Fans are already ready for the Chicago Blackhawks to take to the ice at the United Center, there is good reason to look west this year for some exciting hockey.
Just about 90 miles from the United Center, the future of the Blackhawks will be on display.
Consider some of the names signed up to play for the IceHogs this season:
- Jeremy Morin, F
- Dylan Olsen, D
- Jimmy Hayes, F
- Shawn Lalonde, D
- Philippe Paradis, F
- Brandon Pirri, C
- Rob Flick, C
- Joe Lavin, D
- Kyle Beach, F
- David Gilbert, C
- Andrew Shaw, C
- Brian Connelly, D
- Ryan Stanton, D
Chicago GM Stan Bowman was afforded the ability to look at one-year deals almost exclusively on the free agent market this summer because of the organizational depth the Blackhawks now possess. Considering Connelly was the only AHL All-Star on the IceHogs last year, the young talent headed to Rockford will battle not only for position on the IceHogs roster, but within the organization’s depth chart.
There’s a good chance that Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville will bring Marcus Krüger to Chicago this fall. What if they don’t? The IceHogs could have Krüger, Pirri, Gibert, Shaw, Flick, Brandon Bollig and Peter LeBlanc battling for four center positions.
Similarly, the battle at left wing could be intense as Morin, Beach, Paradis, Rob Klinkhammer and Paul Zanette fight for ice time. If one of the centers or wing moves to the right side, they’ll have to fight Jimmy Hayes, Igor Makarov and possibly Ben Smith for ice time.
If we assume Smith and Krüger are in Chicago, that doesn’t take away from the experience on the Rockford roster. Klinkhammer, Pirri and Morin all played in Chicago last year, while Hayes and Lavin have played in the Frozen Four. Also, Olsen played for Canada in last year’s World Junior Championships.
What makes the potential roster in Rockford even more intriguing is the size of the players headed there this season. There could be five players on the IceHogs roster this year that are listed as at least 6’3 tall and 210 pounds, and Joe Lavin would be a sixth player meeting that height. In fact, Connelly and Ben Youds could be the only defensemen in Rockford that aren’t at least 6’1 on the official roster.
The fact is, Rockford will be bigger, stronger, faster and better in 2011-12 than it was last year. With all due respect to the contributions of Jeff Taffe, Jassen Cullimore and Garnet Exelby, none of them was the future of the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Names like Morin, Hayes, Pirri, Olsen and Lalonde aren’t too far away from the United Center ice.