Stock Report: Rockford IceHogs after 21 games

  

The Rockford IceHogs are just beyond the quarter-mark of the 2019-20 AHL season with 21 games played. With a 12-8-1 record, sitting in fourth-place in the AHL Central Divison with 25 points and playing at a 90-point pace, time to take stock of the IceHogs. What is trending up, trending down and what is leveled-off for Rockford as Christmas approaches.

Stock Up

There is a lot to be excited about for this IceHogs team, especially as it currently stands. As of writing this article, Rockford is in fourth-place in the AHL Central Division with 25 points and sits in third-place based on points-percentage at a 90.4-point pace. Last season, 87 points was enough to make the Calder Cup Playoffs out of the Central Division. Rockford is also 5-1-1 in their last seven contests with key games ahead against the Central Division leading Milwaukee Admirals. With one of the youngest rosters in the AHL, the IceHogs have leaned on rookie production and solid goaltending performances to sit in their current spot.

Goaltending

Coming into the season, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen were penciled into the number three and four spots in the Chicago Blackhawks goaltending depth chart. Lankinen was coming off a World Championship Gold Medal performance with Finland and Delia finished the 2018-19 season as one of the top goalies in the AHL. Fast-forward to this moment in time in December and Lankinen has played his way into the number three spot, followed by Matt Tomkins taking over the number four spot. Lankinen has a 5-2-1 record with a 2.48 GAA and a .924 save percentage while Tomkins sports a 4-1-0 record, 2.38 GAA and a .921 save percentage in his first substantial action in the AHL of his career.

Kevin Lankinen IceHogs

Kevin Lankinen of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

The IceHogs have held all three goaltenders on their roster this season, rotating Lankinen, Delia and Tomkins based on their levels of play or short-term injury. While Delia has seen the most starts this season, it is Lankinen and Tomkins who have had the most success. With Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner holding court in Chicago, it will be interesting to see if the organization continues to hold the three goalies in Rockford or attempt to make a roster move with one of the three. For the time being, in between the pipes continues to be the most consistent bright spot for the IceHogs.

Sikura Brothers

While they are three years apart in age, the Sikura brothers are identical on the stat sheet through their time with the IceHogs this season. Both hold the team-lead in goals with eight and both hold the team-lead in points with 14. Dylan Sikura, the younger brother, having played in one fewer game than older brother Tyler Sikura, who has skated in every game for Rockford this season.

Rockford IceHogs Dylan Sikura

Rockford IceHogs forward Dylan Sikura. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

For Dylan this season, it has been more of the same for his role with the IceHogs. He is producing points, being a danger in the offensive zone and putting up a team-leading 86 shots, 40 more than any other teammate. Dylan and Tyler have been linemates for a decent amount of games this season, with Tyler’s workman-style of play rubbing off on Dylan as his game has grown from being a perimeter playmaker to a more two-way forward with a skilled set of hands. Whether or not his NHL future is with the Blackhawks is still up in the air as he has been passed over for call-ups so far this season, but don’t rule out Chicago recalling Dylan if they are in need of a spark offensively.

Tyler Sikura IceHogs

Tyler Sikura of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Tyler has enjoyed a bounce-back season with Rockford through the first 21 games this year. After posting a career-best year for the IceHogs in 2017-18, leading to his first NHL contract, he suffered a setback in production last season. His eight goals this season has already surpassed his goal total from last year and he continues to be one of the more effective two-way forwards for Rockford this season. Not to mention, Tyler has been one of the leaders of this young IceHogs roster all year, culminating in head coach Derek King naming Tyler the IceHogs’ Captain following the exit of Kris Versteeg. Knowing the person Tyler is, seeing his hard work being rewarded so early on this season is a much needed positive for the IceHogs.

Rookie Forwards

The IceHogs have one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in the AHL. Playing sometimes up to 10 rookies a game, the IceHogs could have had their youth hurt them to begin the year. While it was mostly an up and down start, the production of a few standout rookie forwards has put the IceHogs right in the thick of the Calder Cup playoff picture as Christmas approaches.

