The Chicago Blackhawks will have an abbreviated training camp to prepare for whatever season is played if and when the lockout ends. A host of Blackhawks on two-way deals have been active in Rockford and are approaching the midway point in the AHL schedule.
If NHL hockey resumes, many of these guys may wind up in the 'Hawks camp. Who will those players be?
What follows are my thoughts on the production in Rockford and how it may affect the names and faces you see in Chicago sweaters, if a CBA can be banged out in time to save a piece of the 2012-13 season.
Group A: Locks for the 'Hawks
I would say that Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy are sure to depart Rockford when NHL play resumes. Leddy's play hasn't really been that impressive with the IceHogs and Kruger hasn't stood out like I thought he should have. However, they obviously are in management's plans and will be in Chicago.
For pugilistic reasons, I would drop Brandon Bollig into this group because it appears that coach Joel Quenneville prefers the muscle that he provides. Bollig has matched his career high in goals (four) in Rockford. He can skate fourth-line minutes, drop the gloves when the call comes, not cripple the 'Hawks defensively and has a pretty decent shot.
Group B: Serious Consideration
Based on what I've seen, Ben Smith is worth of a good long look.
Smith leads Chicago prospects in Rockford with 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists). A lot of those goals have come on re-directs in front of the net and the 'Hawks sure could use a guy like that.
Smith is playing great hockey. If he was this healthy last season, I think he would have spent most of the year in Chicago. As it is, I think he merits a shot at some bottom-six minutes.
Brandon Pirri has continued to score (23 points in 33 games) and in a perfect world would battle Kruger for playing time for the Blackhawks.
Andrew Shaw is likely to make the 'Hawks when they get back to the playing games, but I chose not to rate him as a lock. I think he is going to have to earn a spot. I'm not sure he has done that with his play in Rockford, though he hasn't been bad. I think he needs to raise his game a notch in camp.
The same goes for Brandon Saad, who has the biggest upside of any of the players in this group. Saad is still working on consistency. Though, you can see that he has the higher gear that can get him to the net.
Group C: Could Open Some Eyes
These forwards I put here could find a place on a low-line wing if they come to camp and play well. On one hand is Jimmy Hayes. On the other hand, get ready—Kyle Beach.
Don't laugh too hard. Beach has eight goals to Hayes' six. Hayes hasn't scored in his last eleven games, while Beach has drawn penalties and posted two goals and three assists in that span.
I'm not saying that Beach is ready to contribute full-time yet, if ever. However, he has had moments where you could see him on an energy line.
Group D: Danault
Phillip Danault impressed me last spring in a short stint in Rockford. It certainly wouldn't shock me if he went straight from the World Junior Championships to 'Hawks camp if an agreement is reached.
I believe there is a provision that would allow Chicago to bring Danault to camp if they so desired. The 'Hawks could choose to let him skate with the big guns for a week or so and see how he does. There is also a good chance they will let him finish the year in juniors.
Group E: Could Draw an Invite
Jeremy Morin is currently nursing an abdominal injury. If healthy, he could earn a spot with a strong camp. He has been skating in the top-six in Rockford and has 10 goals and 17 points.
Group F: Doubt It
Despite picking up his first goal of the season to go with a pair of assists, Dylan Olsen is probably in need of further AHL seasoning.
Olsen has been a frequent healthy scratch by IceHogs coach Ted Dent. With guys like Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival for use on the bottom pairings, Olsen is better off refining his game in Rockford.
Pete LeBlanc parlayed a strong 2011-12 season in Rockford into a contract with the 'Hawks. Unfortunately, he's kind of been a victim of the numbers game in that he isn't skating with the skill players as was a year ago.
In 25 games LeBlanc has a pair of goals and five helpers. No one would benefit more from an end of the lockout than LeBlanc.
I don't see a lot of other players getting a ticket to what will likely be an abbreviated camp, if it ever happens. In a normal season, I could see Adam Clendening attending camp as well as Ryan Stanton along with some other Rockford players. If an agreement is forged, players will be there to win NHL jobs, not to pick up the experience.
The Blackhawks will just have to wait until action resumes to lock down the roster.