As the Blackhawks deal with a stretch of injury woes over the last few weeks, it's confidence their resurgent AHL team is playing with that gives head coach Jeremy Colliton the ease of inserting players right into his NHL lineup.
Following a 2-5-0 start to the year, the Rockford IceHogs have gone on an 11-4-1 run since Oct. 30, and in that stretch, five players have been called up to the Blackhawks and immediately inserted into the next game.
"I think when the guys do get their chance, their game's in a good spot," Colliton said Monday after the team recalled Adam Boqvist and Matthew Highmore for their second NHL stints of the season. "They're playing good hockey, their habits are good and so that allows you to step right in and feel comfortable. I think all the guys who've come up have done a good job for us and that speaks to how they're playing down there and the quality of guys we do have as depth."
Video: Boqvist, Highmore on callup
Duncan Keith (groin), Andrew Shaw (concussion protocol) and Drake Caggiula (concission protocol) are all not traveling this week as Chicago embarks on a three-game Western Conference swing. Factor those injuries in with Robin Lehner (flu-like symptoms), Olli Maatta (flu-like symptoms) and Dylan Strome (concussion protocol) missing time over the last two weeks and Chicago's NHL-AHL pipeline has been busy of late.
Boqvist got his first NHL call in early November with Connor Murphy out of the lineup, while Highmore's return after an injury-derailed 2018-19 came two weeks ago. Dennis Gilbert is in his third NHL stint of the season with six games played, including each of the last three. Anton Wedin skated in four straight games through the most recent road trip before he was exchanged for the IceHogs' leading scorer Dylan Sikura (9G, 7A), who immediately slotted into Sunday's shootout loss to Arizona.
"We've been working hard in Rockford collectively as a team and we see that in our results, we're starting to play some good hockey and it's great for guys to be able to come up here and contribute," Highmore said. "You see Dylan and Gilbert, and Boqy's been up here before - they all contribute when they get here, so it's good to see those guys be successful."
Video: Colliton on injuries, callups
With Maatta's return to the lineup uncertain, still trying to regain energy following his illness, and Shaw being placed on long-term IR on Monday, the newest duo provide some roster cover as Chicago departs for Vegas ahead of Tuesday's tilt at T-Mobile Arena. Their recent tastes of the NHL level provides the duo confidence that they're even better equipped to step in should their number be called at any point on the trip.
"I think I kind of know how to play now," said Boqvist, who had five assists in nine games since returning to Rockford. "I got six games playing with Duncs and Maatta, so they helped me a lot as well. I think I know what is going (on) out there now so it's good."
"Especially kind of being out last year, I didn't know exactly what to expect and I didn't know where my game was at," Highmore said, with two assists in three games since being re-assigned. "It was good to kind of get a gauge on how I was feeling and where my game was at ... If I get the chance to play, I just want to continue to do the same stuff - bring some energy, get in on the forecheck, create turnovers, ultimately get to the net and just create stuff that.. play my game, play hard and we'll see what happens."