Earlier this offseason Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson has professed the desire to have a farm club that goes deep in the playoffs and challenge for the Calder Cup every season just like the bitter interstate rival and reigning champion Wolves.
This is a noble goal to have for the organization especially during a rebuild of not just the parent club but also the organization as a whole including hockey operations and business operations at all levels, i.e. NHL, AHL, prospect pipeline, etc.
Offseason moves to remake the Rockford roster is an indication that Davidson is putting his money where his mouth is. He doesn’t mince words with what he wants to do and follows through on his public declarations in an expediently decisive fashion.
Sincerity and resolve are both good traits, of course. Like all franchises over the past several weeks, decisions had to be made on their own free agents while also investing in new blood to inject into the farm system to help lead the established charge.
Here’s a review of who’s out and who’s in with the Hogs so far during these dog days of summer:
* Andrei Altybarmakian, F (KHL Russia)
* Tom Aubrun, G (unsigned)
* Collin Delia, G (Canucks)
* Kurtis Gabriel, F (unsigned)
* Dylan McLaughlin, F (Blues)
* Cam Morrison, F (unsigned)
* Wyatt Kalynuk, D (Canucks)
* Jake LeGuerrier, D (unsigned)
* Dmitry Osipov, F (unsigned)
* Ryan Stanton, D (DEL Germany)
* Chad Yetman, F (unsigned)
* Adam Clendening, D (AHL contract)
* David Gust, F (AHL contract)
* Bobby Lynch, F (AHL contract)
* Seamus Malone, F (AHL contract)
* Andrew Perrott, D (AHL contract)
* Luke Philp (NHL contract)
* Buddy Robinson (NHL contract)
* Brett Seney (NHL contract)
* Dylan Sikura (NHL contract)
* Mitchell Weeks, G (AHL contract)
* Dylan Wells, G (AHL contract)
Also, a few recent draftees are at the crossroad of whether to go back to juniors or start their pro careers:
* Nolan Allan, D (NHL contract)
* Colton Dach, F (NHL contract)
* Ethan Del Mastro, D (NHL contract)
* Louis Crevier, D (NHL contract)
The influx of veterans on two-way NHL deals as well as on AHL contracts is a plus to balance the youthful Hogs roster. These experienced players may not be grizzled NHL mercenaries but a mix of major/minor tweeners and career minor leaguers instead.
What Davidson needs to be careful of, however, is making sure the success of the Hogs during the regular and post seasons can be substantially attributed to contributions from the youngsters and not be overly reliant on the elder skatesmen.
In other words, the goal shouldn’t be to win Calder Cups regardless of the roster composition. It should matter that the prospects get valuable ice time and experience to learn how to compete, execute, and excel in the pros -- win, lose, or draw.
Striving for AHL championships and prospect development aren’t mutually exclusive either. As such, it’s imperative that Hogs head coach Anders Sorensen and assistant general manager for player development Mark Eaton are on the same page.
This dichotomy shouldn’t be an issue between the pipes with sophomore Arvid Soderblom and freshman Jaxson Stauber as the incumbent Rockford goalie tandem unless career minor leaguers Mitchell Weeks or Dylan Wells unceremoniously unseat them.
Similarly, this also shouldn’t be an issue on the blueline. Adam Clendening is the Hogs all-time statistical offensive leader but he’s far from being the role model that the young rearguards need to learn how to defend and manage the ice as a pro.
Clendening essentially replaces Ryan Stanton who was that defensively inept mentor last season. Likewise, Cody Franson was in that role two seasons ago. The Hawks D prospects are all actually better defensively than any of these three vets.
For instance, Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas, Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula, and Isaak Phillips are committed to play without the puck to neutralize rushes, protect the net, and flip the ice. Even Nicolas Beaudin tries and competes hard at least.
Are any of them defensive stalwarts? Of the bunch, Mitchell, Galvas, and Vlasic are poised to be solid in their end. Regula is increasingly demonstrating to be dependable. Phillips and Beaudin have the tools but are rough around the edges.
Although some may scoff at the idea, Mitchell isn’t too far off the Duncan Keith Lite comparable. Galvas’ five seasons of pro experience in Europe shows in his steady, smart play. Vlasic has the IQ, size, wing span, and skating to be a shutdown defender.
Aside from Lukas Reichel who could be a potential starter for the Blackhawks in 2022-23, the top point getters could be Dylan Sikura, Brett Seney, and Luke Philp. Buddy Robinson and David Gust will be leaned on heavily, too. Four of the five are new.
No matter the game situation (ES, PP, PK), the prospects need to get their minutes and reps to prove their worth, hone their skills, and persevere through adversity. Sure, scaffolding from veterans and coaches are crucial but so is learning by doing.
At ES and the PP, the Hogs could have goal scorers in Michal Teply and Colton Dach. There’s the all-around threat in Reichel. Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, and Evan Barratt are capable of middle 6 scoring in the AHL but are bottom 6 types in the NHL.
Defense by the forwards specifically and by the team in general is arguably the one area that will receive the most scrutiny as Hawks bench boss Luke Richardson is switching from a man-to-man to a zone. Ideally Sorensen will apply that with the Hogs as well.
See you on the boards!
Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, NBC Sports Chicago, The Athletic Chicago