By Chris Block
In a true case of unfortunate timing, Blackhawks prospect Ben Smith was injured while playing for the IceHogs in Rockford on Friday night. The team’s leading goal scorer injured his hand and missed Saturday night’s game in Milwaukee due to the injury.
It is not known at this point how long Smith will be out of action.
Over his last 25 games, Smith has posted 12 goals, 12 assists to go with a plus-5 rating. His season total of 15 goals are one better than that of Martin St. Pierre, the IceHogs overall leading scorer.
To follow up on a Twitter post I put out on early Saturday evening, at this point it now appears Ben Smith will not need surgery on his injured hand.
Smith was injured during Friday night’s 5-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford.
A source with knowledge of the injury had learned on Saturday that Smith’s injury may require surgery.
However, late Saturday night a separate person close to the situation indicated that Smith’s hand won’t require surgery.
Smith was involved in a fight late in the second period Friday night with Griffins’ defenseman Brennan Evans. Fighting against the 6’4” Evans, Smith (5’11”) got in a couple jabs on Evans at first after the pair threw their gloves down and engaged, but Evans used his size and reach advantage to hold Smith off. Eventually Evans threw an overhand right and the momentum took both to the ice.
Smith, though, did serve his major penalty and finished the game. He even assisted on the game’s winning goal when he set up Brandon Saad with a terrific cross-ice feed to give the IceHogs a 3-2 lead at 11:42 of the third period.
The exact cause, location and extent of the injury are not certain.
–Rockford won in Milwaukee on Saturday night 2-1 in overtime.
Brandon Saad ended the game on a great individual effort cutting through the low slot and beating Milwaukee netminder Magnus Hellberg for the win.
The IceHogs are now off until Friday when they host Peoria at the BMO.
Saad had 2 goals and 4 assists in the two games this weekend.
It was a great time for Saad to get hot and impress the Blackhawks hockey operations staff. Assistant general manager Norm Maciver, Barry Smith, Pierre Gauthier and IceHogs GM Mark Bernard will all in attendance on Friday in Rockford. While Stan Bowman was in Milwaukee on Saturday to witness Saad’s game-winning heroics.
With Smith’s status now in question, Saad has put himself in a good position for a possible look in Blackhawks camp this week.
Prior to this weekend, Brandon Saad had just 1 goal, 4 assists in his past 15 games. And he beat that point total in back-to-back games this weekend (2g 4a).
Again, the IceHogs don’t play again until Friday, so there are no conflicts preventing any IceHogs player from participating, whether it be to compete for a job, or be an extra body in practices or scrimmages.
–Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc confirmed through a source on Saturday night, a rumor that had been going around on Friday that Steve Montador has had a recurrence of his concussion symptoms.
Kuc noted that Montador had been cleared by the Blackhawks medical staff a couple months back, but reported that Montador reinjured himself while working out during informal on-ice skates with his Blackhawks teammates.
This development could create an opportunity for Ryan Stanton, Dylan Olsen or even Klas Dahlbeck – the three IceHogs defenseman who would be most NHL-ready at this time.
With Montador having concussion concerns again, and his future in question, the Blackhawks would be down to seven blue liners right now at the NHL level.
Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, Michal Roszival and Sheldon Brookbank are all under contract for this season.
Third-year defenseman and IceHogs’ alternate captain Ryan Stanton has paid his dues and been perhaps Rockford’s most consistent blue liner over the past year. Dylan Olsen has struggled this season and fallen out of favor with the coaching staff at times for different reasons, but he is still considered a top prospect and not far from the NHL once he gets his game up to, and keeps it at a higher level.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the play of Klas Dahlbeck. The defenseman is a lot bigger than what he’s been listed at in the past. A legitimate 6’4” with an NHL body, Dahlbeck competes hard most every night and isn’t afraid to use his frame. He’s not spectacularly physical but he uses his size fundamentally well and with vigor in the corners.
That said, Dahlbeck has shown signs of wear and fatigue of late. Dahlbeck had commented to us in an interview a month ago that he had never experienced three games in three nights or many 3 in 4 days as is per the norm in the American Hockey League. So, Dahlbeck may just be hitting the proverbial wall many Europeans face when they first transition over to North America. Over the first half of this season, Dahlbeck has rarely shown signs of having an offensive upside.
Although having seven, presumably, at this point, healthy defensemen in the fold doesn’t exactly leave a spot for one of these three to win, Montador’s unfortunate concussion woes does possibly open the door to one or two of these prospects to at least be invited to the camp. If one or more impress in camp that would put them first in line in the mind of Quenneville, if and when injuries force the Blackhawks to look to Rockford for positional assistance. Or there is the possibility that one or more of those current seven are not close enough to NHL shape, or get hurt in camp and thus Stanton, Olsen or even Dahlbeck could slide up to the NHL roster.
With a training camp that will begin on Sunday and span just five days, Joel Quenneville and his staff will need to act swiftly in preparing their team for next Saturday’s opener in Los Angeles.
The final roster is expected to be chosen by Thursday, with any IceHogs who do participate being sent back to Rockford in time for their next game on Friday night.