Finally, some good news on the hockey front. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s plan to return. This has hockey fans all over the world excited to watch NHL hockey this summer. While there are still some hurdles the NHL and NHLPA still have to leap, teams will need to start prepping to get back to work to continue their quest to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. The NHL announced that each team will be allowed to increase its roster size to 28. These extra players who were playing in different leagues will be brought along for the ride and could potentially draw into the lineup at any time during these playoffs. These players are referred to as Black Aces. Here are who we expect to be the Montreal Canadiens Black Aces.
Who Are the Montreal Canadiens Black Aces?
The term “Black Ace” was once used in a negative way. The term originated from Eddie Shore who would refer to spare players as a “Black Ace”. Shore would say that a team would be in bad shape if they had to use one of their Black Aces in a game. However, recently, it has been used in a more positive way. A team would use a Black Ace to help them overcome the loss of a player or if they thought a different player could be utilized in a way to help the team win. So who are the Montreal Canadiens Black Aces?
We’ll start with the goaltending position and Cayden Primeau. Primeau is thought to be Carey Price‘s successor and showed his brilliance already in the AHL this season as well as the two starts he got for the Habs. Primeau put up a solid rookie season with a record of 17-11-3 in the AHL this season with a goals-against-average of 2.45 and a save percentage of .908. He managed to go 1-1 with the Habs with an outstanding save percentage of .931 and a goals-against-average of 2.56. It was the way Primeau carried himself in the games that was even more impressive. Looking very composed, he did not show the jitters of being a rookie in his first two games in the NHL.
At the moment, Charlie Lindgren is the backup for the Canadiens. Should Price suffer an injury, there is a good chance Lindgren remains the backup and Primeau steps in as the starter. Much like we saw in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Dustin Tokarski stepped in during the Eastern Conference Finals rather than backup goaltender Peter Budaj when Price suffered an injury.
Next, we will go with the defence and we will start it off with Noah Juulsen. A very promising prospect, Juulsen closed out the 2017-18 season for the Canadiens playing in 23 games. It was then that Juulsen really showed that he belonged in the NHL. He earned a full-time roster spot with the team to start the 2018-19 season.
Juulsen has had a lot of misfortune come his way over the past two seasons. After being struck in the face, twice, in one game with the puck, Juulsen suffered an orbital fracture. That basically put his career on hold for most of the last two seasons. Since then, Juulsen has been experiencing headaches and has only appeared in a total of 20 games (four in the NHL, 16 in the AHL) over the last two seasons.
It’s been a long road to recovery for Juulsen. However, he finally got back on the ice with the Laval Rocket before the season shutdown due to COVID-19. He looked solid for having such a long layoff. Juulsen could potentially jump back into the Habs lineup when the season gets back underway.
Karl Alzner‘s fall from grace wasn’t a pretty one. He was once thought of as one of the better defensive defencemen in the league. However, after a poor last season in Washington and an even worse first season with the Canadiens, Alzner was demoted to the Laval Rocket for the 2018-19 season and that’s where he stayed. However, the Canadiens decided to bring Alzner up after moving Marco Scandella prior to the trade deadline and he held his own. While it’s uncertain if he would get the nod in the playoffs of Victor Mete or Brett Kulak, having the veteran as an option will certainly be a plus for the Canadiens. His 64 games of playoff experience will certainly come in handy.
Now we’ll turn to the forwards. And who better to start with than former first-round pick Ryan Poehling. Poehling’s NHL debut set some unreal expectations for the Canadiens prospect as he scored a hat-trick plus the shootout winner in just over eight minutes of ice time in the season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018-19. However, Poehling came back to earth during the 2019-20 season. He moved back and forth between the AHL and NHL and never produced much in either league. Poehling registered just one goal and one assist in 27 games for the Habs, while scoring five goals and eight assists in 36 games with the Laval Rocket.
Poehling is still a youngster, however, and will need time to properly develop his game. What the Canadiens do have in Poehling though, is a very responsible two-way player who is versatile in the sense that he can play centre or the wing. Poehling is also a very effective penalty killer and could become an important special teams player for the Habs when the season resumes.
Another interesting player for the Habs entering these play-in series is Charles Hudon. A player who just could not find his way at the NHL level but has been lights out in the AHL. Hudon is a player who fits under the way Eddie Shore would have used the term Black Ace. A player who has fallen out of favour of his coach. However, he could be utilized by the Canadiens as a depth scoring option. Hudon is a feisty, hardworking winger who has the ability to score timely goals. If Hudon gets a shot, he will surely be ready. And who knows, it could just earn his way back into the good graces of Claude Julien. It may also help him earn another NHL contract for next season.
Alex Belzile is another player who could come in handy for the Habs during their play-in series and potentially beyond. The 28-year-old veteran has bounced around in the ECHL and AHL over the years. However, he has proven to be a very effective player for the Laval Rocket over the last two seasons. Belzile has been one of the leading scorers for the Laval Rocket scoring 26 goals and 42 assists for 68 points in 94 games. His play earned him a one-year extension with the Canadiens this season. His experience and work ethic could propel him to the top of the list if the Habs need to call on someone to fill in on the bottom lines.
Other Notable Players
While this list of players is the players who are most likely to join the roster, there are a few other names we can add to the list. Cale Fleury being one of them who is a hard-hitting defenceman who had a very solid half-season with the Canadiens before being demoted to Laval. However, there is two unknown options for the Canadiens. That’s former third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Canadiens top defensive prospect Alexander Romanov.
Kotkaniemi suffered a spleen injury while playing for the Laval Rocket. While he is back on skates, it’s unknown if he is anywhere near being able to play at this moment. He could potentially be healthy by the time the play-ins start, and could certainly help the Canadiens in their battle against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Romanov would be a huge add for the Canadiens. For a team that needs help on the left side on defence the Canadiens could certainly use the promising defender. As Marc Bergevin has stated, the league has not made a final decision on the player and if he will be eligible to play. However, the Canadiens and their fans are certainly hoping they’ll get to see their top prospect in action. With Victor Mete’s availability in question due to injury, they could certainly use Romanov’s help.