Chicago Blackhawks: The Top 10 IceHogs Likely to Be Black Aces
For the past three seasons, when the Blackhawks have made the playoffs, a number of minor leaguers get recalled to join the team as insurance. These players have been lovingly named the Black Aces.
With the postseason coming into view and the Hawks seeming to have secured the sixth seed, the time for speculation is upon us. The lone trade deadline acquisition of Johnny Oduya has seemed to give the Hawks just enough of a boost to stay in the playoff picture.
Now the question is: Which players from Rockford will join the team's playoff push?
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Saad shocked many when he slipped to the Hawks in the second round of the 2011 draft. He fought his way onto the opening day roster but didn't do much in his two games with the team, accruing no points but getting no penalties and an even +/- rating.
It wouldn't be too shocking to see Saad back up with the Hawks for the postseason as an insurance policy.
Had Beach not injured himself back in October, in all likelihood, he would have gotten the call-up from Rockford over Brandon Bollig following the trade of John Scott.
However, Beach remains injured, and Bollig was the tough guy. After being left off the list of call-ups for last season's playoffs, Beach got a rude wake-up call from the organization.
How he recovers from this injury could determine whether the Hawks keep him or cut ties with the former sixth overall pick.
Another potential replacement for John Scott, Danis-Pepin has spent more time at Toledo of the ECHL than at Rockford this season. The 6' 7" former second-round pick has impressive size and great fighting ability and not much else.
Having shown solid yearly improvement at juniors, college and pros, Richards appeared to be the eventual backup to Corey Crawford. His solid—though unspectacular—2010-11 campaign was highlighted by his 2.89 GAA and .899 save percentage.
However, this season Richards slid to fifth on the Hawks depth chart. He's now behind Ray Emery, Corey Crawford, Carter Hutton and Alex Salak.
Playoff hero and instant fan favorite Ben Smith saw limited action in Chicago in 2011, being sent back down to Rockford.
He seemed like a lock to be a Black Ace until he went down with a right hip labral tear and a hernia. The ensuing surgery ended Smith's season recently.
Brandon Pirri, C
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During the summer, it seemed likely that 2009 second-rounder Brandon Pirri would show up to the Blackhawks preseason camp and then take the trip down I-90 to Rockford to be one of their top two centers.
However, Pirri's preseason performance coupled with injuries to start the season moved Pirri—along with Brandon Saad—to the Hawks opening day roster.
Pirri was quickly sent back down but saw action in Chicago in December. He has two assists in five games as a Blackhawk this season.
In Rockford, he's shown why he was a second-round draft pick, posting 50 points in 57 games (22 goals, 28 assists); he's tied for second on the team in plus/minus with Jeremy Morin at plus-nine.
The main concerns with Pirri's NHL readiness have been a lack of bulk, which in turn hampers his ability to win faceoffs. If Pirri has been hitting the weight room hard, there's no reason for him not to possibly see postseason action.
Peter Leblanc, C
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Though Peter Leblanc has been recalled to the Blackhawks this season due to injury, the 2006 seventh-round pick didn't dress during this time.
Currently at center for the IceHogs, Leblanc is second on the team in scoring—third if you count the traded Brian Connelly's time with Rockford this season—having notched 19 goals and 15 assists through 57 games.
Leblanc plays to his small stature—5'11", 185 lbs—as he's only accrued 12 penalty minutes through those 57 games.
While it would take a great number of injuries for Leblanc to see postseason ice time for Chicago, he's by no means a bad insurance option.
Jeremy Morin, W
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The centerpiece of the post-championship trade with Atlanta that sent Dustin Byfuglien out of town is Jeremy Morin. He has been highly touted by Hawks fans and front office brass, hoping he can live up to the 1.43 points-per-game pace he had posted in the OHL the season before he was acquired.
However, Morin hasn't lived up to that potential quite yet. In 12 NHL games, Morin has two goals, one assist, nine penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of plus-one. He's only notched 32 points—13 goals and 19 assists—in 54 games in Rockford this year.
Penalties have long been an issue for the US Development Program alum, as he's had 95 this season in Rockford. However, he's also tied for second on the team in plus/minus rating with a plus-nine, so when he's on the ice, the team does well.
It's hard to imagine Morin not getting the call to be a Black Ace this spring (and hopefully into summer) unless Rockford pulls off a comeback in the standings and makes the postseason. The IceHogs are currently seven standings points out of the final playoff spot in the AHL's Western Conference with 19 games to play.
