The Blackhawks' top minor league affiliate, Rockford, fell short of making the AHL playoffs when Milwaukee defeated Peoria Sunday night (think of it as the Predators defeating the Blues). The Icehogs were left on the outside looking in despite winning their last four games, and eight of their last nine.
With their season over and no roster limits, a handful of those Hogs may be brought up to the big club for this final week of the season and to experience the playoff ride, no matter how long it lasts as extra bodies for practice.
Along those lines, let's see how some of the Hawks' more high-profile minor league prospects fared this season. And while we're pondering that, consider the makeup of the 2013-14 roster. Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Jamal Mayers and Michael Rozsival are unrestricted free agents, along with goalie Ray Emery -- who might very well get a big payday on what he's done in the regular season, while we await what the playoffs bring. Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger are restricted free agents, but it's hard to see the Hawks letting either escape from an offer sheet.
Let's start with the Hawks' pair of 2011 first-rounders, centers Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault. They still have time, as both turned just 20 two months ago. McNeill, the so-called second-line center of the future, had a slight dip in numbers at Prince Albert of the WHL (25-42/67 in 65 games this season vs. 31-40/71 in 69 games last year), yet there's still an interesting difference in terms of overall growth: His plus/minus a year ago was minus-10, this season, he was plus-4. He went scoreless in five games at Rockford.
That's exactly what Danault did in the same number of contests off I-90 after splitting this past season between Victoriaville and Moncton in the QMJHL. He wound up with 23 goals and 85 points as he continues to add pounds to what was a slight frame when his name was called two years ago. But as anyone who watched closely at last summer's prospects camp, he has special hands and moves.
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The Rockford gang includes Brandon Pirri, the former second-rounder who's on the small side and needed to upgrade his game at both ends. Statistically, he did that. Not only did he win the AHL scoring title (22-53/75 in 76 games) but he finished the season plus-11.
Jeremy Morin and Jimmy Hayes both spent time at the highest level this season. Next season might be the time to determine whether both will be NHL players. Morin (the main piece in the post-Cup Dustin Byfuglien trade) collected a team-high 30 goals (12 on the power play, three short-handed) en route to 58 points, and plays with an edge. We know the 6-foot-6 Hayes has the size. Like Morin, he had 67 games with the Hogs, contributing 25 goals and 45 points.
Ben Smith continued battling health problems, but the former Frozen Four MVP (and 2011 playoff cult hero) tossed in 27 goals, 47 points, and 10 power play goals in 54 games.
Kyle Beach was the 11th overall pick in 2008. Five years later, he's taken a step in the right direction. We know about his "edge," which gets everyone all power forward hot-and-bothered, but he was a plus-1 this season to go with 16 goals, 26 points, and 204 penalty minutes in 66 games. Consider that an improvement over playing just 19 games due to an injury a year ago and 16 goals - but a minus-24 - two seasons ago. Consider the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old at a crossroads right now.
On defense, Adam Clendening was a Hawks' second-rounder two years ago. He looks and plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame, and tied Smith for the Icehogs' lead with a plus-17 while leading their blue-liners with 47 points (9 goals, 37 assists). Throw in six power play goals, and it makes your mind wander about his upside under Joel Quenneville's tutelage. Then there's Ryan Stanton - signed to an entry-level deal by the Hawks three years ago out of Moose Jaw. He's surpassed Shawn Lalonde on the blue line radar, upping his point total at Rockford to 22, from 17 last year, and his plus-minus - from minus-four, to plus-17 over a year. He's always played with an edge, too, averaging 128 penalty minutes the past two seasons.
[More: Blackhawks hit power play stride]
Checking on a few others, Orland Park native Alex Broadhurst has helped London into the OHL Western Conference Final with 14 points in 11 games after going 23-40/63 and plus-30 in 65 games in the regular season. In the first round, he eliminated Garrett Ross and Saginaw (Brandon Saad's team, and teammate, last season). Ross seems an Andrew Shaw clone (also fifth round, but 2012) but with more of a touch (44 goals, 90 points, plus-31) and just as much of an edge (114 PIM). He was held to three assists in that opening round OHL series versus Broadhurst and London.
Kevin Hayes (Jimmy's brother and 24th overall 2010) met his first dose of adversity. Boston College coach Jerry York suspended him for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules and, upon his return, suffered a season-ending thigh injury that required surgery after 25 points (six goals) in 29 games.
Right now, the top goalie prospect in the system would appear to be Mac Carruth, who was a seventh-round pick in 2010. He delivered a 30-7-2 mark with seven shutouts for Portland of the WHL, finishing second in the league with a 2.06 goals-against average and third with a .929 save percentage. He has similar size (6-foot-2, 180) to Corey Crawford.
Finally, what about 2012 top pick Teuvo Teravainen, who dazzled onlookers with his Kane-like hands, moves (and size) at the Blackhawks' prospects camp last summer? He missed 16 games for Jokerit due to injury, but in the 44 other games, collected 13 goals and 31 points as he looks to put pounds on his frame without sacrificing speed and agility.
So now, put yourself in Stan Bowman's shoes this off-season. He doesn't have to make calls on this talent until he knows how far the current roster will take him in this post-season of high expectations. It's a task that seems simple from afar, but scrutinized by those who don't have to make a final call on when to roll the dice, when to cut ties and how to sacrifice for the franchise's greater good.