Brandon Hagel Rockford IceHogs

Brandon Hagel of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins)

Two of the more notable rookie forwards for the IceHogs this season are a pair of non-Chicago drafted players in Brandon Hagel and MacKenzie Entwistle. Hagel leads all rookies with 11 points on the season with Entwistle behind him with ten points on the season. Hagel is second on the team with 46 shots on goal and Entwistle leads all rookies with .56 points per game, .01 better than Hagel. Both players have been key on both the powerplay and penalty-kill teams for the IceHogs and play significant minutes at even-strength.

MacKenzie Entwistle Rockford IceHogs

MacKenzie Entwistle of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Along with Hagel and Entwistle, Rockford’s rookie forwards are highlighted by Philipp Kurashev and Reese Johnson sitting third and fourth in rookie scoring, and by Tim Soderlund who has been getting more ice-time in recent games and scored his first professional goal with the IceHogs on November 30 against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Stock Level

Granted everything can’t be bright and rosy for the IceHogs. They have been benefiting from a number of different factors this season, but there have been a few areas where there hasn’t been consistency, or rather there hasn’t been much to help or hurt Rockford. Things are either even-keel or have been so far up and down that it’s hard to get a reading from them. Rookie blueliners and the veterans of the young IceHogs squad fit this category so far this season.

Rookie Defesemen

There might not have been two players with more eyes on them to begin the season with the IceHogs than rookie defensemen Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. The two first-round draft picks by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2018 NHL Draft have been developing at a minor-rate to begin the year with Rockford. While it’s not all bad, there is less eye-popping good so far through the first 21 games of the season.

Adam Boqvist Rockford IceHogs

Adam Boqvist of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins)

For Boqvist, a player many thought could have made the Blackhawks roster out of training camp, the season has been a bit of a roller coaster. He began the year with Rockford and came out of the gate a bit slow for his lofty expectations. He scored his first professional goal on October 30, his first point of the AHL season, and was promptly recalled to the Chicago Blackhawks for a handful of games before returning to the IceHogs in mid-November. Boqvist looked like he had turned a major corner upon his return from the NHL, tallying five assists in three games following his reassignment. But in four games since then, he has been held without a point for the IceHogs with five shots on goal and a plus-two rating. He’ll continue to be a factor on the IceHogs’ powerplay unit and will be in the top-four rotation for head coach Derek King, but finding consistency at both ends of the ice is still the main focus for the former eighth overall pick.

Nicolas Beaudin Rockford IceHogs

Nicolas Beaudin of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

In the case of Nicolas Beaudin and the other rookie defensemen for the IceHogs, finding positive consistency is the focus for them to turn the corner following the first 21 games of the season. Beaudin hasn’t been factoring into too many of the highlight-reel plays for the IceHogs but has been given the opportunity to play a key role on special teams by head coach Derek King. His five assists ranks in a tie for second among rookie skaters as Boqvist, Hagel and Entwistle all have five helpers on the season, trailing Kurashev with six. Beaudin has been consistently average for Rockford as a whole this season, but he iss beginning to see an upswing in his production with all five of his points coming in his last 12 games played. The IceHogs will need him to take the next step up if they are to continue their current streak of play.

Veterans

While the theme for the IceHogs so far this season has been production from their youth, it’s the veterans that have been relatively steady in the middle for Rockford. That’s the role they’ll need to play as the team continues to stay near the top of the Central Division. While the Sikura brothers have been the standouts, players like Matthew Highmore, Jacob Nilsson and John Quenneville have been key in keeping the IceHogs afloat in tough times.

Jacob Nilsson IceHogs

Jacob Nilsson of the Rockford IceHogs (Photo Courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Last year, Jacob Nilsson was named the IceHogs’ team MVP. It was a down year offensively for Rockford following the most successful year in the AHL in the franchise’s history in 2017-18. Nilsson has continued his steady play this season, getting key minutes at even-strength and being a contributor to the special teams play. Nilsson is a jack of all trades but master of none type of player. He can do a bit of everything, but nothing is going to blow you away. Nothing wrong with that. He’ll continue to be a leader on the team and be relied upon to show the rookies how to be successful at the professional level.

