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Four IceHogs Vying For Blackhawks Call-Up Will Have To Be Patient

Chicago Blackhawks

Last night’s Rockford IceHogs game against the Chicago Wolves, a 6-3 win for the IceHogs, was a showcase of the top performers for the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate this season. Improving their record to 4-6-1 with the win, four forwards who are on Chicago’s radar as recall targets led the way as Brett Connolly, Lukas Reichel, Josiah Slavin, and Alex Nylander all scored to help lead Rockford over their rivals in Chicago.

For a player like Connolly, a former 20-goal scorer in the NHL and a veteran of over 500 NHL games, being sent to the Rockford IceHogs at this stage in his career could have been a major blow to his confidence or soured his position with the organization. But in response to the move to send him down to the AHL, burying part of his $3.5M cap hit for Chicago, Connolly has responded by playing as one of the top forwards on the club. His five goals and 11 points rank him second on the team in scoring and he extended his point-streak to six games last night with a powerplay goal in the first period. He has nine points over his streak.

A name that has flown a bit under the radar for Chicago prospect with the IceHogs this season has been rookie Josiah Slavin. A seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Slavin has quickly become one of the top young players in Chicago’s farm system. He spent two seasons with Colorado College before signing his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks last season. In 11 AHL games with the IceHogs, Slavin ranks third on the team in scoring with four goals and eight points. Last night, he tallied his second short-handed goal of the season, making him one of five active AHL players with two short-handed tallies on the year.

Then there is Alex Nylander. A polarizing player in the Blackhawks organization, Nylander missed all of last season due to a knee injury that required surgery. After being traded from the Buffalo Sabres to Chicago in exchange for Henri Jokiharju, Nylander’s first “full” season in the NHL came with the Blackhawks in 2019-20, where he scored 10 goals and 26 points in 65 games. He went without a point in eight postseason games in the 2020 bubble playoffs for the Blackhawks. He has all the skill to be a high-level elite forward, but it’s a lack of consistency in his game that has hindered him and made it almost impossible to hold a roster spot in the NHL. So far this season with the IceHogs, Nylander ranks fourth in the team with five goals and seven points, tallying a goal and an assist last night.

Lukas Reichel is the next “it” prospect for the Chicago Blackhawks. Drafted 17th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, Reichel came to North America this summer with the Blackhawks and looked like a player that could hold a roster spot in the NHL. Ultimately sent to the IceHogs to begin the season, Reichel leads all skaters on the team with seven goals and 12 points through 11 games. His first 11 games on smaller North American ice in a faster setting. He’s adjusting well, I would say. Of active AHL rookies, Reichel is tied for second in goals, tied for fourth in points, and is one of ten skaters to play at least six games and average a point per game. With a goal and assist last night, Reichel extended his point-streak to four games with six points over that span.

It will take some patience from these four before making the leap to the NHL level this season. When it comes to Reichel, the Blackhawks are clearly in the mindset that more time in the AHL is not a bad thing for him. Also, with Reichel being eligible to play for Team Germany at the World Junior Championships again this winter, maybe allowing him the leeway to play at a high-level internationally this season and not sacrificing potential NHL time is the best bet for the 19-year-old.

All four forwards are playing at a high-level for the IceHogs, a team that is, as a whole, inept offensively this season. The problem for them when it comes to getting their first shots at the NHL this season is that the Blackhawks are not in a position, currently, to rotate much of their lineup. Having won their last four games in-a-row, and without experiencing a major injury (thankfully), there’s isn’t much room for change.

Who do you take out of the lineup currently to replace with one of the four leaders in Rockford? We have seen players like Mike Hardman and Reese Johnson come up from the IceHogs already this season, so no, this isn’t to say that these four are the “first” call-up options, but it would be hard to imagine getting Reichel to the NHL would be a spot stay. Chicago enjoys having players like Hardman and Johnson in the rotation to add a measure of physicality on the ice, but at what point do Hardman, Johnson, Jujhar Khaira, and MacKenzie Entwistle in the forwards group become redundant? For now, the IceHogs will enjoy having these four stay in Rockford and continue to improve the offense.



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.