Previewing the Rockford IceHogs’ 2019–20 season

  

After falling short of the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, the Rockford IceHogs face an uphill battle in the AHL Central Division for the 2019–20 season. With a lineup full of young potential, can Rockford recapture the run-and-gun offense that helped propel them to their best AHL season just two years ago?

IceHogs to be led by skilled rookie class

Entering last season, the IceHogs had a great deal of expectations based off of how the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs finished. Making the deepest run in the postseason in the team’s AHL history, paired with the promised that then-head coach Jeremy Colliton showed in his young coaching career made the IceHogs an intriguing team in the AHL. A coaching change and unexpected scoring droughts provided enough of a challenge for Rockford in 2018–19 that they missed out on making their return to the postseason.

Rockford IceHogs Derek King

Derek King is entering his first full season as the Rockford IceHogs’ head coach. (Photograph courtesy of the Texas Stars)

Now heading into the 2019–20 season, head coach Derek King has had a full offseason to work with the Blackhawks organization to construct depth across the board that the organization has not seen in a handful of years. With a rookie class coming to Rockford that includes both of Chicago’s 2018 first-round draft picks and the return of a two-time Stanley Cup champion, the IceHogs have the potential to make serious noise in the Western Conference. The biggest question is if they can reach their full potential.

Meet The IceHogs

Heavy on the rookies, the IceHogs have at least 10 first-year pro players who are expected to be in the mix for the opening night roster on Friday against the Iowa Wild. Here is where the roster stands as of Wednesday.

Forwards

  • MacKenzie Entwistle
  • Alexandre Fortin
  • Brandon Hagel
  • Mikael Hakkarainen
  • Matthew Highmore
  • Reese Johnson
  • Philipp Kurashev
  • Dylan McLaughlin
  • Nick Moutrey
  • Jacob Nilsson
  • Aleksi Saarela
  • Dylan Sikura
  • Tyler Sikura
  • Tim Soderlund
  • Kris Versteeg
  • Anton Wedin

Defensemen

  • Nicolas Beaudin
  • Adam Boqvist
  • Lucas Carlsson
  • Philip Holm
  • Dennis Gilbert
  • Chad Krys
  • Jack Ramsey
  • Joni Tuulola

Goalies

  • Collin Delia
  • Kevin Lankinen
  • Matt Tomkins

Roster Breakdown

Much like the 2017–18 roster, the IceHogs will be young. But, different than recent rosters, the young talent has high expectations to carry a heavy load on both the offensive and defensive side of the ice. To this point, the Blackhawks organization brought in a familiar face to lead a young locker room, as two-time Stanley Cup Champion Kris Versteeg was signed to an AHL deal this offseason. Versteeg, a former IceHog himself, was on the brink of retirement not too long ago, but has regained his health and is poised to be the veteran voice inside the Rockford room. Head coach Derek King named Versteeg captain of the IceHogs after Rockford went the past two seasons without a player wearing the ‘C’ on their sweater.

Kris Versteeg Blackhawks

Kris Versteeg playing in the Chicago Blackhawks training camp scrimmage. (Photograph courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Along with Versteeg, the leadership group consists of Matthew Highmore, Tyler Sikura and last year’s Team MVP Jacob Nilsson. All three of those players will take on more than a leadership role for Rockford, as Highmore is expected to be back to full health after missing most of the 2018–19 season with a shoulder injury and produce goals, while Nilsson is a versatile option that can move around the lineup, as is Sikura. They will be the elder statesmen of a group that could see players like MacKenzie EntwistleBrandon Hagel and Philipp Kurashev log high-minutes and be major point-producers. Expect Dylan Sikura and new addition Aleksi Saarela to also chip in offensively and make sure that the IceHogs offense does not go cold for long stretches of the season like it did last year.

Adam Boqvist Blackhawks

Adam Boqvist chases the puck against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2019–20 preseason. (Photograph courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks)

What can also help the offense not go cold is the amount of offensive firepower the IceHogs will have coming from the blue line this season. Rookies Nicolas BeaudinAdam Boqvist and Chad Krys are poised to be the focal points within the defensive rotation for Rockford to generate chances from the back end. With the top two selections from the 2018 Blackhawks draft class joining the fray, Rockford’s defensive structure will have a good amount of puck mobility and foot speed to work with to create breakout chances in transition.

The IceHogs will not be able to sustain a total run-and-gun offensive attack, though. Defensemen like Lucas CarlssonDennis Gilbert and Philip Holm will serve as safety valves to offset the attacking defenders. The focus will be on 2018 eighth overall pick Adam Boqvist this season. His timeline with the IceHogs is unknown, as he is assumed to be the first choice of the Blackhawks to be recalled to the NHL if Chicago suffers any setbacks on their own blue line. But, whether Boqvist stays in Rockford for three weeks or the full season, there is enough talent for the team’s success to not hinge on just one player.

Rockford IceHogs Kevin Lankinen

Rockford IceHogs goaltender Kevin Lankinen prepares for a shot. (Photograph courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Finally, looking between the pipes for the IceHogs, it is a duo of familiar faces, as Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen return from strong seasons in 2018–19. Delia is coming off of a year in which he finished second in the AHL in save percentage (.922) and ninth in the league in goals against (2.48). He will likely begin the season in the starter role, but Lankinen may get the season-opening start with Delia still in Europe with the Blackhawks. For Lankinen, a solid 2018–19 season (19 starts, 2.50 GAA, .910 save percentage) rolled into a starting job for Team Finland at the World Championships. Lankinen was a brick wall for Finland and helped them secure the gold medal. Lankinen will push Delia for starting time, and much like last season, the IceHogs could benefit from having two potential top-10 goaltenders in the entire AHL.

What’s next?

The Rockford IceHogs open their 2019–20 regular season on the road against the Iowa Wild at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday night. Iowa finished last season third in the AHL Central Division with 87 points and were eliminated in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs by the Chicago Wolves. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CDT.

Let’s do that AHL hockey.

Center Ice Forums Previewing the Rockford IceHogs’ 2019–20 season

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  • #14631
    Mario Tirabassi
    Participant

    After falling short of the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, the Rockford IceHogs face an uphill battle in the AHL Central Division for the 2019–20 sea
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Previewing the Rockford IceHogs’ 2019–20 season]

    #14635
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I like the Hogs blue line more than the Hawks – and I’m not kidding.

    And the goalies only slightly less too.

    And the forward bunch only slightly less too.

    Highmore, Hagel, Kurasev are on my Hawk roster.

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