While it may not have been all that surprising, Monday's announcement that the remainder of the AHL season was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 public healthy crisis still hit hard to those involved.
"Disappointing," Derek King, coach of the Rockford IceHogs - the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate - said via a conference call Tuesday. ""I like where we were at coming (down) the stretch. We still had our head above water (and) the playoff spot was in our reach. Overall, I was happy with the way our guys performed."
Along with the rest of the organization's hierarchy, King has now moved on to the assessment phase of the 2019-20 AHL season, including upcoming exit interviews with IceHogs players via video calls led by Blackhawks Vice President Hockey Operations/Team Affiliates Mark Bernard.
King, who was named head coach of the IceHogs on April 25, 2019 after previously serving in an interim role following the Blackhawks' promotion of Jeremy Colliton as their head coach, provided some insight on which players took significant improvement in their development during the '19-20 season.
"I think a lot of these guys made some good strides," said King, who guided the IceHogs to a 29-32-2 record before the pause in the season. "I was really, really surprised at Brandon Hagel (and) how well he did."
In his first season in the AHL, Hagel, who was signed by the Blackhawks as a free agent Nov. 5, 2018, led the IceHogs with 19 goals and added 21 assists in 59 games. The 21-year-old winger earned a call-up to the Blackhawks and appeared in their final game before the NHL paused the season March 12.
"Brandon could have easily been (our) MVP (or) unsung hero," King said. "He really stepped up. He's just a battler. He finds a way. He gets knocked down, gets back up and he keeps going. I would keep an eye on this guy."
King also praised the progress of 22-year-old defenseman Lucas Carlsson, who had five goals and 21 assists in 48 games for the IceHogs before being recalled to the Blackhawks with whom he appeared in six contests.
"Lucas Carlsson had a huge, huge season - a big jump," King said.
King also listed winger MacKenzie Entwistle (11G, 15A) and defensemen Chad Krys (2G, 6A) and Dennis Gilbert (1G, 6A) among those who showed improvement in their games, but saved his most effusive praise for center Philipp Kurashev.
Drafted by the Blackhawks in the fourth round (No. 120 overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft, the 20-year-old Kurashev had seven goals and 12 assists while being limited to 36 games due to injury.
"It's too bad he got hurt, I think you would have maybe seen him (recalled) earlier or you would have seen him higher in our points," King said. "Kurashev I believe is going to be an NHL hockey player. Whether it's a year or two down the road, it's going to be up to him, but I really like the way he performed.
"He looks like a pro (and) he does everything like a pro," added King, who played 14 seasons in the NHL, including 11 with the Islanders. "It's just getting comfortable and staying healthy."