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Hawks' pipeline to Rockford stays productive
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/23/2007 4:49 PM

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If eyebrows were raised when forwards Kris Versteeg and Jacob Dowell were recalled from Rockford this week, Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon said they shouldn't have been.

Versteeg and Dowell were recalled ahead of highly touted prospects such as 2005 first-round draft pick Jack Skille, Mike Blunden and Troy Brouwer. But in their first game Thursday at Calgary, Versteeg and Dowell showed why the decision was made to recall them as they fit right in as the Hawks downed the Flames 2-1.

Dowell even scored one of the Hawks' goals in the second period - short-handed, of course.

Versteeg played almost 15 minutes on the first line with Robert Lang and Patrick Sharp and made plays.

"We tell them the best players are going to get called up, and over the first 14 games (at Rockford) these two guys have been their best players game in and game out," Tallon said. "We wanted to give them a chance to come up and show their mettle."

The Hawks need a gritty forward to replace Kevyn Adams, who is out for the season following knee surgery. It could be Dowell, or the more likely scenario is Tallon trading for a fourth-line center who does the things Adams did for the Hawks.

"Dowell is going to get a shot (to replace Adams), but we're always looking to see what we can do to get better," Tallon said.

Dowell's goal, coming in his NHL debut, came on a short-handed breakaway in the second period to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

"It's a great feeling," Dowell said. "I've worked hard, and it's finally paying off getting my chance here. "I know it's a cliche, but every kid dreams of being able to play in the NHL."

Tallon said he won't hesitate to continue calling up players from Rockford to help when needed.

"We're getting to the point where we can rely on our farm system to get us through these tougher times," Tallon said. "We've got more than (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane in our farm system. We have some good players down in Rockford."

The Hawks are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and will try to keep the ball rolling tonight in Edmonton against the Oilers.

The Hawks are 12-8-1 after 21 games despite a difficult schedule and missing 2006-07 leading scorer Martin Havlat for 20 of those games.

"I'm quite pleased with the attitude and work ethic," Tallon said. "Out of the first 20 games, we probably didn't play well in three of them. And when we didn't play well we still had an opportunity to get points.

"And these haven't been easy games," said Tallon. "The first five games we played (were) against teams with over 100 points last year. Now we get Marty back next week, and things are looking quite positive for us."

Havlat is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday when the Hawks return home to play the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center.

Scouting report

Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, 9 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet.

Radio: WSCR 670-AM.

The skinny: One more win would make it a great road trip for the Hawks, who are 2-1-1 with two games to play. The Oilers have been at the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference and are coming off a lethargic 3-2 loss to Colorado on Thursday. Defenseman Joni Pitkanan returned from a knee injury against the Avs, but defenseman Sheldon Souray (shoulder) and forward Fernando Pisani (colitis) remain out. Winger Raffe Torries has gone 15 games without a goal. The teams split last year's season series 2-2.

Player to watch: Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks goalie has won two games in a row with strong performances and was 2-1 against Edmonton last season with a 1.66 goals-against average.

Next game: Sunday vs. the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place, 9 p.m.