Blackhawks AHL/ECHL prospects 2009-10 review

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks had 16 prospects playing in the minor leagues with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL and with the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye. After a 94-point regular season, the IceHogs were swept for the second consecutive year from the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs by a stifling Texas Stars team and their veteran goaltender Brent Krahn. The Walleye, an ECHL affiliate shared with Detroit, fell 3-1 to the Charlotte Checkers in their first-round best-of-five series.

Forward

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

Bickell is the latest minor-league product to make an impact in Chicago. He spent most of his season in Rockford, appearing in 65 games with 16 goals and 15 assists. He earned several call-ups throughout the year and scored three goals and an assist in 15 regular-season games, including a game-winner against Vancouver in November. He was again called upon in the playoffs and has suited up in four of Chicago’s games thus far, including significant time on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. His tough, physical play was essential against the grinding Predators and he scored his first postseason assist in Game 4 of that series. The 24-year-old power forward will be a restricted free agent after the season but should have every opportunity to stick with Chicago next season as a cheap and versatile winger able to move up and down the line-up.

Kyle Greentree, LW
Acquired from Calgary October, 2009

While Greentree was unable to duplicate his successful 2008-09 season in his first year in Rockford, he still led the ‘Hogs in goals with 25 in only 64 games. The 26-year-old finished the season with 45 points, fourth on the team, and a plus-10 rating.

However, that strong regular-season performance did not carry over into the postseason. In the final seconds of game one against Texas, Greentree was given a game misconduct for a check delivered during a line brawl, which then resulted in a one-game suspension. The prolific winger was held scoreless in his three playoff appearances. He will be an unrestricted free agent.

Rob Klinkhammer, LW
Signed as a free agent June, 2009

Klinkhammer again provided secondary scoring for the ‘Hogs, ending up with 10 goals and 12 assists in 72 games. Though he was unable to build on his strong sophomore season from a production standpoint, the 6’3 206-pound winger still made an impact with his work ethic and energy. Like Bickell, the 23-year-old Klinkhammer uses his size to his advantage but still has the skill to make plays. He was a preferred sub for the ‘Hawks during the preseason and their European trip but has yet to make his NHL regular-season debut. Though he provides organizational depth at this point, there will be opportunities for bottom-six players to crack the roster with the impending cap crunch.

Peter MacArthur, LW
Signed as a free agent July, 2009

MacArthur had one of the more surprising seasons in Rockford. After 25 points in his rookie 2008-09 season, the 24-year-old finished fifth on the team with 42 points, including eight goals and 34 assists. His improvement was awarded with some power-play time, where he tallied two goals. MacArthur still projects as more of a gritty, two-way player but he responded well to a more offensive role during the season. He appeared in three playoff games but had only one assist. MacArthur will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.

Adam Hobson, LW
Drafted 2005, 7th round, 203rd overall

Hobson skipped between Rockford and Toledo throughout the year, displaying solid production as well as the willingness to drop the gloves. In Toledo, the 23-year-old scored at over a point-per-game pace with 44 points, including 16 goals, in just 39 games. He played on both special teams units for the Walleye and contributed five power-play goals and two short-handed goals. He fought five times during his ECHL stint before being called up to Rockford in February, where he scored five goals and seven assists in 31 AHL games. The 6’1 219-pound grinder dropped the gloves five more times for Rockford and solidified his spot into the playoffs, though he was held scoreless in three games. Hobson will be a restricted free agent after the season.

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

After being named Rockford’s most improved player for the 2008-09 season, Brophey was unable to take another step forward this season. His production dropped slightly as he scored 14 goals and 17 assists over 79 games, finishing the year with a minus-one rating. Brophey’s strength is his two-way play, which enables him to succeed in both a checking role as well as an offensive role. The 23-year-old was used in all situations for Rockford, and scored three power-play goals and one short-handed tally.

A restricted free agent, Brophey will likely be expected to continue contributing in Rockford while providing some depth down the middle for the organization.

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

Dowell finished his third pro season with a career-high 23 points in Rockford through 78 games, despite earning a couple of calls to Chicago. The grinder was a versatile forward throughout the year for the ‘Hogs, playing both center and on the wing while scoring seven goals and 16 assists. His minus-11 rating was the worst among the team’s forwards, though, and he was held scoreless in four playoff games. His stint with Chicago was strong, as the 25-year-old forward recorded a goal, an assist, and a fight in three NHL games. Both points came in a February tilt against Columbus, eventually won by the Blackhawks in the shootout.

Dowell is signed for next year and will be a top candidate to fill any fourth-line openings in Chicago.

Nathan Davis, C
Drafted 2005, 4th round, 113th overall

Davis was limited by injuries for the third straight season. He displayed the skills that made him such a highly-touted prospect in his 23 games in Rockford, scoring eight goals and adding three assists. Two of his scores came on the man advantage, where his skating and vision could have helped the AHL’s 24th-ranked power play.

