On Wednesday night, I drove to Rockford to see some good, live hockey while the Blackhawks are out of town for two weeks. It also gave me a chance to see the future of the Hawks in action.
The IceHogs lost 4-2 on Wednesday night, but of what went on was encouraging for the future. Here are a few quick reflections:
- Nick Leddy is absolutely for real. He was the fastest skater on the ice, handled the puck well, found space in traffic and, most importantly, avoided contact. A couple of opposing players took a run at Leddy in corners during the game, and he successfully made a play and avoided contact. He clearly paid attention to Duncan Keith while spending a couple weeks in Chicago.
- Evan Brophey and Brandon Bollig are big kids. Brophey, who saw brief action in Chicago this season, is a center listed at 6’1, 205 and who has been appropriately physical every time I’ve seen him play. He’s willing to go hard into corners and finish a check. He turns 24 next week, but is a player I wouldn’t mind seeing in Chicago soon. Bollig came to the defense of a teammate and won an impressive fight early on Wednesday night. He’s listed at 6’3, 215, turns 24 in January and also knows what he’s doing in the corners as well. The trouble: Brophey and Bollig have combined for four points this year.
- Jeremy Morin is going to be special. On the IceHogs first goal of the night, Morin was the middle man in a gorgeous give-and-go with Jeff Taffe, and he showed great vision on a number of occasions. It’s hard for Hawks fans to be patient while A) the major club is struggling and B) the player the Hawks traded for Morin, Dustin Byfuglien, is outscoring Jonathan Toews, but Morin is in the right place. Still only 20, Morin is getting the most out of the opportunity to play heavy, top-line minutes in Rockford with former NHL players Taffe and Ryan Potulny.
- Mathis Olimb is tiny. He returned from IR on Wednesday and skated fairly well, but his size would be an issue at the NHL level. He’s listed at 5’10, 176 but he makes Leddy look like Zdeno Chara. Olimb skates well and his international experience (including the 2010 Olympics) are certainly great, but I don’t see where he fits on a Chicago team that isn’t physical enough.
- Kyle Beach is confusing. The kid can skate and shoot as well as just about anyone in the AHL, but most of what I saw on Wednesday night was a Sean Avery impersonation. He knows how to get into opponents’ heads, but spent most of his ice time on Wednesday night trying to pick a fight. He didn’t cycle well, didn’t make any clear decisions with the puck in the zone, and didn’t unload at the net while playing the point on a power play.
- Igor Makarov is a ghost. The only time I noticed him on the ice was when he stayed down on the ice after being boarded in the first period. He has long strides, but struggled to find his way through traffic and avoid contact. Not much of what I saw on Wednesday, or at any other point this year, indicates that Makarov is ready for the NHL.
- Ryan Potulny should be in Chicago. He wins faceoffs, scores, and plays outstanding defense. When we wrote about a trade possibility to bring John Madden back to Chicago, it was because all of his intangibles were missing on the Hawks roster. The only parts of Madden that are missing in Potulny are the championship rings and a decade on the drivers’ license.
- Garnet Exelby should be in Chicago, too. And he might be in the not-too-distant future; the Blackhawks placed him on waivers on Wednesday. He’s been the captain of the IceHogs this season, has great NHL experience on his resume, and would be a solid veteran on the blue line that might earn the confidence of coach Joel Quenneville better than Jordan Hendry has so far this year. The Hawks would have to move someone off the NHL roster to make room for Exelby, but he deserves a shot.
For updated Blackhawks prospect rankings, read here.