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 New York Islanders 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 New York Islanders Black Aces selected.
New York Islanders 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 Islanders aces in the hole.
For the purpose of these articles, we’re not including players who were on the NHL team for the whole season as Black Aces. Players like forwards Ross Johnston, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Martin, and defenceman Noah Dobson and Andy Greene could find themselves scratched with a healthy Islanders line-up. However, those players have been on the team for the whole season, so they don’t count. It does, however, make it difficult to see many Black Aces seeing action with many regular players scratched. But here are the top nominees to see playing time, starting with the forwards.
The New York Islanders scored 189 goals this season, which is 24th in the league and third-worst among the 24 teams that will take part in the new playoff format. If the Islanders struggle offensively, they may need reinforcements. Thankfully, for them, Bellows specializes in goals.
Bellows was the Islanders’ 19th pick in the 2016 draft. This season, he scored 22 goals in 52 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League and scored two goals in eight games with the Islanders. Bellows has a lightning-fast release using his wrist shot or snapshot, and his shots are hard and accurate. He could be an intriguing left-winger for the creative playmaking centre, Mathew Barzal. In this year’s Future Watch Hockey News magazine, Islanders general manager, Lou Lamoriello, said Bellows has proven that he can play among the top-six forwards when given a chance.
Otto Koivula is a huge 6’4, 220 pound forward who can either play centre or left-wing. He’s also 21-years-old, so he is really physically mature for his age. He spent most of the season in the AHL, scoring 22 points in 36 games. At the NHL level, he played 12 games with no points and four shots. He needs more time to be comfortable at the NHL level, but if the Islanders are in a situation where they need a centre, Koivula could see action. In the same Hockey News magazine, Lamoriello called Koivula they’re top centre prospect. However, it is unlikely he gets playing-time because the Islanders have five centres: Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derick Brassard and Casey Cizikas.
Koivula is not a great skater, but he has good hockey sense, is strong defensively, has soft hands and a good shot. In the future, he projects as a bottom-six forward who can provide offence. Right now, if he does see action in the playoffs, he will try to be conservative. He will not be too creative offensively to not risk turnovers and trying to be as reliable as he can in the defensive zone.
Not many teams have a former captain, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, and a 15-year veteran as a Black Ace option. But the Islanders do in Ladd. He used to be a physical power forward who could score 50-60 points a year. Unfortunately, his game has drastically fallen off. This season, he played 34 games in the AHL and scored 14 points. He played four games in the NHL and scored two points.
Today, he provides a strong work ethic, physicality and experience. He can be put into action in a fourth-line role without feeling out of place, unlike Bellows and Koivula, who are not experienced players. However, the Islanders have many forwards who could be scratched like Kuhnhackl, Martin and Johnston, who play a similar role and are better options. It is a long-shot that Ladd sees action.
Thomas Hickey is in a similar situation as Ladd. He’s played seven seasons on defence for the Islanders, but his game dropped in the 2018-19 season. He had four assists in 40 games, but the season before, he scored 25 points in 69 games. This year, he played 14 games in the AHL and scored three assists. It was a hard season for him because he was going back home often to Calgary to support his brother, who was dying of brain cancer and passed away in early March.
Hickey has shown that he is a reliable defenceman during his career and has played in 24 playoff games. If the Islanders need him, he should be able to quickly jump into the line-up and get adjusted to NHL playoff hockey. Hickey won’t bring much offence, but he should be a reliable player on the back-end. His experience should give him an edge over Sebastian Aho.
It is highly unlikely that Hickey will see playing time in these playoffs. With defencemen Adam Pelech and Johnny Boychuk coming back from injury. It puts Noah Dobson and Andy Greene out of the line-up. That means our New York Islanders Black Aces are low in the depth chart.
Sebastian Aho was the Islanders best defenceman in the AHL this year, scoring 30 points in 49 games and second on the team in scoring. He’s small at 5’11 and 177 pounds, but he’s an excellent skater who can skate himself out of trouble. He’s also a strong puck mover, has excellent vision in the offensive zone and is intelligent defensively. An Athletic article compared him to Matt Grzelcyk.
Two years ago he played 22 games in the NHL, he scored four points and had a 47.5 Corsi For percentage, which was sixth among Islanders defenceman that season. He has proven that he can hold his own at the NHL level.
Everyone wants to see Ilya Sorokin play for the Islanders. However, it is unlikely it will happen this season. Arthur Staple reported for The Athletic that the NHL decided that players who signed with their organizations during the pause are not eligible to play this season because it would be unfair to the organization’s players who have spent the full year with the team. However, the situation isn’t resolved. That leaves Gibson as the number three goalie behind Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov.
Gibson has been a reliable AHL goalie for six seasons. He had a strong season this year, posting 2.78 GAA and a .914 save percentage. His NHL numbers are subpar. In 14 career games, he has a 3.45 goals-against average, and a .904 save percentage. However, with his strong AHL season this year, he could be fine in the net if he sees playing time.