By Chris Block
Rockford IceHogs open their season tomorrow night when they host Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bank Center at 7pm.
The Blackhawks have finalized the AHL roster and it was announced today. The IceHogs will carry 24 skaters to start the season, which is allowed in the American Hockey League.
Scott Darling and Michael Leighton, as expected, will be the IceHogs goalie tandem. Mac Carruth should be given a chance to do the heavy lifting in Indianapolis, on the Hawks’ new ECHL affiliate, Indy Fuel. It seems as though the Rockford duo will split the workload evenly for now.
What’s going to be interesting is how Rockford coach Ted Dent handles his defense. Though, that may be dictated to him by the Hawks’ brass. The IceHogs start the season with 8 defensemen – Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka, Stephen Johns, Viktor Svedberg, Zach Miskovic and Dillon Fournier.
Politically, I could see Rockford dressing seven defensemen some nights until something gives on that body count.
The forward group will look something like this….
26-Garret Ross / 21-Teuvo Teravainen / 28-Mark McNeill
23-Joakim Nordstrom / 12-Dennis Rasmussen / 16-Cody Bass
25-Alex Broadhurst / 18-Phillip Danault / 24-Ryan Hartman
27-Matt Carey / 11-Peter Regin / 22-Pierre-Cedric Labrie
38-Ryan Schnell / 14-Drew LeBlanc
I don’t know that these are the exact lines, but I suspect they’ll look somewhat like this, at least.
With Teuvo Teravainen in Rockford, again the Hawks have a situation where there are too many centers on the IceHogs. This will force either Alex Broadhurst or Regin to play out of position. Joakim Nordstrom can play either center or wing and he’s skated at both equally. Some of his best work last year though was at center. Bass is a decent AHL player. He fit well with Rasmussen and Nordstrom in the one preseason game I saw out in Rockford on Oct 2.
I think Dent will look at his lines (to whatever extent he has control of who plays where, which is sometimes an issue too) in terms of pairs. The rest is interchangeable. They’re going to try to get Mark McNeill going early, so it would make the most sense that he skates with Teravainen, the left-shooting center feeding McNeill down the right side. If that happens and McNeill struggles early, he’ll be in trouble.
Phillip Danault and Ryan Hartman worked tremendously together at the end of last season when Hartman joined the IceHogs after his junior team was eliminated from the OHL postseason. So, there’s no reason to believe that will be broken up at least for a while. The plan all along has been for those two to start the season together. That line would work best with Ross or Carey (since Danault and Carey have been working out together since August) on the left side, but perhaps they’ll get Broadhurst in looking to add some offensive touch to that line.
Garret Ross will have a big season. He’ll still relatively slight though, considering the style he plays. I don’t know if being on the same line with McNeill is the best thing for the latter. The Blackhawks are looking for McNeill to be more engaged shift to shift. They also want him to drive to the net more. Ross doesn’t need such encouragement. So if those two are on the same line, I could see McNeill staying on the perimeter more than he should.
All I heard in regards to Matt Carey coming out of St. Lawrence University last spring was that he was a decent prospect, but if he wasn’t a 22-year old freshman he would have had no business turning pro. At that age, it was almost now or never, so he’ll do his development at the pro level as a Stan Bowman project. Because of that, he’ll get put in positions to succeed in Rockford.
Understanding that, I could see Carey getting the Teravainen winger spot. Ross would then either slide down to the Danault line or play his off wing on the Rasmussen-Nordstrom line. Ross can play anywhere and contribute, so he gives them a lot of flexibility. Carey will be carefully slotted.
Peter Regin is hoping his stay in Rockford is short, but he should probably get comfortable there. He may get to skate with Teuvo in the beginning as a way of appeasing the veteran who seemed somewhat shocked he wound up in the AHL. But the focus ultimately should be on developing and getting the young forwards the most playing time, not what makes Regin happy.
It will become apparent very quickly that Teravainen is above the AHL and his presence there is a waste of everyone’s time, aside from the fans watching from the stands. He’ll be fun to watch, of course, but I just don’t know what he stands to gain out of playing AHL hockey past one or two weeks in October.
IceHogs defense pairs (Projected)
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 2-Adam Clendening
7-T.J. Brennan / 4-Stephen Johns
8-Viktor Svedberg / 29-Ville Pokka
9-Dillon Fournier / 3-Zach Miskovic
The good thing about this group of eight is they have an equal split of left and right shooting defensemen. All four down the left column are left shooters and vice versa.
T.J. Brennan is the antithesis of a shut-down blue liner, so he’ll have to be paired with someone who knows what to do south of the center line.
I have Johns with Brennan here but that’s a risk because of Brennan’s fictional defensive game and Johns’ propensity to stalk opposing forwards for the big open ice hits. Johns is about as good as it gets for defenseman of his age in terms of identifying a target and laying the boom, but if he’s put with Brennan, he simply cannot be running around looking for those hits. Pokka probably makes more sense, though I slotted Johns there because of the ice time Brennan is likely to get.
Clendening and Svedberg were together in preseason. Dahlbeck and Johns figured to be the second pairing before the Hawks acquired Brennan and Ville Pokka. It could also turn out that the prior plans stay the same and Brennan and Pokka start the season together because of the little familiarity they have. But I would expect the pairs to wind up looking more like what you see above over time, should this group of eight be here for awhile.
Figure Clendening quarterbacking one power play unit while Brennan does the other. I doubt we’ve seen the last of forwards on the point on these PP units even with the overload of quality defenseman Rockford now boasts. But perhaps Pokka gets on one and Johns the other. You’d definitely like to see Johns’ shot on the Brennan unit. Though, since it’s going to be hard to divide playing time evenly for this top six. Johns should get a ton of PK time because that’s the particular area he’s a little weak in, so perhaps his minutes are heavy on PK and lighter on PP for the time being. That would be understandable given the circumstances.
Svedberg is coming off a serious shoulder surgery that ended his first North American campaign early last spring. He’s already fought once in preseason. That’s not really his game but at 6’9” he’s a target for scrappy guys looking to impress in the American League. But at least he has confidence now that his shoulder held up in that tussle.
It’s going to be interesting to watch this play out because Zach Miskovic came back to Rockford expecting to be a regular in the top six. Miskovic also figured to be team captain. Now, he could be on the outside of the top six and a healthy scratch most nights. Miskovic was devastated last year when he was traded away from the IceHogs after Stan Bowman hastily reacquired Brian Connelly before the trade deadline for reasons that were never quite clear. Miskovic was a surprisingly stable force on last year’s young blue line and is a Chicago area guy. His addition made people forget Theo Peckham (a regrettable signing) was brought in by the Hawks last year to be the dependable defenseman in Rockford. By the end of the season Connelly was a healthy scratch too.
The fact Dillon Fournier is not in Indy at this point would suggest to me that there still could be a trade coming. Fournier has to play somewhere, unless the organization has soured on him, which wouldn’t make sense.
12 players are returning from the roster that ended last season with the organization:
Alex Broadhurst, Phillip Danault, Ryan Hartman, Drew LeBlanc (Le-BLAH), Mark McNeill, Joakim Nordstrom, Garret Ross and Teuvo Teravainen
Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns and Viktor Svedberg
If you add Zach Miskovic, there are 13 players on Saturday’s Opening Night roster who spent time with Rockford in 2013-14.