The Indy Fuel have spent the summer signing players and filling the roster in preparation for the franchise’s inaugural ECHL season.
However, with the team being an affiliate of the NHL Chicago Blackhawks and AHL Rockford IceHogs, the Fuel will also be receiving a number of players from the parent clubs.
Expect the Blackhawks and IceHogs’ contribution to be most seen on the back end — on defense and in goal. Especially in goal.
That picture became significantly clearer on Monday, when the Blackhawks agreed to terms with veteran goaltender Michael Leighton. Leighton is 33 years old, was originally drafted by the Blackhawks, and was the losing goaltender when the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup. He has played for the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Hurricanes, and spent last season in the KHL, where he put up solid numbers.
Leighton is a very typical value signing for a contender breaking in a young backup, and he expects to start the season in Rockford. Antti Raanta will likely start the year as Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago. That leaves three goaltenders in the organization, two of which will most likely come to the Indy Fuel to start the year.
Two of those came from the organization last season — Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth. Both are young (22) and developing, and Indy would be an attractive option to get a lot of game action.
A 22-year-old goaltender who will be entering his third professional season this fall. Simpson was the Hawks’ second-round pick in 2010 (58th overall). He played 41 games for the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL as a rookie in 2012-13, and had a 20-14-5 record and a 2.36 GAA. Last year, he primarily spent the season with Rockford, where he was 11-14-1 with a 3.64 GAA in 31 games. He also earned a call up to Chicago, where he made his NHL debut by playing one period on Dec. 14, 2013 against Toronto. He stopped five of seven shots in a 7-3 loss in relief of Raanta. Simpson stands 6-2, 198, and is from Edmonton. He played junior hockey for the WHL Everett Silvertips. Bio
Another 22-year-old goaltender who will be entering his second professional season. He played 32 games in the ECHL for two different teams last year — 25 for the Toledo Walleye, an affiliation the Blackhawks shared with Detroit last season, and seven on loan to the Florida Everblades. He was also drafted in the Hawks’ 2010 draft class, going in the seventh round (191st overall). He was 10-19-1 in the ECHL with a 3.38 GAA and a .893 save percentage. He also eanred a seven-game callup to Rockford, where he was 2-2-1 with a 3.36 GAA and a .880 save percentage. Carruth was called up to Chicago briefly at the start of the playoffs but saw no game action in the postseason. Like Simpson, he takes up a lot of the net. He stands 6-3, 182, and hails from Salt Lake City. He played his junior hockey for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Three times, he backstopped the Winterhawks to the WHL final, winning it in his final junior season of 2012-13. He was also the starter in the 2013 Memorial Cup championship game, in which Portland was the runner-up. Bio
His name might be familiar to local hockey fans. He was the starter for the Indiana Ice in 2007-08, leading the team to a division title with a 27-10-2 record. Darling comes to the Blackhawks from the Nashville Predators organization, where he played 2013-14 with two teams. He was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, and after two seasons at the University of Maine, turned professional in 2010. He spent his first two pro seasons in the SPHL before joining ECHL Wheeling in 2012-13, and moving up primarily to the AHL last season, where he played most of the season with the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. He put up solid numbers in Milwaukee — 13-6-2 record, .933 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA, as well as six shutouts. It was his best pro season numbers-wise. Add to it a 4-1-1 record, .916 save percentage and 2.61 GAA in six games for the Cincinnati Cyclones, and Darling is an attractive player for either Indy or Rockford. He is 25 years old — and will turn 26 in December — and is another space-filler in net. He stands 6-6, 190. Darling is a native of Lemont, Ill. Bio
So, who comes?
It’s hard to say, honestly. It all depends on a number of factors — most notably, who emerges as the starter in Rockford after training camp. If Leighton is the IceHogs’ starter — which he indicated he likely would be — it’s possible the Blackhawks would want either of their two young prospects to play starter-type minutes in Indy and therefore would send one or both Simpson and Carruth here. If the Hawks want each of the goaltenders to have an older mentor who has been around a bit, it’s likely Simpson would be paired with Leighton in Rockford and Carruth with Darling in Indy. All told, it looks like any of the three goaltenders the Fuel might receive will be solid pieces to backstop the team.
What about the rest of the roster?
It’s developing. The Fuel currently sport a roster with 11 players — eight forwards and three defensemen — and anticipate signing a handful more. They expect to get 6-to-8 players from Chicago as part of the 20-player roster. Likely, two of those will be the aforementioned goaltenders. Take note that the team has eight forwards out of the 10 it would normally skate in a game, and three defensemen out of the six that would often make a game-night roster. Also, a peek at the current Blackhawks roster — which is almost certain to change given the team is currently over the salary cap for 2014-15 — shows 26 signed forwards and 15 defensemen, likely meaning the Fuel will get at least two defensemen from the organization. After NHL rookie camps and tournaments and training camps in September, it will be more likely we’ll see who those pieces are. The Blackhawks are pretty stacked with organizational depth, and that will certainly benefit the Fuel.