The Chicago Blackhawks may be sending a number of prospects to their AHL affiliate to the west. Development will be the reason, though the assignments won't have anything to do with their play with the 'Hawks.
With the prospect of an owners' lockout looming at the end of this week, the AHL will be an option for many of the younger Blackhawks. Players on entry-level or two-way contracts could be skating for the IceHogs next month when their season begins.
With an unsure NHL situation, Blackhawks like Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw may wind up in Rockford to continue their development. The same would go for Brandon Bollig, Jimmy Hayes and Ben Smith, all of whom spent time in Chicago last season.
Brandon Saad, who was expected to compete for a roster spot, could elect to return to junior hockey. I don't think that happens because of the unique situation the AHL would provide him.
Saad could play a couple of months of AHL hockey, a big step up from the OHL. Saad could refine his game in conditions closer to the AHL. The talent level should rise even higher with a lot of fringe NHL-caliber players looking for jobs.
Saad would improve out of the NHL spotlight and there wouldn't be the pressure that may have surfaced if he had failed to make the Blackhawks out of camp and been "demoted" to the IceHogs. If and when an NHL season begins, Saad is free to be promoted to Chicago. That won't happen midseason if he elects to play in Saginaw.
Leddy could continue learning the pro game and get the first-pairing minutes he won't receive in Chicago. Kruger could use a potential stretch in Rockford to hone his offensive skills.
Of course, Kruger could also elect to play in his home country of Sweden. With the way he was bounced around in Chicago last season, the SEL may prove to be a healthier alternative to what could be a very physical AHL.
That would be due to all the veteran players joining teams around the AHL. The IceHogs would figure to be a deeper squad for the first few months until a CBA can be negotiated. However, so would the remainder of the league. For players like Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin, there could be benefits to playing in conditions closer to the NHL.
The possibility of a lengthy lockout is anything but good news to 'Hawks fans. For hockey fans west of the United Center, there might be the chance to see a few Blackhawks just down I-90.