach q&a. Be nice if he practiced the things he says though. Another Dale Tallon miss if I may say. Tallon had some nice late round picks and a few good trades but his overall body of work is vastly overrated. Beach is an eyesore, just as Cam Barker, Tuomo Ruutu and Jack Skille. Seriously, I have no faith Dylan Olsen will do anything given Tallon’s draft history. Unless he’s drafting 1st or 3rd. Who can miss then?

Aside from attitude, what’s the major hold up in his development? Who would you compare him to? Beach is one of two players in the top 15 in his draft class who’ve yet to reach the NHL and the other, Colton Teubert, just changed addresses. Cody Hodgson was picked one spot ahead of Beach and he’d probably been in the NHL for some time now had he not been injured severely a year ago. Josh Bailey was picked 10th by the Islanders (one spot before Mr. Beach) and he’s played in almost 200 games now. Its probably high time we chalk Beach up to a first round bust. Don’t you agree?

We’ll focus on Beach as the topic here.

This coming off season is huge for Beach. I think the Hawks’ mentality on him will swing one way or the other based entirely on how Beach shows up to training camp in the Fall. If works hard on his skating, strength and conditioning and makes solid improvements in those areas, that would be a giant step in the right direction for him. If he doesn’t, I do think the organization will sour on him.

When looking at that 2008 draft class, picks 6-15, the only guys who’ve really come up and been significant contributors and difference makers on their clubs are Josh Bailey (9th), Tyler Myers (12th) and Erik Karlsson (#15th). Nikita Filatov, Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Hodgson and Zach Boychuk haven’t really done much to note yet. And you should also consider that the Hawks aren’t really in a rush to get Beach to the NHL level. Sure, it’d be nice if he was ready to make the jump now, but the reality is they didn’t have cap space for him last year or this year, so he could’ve been in the same position Skille was in last year, stuck in Rockford regardless.

Your first point on Beach is on the money though. He says all the right things, but oftentimes it hasn’t translated on the ice. Case in point – The day I interviewed him. He talked about how he knows he must avoid taking selfish penalties, offensive zone and penalties late in periods. That very night he went out and did two of the three.

It’s frustrating. Discipline, skating and defense are the obstacles in the way of him being a permanent NHLer. I don’t blame some from losing faith or patience in the guy. But there’s a major benefit in being a prospect in an organization like the Hawks are aiming to be. Because of the success the NHL team is having with the guys already in place, it takes some of the pressure of these young guys, like Beach, in development. I’ve been pretty tough on him, but I’d want to reserve passing total judgment on him until next x-mas at least before branding him “bust”. If Beach were a member of that Islanders’ group as is Bailey, I’m fairly certain he’d been swallowed up in that mess for better or worse already. Be glad the Hawks have the option to be patient. It wasn’t all that long ago when things were different.

Everyone progresses at a different pace. Take Patrick Sharp for example. He left Vermont after two years and spent three more in the AHL before he was ready for the full-time jump. When Sharp came to the Hawks, he started out as a fourth line center. And that was a really bad team too. Rene Bourque is a guy the team, and admittedly myself as well, obviously wrote off too soon. I don’t think you can fairly criticize anyone for it though. Bourque was 27 when he was traded to Calgary. Four years at Wisconsin, one in Norfolk and three in a Hawks uniform and he left a guy, who after a promising lockout year (AHL All Star) and rookie season (16g in 77gms) on an awful team – didn’t appear he’d amount to much more than a third or fourth line plugger. Now he’s a sure 20-plus goal per season guy and one of the best two-way players in the game. I’m not at all suggesting we coddle Beach through his mid-twenties. Things just happen that way sometimes.

I wouldn’t compare Beach to Skille though. For all Beach’s faults, his hands and ability to finish is almost twice that compared to Skille. The results aren’t there right now because Beach has relied far too much, especially early, on distant wrist shots. He’s not going to beat goaltenders with those at this level. He’s figuring that out now and I’d expect him to be around 30 goals next season if in Rockford. Beach’s stat line to date: 62gp, 13g, 18a, 31pts, -20, 145pim. Trouble with Beach this year is getting him to go to better areas consistently. He did it for a few games not too long ago when he was put up with Jeff Taffe and Ryan Potulny, before he was traded. Some of it’s because the AHL flow is chaotic compared to the NHL. I think he’s had a tough time getting in synch with Bill Peters as well. That’s an interesting dynamic there. On different sides of a bitter rivalry in the WHL, Peters there had a few run-ins with a younger Beach. The ideal place for Beach is in front of the net or drifting into open passing lanes 25 feet from the goal. That’s where he can do the most damage. Next year, I imagine he and Pirri (much more of a passer than a finisher) should make for some exciting hockey in Rockford.

As far as comparing him to another player, right now I’d have to say Daniel Carcillo. A guy with some obvious skill overcome by misguided energy. If he continues on this path, that’s where he’s headed. He should do better than that though.

