As the beginning of the 2019–20 regular season gets closer, let’s take a look at a few rookies coming into the Rockford IceHogs organization that have the makings to have breakout seasons in their first full years in professional hockey. Granted, this will leave out the most obvious rookie candidate, Adam Boqvist, because there has been and will continue to be plenty of time to talk about him as the season draws near.
Often an afterthought in the Blackhawks’ 2018 draft class, Nicolas Beaudin should not be left in the shadow of Boqvist for very long. In his last two seasons in the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltiguers, Beaudin tallied 125 points in 122 regular season games, while also posting 19 points in 26 QMJHL playoff games. Beaudin was also named a QMJHL Second Team All-Star in both of his last two seasons with Drummondville. Seeing a decent improvement in his ability to defend in his own zone, on top of his already advanced offensive abilities, he is a top candidate to get significant minutes for the IceHogs defensive core. In a small sample of work, Beaudin and Boqvist were paired together in prospect camp, with Beaudin working as a defensive cover for the more free-wheeling Boqvist. That pairing could become a regularity for the IceHogs early in the season.
The MVP of the prospect camp scrimmage last month, Brandon Hagel has a lot of promising flash. He uses a good combination of speed and snap on the offensive side of the ice to create scoring chances for him and his teammates. He got a taste of the AHL last season after posting a career-high 102 points in his final WHL season with the Red Deer Rebels. He will likely get a chance to play some power play minutes for the IceHogs and could pair well with longtime Red Deer teammate Reese Johnson in a middle-six forward role with Rockford.
On and off the ice, MacKenzie Entwistle seems more than ready for the jump to the professional ranks. After back-to-back OHL championships with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Guelph Storm, Entwistle makes the move to the Rockford IceHogs having a generous amount of praise being placed upon him this summer from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and head coaches Jeremy Colliton and Derek King. His commitment to playing a two-way game paired with his favorable size as a forward make Entwistle an intriguing rookie to watch this season. He will likely get some looks on both the power play and penalty kill for the IceHogs, but may stick more in a penalty-kill role, given the high-end offensive skill depth that Rockford could rotate on the man advantage.
Speaking of offensive skill depth, the IceHogs got a small taste of what forward Philipp Kurashev brings to the table late last season. While he did not get on the scoresheet in his first three professional games, Kurashev showed a small sample of what made him a prolific option for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. Kurashev’s shot is his best attribute and has started to pair it well with improvements to his skating ability and vision on the ice. A decent-sized forward at 6-foot-1 and just under 200 pounds, Kurashev is a likely candidate to lead IceHogs rookies in scoring this season.
Finally, bookending the list with another defenseman is Chad Krys. He joined the IceHogs late last season and was thrust right into significant minutes for Rockford as they attempted to push for a Calder Cup Playoffs spot. While the IceHogs fell short, Krys tallied four assists in nine games and will likely return to be a top minutes-eater for the IceHogs this season. One of the more seasoned of the rookies on the roster, Krys has improved his all-around play over his three-year NCAA career with Boston University after being a top offensive threat when he was drafted in 2016 by the Blackhawks. Do not be surprised if Krys sees time on both the power play and penalty kill for Rockford to begin the season.