Jimmy Hayes and several top prospects will make for a crowded camp for the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks affiliate in the AHL.
The IceHogs' training camp is set to commence September 30. Most seasons, that would mean a host of hopefuls taking the ice and hoping to get noticed.
The scene at camp is definitely going to be a different one. A lot of players who figured into Rockford in the 2011-12 season may be headed for Toledo and the ECHL until the NHL resumes operations.
Competition should be fierce all around the roster. Rockford head coach Ted Dent will have some decisions to make. Here's how it could play out for the IceHogs as they start their season.
There are 21 forwards scheduled to open camp with the IceHogs, including four players who spent substantial time with the 'Hawks last season.
Marcus Kruger, Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig figure to be locks if the lockout continues. The same goes for Brandon Saad and three other players who saw time in Chicago last season—Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith.
Martin St. Pierre was signed by Rockford for a veteran scoring presence. Pete LeBlanc led the team in goals last season, so both those players seem destined to be on the opening night roster.
To me, that leaves four spots at most to fill. Kyle Beach, Rob Flick, Phillipe Paradis and veteran Wade Brookbank will likely take those last positions.
This leaves players like Byron Froese, Brandon Svensden, David Gilbert and Terry Broadhurst to start the season in Toledo to be promoted if and when the NHL season starts. It's a tough break for some players looking for AHL jobs, but with the influx of players, some legitimate AHLers will drop down a level.
Centers Travis Novak, Jake Trask and Chris DeSousa are being given tryouts, though it's doubtful they will be seen in an IceHogs sweater when the season opens. For those who still wonder, David Toews was not invited to Rockford's training camp.
Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen figure to be locks, as should recent signing Adam Clendening. Ryan Stanton and Joe Lavin should also make the team. What could be interesting is what the IceHogs decide to do with the other four blueliners in camp.
Shawn Lalonde had a disappointing 2011-12 campaign. Ben Youds showed some hustle and grabbed a lot of Lalonde's minutes later in the season, but he seems destined to start the season in Toledo.
Klas Dahlbeck is coming off two seasons in the SEL and will get a look, as will recent signing Brett Lebda, who inked a professional tryout agreement on Friday. He is a native of Buffalo Grove, Illinois and could fill the veteran role on the back end that Brian Fahey handled so well last season.
Lebda has a Stanley Cup ring and NHL experience, including 30 games with Columbus in 2011-12. He is the kind of player Rockford could use for leadership. If he makes the team, expect Youds and possibly Lalonde to be sent down.
Carter Hutton returns and will get the majority of time in net. The competition to back him up may be the most fun to watch in the IceHogs' preseason.
Alec Richards struggled in Rockford and Toledo last season. He will have to battle two rookies, Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson, for the other goalie spot.
Depending on how things play out, Simpson and Carruth may split time in Toledo while Richards, whose stock has fallen in the 'Hawks organization, could be tabbed with less work in backing up Hutton.
If Hutton is able to play at the level he did upon arriving in Rockford last December, he'll give the IceHogs the best chance to win most nights. Simpson may have the inside track to play behind Hutton, but I wouldn't say he is a lock by any stretch.
It's going to be tough for any young players on tryouts to make this team. With no NHL camp, some of the lesser names won't have that chance to be noticed in the first few days. Even the players who do make this team may be subject to a more crowded landscape.
For many of us who follow the Blackhawks, the IceHogs are the only game in town. With no NHL action for at least a while, there could be a lot of action West on I-90.