Last Word on Hockey is bringing you its Black Aces Series, covering every team in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. Recently the NHL owners and NHLPA agreed to an expanded playoff format to finish the 2019-2020 season and award the Stanley Cup. There will be 24 teams participating as opposed to the normal 16 teams. Today, we feature the Chicago Blackhawks’ black aces.
There a lot of details to be worked out as well as the schedule and location of the games. With the AHL season being cancelled, that makes a lot more players available to the NHL teams participating. NHL Black Aces are once again in the news so today we are looking at which players may be among the Chicago Blackhawks’ Black Aces selected.
Blackhawks Black Aces
On May 26th the NHL announced the 24 teams involved with the expanded playoffs format. This from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on NHL.com:
“The Western Conference best-of-5 qualifying round series are: the Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs. the Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points); the Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs. the Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points); the Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs. the Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points); and the Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs. the Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points).”
Hold on a minute, did Bettman say the Chicago Blackhawks? Fans of the Chicago Blackhawks were stunned when the announcement was made. Their favourite team was going to be in the playoffs! The happiest person in Chicago has to be beleaguered general manager Stan Bowman. The recent firing of team President John McDonough brought even more scrutiny to Bowman’s failures as GM. The clock has been ticking on Bowman’s career recently now more than ever. Will the unexpected playoff birth give Bowman a chance for a reprieve?
The potential reprieve from the NHL now allows the Blackhawks to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This after missing the playoffs for two straight seasons. Which was about to become three until the COVID-19 crisis ended the 2019-20 season. Now Bowman is uttering the infamous “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” line from Dumb & Dumber. Stanley’s chance will ride on the Blackhawks’ Black Aces. Today we give you some background on NHL Black Aces and who the Blackhawks may use in this role.
Black Aces Background
Here is some background on the history of the NHL Black Aces as told by Hampus Duvefelt of eprinkside.com who writes:
“Let us skip ahead some 70 years to 1940 when legendary NHL defenseman Eddie Shore had just retired and bought minor-league franchise Springfield Indians. A skilled hockey player noted for his tough and (sometimes) brutal approach to playing the game, Shore’s hardnosed personality carried over to ownership where he would often punish his players for not playing the style he wanted.”
“Once in Shore’s doghouse, you’d have a hard time getting back on the ice unless you played exactly like the former NHL’er wanted. It was under these circumstances Shore began referring to his benched players as “Black Aces”, as in holding a dead man’s hand.”
Hampus then brings us to the more modern version of the NHL Black Aces:
“Skip ahead another 70 years and the term has mutated into something considerably more positive, more akin to having an ace up your sleeve. Today, a Black Ace is born when a young prospect – whose AHL, junior or European season has just ended – gets summoned to their respective NHL team during a Stanley Cup run. This is made possible by the NHL having different roster rules for the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, you can carry as many players on your roster as you want while not having to consider the salary cap.”
Blackhawks’ Options for The Playoffs
We are going to break down the potential Blackhawks Black Aces by position. The current roster per capfriendly.com includes 14 forwards, eight defencemen, and two goalies. We will look at potential Black Aces that are under contract currently. These will include some underperformers, some long shots, as well as some of the Blackhawks’ prospects who may get a shot. They will all have the opportunity to shine due to potential injuries. They may also get in a game if one or two of the regulars fails to produce on the ice.
Brandon Hagel – LW
Brandon Hagel was brought up on an “emergency loan” due to injuries and played in one NHL game last season. He did play 59 games for the Rockford Ice Hogs during the 2019-20 AHL season where he had 19 goals and 31 points for the Hogs during the season. The prior season with the WHL Red Deer Devils he scored 41 goals and 102 points.
What Chicago fans may love the most about him is his willingness to get his nose dirty. While listed at 5’11” 174 pounds he has shown he does not shy away from a scrap during his WHL days. His ability to agitate and get involved physically will endure him to the Blackhawks faithful. He has the chance to become another fan favourite similar to Andrew Shaw.
Matthew Highmore – C
Matthew Highmore has been in the Blackhawks system since being signed as an undrafted free agent in March of 2017. Over three seasons he has played 96 games with the Ice Hogs and 49 games with the Blackhawks. He has scored 64 points in the AHL and eight points at the NHL level. This unexpected opportunity is exactly what Highmore needs to show he belongs in the NHL.
Philipp Kurashev – LW
Philipp Kurashev was drafted in the fourth round in 2018. He played in Switzerland growing up and spent three seasons with the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL. In 183 games with Quebec, he scored 69 goals with 179 points. This offensive production is what led to him being drafted 120th overall in the 2018 NHL draft. He has also played 39 games with the Ice Hogs scoring seven goals and 19 points.
Dylan Sikura – C
Dylan Sikura needs the Black Aces opportunity to prove he is not just an AHL forward. Sikura was drafted in the sixth round by the Blackhawks back in 2014. He spent four years at Northeastern University scoring 146 points at the NCAA level. He has played 91 games for the Ice Hogs scoring 68 points in two seasons 2018-20.
Unfortunately, his offensive talents did not follow him into the NHL. In 47 games with the Blackhawks, he has one goal and 14 points total over three seasons. Listed at 5’11” 166 pounds Sikura has struggled to find his way offensively in the tough Western Conference. His contract has one more season before he becomes a Restricted Free Agent after the 2020-21 season. Getting added as a Black Ace would provide him with a great opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL.
