We have a definite (for now) number of skaters each of the play-in and playoff teams can carry. Goalies are unlimited, but total skaters (forwards and defence) per team can’t exceed 28. No team wants to use them, but just in case… Today, we’re looking at the Minnesota Wild Black Aces.
Who Can Be the Minnesota Wild Black Aces?
The term “Black Ace” was once used negatively. 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 more positively. 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. Let’s look at the Wild aces in the hole.
There are limits on who can join the team: no one unsigned before the trade deadline can suddenly appear. So while they can draw from players not on the regular roster, they’re limited to the 46 players on contracts. Okay, it’s not much of a limit. But it does mean we won’t get a preview from Matthew Boldy but might get a look at Alexander Khovanov.
The play-in round currently sits in a nebulous, neither-here-nor-there state. Statistics are not counting toward the regular season, but teams losing won’t officially make the playoffs. Fortunately, the salary cap is being treated as if this were the playoffs, so there is no upper limit there.
The one serious injury Minnesota had going into the break was defenseman Carson Soucy. There’s no reason to think he won’t be part of the regular team again rather than an extra. So who will be sitting in the stands for the Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks series?
Let’s start with the obvious: Alex Stalock will open the series. He has easily outplayed Devan Dubnyk this year and has earned the trust of his coach and team. But if Stalock should falter or get injured, the question becomes a lot more interesting. Kaapo Kahkonen has had an exemplary season in the AHL this year. He racked up seven shutouts in just 34 games, with a .927 SV% and 2.07 goals against. His five starts in Minnesota have followed suit, going 3-1-1 with a .913 SV%.
He hasn’t yet played any games for new coach Dean Evason, which could put Kahkonen behind Dubnyk. Both Dubnyk and Stalock are signed through next year as well while Kahkonen is an RFA. While that shouldn’t matter to a coach, there might be a memo or two coming his way from ownership.
Louie Belpedio was called up the same day Soucy was placed on injured reserve. That sounds like the team thinks the 2014 pick is close enough to consider. While he didn’t play a game with the Wild this year, he has joined them a couple of times. In total, he’s had three games in Minnesota. The 24-year-old has some offensive skill, but this year he’s added a feisty element to his game with 102 penalty minutes in just 62 AHL games. That won’t be an unwelcome element in a non-playoff series with playoff intensity.
Undrafted signee Brennan Menell has surely earned his call, building his offence over the past three pro seasons. This year he scored five goals and 47 points in just 57 games, leading Iowa defencemen. With five games in the NHL this season, Minell is who the team might turn to if they need a jump in scoring. So far, he’s been used in a limited role, but that role includes power-play time and likely will again. He likely won’t get to the ice during games, but surely he’s done enough to earn a spot with the Minnesota Wild Black Aces.
A different option for head coach Dean Evason is going with a veteran as his first addition. Matt Bartkowski fits that definition to a T. The nine-year veteran was drafted in the seventh round in 2008 and has worked to prove himself ever since. Bartkowski is the “set-it-and-forget-it” player coaches love to have around as the extra guy. He’s got good mobility but is better suited for the bottom-pair than as an attacker. He’s got some Stanley Cup Playoff experience, so pressure shouldn’t be a big deal for him. Have to keep a camera on his mom for each game he’s in, though.
Speaking of players being called up a half dozen times, Gerald Mayhew. “Gerry” was a walk-on in Iowa in 2017 out of the NCAA. He stuck, playing 160 with the team since then. Last season the 5′-10″ 170 pound winger produced 27 goals and 60 points in 71 games. This year was even better: 39 goals in 49 games between repeated call-ups to Minnesota. Mayhew scored in his first NHL game this season, eventually getting into 13 games – mostly in the bottom-six – before the season ended. He did get some games under Evason, so could certainly be turned to if needed. He’s best suited to a scoring line, but unless something catastrophic happens probably won’t get that chance. Still, weird season, so…?
For years, when asked what a Minnesota Wild player looked like, the answer was something like Nico Sturm. The 6′-3″ Sturm is a solid, responsible centre and is very strong and can skate pretty well. Credit where it’s due: Jacques Lemaire coached an expansion team to a very respectable 293-255-108 record. But rarely could the team ever be called “exciting” beyond one or two players. That’s Sturm’s game, and he plays it well. But like those early Wild teams, he may surprise us yet.
Sturm picked up a couple of assists in his six NHL games, but in Iowa seven of his 32 points were on the power play. He’s also got 125 shots on net, fifth-highest among their forwards. He was a setup man at Clarkson, finishing his last season there with 31 assists in 39 games.
AKA “Jason Zucker‘s Sigh of Relief”. After years of speculation, Zucker finally got moved away at a trade deadline. Calen Addison was the central figure of that deal, though current NHLer Alex Galchenyuk got the headlines. Addison doesn’t have the size of a prototypical NHL defenceman, but what exactly is that nowadays? Wild fans will have to make do with a defender who averaged a point-per-game pace over his last three years in junior, then scored nine points in seven World Junior Championship games as a second-pair defenceman.
While he has yet to play in the NHL, Addison did handle himself well in three pro games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Will we see him off the Wild Black Aces and into the play-in round? If the coach decides the team needs a puck-mover on the blue line, it’ll be him over Menell.
Much like the Wild’s match with the Canucks, it’s a coin-flip.