On Wednesday night, the Rockford Ice Hogs battled for a big victory over Peoria. I attended the game to get a look at the future of the Blackhawks, and came away with some strong impressions.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen most of the prospects skate. Indeed, I have been to Rockford on a couple occasions this season and attended every day of the Prospect Camp in July. But now, in the middle of February, the sample size and experience provides a better basis for analysis.
Dylan Olsen– This was the first time I have seen Olsen in Rockford; he went back to college after summer camp with the Blackhawks. Still just 20-years-old, Olsen’s a big kid that can play a physical game. Over the summer, my concerns with his game were that he sacrificed position for the hit at times, which can’t happen at the NHL level.
What I saw from Olsen last night was very impressive. He was still physical, but controlled and filled space effectively. He spent time on both special teams, and showed a good understanding of space on both; he created space on the power play while eliminating it on penalty kill. He also had no problem putting the puck on net, and appears to have a pretty good, hard shot.
Evan Brophey– He isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of prospects, but every time I see him skate I walk away impressed. He plays bigger than his 6’1, 205-pound frame, reminding me more of Ben Eager than Jake Dowell. He scored a pretty goal last night, his seventh of the season, and has an impressively positive plus-one rating (he is just the fourth IceHog to be above even as of last night).
Kyle Beach– I can’t figure this kid out for the life of me. In one shift, he shows an elite burst of speed, fights off two defensemen to control the puck, and makes a pretty pass in front of the net for a scoring opportunity. A minute later, he looks lost and ends up taking a bad penalty 40 feet away from the play. I will say this: if the Blackhawks are truly interested in Daniel Carcillo, they should promote Beach. He has more offensive upside (read: any) and will still make people mad.
Brian Connelly– Outstanding, smart defenseman that understands the game and is a coach on the ice. Good shot blocker and puck-mover, it’s easy to see why he was an AHL All Star this year. The problem that he and the Blackhawks are going to face is where, and how, he fits in the organization’s future. At only 5’10 and 185 pounds, it’s hard to see the Hawks skating him at the same time as Nick Leddy on the third pair in Chicago next year. He might become quality trade bait soon because he’s too good to sit in Rockford much longer.
Ben Smith– Cut and paste the first sentence from Connelly’s remarks. His Hockey IQ is outstanding, but he could emerge as a candidate for a spot with the big club next year in a gritty Adam Burish-like role… except with a little less crazy. However, his Boston College roots might see him in Rockford to help one/both of the Hayes brothers next year.
Igor Makarov – Like Beach, it continues to be hard to figure this kid out. His shift-to-shift consistency is non-existent; last night, within five minutes on the game clock, I wrote down the following: “26 has no hands” and “26 controls puck well in corner.” Same kid? Yeah.
Has there ever been an older pair of defensemen in the AHL than Garnet Exelby with Jassen Cullimore?
Alec Richards– Fans say they “feel bad” for a player… I felt awful for Richards last night. He was playing an incredible game, pitching a hard-fought shutout that included stoning 17 shots in the first period and a number of tough, short-handed moments. The IceHogs were up two and both teams appeared to be content to let the clock run out until the refs called a penalty on Rockford with 18 seconds left. EIGHTEEN SECONDS! A flurry of shots started and, with exactly 2.0 seconds on the clock, Richards lost his shutout on Peoria’s 35th shot. He looked great last night.