Allen’s message was aimed for the mental side rather than the physical one of what Simpson was about to encounter as he departed the Rockford IceHogs to join the Blackhawks.
“It’s really important for him to stay in the moment,” Allen said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “Don’t think about who’s shooting at him, what could happen. Just feel good on the ice on your feet and feel the edges. I gave Antti [Raanta] the same advice when he went up. Don’t let your mind get ahead of everything.”
Allen understands that’s easier said than done. The 21-year-old Simpson has gone in the last month and a half from being Raanta’s backup in the AHL, to being the IceHogs’ starter when Raanta was recalled to the Blackhawks to now likely being Raanta’s backup in the NHL.
“He was quite excited,” Allen said of Simpson. “Everybody found out quickly when Crawford went down. We certainly didn’t want to see that.
“Obviously I remember the feeling. It’s just an incredible feeling. He’s obviously very happy and excited about it. That’s why he has to stay focused. Don’t get too excited.”
Simpson may not be exactly ready for the NHL right now, but his development has taken steps in the last two years. He spent his first full professional season with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL last season and learned how to be a pro on and off the ice.
Simpson’s progression continued this season as he was promoted to the IceHogs and was Raanta’s backup to begin the year. Simpson was especially impressive early in the season and had 40-plus saves in his first two games.
Simpson’s strong start was followed by a rough patch where he had a save percentage of under .900 in five of seven games. Simpson has since leveled his play again and found some consistency while being the IceHogs’ No. 1 goaltender after Raanta was recalled in November. Simpson had a save percentage of more than .900 in four of his last six games.
“I think the big learning lesson was he did have some success early in the year with Rockford, and he’s gone through inconsistencies as the whole team has,” Allen said. “He has been getting more minutes now and has given the team a chance to win every night. That’s going well. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been solid and given the chance to win. Kent is moving in the right direction from that standpoint.
“I think he’s a very positionally-sound goaltender and very technically sound. He’s takes away the bottom of the net really well. He’s got good movement and is good laterally as well.”
Injuries to Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin have sped up Simpson’s and Raanta’s NHL arrivals, but Allen is hopeful he played his part in preparing them to make that jump.
“It’s why I have the job I do,” Allen said. “I have the job to develop our young guys and get them ready for the NHL. When they do get that chance, it makes it a lot of fun for me to see them. I enjoy watching the guy make that next step whether it’s for a day or forever. My job is to get them ready for that next step. I root really hard for them to get that step. Everybody’s dream is to get to the NHL and perform well at that level.”