Rostislav Olesz, W
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Acquired from Florida in the salary dump—erm, trade—sending Brian Campbell to the Panthers, the Blackhawks front office seemed to genuinely believe that Rusty Olesz just needed a change of scenery and wasn't simply a waste of the seventh overall pick in 2004.
However, after six uneventful games in the NHL, Olesz cleared waivers without issue and reported to the Rockford IceHogs. Having posted a minus-one rating in the NHL, Olesz leads Rockford with a plus-10 rating.
While 32 points in 40 games at the AHL isn't amazing, it does give hope that Olesz may be figuring things out after being rushed to the NHL by a Panthers team desperate for help.
When the playoffs do roll around, Olesz's defense oriented game may come into play, as his ridiculous cap hit of $3.13 million won't.
Brian Fahey, D
If you look at just about every category for IceHogs defensemen, veteran Brian Fahey's name will come up first.
The Chicagoland native—Glenview, IL to be exact—has 17 points in 61 games, along with a plus/minus rating of plus-six on a team sitting in last place in their division.
Fahey, 30, finally made it to the NHL in his eighth professional season last winter, logging seven games with the Washington Capitals, notching one assist and not much else.
A veteran presence on the blue line is always a nice commodity to have, and Fahey brings just that. Fahey will never be much more than a depth defenseman, but he seems to understand his role and plays it well.
Joe Lavin, D
Joe Lavin took one of the more interesting routes to the AHL. Having played two years on the US Development Program in the NAHL, Lavin spent one and a half seasons at Providence College. Deciding the school wasn't a fit for him, he dropped down to the USHL's Omaha Lancers to finish out the 2008-09 season and then spent the first half of the 2009-10 season in Omaha before being called up to Notre Dame.
The 2007 fifth-rounder has not disappointed in his first full professional season, having notched three goals, 13 assists and a plus-six rating, while only having 16 penalty minutes to his name through 56 games.
The 6'3", 200 lbs Lavin is a two-way defenseman and could chip in on the third pairing should the need arise in April and beyond.
Shawn Lalonde, D
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A 2008 third-round pick, Shawn Lalonde has taken a step back on the scoresheet this season. Having notched 32 points in 73 games during 2010-11 (five goals, 27 assists), Lalonde has only posted 13 points through 52 games—two goals, 11 assists.
Lalonde is an offense-first defenseman and still has much development to go through before he becomes an NHL threat. That said, he's one of the better options on the team to recall in the postseason.
Ryan Stanton, D
Signed out of the WHL after four seasons for the Moose Jaw Warriors, Ryan Stanton was seen as just a physical defenseman who was willing to drop the gloves.
However, in his first season in Rockford with defenseman master Steve Poapst—Poapst consistently developed top amateur defensive talent as head coach of the USHL's Chicago Steel—Stanton was awarded the IceHogs Most Improved Player award for 2010-11.
Now in his second full season, Stanton seems on the verge of a full-time NHL job. While his production has gone down a bit and his penalties increased, Stanton still provides physical defense and understands his job on the blue line.
Carter Hutton, G
With the IceHogs in last place in their division, finding many good storylines has been a bit of a challenge. However, Carter Hutton has managed to vastly change that tone.
Hutton originally signed with the Toledo Walleye, an ECHL team who shares affiliation with the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. With the injuries to Alexander Salak and struggles of Alec Richards, Hutton was recalled by the IceHogs and hasn't looked back since.
Since coming up from Toledo, Hutton managed to improve his numbers considerably. He dropped his goals against average by 0.72 and raised his save percentage by 0.17. Hutton even had his contract purchased by the Blackhawks.
Since teams tend to carry no fewer than three goalies in the postseason, it'd be more surprising to see Hutton left off the Hawks postseason roster than to see him on it. His hot play may have even bumped him up to the No. 3 spot on the goaltending depth chart ahead of Salak.
Alexander Salak, G
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Acquired as part of the trade that brought Michael Frolik over from Florida, Salak's inclusion seemed to make the deal a complete hosing by Stan Bowman, as he got what he thought would be his No. 2 center along with a top goaltending prospect.
However, Frolik has fallen out of his former third line duties to be a scratch more times than not as of late, and Salak failed to grab the backup goalie job out of camp, losing out to veteran Ray Emery.
His numbers at Rockford have been good but not great, posting a 2.80 GAA and a .900 save percentage. Injuries have hampered Salak's season, and Hutton seems to have taken the starting job from him.
That said, Salak has been the goalie to get the call in emergencies.
It's nearly impossible to imagine the Hawks heading into the postseason without Salak on the roster.