Blackhawks AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By Brad Gardner

After fighting just to get into the playoffs, the Rockford IceHogs were swept by the Milwaukee Admirals in the opening round. Here’s a look back at the seasons of the Blackhawks prospects who played for Rockford.

Bryan Bickell, LW
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2004

Bickell was limited to 42 games this season thanks to a broken thumb suffered in a fight. In his third pro season, the 23-year-old power forward scored six goals and eight assists. He finished the regular season with 60 PIMs and a plus-8 rating. Though his production was down from previous years, his talent was on display immediately after returning from injury as he scored two goals and an assist in his first two games back. Inconsistency struck though as he finished the year with just three assists in the final 10 regular-season games. In four playoff games, Bickell tied for the team lead with two points, both assists. He was one of eight players called up by the big club to join the team for the second round of the playoffs.

Evan Brophey, C
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2005

In his second season out of the OHL, Brophey was one of the most improved IceHogs this season. The 22-year-old earned an increased role this season, skating primarily with the second and third lines, and scored 16 goals and 39 points in 79 games with Rockford. Brophey’s strong plus-14 rating illustrates his developing two-way game, which will certainly help him make the jump to the next level. Brophey scored one goal, during the ‘Hogs four playoff games. The Kitchener native has yet to make his NHL debut but is one of the Blackhawks’ call-ups for the playoff run. Overall, it was a strong year for the much-improved Brophey. 

Corey Crawford, G
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2003

Crawford played in 47 games for Rockford this season, splitting starts with newly-acquired Finnish goalie Antti Niemi. The 24-year-old had another solid season in the AHL, finishing the regular season with a 22-20-3 record with two shutouts. That record was marred by a difficult April in which Crawford went 1-7-1 in nine games. His 2.59 goals against average and .917 save percentage in the regular season are both career-highs since turning pro three seasons ago. Crawford started the first two of Rockford’s playoff games at Milwaukee, allowing five goals total in the two losses. Crawford and Niemi are both restricted free agents after this season, with one of them likely taking on the backup role in Chicago next season. Both have also joined the Blackhawks for the playoffs.

Jake Dowell, C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2004

Dowell was a mainstay in Rockford this year, appearing in 75 games and contributing six goals and 14 assists to go along with a plus-4 rating and 128 PIMs. He was held off the scoresheet in the playoffs. The Wisconsin native is in just his second pro season, though he already has 20 games of NHL experience. His well-rounded game and faceoff proficiency make him an ideal checking-line center, a role in which Dowell could be filling with the Blackhawks before long. The 24-year-old was another one of the Blackhawks’ Black Aces for the playoffs.

Jordan Hendry, D
Signed as free agent March, 2006

Hendry is another player with NHL experience, appearing in 49 games over the past two seasons, but spent most of this season with Rockford. In 53 games, the 25-year-old defenseman put up three goals and six assists with a plus-4 rating and 45 PIMs. He did not score in the playoffs. Hendry was hampered by injuries during the season, but was one of the IceHogs’ most dependable defensemen when he was on the ice. A good stay-at-home defenseman, Hendry was the lone blueliner in the Blackhawks’ eight-man Black Aces group.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, D
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2005

After sustaining an injury in his first game of the season with the Blackhawks, Hjalmarsson was forced to play much of the season in Rockford. Playing in 52 games, the 6’2 200-pounder had two goals and 16 assists with a strong plus-12 rating. The trade of James Wisniewski to the Anaheim Ducks opened a spot on the Blackhawks’ defense and the young Swede has proven himself to be more than capable of filling that spot. He skated in 21 regular season games with the ‘Hawks, scoring one goal and two assists, and has contributed one assist in nine playoff games thus far. Hjalmarsson has played very well defensively with the big club and it looks as if his days in the AHL are over.

Jack Skille, RW
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2005

Skille improved his production across the board this season with the IceHogs, scoring 20 goals and 45 points in 58 games. He also carried a plus-10 rating and earned 56 PIMs. He skated primarily on the first line and finished the season third on the team in scoring. The 6’1 208-pound winger played the first eight games of the season with the Blackhawks, scoring one goal in that time. He suffered an injury near the end of the regular season which held him out of playoff action. However, the 22-year-old Skille was called up to join the team for the playoffs.