While initial reports of the injury had Davis missing a month or two after the early December injury, he was unable to recover in time to return to the team. Despite the talent he has shown when on the ice, his string of injuries leaves his future unclear. The 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Akim Aliu, RW
Drafted 2007, 2nd round, 56th overall

Aliu spent the bulk of his first pro season playing in Rockford but finished the season in Toledo. The 21-year-old scored 11 goals to go along with six assists and 69 PIMs through 48 AHL games. He upped his production in Toledo with five goals and 14 points in 13 ECHL regular-season games but also finished with a minus-12 rating. Toledo upset the top-ranked Charlotte Checkers in Game 1 of their series, with Aliu scoring one goal and one assist. In the same game he received a game misconduct for abuse of officials and was suspended for Game 2. The power forward returned in Game 3 but was held scoreless, ending the game with a minus-two rating and committing a needless penalty at the end of the first period that resulted in the tying goal. Aliu’s struggles in Game 3 led to him being a healthy scratch in Game 4.

Aliu has good size with an agitating style. He demonstrated his scoring touch over the course of the year, converting on about 21 percent of his chances while in Rockford. Skating is one area in need of improvement on the ice, while concerns off the ice about his attitude were certainly not alleviated by his demotion and struggles in Toledo’s first-round series.

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

Despite missing several games due to injury and skating in six games with Chicago, Skille finished third on the IceHogs with 49 points in 63 games. His 23 goals ranked second on the team, with six of those tallies being game-winners. He was held scoreless in four playoff games. He skated on the top line in Rockford and was one of the team’s primary offensive options throughout the season, leading the team with 243 shots and finishing more than 60 shots ahead of Greentree in second place.

Skille will be another restricted free agent after the season but will likely be retained. He remains a valuable trade chip going into the offseason when Chicago will have to shed some cap. The 22-year-old is positioned for another shot at a regular spot with the Blackhawks next year if he remains in the organization.

Defense

Brian Connelly, D
Signed as a free agent March, 2009

Connelly capped a strong first season by being named the IceHogs Rookie of the Year. He finished second among the team’s blueliners with 35 points in 78 games, setting a new team record for points by a rookie at any position. He was a key cog in the ‘Hogs power play with two goals and 11 assists coming with the extra man.

The 23-year-old is a smooth skater with great vision and passing ability. Though he does not have the ideal size for an NHL defenseman at 5’10 and 167 pounds, Connelly’s speed and instincts make him a solid defender. He is one of the top candidates to step up to Chicago’s blue line next season where he will be an excellent fit in the Blackhawks up-tempo attack.

Simon Danis-Pepin, D
Drafted 2006, 2nd round, 61st overall

Yet another skater making his pro debut, Danis-Pepin skated in 38 games with Rockford before finishing the season in Toledo. He played well at both stops, finishing with one goal and seven assists for the IceHogs. His plus-nine rating was a ‘Hogs team record for a rookie. With more ice time in Toledo, the 6’6 defenseman scored one goal and nine assists over 13 ECHL games. He also contributed one goal and three assists in four playoff games for the Walleye.

Danis-Pepin uses his long reach effectively on defense but does not play as physically as one might expect from someone his size. He is smart with the puck and able to consistently get shots on net, amassing 58 shots in 55 total games. The 22-year-old should have an expanded role in Rockford next year.

Jonathan Carlsson, D
Drafted 2008, 6th round, 162nd overall

Carlsson was another defenseman to jump between Rockford and Toledo during the season. In his first year of hockey in North America, he spent 19 games with Rockford with one goal and a minus-three rating. He registered four goals and six assists in 27 regular-season games with Toledo but was held scoreless in his three playoff appearances.

The 21-year-old defender now has two years of pro experience under his belt, including his 2007-08 season in the Swedish Elite League, and should be a key contributor on Rockford’s blue line next season.

Mike Brennan, D
Signed as a free agent April, 2008

Brennan spent his sophomore season as a mainstay on the IceHogs blue line. The 24-year-old defender appeared in a career-high 72 games and set a new career mark with nine points, three of them goals. His scrappy, physical play accounted for 113 PIMs for the season, including 11 fights. Despite the slight increase in his numbers, Brennan’s minus-20 rating was by far the worst on the squad and even set a new team record. Brennan will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.

Jean-Claude Sawyer, D
Signed as a free agent July, 2007

Sawyer had a productive season for the Toledo Walleye as the ECHL’s Defenseman of the Year. He finished second on the team in scoring with 21 goals and 38 assists in 67 games. He was one of the driving forces behind the team’s power play, which ranked third in the ECHL during the regular season, scoring six goals and 18 assists with the man advantage. Sawyer also accounted for an impressive seven game-winning goals on the year. The 23-year-old proved to be one of the more dynamic blueliners in the organization this season, but will now have to display that same level of play in the AHL. He will be a restricted free agent.

Goalie

Alec Richards, G
Signed as a free agent June, 2009

The only goalie in Chicago’s organization that still qualifies as a prospect, Richards was stuck behind the incumbent Corey Crawford in Rockford as well as Chicago’s deadline acquisition Hannu Toivonen. He spent much of the year in Toledo, splitting starts with Jordan Pearce (DET). Richards finished the year with a 17-12-5 record, .897 save percentage, and 3.35 goals against average in 42 appearances. An injury to Crawford gave Richards an opportunity in Rockford, appearing in six games with a 3-2 record. He allowed 3.12 goals against and had a .895 save percentage in the AHL. The 22-year-old will likely take the next step and see more time between the pipes in Rockford next season.