Blackhawks end-of-season prospect review: Rockford IceHogs

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Matthew Highmore got a taste of NHL action after a strong season in Rockford. | Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

The Blackhawks’ season didn’t go according to plan at the NHL level, but there were a lot of good things going on elsewhere. The IceHogs rebounded from a brutal season to reach the Calder Cup Playoffs. Dylan Sikura dominated college hockey. Ian Mitchell and Blake Hillman teamed up to thrive in Denver.

A lack of high draft picks means the Hawks’ farm system can’t quite stack up with the strongest in the league, but the pipeline is flowing with talent that will arrive in Chicago sooner than later. We saw that this season with the countless NHL debuts from Alex DeBrincat to Victor Edjsell to Sikura and Hillman in the final few games.

The future will depend heavily on the Blackhawks’ drafting and development, so it’s worthwhile to keep tabs on how the farm system is coming together.

In order to do that, we’re going to have a series of posts reviewing how 2017-18 went for the team’s prospects, starting Thursday with players who spent most of the season on the Rockford IceHogs. We’ll also have posts on prospects from NCAA, juniors and Europe before culminating next week with a ranking of the top 10 prospects in the system.

To start, here are the Hogs (in alphabetical order).

F Radovan Bondra

Age: 21

Acquired via: 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 151)

Stats: 1 point in 11 ECHL games; did not play in AHL

Bondra missed most of the season due to injury, which prevented him from getting ice time that he badly needed. The sturdy forward (6’5, 216 pounds), drafted back in 2015 when the Hawks went through a run of picking bigger players who have largely flamed out, might not have the skating ability to crack it in the modern NHL. Still, he’s young, he’s big, he showed flashes in juniors and he’ll get another shot in Rockford next season.

D Carl Dahlstrom

Age: 23

Acquired via: 2013 second-round pick (No. 51)

Stats: 25 points in 62 AHL games, 3 points in 11 NHL games

Dahlstrom played 11 games with the Hawks near the end of the season and showed some upside as a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL. He brings solid mobility for his size (6’4, 231 pounds) and improved significantly as a puck-mover in his second AHL season. The biggest stumbling block for him right now may be a crowded depth chart that could leave him stuck in Rockford again.

G Collin Delia

Age: 23

Acquired via: Undrafted free agent

Stats: .889 SV% in 2 NHL games; .904 SV% in 27 AHL games; .887 SV% in 10 ECHL games

There aren’t many players who appear in the ECHL, AHL and NHL in the same season, but Delia pulled off the rare feat. The goaltender improved enough in Rockford over the course of his first professional season to earn a brief shot in Chicago. Delia was exposed in the NHL as the developing talent that he is, but he’s in line for more opportunities next season.

F Victor Ejdsell

Age: 22

Acquired via: Trade with Predators, Feb. 2018

Stats: 34 points in 50 SHL games; 1 point in 6 NHL games; 1 point in 3 AHL games

The second piece acquired in the Ryan Hartman trade has sneaky potential to provide value. He’s a huge forward (6’5, 214 pounds) who produced with HV71 in the SHL before joining the Hawks organization for the stretch run. Adjusting to a smaller ice surface and NHL pace may take him some time, but he wasn’t a simple trade throw-in. Ejdsell could develop into a nice bottom-six center.

F Alexandre Fortin

Age: 21

Acquired via: Undrafted free agent

Stats: 20 points in 51 AHL games

A prospect camp star in 2016 who impressed team officials so thoroughly he earned an NHL contract, Fortin had an underwhelming AHL debut. He recorded just four goals in 51 games and struggled to use his impressive speed to make an impact at that level. The skating ability gives him upside but it’s possible those raw tools never translate.

F Matthew Highmore

Age: 23

Acquired via: Undrafted free agent

Stats: 42 points in 62 AHL games; 2 points in 13 NHL games

Highmore earned a 13-game cup of coffee near the end of the season with a strong debut AHL season. The undrafted rookie showed why the Hawks took a flier on him, and while his upside isn’t high, he’ll presumably compete for a bottom-six role in training camp next fall.

F Matt Iacopelli

Age: 23

Acquired via: 2014 third-round pick (No. 83)

Stats: 19 points in 50 AHL games; 10 points in 10 ECHL games

Iacopelli can really shoot, and that’s why he’s still a fringe prospect, but the rest of his game is so incomplete that it’s a long shot he ever produces in the NHL. Racking up 20 goals in 60 games between the AHL and ECHL hints at his scoring ability.

F Luke Johnson

Age: 23

Acquired via: 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 134)

Stats: 29 points in 72 AHL games

A former teammate of Nick Schmaltz at North Dakota, Johnson has proven to be a solid two-way center in the AHL. It’s not clear he has more upside than that, however, given he’s more of a defensive grinder than someone who racks up points. Maybe he’ll become a solid fourth-line center one day.

F Graham Knott

Age: 21

Acquired via: 2015 second-round pick (No. 54)

Stats: 9 points in 69 AHL games

It might be too early to call Knott a bust given he’s only 21, but the 2015 second-round pick looks like one right now. He recorded just 51 shots on goal in 69 games at the AHL level this season. That’s terrible, and indicative of a player who doesn’t have NHL potential.

F Anthony Louis

Age: 23

Acquired via: 2013 sixth-round pick (No. 181)

Stats: 42 points in 69 AHL games

There’s no way around the fact that Louis is undersized and teams are always skeptical of that characteristic. He produced in his first AHL season, which is what he’ll need to do to earn an NHL opportunity, but the Hawks can only carry so many guys who are 5’7.

F Nathan Noel

Age: 20

Acquired via: 2016 fourth-round pick (No. 113)

Stats: 1 point in 17 AHL games, 11 points in 21 ECHL games

Noel missed roughly half of the season due to injuries and struggled to build any momentum. He was non-existent at the AHL level with one point in 17 games and didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the ECHL. The best reason for optimism is that Noel doesn’t turn 21 until June, so there’s time for him to get back on track.

D Robin Norell

Age: 23

Acquired via: 2013 fourth-round pick (No. 111)

Stats: 6 points in 62 AHL games

It’s usually not a good sign when you’re a defenseman who keeps playing forward yet only has one goal in 62 games.

D Luc Snuggerud

Age: 22

Acquired via: 2014 fifth-round pick (No. 141)

Stats: 17 points in 40 AHL games

Snuggerud has struggled to stay healthy over the past year-plus as a professional, which has made it more difficult to evaluate his place in the organization. There’s definitely some ability, as we’ve seen at Nebraska-Omaha and during his limited AHL stints, but he needs to avoid injuries to assert himself as a real factor.

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