Other prospects

Several Blackhawk prospects made their professional debuts this season. Dan Bertram and Mike Brennan both debuted with the IceHogs following a national championship season with the Boston College Eagles a year ago. Bertram played in five games with the Fresno Falcons, scoring one goal and three assists, and in 56 games with Rockford. The former-second rounder scored four goals and six assists in his time with the IceHogs. Brennan, who was signed as a free agent last summer, skated on the blueline in 64 games with six assists and 77 PIMs.

Nathan Davis, in his first pro season out of Miami (Ohio), put in five goals and added seven assists in 49 AHL games. A Hobey Baker finalist in his junior season, Davis was a fourth-round selection in 2005. Defenseman Joe Charlebois began the season as a captain for the University of New Hampshire, but was dismissed due to poor grades. He jumped to the IceHogs, where he scored two assists in 13 games. Brian Connelly is another defenseman enjoying his first pro action after he was signed as a free agent out of Colorado College in March of 2009. The Bloomington, Minnesotanative is an offensive-minded defenseman and he displayed these talents with one goal and two assists in nine games with the IceHogs.

The IceHogs also featured a few older prospects. Robert Klinkhammer was also signed by the Blackhawks in March 2009 after being on contract with the IceHogs. The 6’2 215-pound Klinkhammer turned in a good season with Rockford, scoring 15 goals and 18 assists in 76 games with a plus-14 rating.

Adam Hobson once again split time between the AHL and ECHL. In 32 total games in the ECHL, Hobson scored six goals and 13 assists. In 41 games with Rockford, the 22-year-old center had five goals and nine assists. He also skated on Rockford’s checking line in the playoffs, though he did not score.

Adam Pineault was acquired from Columbus, which picked him in the second round in 2004, in exchange for Michael Blunden. He played in a total of 70 games on the season with the Syracuse Crunch and the IceHogs, contributing 10 goals and 16 assists on the year. Defenseman Jim Sharrow was acquired by the Blackhawks mid-way through the season in exchange for a conditional draft pick. In 67 games with the Manitoba Moose and IceHogs, the 24-year-old Sharrow four goals and a total of 14 points, eight of which came in his 50 games in Rockford.

Acquired in the trade that sent James Wisniewski to Anaheim, defenseman Logan Stephenson joined his third team of the year when he arrived in Rockford. He began the season in the Pheonix Coyotes system before joining the Ducks organization. In 60 total games with the San Antonio Rampage, Iowa Chops, and IceHogs, the defensive-minded Stephenson scored two goals and five assists. He was held scoreless in four playoff games with the ‘Hogs, but did turn in 14 PIMs.

ECHL

Three prospects spent most of the season with the Blackhawks’ ECHL affiliates. The Fresno Falcons were the ‘Hawks affiliate to start the year. Unfortunately the team folded during the season and Chicago opted to make the Gwinnett Gladiators their new affiliate.

Joe Fallon turned pro following a celebrated career in goal with the University of Vermont. He played in 35 ECHL games for Fresno and Gwinnett, earning an 18-14-1 record with .904 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average. Fallon also saw action in two AHL games with Rockford, both in relief. He allowed just one goal on 17 shots. He should see much more time in Rockford next year.

Winger Adam Berti also spent most of his season in the ECHL, playing in 68 games for Fresno and Gwinnett. The 22-year-old had 13 goals and 30 assists on the season.  Though he played quite well there, he was rarely given an opportunity at the AHL level. He played just 10 games with the IceHogs, scoring one goal and two assists. Berti is at the end of his entry-level contract and won’t likely be retained.

Defenseman Jean-Claude Sawyer also split time between the AHL and ECHL. In 19 AHL games with Rockford, Sawyer had three goals and one assist. In 37 games with Fresno and Gwinnett, the 22-year-old had six goals and 19 assists.  He was used on the power play, as fits his game, but was benched for poor general play down the stretch by Gwinnett.  He has one more year left on his contract.