The Rockford IceHogs have two games remaining in their season. They stand at 25-37-9-3 with 62 points and a .419 winning percentage. They are in 8th (last) place in the Central Division and 15th overall in the Western Conference.
There are twelve former IceHogs on the Chicago Blackhawks roster. There are also twelve former IceHogs with other teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The IceHogs contingent on the Blackhawks consists of Corey Crawford, Scott Darling, Gustav Forsling, Jeff Glass, Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero, Marcus Kruger, Tyler Motte, Dennis Rasmussen, Nick Schmaltz, and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
The New York Rangers have four ex-Hogs, including Adam Clendening, Kevin Klein, Brandon Pirri and Antti Raanta. The Montreal Canadiens boast two ex-Hogs in Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw. The Calgary Flames also have two ex-Hogs in Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. Four other teams each have one former IceHog. The Boston Bruins have Jimmy Hayes, the Columbus Blue Jackets have Brandon Saad, the St. Louis Blues have Carter Hutton and the Toronto Maple Leafs have Ben Smith.
Which ones will play a key role and which ones will have little impact? Will there be any surprising performances? To get the best opinion on this matter, I called upon my longtime friend Jason Fleigel to lend his insight as my co-contributor.
This isn’t an act of journalistic nepotism. Aside from being a friend, Jason follows the NHL very closely and has the league-wide knowledge I lack. While I have covered the IceHogs for four seasons, I only casually follow any former IceHogs in the NHL.
Jason immediately focused on the series between the Canadiens and the Rangers. That series features six former IceHogs. Jason feels that Shaw (Canadiens) will have the biggest impact. His physical presence in front of the net could be a big difference in affecting the play of Henrik Lundquist (Rangers).
Lundqvist struggled at times this season. He had a mediocre 2.74 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. Lundqvist started 55 games, his third lowest total in the last 10 seasons. There were some rumblings that his days of dominant play might be over.
This is where Antti Raanta enters the picture. Raanta started 26 games, posting a 2.26 gaa with a .922 save percentage. Those numbers weren’t significantly better than Lundqvist’s, but they were good enough to raise questions.
Jason is watching Lundqvist closely, feeling Raanta could see major playing time, if Lundqvist starts to falter. I’m picking Raanta as my sleeper star in the playoffs. Raanta might not get much action right away, but I think he’ll get the call and perform well for the Rangers.
Switching to Calgary, Jason states that Brouwer and Versteeg bring Stanley Cup winning experience to a young Calgary team, but will not be true difference makers on the ice. He feels a quick exit for Calgary is likely.
Moving on to Columbus, Jason cites Saad’s solid season and thinks the Blue Jackets could be the Cinderella team of the playoffs. He does temper that with the caution that getting past the defending champs is no easy task. Still, he sees Saad bringing his “A” game, that helped the Hawks win two Stanley Cups
With no disrespect to the other former IceHogs, none will have much of an impact, according to Jason. This isn’t really surprising. The Blackhawks have not won three Stanley Cups in seven seasons by letting go of impact players in their prime.
Turning to our hometown Blackhawks, of course, the Crawford-Darling combo must play well for Chicago to advance in the playoffs. The goalies are obvious selections, but we want to look at a couple players under the radar.
Jason immediately named Hartman as a potential difference-maker. Selected in the first round in the 2013 draft, Hartman saw his first significant NHL playing time this season. In 76 games, he scored 19 goals and added 12 assists for 31 points and a +/- of 13. A good playoff performance could solidify his status on the team and around the league.
I will add my sleeper pick of Hinostroza. The 6th round pick in the 2012 draft played in 49 games this season. He scored 6 goals with 8 assists for 14 points, with a +/- of -1. Maybe I have a soft spot from knowing him from Rockford, but I could see him having a few shining moments.
On the flipside of the equation, the pick for the player with the lowest expectations must be Glass, the newest addition to the Chicago playoff roster. This is no knock on Glass. Brought up as the emergency backup to Crawford and Darling, if Glass sees action, it will not be good news for the Hawks. The playoff experience will be beneficial to Glass, however. Poised to be the starter for the IceHogs next season, this could be a valuable learning experience for Glass.
As the games are played and the playoffs progress, I will revisit our selections. We will also keep an eye on all the former IceHogs as their teams advance. When your AHL season amounts to fighting to stay out of the cellar, while looking towards next season, at least you can take pride in the success of your alumni.