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While waiting for an increasingly unlikely resolution to the lockout and for the start of the World Juniors, let me take this time to offer a more in-depth scouting report on the Rockford Ice Hogs, whom I watched on Friday and Saturday.
First, on the team itself. This team, it is becoming fairly apparent to me, is maybe not all that well-coached. They are terrific once they get the puck out of their end, and often dominant in the offensive zone with good puck movement, cycling and possession along the boards.
But their defensive zone play—from the forwards and defensemen, is bad. Breakouts are undisciplined. Forwards cheat too far up ice and puck support in the defensive zone is lacking.
And it's been that way all season. At some point, you have to ask, is it the coaching (system) or the players? At this point, I suspect, it's the system.
As far as individual players, my takes to follow. And let's all remember, these are based somewhat, though not entirely, on snapshot observations from the weekend:
He is the younger, right-handed mirror image of his partner, Nick Leddy. Terrific moving the puck and operating from the point on the power play— NHL ready in those regards—but a trainwreck in his end and around his net.
His decision-making and composure seem to have improved—certainly at the slightly slower tempo of the AHL.
As many of you know, I've been a consistent supporter of the 2009 5th round choice from Sweden. What I am seeing from him this season isn't changing that. Kruger does look a little bigger and stronger this year. And while there should not be a huge surprise that a player who, one year ago was centering Marian Hossa, would succeed in the AHL, I believe Kruger is beginning to display more offensive upside. As part of the first unit of the Hogs' 5th ranked power play, Kruger looks really dangerous operating behind the net and from the right half board—where he was very effective in the SEL and on Swedish entries in the WJCs. And although his offensive game appears to be evolving, Kruger is still a really effective back-checker.
The combination of size and skating are obvious. And he is very responsible positionally. But I find myself wondering is he more than a 20 goal scorer in the NHL. And how many physical battles will he win against NHL defensemen? I ask those questions honestly, because I don't really know the answer. And we all have to remember, this guy is a rookie, and therefore, despite the Hawk Hype, we should not expect too much from him right now. We need to also remember—and temper our Saad expectations—with another Hawk 2nd rounder who can skate, shoot and has great size: Bryan Bickell.
He is back to what he was 2 years ago: a guy who looks like he can be an effective role player up and down an NHL roster.
I really like his game but he must, must, get smarter handling the puck. He loses a lot of pucks through being out of control and he has an odd habit of carrying the puck into the center of the ice where there are opposing players in his own end.
This kid is a leader and a really solid defenseman at the AHL level. I get the feeling he will play a few years in the NHL, for someone, at least.
I like how hard and aggressively he plays; I wonder if his skating will hold him back.
You want a kid with this much talent and heart to succeed. As Chris Block pointed out recently at thirdmanin.com, Lalonde might just need a change of scenery (organizations), as he just appears snakebit, especially in his own end.
Love the way he battles. Seems to give up a lot of rebounds. Not sure if his top-end talent is all that great.
And if you want to see Rockford, as well as other AHL, KHL, QMJHL, OHL and WHL games in good quality for a reasonable "donation" (fee), check out:
All for now,