By Chris Block
With the European leagues, U.S. collegiate hockey and Canadian junior hockey seasons winding down and beginning each of its playoffs, several Chicago Blackhawks prospects will soon arrive in Rockford, Illinois to cap off their seasons with a trial showcase at the American Hockey League level.
As we noted Sunday on Twitter, the first of those prospects will arrive in Rockford later this week.
Joakim Nordstrom, who the Blackhawks selected with the final pick (90th overall) in the 3rd round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, is expected to join the Rockford IceHogs by the end of the week.
Nordstrom’s season with AIK Stockholm in the Swedish Elite League ended on March 5th. AIK missed the Elitserien postseason by one spot, finishing 9th out of 12 teams.
In his second full season in the Swedish Elite League, Nordstrom’s campaign was a bit of a disappointment. In 43 games, Nordstrom posted 5 goals and 4 assists. He was a minus-12 on the season. He spent much of the season as AIK’s second line center.
Those numbers were only a very slight improvement on his 2011-12 season in which Nordstrom notched 3 goals and 3 assists in 47 games, four more than he appeared in this season.
Nordstrom turned 21 last month, February 25th.
For a comparison, in Marcus Kruger’s final season in Sweden, at the age of 20, playing for Djurgarden in 2010-11, Kruger posted 6 goals and 29 assists for 35 points in 52 games played before joining the Blackhawks down the stretch for their playoff push and eventual first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
Nordstom will travel to Chicago, and then to Rockford, later this week after clearing his U.S. visa. It is not expected that he’ll jump right into the IceHogs lineup, however. Rockford has three games this coming weekend, beginning with home games Friday and Saturday, then another trip to Rosemont to face the Chicago Wolves on Sunday afternoon.
The Blackhawks officially signed Nordstrom to a three-year entry level contract on May 29, 2012. Because he was 20 years old at the time of his signing, Nordstrom’s contract is not slide-eligible, meaning this first year of his contract will run off whether he played in North America or not.
Nordstrom officially was on loan to AIK from the Blackhawks. Where he’ll play next season has not been determined as of yet, rather it will be evaluated and reevaluated in his upcoming IceHogs stint and over the summer at Blackhawks prospect camp.
Word out of South Bend, Indiana is that when the Fighting Irish season ends, junior Notre Dame defenseman Stephen Johns will sign an amateur try-out contract with the Rockford IceHogs. This will lead to Johns leaving Notre Dame and turning pro in the fall.
Johns, also a member of the Blackhawks 2010 Draft class (2nd round, 60th overall), is a hulking blueliner at 6-4 and 230 pounds. In his third season at Notre Dame, Johns has seen his offensive production fall somewhat from previous seasons. However his defensive game has been said to have tightened up significantly.
In 36 games thus far, Johns has posted 1 goal and 12 assists. That’s down from 4 goals and 6 helpers he had in 39 games over his sophomore season. In his freshman season skating alongside current IceHogs defenseman Joe Lavin, Johns notched 2 goals and 11 assists in 44 games.
On the defensive side, Johns has gone from owning a team-worst plus/minus rating of minus-7 in his 2010-11 freshman season, to a current plus-9 rating, which is 5th best on the Irish heading into the CCHA tournament.
Notre Dame’s next game is this Friday when they host Bowling Green in the quarter-finals of the CCHA Tournament. The Fighting Irish are the #2 seed in the tournament. Should they defeat Bowling Green, the Irish would then host the winner of Michigan-Western Michigan.
No matter the outcome of the CCHA tournament, Notre Dame will then move on to the NCAA tournament. The last day of the NCAA season is April 13th, when the Frozen Four championship concludes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just down the road from where Johns is from.
Rockford’s regular season concludes on April 20th, the following Saturday.
Two Blackhawks prospects are headed for a showdown in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs, which get underway in 10 days. Garrett Ross of the Saginaw Spirit and Alex Broadhurst of the London Knights will go head to head in the OHL’s opening round.
The OHL’s season ends this Sunday and the playoffs will begin a few days later. Saginaw recently locked down the 8th and final spot in the OHL’s Western Conference. London own’s the league’s best record at 42-17-2-3 (99pts) heading into the final week.
The loser in the first-round matchup, barring injury, is expected to sign an amateur try-out contract with the Rockford IceHogs.
Ross has had an unbelievable season for Saginaw. He’s nearly doubled his offensive numbers from last season. In 59 games, Ross has posted 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points. He’s also a plus-30 and has 112 penalty minutes.
In 60 games last season, Ross had 25 goals and 29 assists for 54 points, and was a plus-13. Obviously he’d be expected to improve on those stats in his overager season, with an increased role, but he’s done more than anyone expected.
At 6-1 and 185 pounds, Ross is a left winger in the same mold as Andrew Shaw. Ross turns 21 on May 26th.
The Blackhawks picked up Ross as a 20-year old in the 2012 Draft, selecting him in the 5th round with the 139th selection overall – the same exact pick Chicago used to draft Andrew Shaw (also 20 at the time) in the draft the year prior.
Alex Broadhurst has 22 goals, 39 assists in 63 games with the London Knights. Its Broadhurst’s first season in the OHL, choosing to forgo his commitment to Nebraska-Omaha. He spent last year with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL, after being drafted by the Blackhawks with the 199th pick overall in the 7th round of the 2011 draft.