Prospects with Beach’s size and scoring potential don’t grow on trees. Unless someone comes knocking on your door a can’t miss offer or Beach completely blows off his off season workout program, I don’t see much harm in giving him another full season in Rockford if that’s what it takes to put his game in order.

Hey Chris, seeing how you watch a lot of IceHogs’ games, who do you see there as closest to becoming full timers in the Indian head sweater?

Hey Mike. I think you first have to look at the positions the Hawks will be looking to fill next season. Then keep in mind the Hawks favor speed and versatility.

The top six forward spots are all locked down for some time to come. So, you’re looking for guys who can fill a checking role, change of pace and energy guys.

Jeremy Morin would be the obvious choice to slot in on next year’s Hawks. Probably on the third line initially, both with his skill and display in two call ups earlier this season. But injuries in the World Junior tournament and the much-speculated on “upper-body” issue he’s been sidelined with since mid-January have set his progression back. Where he starts next year is a tossup at this point.

Two others who most come to mind are Ben Smith and Rob Klinkhammer. As said, I don’t expect either to have a job waiting for them on next year’s team. I don’t know that there’s a single guy in Rockford who’s earned that. But Smith and Klinkhammer are two guys I could see winning a job, or an extended in-season look with a great camp.

Ben Smith is a workaholic. He’s not big (under six foot), but he’s cut. Smith is the kind of guy, you can tell; he wants it. He’s more of right winger, but he can play all three forward positions. He’s good on face offs when he’s used at center, on the PK or a linemate gets kicked out. He’s so smart. The thing he most needs to work on at this point is his quickness in tight and first three steps. I wouldn’t categorize his hands as great, but he’s gritty, has a nose for the net and proven of late he can score goals consistently at the AHL level.

On the night he got caught in a rough collision and suffered his concussion, January 8th vs Grand Rapids, he was dominant all over the ice. Coach Bill Peters uses Smith in every situation and almost all of the important moments in games. Again, while not a true center, he’s the only right-handed center on the IceHogs so he’s benefitting and a viable guy in that sense too. Of Smith’s 15 goals (54gp), five have come on the power play, two while short-handed.

The Hawks desperately need better defined role players. Joel Quenneville simply can’t be sending his top offensive players out for every penalty kill, defensive zone draw, etc. Sure you’re proud to have a guy like Toews who is so great in every situation you put him in, put those minutes add up and they take a toll. He’s young now and can handle it. Moving forward I think they have to focus on defining their prospects and grooming them at the minor league level so that when they’re ready to graduate, so to speak, the transition is nearly seamless.

One guy they’ve done that with is Igor Makarov. He’ll turn 24 in September. He’s a guy with some speed and skill. However, its probably unlikely that it rates out to top 6 NHL assets, especially on a Cup contender. Right away this season they put Makarov on the penalty kill, which probably surprised some. We know the Hawks have an aggressive Kill. Most teams now use skill guys on their PK. Makarov hasn’t been there as much lately though as up to around January he was a fixture. His offensive numbers aren’t great. He’s hit some posts and missed some wide open nets. Both are widespread epidemics plaguing the team this season though.

Tim Sassone’s THN Future Watch report listed Makarov 10th of the team’s prospects saying of Makarov, “An energy player who plays a hard-nosed style, but with decent skill.”

Only part of that description I’d elaborate on is “hard-nosed.” Makarov has decent size and is more than willing to throw his weight around down there. However, when the roles are reversed it can sometimes be a theatrical production with him. Many instances he’s received a hit and it takes a whistle and a commercial time out before he’s back to the bench. And then he doesn’t miss a shift. The IceHogs’ trainer must have miracle healing powder on the bench or something.

Klinkhammer is a Beast on the Penalty Kill. He’s a tireless effort guy. No less than 15 times this season he’s had a short-handed breakaway. Some of those he’s created himself. Others have been sprung by Evan Brophey (his usual PK partner) and Garnet Exelby. Notorious troubles this year finishing his chances, however. He’s scored on just one of those and missed on quite a few others in even-strength situations. If that’s not just a mental thing he can overcome in time, then it might prevent him from being anything more than someone who pinch-hits from time to time.

Klinkhammer’s deal is up this summer. Bringing him back on a two-way deal is a foregone conclusion. Ben Smith has one more year left on his entry-level. His cap hit would be a shade over 800k while Klinkhammer’s would be right at the minimum.

As for others you’re wondering about: Pirri and Beach need more time. Defensively both are quite the adventure. Pirri turned pro at least a year premature. I’m not one to believe this, but given time he could be the answer at center on the secondary scoring line. There’s probably a better chance he’ll get traded to Florida.