Alexander Nylander – LW
Alexander Nylander is the last of the Blackhawks’ Black Aces forwards being covered today. Drafted eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2016 NHL Draft the former first-round pick has struggled in the NHL. He played in 165 games over three seasons 2016-19 with the Rochester Americans in the AHL scoring 86 points. Nylander then played in four games with the Sabres in the 2016-17 season. He followed that with three games in 2017-18 and 12 games in 2018-19. Over that span, Nylander scored three goals with six points for Buffalo.
Then the Blackhawks came calling offering up their defence prospect Henri Jokiharju in a one for one trade in July 2019. The trade brought immediate condemnation with the Blackhawks faithful who blasted Bowman on social media for “trading their best defence prospect ever” as if Jokiharju was the next coming of Paul Coffey. Sadly, Jokiharju was not the next coming of Paul Coffey, not even close. He was, however, another first-round pick that Bowman could not develop and retain with the team.
Nylander was chosen today because he meets the old school Eddie Shore criteria for being a Black Ace. He’s an eighth overall draft pick who has been an underachiever in the NHL and drives his coach crazy. Brendan Perlini anyone? Perlini was another player Bowman acquired that is a former first-round pick that drove his coaches nuts and was allowed to leave last summer. We will see if Nylander can break out during the upcoming playoffs. It would be wonderful to see one of Bowman’s “sleeper” acquisitions pay off for once.
The defence corps has been quite disappointing the last few seasons but was expected to be better in 2019-20. Unfortunately, they lost Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook to season-ending injuries this past year. The Blackhawks have currently eight defencemen on their roster and are one area that could use some productive Black Aces.
Ian Mitchell – RD
Ian Mitchell epitomizes the more modern Black Ace concept. He signed his entry-level contract in April 2020 after completing his third season at the Univerity of Denver. Playing in 116 games at the NCAA level, he scored 18 goals with 71 assists. He is highly touted for his offensive abilities during his college days. The only negative on Mitchell is that he is only 5’11” and 175 pounds. Drafted in the second round in 2017, he fits the mould of the majority of Bowman’s defence draft picks by being mobile and undersized. We will see if he gets a chance to prove he can handle the rigours of the NHL during the upcoming playoffs. He may never hit the ice but practicing with the pros will give him a taste of the show he can use for next season.
Nicolas Beaudin – LD
Nicolas Beaudin was drafted in the first round in the 2018 NHL Draft. He spent the 2019-20 season with the Ice Hogs where he scored 15 points in 55 games. He got a taste of the NHL playing in one game last season for the Blackhawks. At 5’11” 175 pounds, he is another in a long line of diminutive defence prospects drafted by Bowman. He did have several offensively productive seasons with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. In 211 games from 2015-19, he scored 24 goals with 167 points. He may get the chance to prove himself in the playoffs, but will benefit if he gets to practice with the team. Similar to Beaudin, if he gets time with the pros that will light the fire in him going into next season.
Dennis Gilbert – LD
Dennis Gilbert was drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round of the 2015 Draft. He is built more for the NHL being 6’2″ and 216 pounds. Since leaving the University of Notre Dame in 2018, he has played 93 games for the Ice Hogs and 22 games with the Blackhawks. Gilbert has looked good playing for the Blackhawks and also brings size and grit to the team’s back end. That style of play is something that has been missing for several years. He may see some time on the ice if the Blackhawks can advance past the first playoff round.
T.J. Brennan – LD
Our last Black Ace selection on defence goes to T.J. Brennan. The 31-year-old journeyman has bounced around the NHL as well as several AHL teams since being drafted in 2007 by the Buffalo Sabres. His first time with the Blackhawks he was acquired when they traded Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders in October 2014. Brennan’s time with the Blackhawks would be short-lived as he was then traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Spencer Abbott in February 2015. The Blackhawks reacquired him in February 2020 in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Brennan is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. The playoffs coming up may provide Brennan with the last chance at a Stanley Cup and he should be motivated if he gets to play.
Collin Delia – G
Collin Delia was the main goalie for the Rockford Ice Hogs last season. With Corey Crawford and his injury history, current backup Malcolm Subban will not be the only goaltender practicing with the team. Delia played well with the Ice Hogs and should be up with the team as insurance.
Delia also has NHL experience playing in 16 games while Corey Crawford was on injured reserve in the 2018-19 season. He was thrown into the fire and out-battled Cam Ward for the starter’s role while Crawford was out. Despite a less than stellar D corps in front of him, he helped the Blackhawks get briefly back into contention for a Wild Card spot while in the net.
It will be interesting to see how Crawford returns when the games begin. He was having a solid season in net and deserved better results than his 16-20-3 record shows. His goals-against average of 2.77 and save percentage of .917 were outstanding as the team in front of him allowed the most “high danger shots” against while Crawford was in goal. Crawford being able to play well will be the key to the team’s success. Chances are he will be focused and motivated as he finishes the last year of his contract. Crawford’s future with the Blackhawks may very well ride on his performance in the playoffs.
The Black Aces Wrap Up
The Chicago Blackhawks Black Aces are being formed as this is being written. Many of the players we brought you may be selected and some may not. Whether they get into any actual games will be determined as the games and series are played. Can one or more of them make their mark for the Blackhawks in this role? Only time will tell and thankfully the story of the 2019-20 NHL season is not finished yet. Stay tuned as LastWordonHockey.com will be there to cover it for you!
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