Alex is the younger brother of IceHogs’ winger Terry Broadhurst.
Other players who potentially could see time with the IceHogs before season’s end are Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill.
Both Danault and McNeill finished their 2011-12 seasons with the IceHogs. However, both Danault and McNeill are on good junior teams this season.
Danault was traded to Moncton from Victoriaville on January 8th. Moncton is currently the 5th best team in the QMJHL with a record of 40-21-2-1 heading into the final week of that league’s regular season. 16 of the 18 teams in the QMHJL make the playoffs.
Since joining Moncton, Danault has been on fire. In 23 games with the Wildcats, he’s posted 9 goals and 26 assists to go with a plus-15 rating.
On the season, Danault has 23 goals, 56 assists for 79 points in 52 games. He’s winning 54.5% of his faceoffs. That’s up from 51.1% last season.
Mark McNeill’s goal scoring has cooled off of late for the Prince Abert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, but he’s still having a solid season. McNeill has just 3 goals in his past 18 games. But he does have 12 assists in that span as well.
For the year, McNeill has 23 goals, 42 assists for 65 points with Prince Albert. McNeill is a plus-3 on the year. 7 of his goals and 12 assists have come via the power play. The Raiders currently sit 5th in the WHL Eastern Conference with the final week of the season ahead of them as well.
If either of those players seasons were to end early, they would join the IceHogs as well.
The impending additions to Rockford present some tough lineup decisions for IceHogs coach Ted Dent.
Rockford has won 8 of their last 10 games and Dent probably isn’t to keen on tinkering with his lineup at the moment.
The IceHogs are currently 12th in the AHL’s Western Conference and sit 3 points back of 8th seed Abbotsford. Four points separate the seven teams from 6th to 12th in the West.
10 of the IceHogs final 17 games are against the six other teams in that group bunched up in the midsection of the Western Conference. They also meet Texas and Toronto, each one time. Those teams are atop their respective divisions. The remaining five games come against teams below Rockford in the standings. Four of those are against Peoria, including a rare case of three consecutive games between Rockford and the Rivermen on 4/6, 4/7 and 4/10.
OLESZ TO SEE DOCTOR THIS WEEK
Rostislav Olesz will meet with Blackhawks doctors this week to determine if he can be medically cleared for a return to game action.
Olesz, who turns 28 in October, has been recovering from right knee surgery. He was injured back on April 1st in a game at Milwaukee while playing for the IceHogs.
Should Olesz get medical clearance, it’s not yet certain what the Blackhawks will do with him.
One possibility would see the Blackhawks put him on waivers for the purpose of sending him to Rockford, where Olesz played most of the 2011-12 season after being acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Brian Campbell trade.
Another potential option for the Blackhawks is to put Olesz through waivers, then pursue an early buyout, as in the case of Wade Redden and the New York Rangers or Scott Gomez and the Montreal Canadiens, if the Hawks were to get the NHL and NHLPA’s clearance for such a move. If the league balks (the buyout period doesn’t actually begin until the off season, however, in the case of Redden and Gomez, the NHLPA threatened to file grievances when the Rangers and Canadiens announced that they planned to send the players home and not use them this season, not wanting to risk an injury before the buyout period) then Chicago could send him home and pay Olesz to sit idle until they can buy him out this summer.
Olesz has one more year remaining on his current contract. Although his cap hit sits at $3.125M, Olesz makes $4.0M this season (since he was injured, Olesz was paid during the lockout) and another $4.25M for 2013-14.
Olesz has been in Chicago for over a month skating on his own and before and after Blackhawks practices.
BLACKHAWKS PUT MONTADOR ON WAIVERS
Chicago Blackhawks reportedly placed defenseman Steve Montador on waivers on Monday.
Montador has yet to play this season due to a concussion he suffered during an informal practice with several other Blackhawks teammates a few weeks prior to the start of the NHL season.
The Blackhawks defenseman’s 2011-12 season ended in February when he attempted to return from a concussion on March 27, 2012 in a game at New Jersey. Montador played just over 4 minutes in that game and has not played since. The original concussion was suffered in a game at Colorado on February 7th, 2012. He had gained medical clearance by Blackhawks doctors prior to aggravating the concussion in a collision at the informal team skates prior to the lockout ending.
Montador himself told the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc last Friday that he could be headed to the Rockford IceHogs for a conditioning stint. Montador has admitted he’s battled depression and feared he was facing retirement as result of this latest concussion.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted on Monday that according to the guidelines in the CBA, if Montador clears waivers 11am central time on Tuesday the Blackhawks can then keep Montador in Rockford for longer than 14 continuous days. Anything inside 14 days could be considered a conditioning assignment.
Considering he hasn’t played in over 11 months and his health still remains unclear, its highly unlikely any team would pluck Montador off waivers right now.
Montador, 33, has two more years remaining on the 4-year contract he signed with the Blackhawks in July of 2011. His cap hit is $2.75M, but his contract was front-loaded. He’s set to make $2.3M in 2013-14 and $1.8M in 2014-15. Montador has a limited no-trade clause through July 1st of 2014.