On the blue line, I don’t see anyone from this year’s IceHogs’ team making it straight out of camp. Shawn Lalonde needs another full year probably. I’ve never heard anyone bullish on Ivan Vishnevskiy. It’s a shame Brian Connelly’s not three inches taller. Ryan Stanton’s a guy they’re high on from time to time. He’s a Hendry type. I still like Dylan Olsen more than anyone, but he arrived a half season before they were ready for him and he’s been a bit overwhelmed at times. We’ve covered that here before. There are plenty of positives to the experience he’s getting right now though. I’d look for him to have a big season in Rockford next year. On the flip side, both he and Leddy were charted out to be on entry-level deals through 2014, but having to rush Leddy up (out of necessity or whatever) and Olsen having to leave school early, now both come up in 2013. May or may not be something to come back to haunt the team’s salary cap down the road or decisions to be made leading up to those renewals.

What do you know about Marcus Kruger? [Beth, Chicago]

Stan Bowman is talking like he’s pretty sure that Swedish center ice prospect Marcus Kruger can step right into the NHL next season. I liked Kruger in last summer’s prospect camp. He’s slick. Nice hands. Good skater; the type of forward they like. He’s conscientious in all three zones. But Stan may just be saying that to convince Kruger to leave the Swedish Elite League where he’d stand to make more money than he would if relegated to the AHL. They actually wanted him to come over this year but had him penciled for Rockford and he chose to play over there instead. Not having seen him play since July, I obviously can’t say for sure, but Bowman may just be posturing to lure Kruger to North America with all that talk. Or, he could really be that good and ready to step in. No one knows the answer for sure, perhaps Bowman included. But in learning from the Nick Leddy experience, if Stan likes Kruger that much, he’ll probably have a place on the team waiting for him regardless if he’s ultimately ready or not.

In The Hockey News feature mentioned before, Stan Bowman likened Kruger to Dave Bolland. To which, of course, my first response was “great. Two third-line centers.” But I suppose you could do worse than having a Dave Bolland clone on the way. Kruger’s listed at 5-11 and 172 pounds. If that’s currently accurate, he’ll need to get a little stronger.

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  7 Responses to “IceHogs/Prospect Q&A, Part one”

  1. Nice work Chris

    What are your thoughts I the recent outburst of scoring by Jimmy Haynes, at 6-5, His he finally filling out? I am excited but our recent history with BC players makes me standoffish?

    • I’ve seen Hayes 5-6 times this year. They play Northeastern on NESN tomorrow at 4pm central in the Hockey East tournament but I’ll be in Rockford so not sure if I’ll get a chance to check it out. Here’s video of his hat trick against Mass the other day. Third goal was empty-netter, second a slick snap.

      I wasn’t impressed with him up close in July’s prospect camp. His skating appears to have improved now. He was clumsy before I thought. Good wrist shot and he attacks the net. Like those qualities.

      You have to wonder why Brian Burke, a guy who loves bigger skill guys who can bang, would give up on him so quickly though?

      The Hawks have amateur scouts stationed in the NE, that’s why there’s always a token Massachussetts kid picked every draft, or it seems. Actually, they would have picked another with that 30th pick this past draft they wound up trading to NYI and moving down. Charlie Coyle was the guy they wanted. He’s a BU guy. San Jose scooped him up at 28 and the Hawks immediately traded down.

      So it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out. He was there for the Hawks at 24 where they went with Kevin Hayes. Not that its the be-all, but Coyle was ranked 11th overall among all current NHL prospects in their Future Watch issue. K.Hayes is 9th just among Hawks’ products.

      I hear you on the BC thing. I had the same reservations coming in on Ben Smith, but Smitty is head and shoulder above Dan Bertram (similar in stature, at the same stage. If you’re in the mood to get all hindsighty, Kris Letang went to Pitt eight spots after Bertram. He popped back up this year in the ECHL with Las Vegas. Saw him out there. He’d quit hockey before last season but is back now. Hasn’t played in awhile due to injury so its said.

  2. Great piece. Nice to have new info about the Rockford gang. Whatever happened to Nathan Davis. Did the Hawks let him go? He looked like the kind of solid player the Hawks need on the bottom 6.

    • Hey Jack. Davis and the Blackhawks mutually parted ways before the season. He’s no longer under contract and hasn’t played anywhere last I checked. He had a lot of trouble with his shoulder I know. If I can get someone to comment on it, I will.

  3. Chris,

    I think Makarov can be a Pisani/Kopecky type guy with a bit more skill and finish. All his passes are tape to tape. he can skate and can play within a system. He is not the kind of guy, with his background, to “stand out” on an undisciplined team. I agree he might not be good enough at anything to be a top 6 guy, but he could be a guy you can “spot” like Kopecky, and kill penalties.

    I also don’t (fully) get the Kruger/Bolland comparison by Bowman. Maybe in size and marginal FO ability. Kruger’s a better passer.

    • You could be right on Makarov. He, like basically every other young guy there right now, needs another year before I think anyone can make a distinct evaluation of what the Hawks have in him. Makarov reminds me of Paul Ysebaert. He was on the PK this past weekend and did a nice job.

  4. BTW, thanks for the link bro. 😉

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