01/20/2011 3:53 PM - Mike Peck
Yesterday I went through the IceHogs midseason grades, so now I figured I’d go through some midseason awards for the team:
MVP-Jeff Taffe: Taffe really seems to be the catalyst for the IceHogs offensively and I think he has been huge on both ends of the ice. Currently ranked second on the team with 24 points, Taffe missed five games earlier in the season after taking a slapshot off his arm in Peoria.
Taffe had a stretch of 18 straight games of being even or plus on the plus/minus side and has been a minus just five times in 35 games this season.
Best Defenseman-Ryan Stanton: Wait, what? Ryan Stanton? I must be joking right?
Nope! I think Stanton has been very good and is the best kept secret on the IceHogs. Ala a Jordan Hendry, he won’t show up on the score sheet very often (although he does have seven assists in 37 games), but he has done a ton of little things that have helped this team. Plus, he’s been the most consistent d-man on the club.
The rookie d-man has been an integral part of Rockford’s penalty kill, he doesn’t seem to panic with the puck, and he makes minimal mistakes from the back line. Stanton is a great free-agent signing for Chicago and I think he is progressing towards an NHL career.
Most Improved-Shawn Lalonde: After a strong start, Lalonde struggled for a spell, but over the past month-and-a-half or so, Lalonde has probably been the most dynamic defenseman on the IceHogs.
I interviewed him back in November for a broadcast and I asked him about his offense and he quickly noted that he is really focusing on the defense and it has shown. He’s a +1 with 20 points in 35 games and has improved in his own zone greatly.
Unsung Hero-Kyle Hagel: OK, this is a stretch because I really don’t think Hagel is unsung. But Hagel has been one of the most effective tough guys that Rockford has ever had. When was the last time the IceHogs had an “enforcer” that played on the penalty kill?
About the biggest issue Hagel has had lately is finding a dance partner on the ice. He is tied for fourth in the AHL with 17 major penalties and that number should probably be higher, but there aren’t many guys who want to fight him. Hagel has eight points and 107 PIMs on the year. If he at least replicates his first half numbers in the second half of the season, he would finish the year with 6g-10a-16pts and 214 PIMs.
So this pick might not be going out on a limb, but this prediction might be a little further out there: Kyle Hagel will play in the NHL some day and will have an NHL contract (hopefully with Chicago) with someone next season.
Rookie Of The Year-Ben Smith: He might not be the team’s leading rookie point producer (he’s actually 3rd), but I think Smith has been the biggest difference maker on the ice among IceHogs rookies on a consistent basis. Smith has 16 points in 35 games, but has been shelved with an upper body injury lately.
Smith has played power play, penalty kill and as high up as second line for Rockford. He leads Rockford with two short-handed goals and he has subscribed to the Kyle Hagel School of “Working His Rear End Off” on and off the ice.
Biggest Surprise-Peter LeBlanc: When training camp broke, LeBlanc made the IceHogs roster only to be sent down after game three because of too many forwards. After 22 games in Toledo, LeBlanc was recalled to Rockford in anticipation of three players heading out to the World Jrs and a couple of injuries.
LeBlanc flourished and really was one of the key players, if not the most clutch, in Rockford turnaround in their second set of 20 games. He has cooled as of late, but LeBlanc has 6g-6a-12pts in 18 games and leads Rockford with three game-winning goals.
Biggest Disappointment-Power Play: The power play has been so frustrating this season. It has cost Rockford a couple of, or at least cost them chances at gaining standings points. Rockford’s never really ever had a consistent, effective power play. A range from 10-15th in the league would be a nice change of pace!
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