By Chris Block
A few news items tonight but first a couple plugs…
–Our PuckChatter~Radio podcast returns this Tuesday night, May 29th at 8pm central. We’ll focus on our listener emails on the Blackhawks, IceHogs and prospects. You can listen live that night at this link. If you have a question or commentary you would like to contribute, send those to PuckChatter@gmail.com by Tuesday afternoon at the latest.
If you haven’t listened to our interview with Stephen Nelson from this past Tuesday night, I’d urge you to do so. If you’re interested in the Blackhawks top prospects in Rockford especially this was a great show. We’ve got a ton of feedback on the interview already, in particular Nelson’s candid account of Ben Smith’s relationship with Jimmy Newcomer, the 19-year old cancer-stricken Rockford area boy who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. We’ll have more on Ben Smith this coming Tuesday night.
–I’ll be a guest on Hockeenight.com’s PuckCast on Sunday night, June 10th to preview the 2012 NHL Draft taking place June 22-23 in Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center. That’s shaping up to what could be a pretty active weekend for the Blackhawks.
Carruth going pro
Several outlets are now reporting the Chicago Blackhawks have signed goaltender Mac Carruth to a three-year entry level contract. Carruth was selected 191st overall by the Blackhawks in the seventh round of the 2010 Entry Draft.
RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie was first to report Carruth signed to a three-year deal with an NHL cap hit (under the current collective bargaining agreement) of $525,000 per season. Lavoie has been first to report many prospects signing entry levels in the past. The contract would be a two-way deal, so he’d make far less, in the neighborhood of $67,000 per while in the AHL or ECHL. The Blackhawks needed to sign Carruth or he would have been eligible to for Draft re-entry. He can still return to junior hockey for one more season, be it with Portland or should a trade be worked out with another club.
While this deal has not been officially confirmed nor announced by the Blackhawks it should be shortly. CapGeek.com has different, unconfirmed numbers on Carruth’s deal at this point. Announcement or not, all signs point to Carruth leaving the Portland Winterhawks major junior organization in the WHL for pro hockey in the Blackhawks’ system.
Carruth would be penciled in for Toledo for the 2012-13 season should he go professional. He is a native of Shorewood, Minnesota and had originally received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but chose to go the major junior route instead.
It would be a good time for Carruth to leave Portland given that Brendan Burke, the son of former NHL goaltender and current Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, is entering his draft year and would be expected to push Carruth for the starting job in 2012-13. Carruth has an overager year of junior eligibility remaining as a 20-year old.
A big (6-3, 185lbs) somewhat unorthodox netminder, Carruth was 42-17-2 for the Portland Winterhawks this past regular season. His numbers weren’t impressive and wouldn’t be considering he gave up 4 or more goals in 17 of his 61 regular season starts in 2011-12. Overall he had a .904 save percentage and 2.96 goals against average.
Carruth backstopped the Portland Winterhawks to within a win of the WHL Championship, losing in 7 games to the Edmonton Oil Kings. In the WHL Finals series against Edmonton, Carruth gave up 21 goals in 7 games
Carruth started all 22 of Portland’s playoff games. He was 15-6-1 (Overtime loss) with a 2.89 goals against average and .918 save percentage with 2 shutouts during the postseason. A 4-1 loss to the Oil Kings in Game 7 on May 13th also cost Portland a Memorial Cup.
In that 2010 draft, the Blackhawks took another goaltender, Kent Simpson, in the second round at the 58th selection. That pick was the Hawks’ third in the second round.
As we discussed with Stephen Nelson on this week’s Puck Chatter podcast, Simpson looked outstanding in the Rockford IceHogs season finale against Charlotte back on April 14th. Simpson stopped 38 of Charlotte’s 41 shots in an eventual 4-3 shootout defeat.
Simpson signed an amateur tryout contract with Rockford after his Everett Silvertips were swept out of the first round of the WHL playoffs. He is also eligible to return to junior hockey for one final season at the age of 20. Or, Simpson could sign with the Blackhawks and content for the backup job in Rockford. Simpson has more of a modern traditional goaltending style and is slightly bigger than Carruth.
Although Simpson’s numbers have gone backwards since his draft year when he shared the workload in Everett, the Silvertips as a team have gotten worse since then. Simpson was 20-31-2-5 with a 3.33 goals against and .909 save percentage this season.
