Nov 222014
Ryan Hartman (24) and T.J. Brennan (7) hug out their OT winning-goal  connection on Fri Nov 21st in Rockford
Photo credit: Rockford IceHogs

By Chris Block

Blackhawks 2013 first round draft pick Ryan Hartman got off to a good start offensively this season, then fell off the scoresheets for a few weeks.

On Friday, Hartman snapped a 9-game pointless streak. He tallied twice for the IceHogs, including the game-tying in the third period, then the overtime game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Iowa Wild in Rockford. The goals were Hartman’s 3rd and 4th of the season.

The local product was originally credited with two goals in a 3-2 Opening night loss to Milwaukee on October 11st, but one of those would later rightly be given to defenseman Zach Miskovic.

Following his two-goal performance on Friday, Hartman said he was never concerned about his drop off in offensive production.

“It’s part of hockey. I’ve done that plenty of times before,” said Hartman. “There’s times when the puck’s not going your way.

“That’s when I do other parts. That’s when I get chippier. That’s when I make more hits, and try to fight a little bit when I’m not contributing as much offensively. I think that’s part of my game, I can play both sides of the puck.”

As for his goals on Friday, Hartman was humble.

“They were both rebounds, so you can’t credit me for all those,” he said.

“[Ryan Schnell] had a great shot,” Hartman explained about the game-tying 3rd period tally. “It was an extended pass. He did that on purpose, it’s not an accident.”

Hartman then went to the net in OT and found a rebound off a T.J. Brennan wrap-around chance.

“I kind of lost track where it was. I heard it come off the pad and it came right to my stick.”

In all, going back to last season, Hartman has now appeared in 26 AHL contest. He’s notched 7 goals and 7 assists to go along with a plus-5 and 32 penalty minutes.

Rockford Injury Updates

Mark McNeill is considered “day-to-day” with his lower-body injury.

IceHogs coach Ted Dent said after Friday’s game that he considered McNeill “doubtful” for Saturday’s home game against Milwaukee. Dent then indicated that “maybe” McNeill would be available for Rockford’s game in Rosemont against the Chicago Wolves, 21 hours later on Sunday.

McNeill was injured late in the second period in the IceHogs loss on November 15th at Milwaukee. He had dropped to the ice to block a Viktor Arvidsson slap shot. The shot appeared to strike the inside of McNeill’s right knee. McNeill finished the shift in pain and immediately went to the locker room. He did not return to that game and hasn’t played since.

–Goaltender Michael Leighton returned to practice on Friday, but he continues to be out with the mysterious upper-body injury that has been ailing him for the past two weeks.

When asked, Ted Dent said he wasn’t sure how, or when Leighton’s injury occurred.

A source, though, indicated Leighton suffered the injury at a player’s day outing on November 10th.

Dent said Leighton could be ready to go by Sunday. If not, it would put the coach in the position to choose between starting Scott Darling for a third consecutive day, or go with Mac Carruth, who has not appeared for the IceHogs yet this season, despite dressing for nine games through Friday’s 4-3 overtime win over Iowa.

More on McNeill

A little info to share here since there’s been some speculation in light of Phillip Danault getting the call for his NHL debut this week, at the same time Mark McNeill, the IceHogs’ leading scorer, has been out with his knee injury.

Some have asked if McNeill would have gotten the call instead of Danault, had McNeill not been injured.

I can’t say for sure, obviously, since I’m not privy to those internal discussions. But there’s some obvious answers based on information we do know.

With Andrew Shaw being sidelined currently, that’s opened up a spot for a center in Chicago.

First off, Mark McNeill is no longer a center. Phillip Danault is.

McNeill has not played center since his draft year in 2011-11. In fact, the Blackhawks went to McNeill’s coach (Cory Clouston) and GM (Kelly McCrimmon) in Prince Albert (WHL) after drafting him and specifically requested McNeill be moved exclusively to the right wing. That wish was granted.

Since McNeill has turned pro, he’s skated at right wing almost exclusively. He has, and still does take some faceoffs on his strong side when with weaker face-off centers, but that’s where his center ice activity ends.

As far as McNeill’s call-up status goes, I’m not sure he’s atop that list just yet, in spite of his recent performance.

The primary message to McNeill last year and over the off season was consistency. Shift-to-shift intensity, and consistency.

I’m not sure, given how much they’ve emphasized consistent production to him, if they’d be willing to reward McNeill based on three weeks of strong play at the AHL level.

8 of McNeill’s 9 goals came over a span of 14 days. Two of those goals were empty-netters.

At the same time, Danault was recalled based on his play over the past few weeks since the line of Danault, McNeill and Garret Ross was formed.

That line got put together after Blackhawks’ brass took in an October 29th game in Grand Rapids. Afterwards, they ‘suggested’ to Dent that he put those three together and let them skate together as a line for a while.

The line paid immediate dividends. Garret Ross posted a hat-trick in the line’s first game together on Halloween night in San Antonio. McNeill had three assists that night, then began a four-game goal streak the next night, in another dominant win at San Antonio.

Danault led all IceHogs forwards in shots on goal at the time of his promotion. His shooting percentage (7.89%) ranked 13th overall on the team.

McNeill’s shooting at a whopping 32.14% clip, which won’t be sustainable, and also shows that the second-year player is still not shooting nearly enough (1.87 shots per game) considering his size, and ability to break free of checks with his strength and speed.

Stan Bowman raved about Danault this week when talking to reporters before Thursday’s game at Calgary. Bowman may have had an inkling that the Danault recall might be necessary at that time, given Shaw’s status, so his comments could have been strategically made.

“He’s been dynamite for us this year, a totally different player,” Bowman told the Chicago Tribune.

I wouldn’t go that far. Danault’s been really good since the line with Ross and McNeill was formed. All three of those players deserve credit for the line’s success.

Danault has been on the ice for 14 even-strength scoring events so far this season with Rockford; 9 goals for, 5 against.

7 of the 9 even strength goals-for Danault’s been on the ice for have come since that line was put together on October 31st.

Danault missed a couple games in October when dealing with a shoulder issue.

None of this is to suggest Danault doesn’t deserve the call up. The Hawks needed a center and Danault was evidently the next in line to fill such a spot.

Why Joakim Nordstrom isn’t just moved over to his natural position is another question. Nordstrom has not skated much at all at center this season, but he did down the stretch last year, and, as noted, its his natural position.

Ben Smith can fill in for the Hawks in spots at center, but they’ve either decided that wasn’t the answer, or there could be another motive at work here.  Nordstrom getting playing time over Jeremy Morin right now (at least that was the plan before Shaw couldn’t go in Calgary) really shows you where Morin standing is right now in Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville’s eyes.  And it is both, not a Q-thing, as many want to suggest it as being.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Morin’s moved by the end of the first week of December.

Danault could be getting this taste of the NHL while the opportunity is there. Edmonton is a minimal risk for the Hawks in terms of dressing 4 players who were in Rockford a week ago.

Giving Danault a bite now before the inevitable Teuvo Teravainen recall is a good move by the Blackhawks general manager, and Joel Quenneville.

And the Teuvo recall could come at any time in the next few weeks. Of course, a Teravainen recall is unlikely to happen until Teuvo gets his game together consistently in Rockford. He’s had a few nice games, but overall Teuvo has been just average to this point.

Danault is being counted on at this point to replace impending RFA Marcus Kruger next season.

He has told me, Danault has, a few times that the Blackhawks have stressed to him over the past two years that they’re looking for him to “be a Kruger.”

Tonight’s debut in Edmonton and however long Danault’s look in Chicago extends will be another good motivator for the 2011 first rounder (26th overall) moving forward.

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