Matthew Highmore Rockford IceHogs

Matthew Highmore of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

While still young and in the early stages of their careers, players like Matthew Highmore and John Quenneville have played important roles for Rockford and their experience shines compared to the rest of the roster. Highmore is coming off shoulder surgery and missed nearly all of last year. He’s rejoined the IceHogs at full health and has come up big in spurts. Same goes for Quenneville after returning to the lineup after an injury kept him out for a handful of games early on this season. Highmore was called up to the Blackhawks for a short stint earlier this season and it may not be the last time he gets a call-up, but he’ll need to be consistently on the scoresheet for the IceHogs to keep seeing the level of success they have in the last few games. He ranks in a tie for second on the team in scoring with 11 points in 19 games. Quenneville has four of his five points on the season in his last six games played.

Stock Down

Finally, not to end on a downer note, but the IceHogs are not immune to some blemishes so far this season. While these are the two glaring areas that they have struggled this season, there is definitely room and ability for improvement. While earlier we said goaltending was the biggest bright spot for the IceHogs through 21 games, it’s goaltending as a whole. Excluding the play of Lankinen and Tomkins, Collin Delia is in need of finding his form from the 2018-19 season to help the IceHogs as they gun for the top spot in the AHL Central Division. Also holding Rockford back is their play on special teams, which ranks at the collective bottom of the league.

Collin Delia

Delia is a solid goaltender. That fact is hard to dispute. But his play in net has not been up to the quality that Blackhawks and IceHogs fans have seen from him since late in the 2017-18 season. Delia was a key player in getting the IceHogs to the Calder Cup Western Conference Finals in 2018 and he was a bright spot in a rather dreary 2018-19 campaign for the Blackhawks. He finished last season in the AHL with a 13-8-4 record, 2.48 GAA and a  .922 save percentage. He ranked ninth in GAA and second in save percentage in the AHL among qualified goalies. This season, he is third on the team in both categories.

Collin Delia Rockford IceHogs

Collin Delia of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins)

But there is hope for Delia since his recent track record shows he is better than his current form. In his most recent outing, Delia made 37 saves on 39 shots in an IceHogs win over the Manitoba Moose. An upswing in Delia’s play would give the IceHogs potentially one of the best goaltending trios in the AHL. (Maybe the only one?)

Special Teams

Rockford’s special teams this season, without sugarcoating it, are awful. 29th in the AHL on the powerplay at 10.8 percent and dead-last in the league on the penalty-kill at a 75.6 percent kill-rate. It’s nothing new for the powerplay as they finished last season in the same 29th spot with a 14.5 percent success rate, but the penalty-kill has seen a significant drop from last year’s 10th-ranked 82.3 percent kill-rate.

Rockford IceHogs 2019-20

The Rockford IceHogs celebrate a goal against the Grand Rapids Griffins. (Photograph courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Scheme may be at play here, but the more likely cause of the low numbers more likely is attributed to the inexperience of the roster. Rockford is playing the majority of their special teams time, both on the penalty-kill and on the man-advantage, with almost exclusively rookies. While the powerplay will rotate two units, a more veteran unit and an all rookie unit, it’s the rookie units that see the majority of the time in the ice while on the advantage.

The penalty-kill units are more mixed in their personnel, but while ranking in the bottom half of the AHL in times short-handed (90), there shouldn’t be the struggles that the IceHogs have endured. Rockford has six short-handed goals this season, tied for third-most in the AHL, so the skill is there across the board for the IceHogs, but it comes down to clearing bodies and giving whichever goalie is in net the best chance to be the best asset on the penalty-kill. On paper, the IceHogs are more talented than their numbers suggest. There is room for and belief in the special teams improving by the AHL All-Star break.

What’s Next?

The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Friday night as they travel to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins. Puck drop for Friday is set for 6 p.m. CST at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rockford holds a 2-2-0 record against the Griffins this season. Following Friday’s action, the IceHogs return home for a Saturday night contest against the Milwaukee Admirals. Saturday night’s game is also set for a 6 p.m. CST puck drop at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. It is the first meeting between the IceHogs and Admirals this season, with the teams squaring-off twelve times this year.

Center Ice Forums Stock Report: Rockford IceHogs after 21 games

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    Mario Tirabassi
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    The Rockford IceHogs are just beyond the quarter-mark of the 2019-20 AHL season with 21 games played. With a 12-8-1 record, sitting in fourth-place in
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Stock Report: Rockford IceHogs after 21 games]

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