If Simpson signs and goes pro too, it’s probably a final indicator that Alexander Salak won’t be back at all next season. I can’t imagine the Blackhawks are wanting to pay Salak another $600,000 to play minor league hockey again next season. Specifically to a guy that hasn’t endeared himself to the organization much since September.
Alec Richards has another year left on his current deal. Carter Hutton will be re-signed and figures to be the guy in Rockford next season. With the season Richards is coming off, I don’t see him even being counted on as the backup in Rockford. That would have to be a job he’ll need to win. So potentially you have Hutton, then Richards, Carruth, potentially a free agent and Kent Simpson as well all vying for the IceHogs backup job. And then there’s the question of where does Salak wind up.
The Blackhawks also have Swedish prospect Johan Mattsson in the pipeline. He just turned twenty at the end of April and is eligible to return to the Sudbury Wolves for a final junior season. Mattsson was the backup goaltender for Sweden’s gold medal squad at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Calgary this past January. Mattsson’s 2011-12 season in Sudbury was underwhelming and even worse were his three appearances in Brampton’s four-game sweep of Sudbury in the first round of the OHL playoffs. The Blackhawks selected Mattsson in the 7th round of the 2011 Draft.
–On Saturday, Brandon Saad is one of three finalists up for the Canadian Hockey League’s Sportsman of the Year award. The CHL Awards ceremony takes place in Shawinigan, Quebec. The CHL is the governing body encompassing the three major junior leagues; OHL, WHL and QMJHL.
Former Blackhawk winger Greg Gilbert, the head coach of the Saginaw Spirit, the team Brandon Saad played for, is up for CHL Coach of the Year.
Saad (LW) and Gilbert (as coach) were named to the OHL’s (Ontario Hockey League) First-team All-Star team.
–In news that is a couple weeks old now, the Blackhawks officially signed forward Rob Flick to a 3-year entry-level deal on May 15.
Flick had been in Rockford on an AHL deal during the 2011-12 season.
The Blackhawks retained Flick’s rights even though they passed on giving him an NHL contract right away when he turned pro last fall. Andrew Shaw had the same deal before a series of circumstances led to Shaw blossoming into one of the IceHogs best forwards. Then, at a time of need for the Blackhawks, and with no other real options ready in Rockford, they signed Shaw to an NHL deal on January 3rd and he made his NHL debut in Philadelphia two nights later.
Flick scored 7 goals and 13 points in 44 games with the IceHogs. Nearly all of that was in fourth-line duty.
He was Chicago’s 4th round pick (120th overall) in the 2010 Entry Draft. After being drafted, Flick spent one more season with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors where he posted 27 goals and 57 points in 68 regular season contests. He then appeared in the Memorial Cup (Mississauga having an automatic bid as host city). St. Michael’s lost to Saint John’s in the final. Flick played against Andrew Shaw in the Memorial Cup as well as the OHL Finals in 2011 when the Owen Sound Attack bested Mississauga four games to three in a best-of-seven series to take the OHL Championship.
Flick’s first pro season got off to a rocky start and saw him bounce between Rockford and Toledo before he settled in and began making a firm impact on this ice in the latter third of the IceHogs season.
The feisty mix of Flick and Philippe Paradis on many nights in March was the driving source of the team’s energy and caused the opposition much anxiety.
Flick is more comfortable at center and played his best hockey there for Rockford.
–The Blackhawks also signed center Pete Leblanc to a one-year deal. We’ve covered this one before but since the official numbers have become available. That deal was made official on April 13th. He’ll make the NHL minimum (right now that is $525,000) if he plays for the Blackhawks and $70,000 when in an IceHogs uniform according to numbers listed at CapGeek.com. That’s a huge pay raise for Leblanc who had been on an AHL contract the past two years in Rockford.
Leblanc was originally the Blackhawks 7th round pick in the 2007 draft. Leblanc posted career highs; 24 goals and 44 points in 72 games with the IceHogs in 2011-12. He was a non-factor in an IceHogs uniform early on this past season before being sat out three straight games by coach Ted Dent. From then on he was a key contributor on the IceHogs secondary scoring line. Having Rostislav Olesz as a regular line mate didn’t hurt any either. Leblanc was given a long look and survived until the last round of cuts in Blackhawks training camp last fall as a non-roster invitee.