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Phillip Danault relishing strong start by IceHogs

Since becoming the Blackhawks’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs have helped develop numerous players for the NHL. What they haven’t done is be enjoy much success in the standings.

The latter, however, is changing this season. Rockford is 15-5-1-1 and has a three-point lead over the Wolves in the Midwest Division, putting the IceHogs in early position for their first playoff appearance since 2010.

Playing for a winner in the AHL is something prospect Phillip Danault values. Last season, Danault’s first full AHL campaign, the IceHogs made a late run but only finished 35-32-5-4 and four points out of the playoffs.

So far, it doesn’t look like the Rockford would need a strong closing kick to finish near the postseason.

“It’s better. I’ve been called up a week ago and then I came back here and the team is winning,” Danault said Saturday. “Every player is good. Every player can play, everybody can make plays.”

The IceHogs have shown that depth so far, depth that’s been crucial thanks to the Hawks’ frequent call-ups from Rockford.

They have seven players with at least five goals and that list doesn’t include defenseman T.J. Brennan, who leads them with 17 points and a plus-12 rating. They’ve allowed only 48 goals, tied for second fewest in the Western Conference. Their two primary goalies (Scott Darling and Michael Leighton) have goals-against averages of 2.05 and 2.29, respectively.

Danault’s development has also taken another step. He made his NHL debut Nov. 22 and played again the next night before getting sent back to Rockford, where he has 12 points and a plus-7 rating in 17 games.

“(Getting called up) was a great feeling. It was fun just to see the pace a little bit during the season. It was a great experience, obviously,” Danault said. “I want to go back and work hard here.”