Lockout may have positive impact on Hawks' roster battle

Lockout may have positive impact on Hawks' roster battle
July 26, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Nina Falcone

Seven months removed from the end of the NHL lockout, the league's work stoppage may actually serve as a positive for a few potential members of the Blackhawks.

A number of younger NHL players returned to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs and played there until a new collective bargaining agreement was reached. During that time, those players grew their game and helped create some healthy competition in Rockford.

Now, that time could pay off for the organization's younger players as Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is ready to give more AHL players a shot on the big stage.

"It was big to see the way (the NHL players) take things day-to-day at the rink and away from the rink," said center Brandon Pirri, who ended the IceHogs' year with a team-high 75 points. "It's where I want to be, so I try taking stuff away from it but also doing what makes me comfortable at the rink. It was fun, but there's a healthy competition.

"We're all friends, a lot of the young guys are my age so you have a good time, but we're all trying to work for the same job so we push each other to be better."

[More: Underdog mentality fuels Shaw's growth]

Pirri has pushed others as well as himself, and now he hopes to find a permanent place on the Blackhawks roster.

"I think I have the puck patience and playmaking skills, but the big questions for me when I was younger and coming into (the AHL) was about my defensive responsibilities," he said. "And I think over the three years in Rockford, the great coaching really helped me and I think being steady defensively is something I've worked at and gotten good at."

Like Pirri, winger Jimmy Hayes has spent time going back and forth between teams. Now he feels those experiences have prepared him to take the next step.

"These guys take care of you, they make sure you're ready to play at all times," he said. "They're always looking out for me and making me feel like a part of the team no matter (if I'm playing in the NHL or AHL).

"It was great to see a lot of those players like (Nick) Leddy and (Marcus) Kruger who've got full years under their belt, so it was good to see how to prepare and and learn from them."

[More: Crawford won't change approach this offseason]

The players in Rockford are putting in the time and doing their homework, and now aim to make a case for themselves as they head into training camp.

Brandon Bollig experienced the challenges of getting to Chicago, and he's excited for not only the opportunity he sees for himself, but also for his former teammates in Rockford.

"With the depth of the Blackhawks we've had the last couple years, it's tough for anyone to crack and there's a lot of NHL-ready guys that have played in Rockford the last couple years and there just wasn't room for them in Chicago," Bollig said. "But now hopefully there is and they have their chance to go out and make the team during training camp and I think it's going to be exciting to see what happens with those spots that are open."