EDMONTON — The term “Black Aces” is one of those hockey terms that we’ve all used many, many times, even if we’re not sure where or why the phrase was actually coined.
“The term ‘Black Aces’ originally had a negative hockey connotation,” reports hockey writer Bill Meltzer. “It originated with the legendary Eddie Shore, who purchased a minor league team in 1940, and began to refer to spare roster players (akin) to the bad omen that superstitious card players believe comes about from being dealt the ace of spades. Shore said that the team was in bad shape if it had to use its Black Aces in a game, especially during the playoffs.”
Today, the “Black Aces” are just a group of young hockey players who are happy to ride down the playoff road with their organization’s NHL team, practising after the big squad every day and dreaming of getting the call if injury strikes the NHL roster.
Every NHL playoff team is going through their list as we speak, searching the organizational depth chart for that 10th defenceman, the sixth left-winger, the seventh centreman and the third goalie.
Here is a look at who we think will get the call up to join the Edmonton Oilers if play can resume this summer.
Statistics: 9 goals │ 27 assists │ 36 total points │ 47 AHL games played
The 22-year-old left winger is the most NHL-ready of any of the organization’s developmental forwards. He has only played seven NHL games, so that underscores the lack of NHL experience at the forward ranks in Edmonton’s system.
The rap on Benson is foot speed. He won’t help a team “push the pace.” But what he has is above average hockey I.Q. — enough to overcome any skating issues, or to carry him in his pro career until he can find another step.
Smarts means less mistakes, less turnovers, and generally making the right play. As a young player with very little NHL experience, Benson fits into the category of a player who won’t hurt you if pressed into playoff action because of injuries.
Statistics: 5 goals │ 18 assists │ 23 points │ 56 AHL games played
McLeod is a first-year pro who had a decent season as a 20-year-old in Bakersfield. He’s a second-round pick (40th overall) who is showing that he might not be a Top 6 NHL centreman after all, but with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, the Oilers would be thrilled if McLeod becomes their third-line centre of the future.
It is realistic to think that McLeod, with great wheels and a good frame at six-foot-three, 200 lbs., could be a valuable 3C one day down the road. It is a reach to say, however, that with zero NHL games played that he would be likely to help the playoff cause in the summer of 2020. Traditionally, valuable 3C’s are strong in the faceoff circle and can match up against defensively against the opposition’s top centremen. McLeod may be that guy one day, but it would be unfair to expect that out of him at the NHL level today.
Statistics: 3 goals │ 1 assist │ 4 points │ 34 NHL games played │ 6 goals │ 9 assists │ 15 points │ 20 AHL games played
With 335 NHL games played, Granlund is by far the most experienced Black Ace option for head coach Dave Tippett at forward. He can play centre or the wing, and though he doesn’t provide much offensively, Granlund’s experience would come in handy under the playoff spotlight.
One problem though: Granlund has reportedly signed a contract to play in Ufa of the KHL next season, a conflict that never would have happened in a normal NHL season, but one of the new wrinkles made possible by the COVID-19 pause. So the Oilers will have to decide if they value Granlund’s possible contribution enough to overlook the fact they would have a player in their midst who has already checked out of their program.
Stay tuned on this one. It’s a decision that likely hasn’t been made yet.
Statistics: 0 goals │ 0 assists │ 0 points │ 8 NHL games played │ 3 goals │ 7 assists 10 points │ 25 AHL games played
Lagesson is that safety valve defenceman — the first D-man to be called up whenever an injury occurs in Edmonton, but the last to play once he gets there. He got in just eight games for Edmonton this season over a couple of call-ups — and watched a bunch more from the press box — and while Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones have passed him on the depth chart, the stay-at-home Lagesson is the top candidate for insertion into the lineup if injury besets the blue-line.
Now, with eight healthy, NHL-calibre defencemen ahead of him when camps open in July, the big Swede may have to show even more patience before getting his shot.
Statistics: 7 goals │ 29 assists │ 36 points │ 54 AHL games played
In Bouchard we begin to get into the guys who would be named to the Black Aces simply for the experience. Players who may not big parts of things right now, but who should get this playoff experience for when they grow into everyday NHL players.
Bouchard’s game, by all accounts, is not yet ready for NHL regular season play, let alone playoff hockey. But he is their most valuable American League prospect, and those players come along for rides like this one.
Age: turns 19 on June 25
Statistics: 1 goal │ 7 assists │ 8 points │ 45 Swedish League games played
Broberg is Bouchard times 10. He is nowhere near ready to step in and help in an NHL playoff series, but as the team’s first-round pick a year ago (8th overall), Broberg gets a front row seat for any Oilers playoff run that could occur.
Really, what else are these non-NHL p[layers going to be doing in July and August anyway? And Broberg may be brought in for the training camp then allowed to return home to Sweden once the games begin. But he’ll get a cameo in Edmonton, as the team decides where they would prefer him to play next season (likely Skelleftea).
Statistsics: 3.31 GAA │ .892 SV% │ 41 AHL games played
Although there is no limit on how many goaltenders a team calls up, any more than three and things just get too crowded. Skinner has surpassed Shane Starrett to become the organization’s No. 3 netminder, but like most of these Black Aces, it would take a serious run of injuries at the same position for Skinner to ever see live fire in these NHL playoffs.