With a shortened 30-game season, the Rockford IceHogs have their work cut out for them following back-to-back losses to the Chicago Wolves. All is not lost and they have time to rebound, but given the COVID-19 timeline of the AHL season, a losing streak can be detrimental to a Calder Cup run. We are not there yet, and after a positive start to the game on Saturday, the Wolves caught the Hogs, beating Rockford 5–4. Tuesday afternoon, the IceHogs brought less to the table and were soundly beaten 5–2.
There were some key takeaways, particularly in Saturday’s loss. Former Penn State Nittany Lion Evan Barratt tallied his first two professional points, assisting on John Quenneville and Chad Yetman’s goals in the first period. Veteran Cody Franson tallied three helpers, and European import Matej Chalupa and highly regarded defensive prospect Wyatt Kalynuk both scored their first professional goals for the IceHogs. Rookie Andrei Altybarmakian also added his first career assist. A night of firsts for some young prospects was great to see, but nevertheless a tough outcome.
— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) February 6, 2021
Tuesday’s results were no different. Scott Darling’s return to game action in a red, white and black uniform was not enough to repel the Wolves’ attack. Again, it was a game of firsts, with former Colorado College standout Chris Wilkie, as well as recent Indy Fuel call-up D.J. Busdeker, notching their first AHL goals. Alec Regula also registered his first AHL point, assisting on Busdeker’s goal.
The IceHogs are a little thin defensively. On Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks had three rookie defenseman—Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and Lucas Carlsson—in the lineup versus the Dallas Stars. With the Hawks committing to more youth on the blue line, Darling and Matt Tompkins can expect to see their fair share of rubber this season in Rockford.
MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson were sorely missed in the first two games. Both are currently on the Hawks’ taxi squad and time will tell how long they stay up there. Considering Brandon Hagel has clearly established himself as an NHL regular, one would hope that if Entwistle and Johnson are not going to factor into action for the big club, they will have the chance to suit up for the Hogs soon. With the Hawks recently activating Lucas Wallmark off the COVID-19 protocol list, hopefully that means Johnson and/or Entwistle will head back to Rockford.
It is great to see Altybarmakian, Barratt and Chalupa seeing regular minutes in Rockford. The Hawks are hoping that those players have the opportunity to develop over a 30-game AHL season. Barring a COVID-19 outbreak or plethora of injuries, those three will be permanent fixtures in the Rock this season.
Regula struggled mightily in his pro debut, with a minus-3 rating in the IceHogs’ 5–4 loss. His skating will need to be a focal point in his development. He will get to where he needs to go with time and AHL experience, but it will not happen overnight. He will be one to keep a keen eye on. It make take a year or two, but he has a lot of tools at his disposal.
After his offensive showcase in Saturday’s opener, some fans and writers jumped to the conclusion that Kalynuk is now ready for the NHL. He could be eventually, but just because he can move the puck well and skate does not eliminate his defensive deficiencies, and there are some. He did get turned on an early goal, and even though Franson has been helpful as his partner, Kalynuk’s in-zone play needs some fine tuning. It is possible that Kalynuk sees an NHL game or two this season, perhaps if the Hawks are eliminated from playoff contention at some point or become sellers before April. However, considering Blackhawks Head Coach Jeremy Colliton has been dressing seven defensemen, a formula that oddly has been working, and Adam Boqvist’s pending return to game action, it is hard to see where Kalynuk can factor in right now with the big club. It may not be the best idea to insert him in while the Hawks are currently a competitive team.
Be patient with prospects, folks. Most take time to develop. Keep in mind that time in the minors is often key to the progression of a player’s game. Beaudin, Hagel, Philipp Kurashev and Kevin Lankinen played 175 games combined in Rockford last season, and all four have been impact players for the surprising Hawks thus far in 2021.