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 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup. There will be 24 teams participating as opposed to the normal 16 teams. Today, we feature the Winnipeg Jets Black Aces.
There are 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 Winnipeg Jets Black Aces selected.
Winnipeg Jets 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 Jets aces in the hole.
For this article, we are considering players who are not full-time NHL players as Winnipeg Jets Black Aces. That means players who could be scratched like forwards Gabriel Bourque and Mark Letestu, and defencemen Luca Sbisa, Anthony Bitetto and Carl Dahlstrom would not be considered Black Aces. With five regular players scratched, it is difficult to envision many Black Aces getting into action, especially on defence. But let’s look at the candidates starting with the forwards.
Jansen Harkins has the best shot out of anyone to see playoff action. The 23-year-old left-winger took a big jump this year, scoring 31 points in 30 AHL games with the Manitoba Moose. He scored the same number of points in 70 AHL games last season. This boost allowed him to jump to the NHL and score seven points in 29 games. Harkins is a smart player.
He knows where he needs to be on the ice and how to be effective. He’s also a good skater, has good playmaking ability and a good shot. Harkin’s offensive upside and smarts allows him to play anywhere in Winnipeg’s line-up.
Logan Shaw has split his time between the NHL and AHL this year. In 35 NHL games, he scored five points, in 16 AHL games he has scored seven points. This season is Shaw’s fourth in the NHL and his fourth team. He’s a fringe NHL player; Shaw hasn’t proven that he has enough skill to remain in the league full-time, but he’s reliable enough to stick around.
He plays a simple, hardworking game. Shaw understands his limits and doesn’t try to be too creative. He is a decent skater and has a good shot, which he used to score 27 goals in the AHL last year. He won’t be able to fill a role beyond the fourth line, and with Bourque and Letestu ready as scratches, it means Shaw would need three openings on that line to see action.
Similar to Harkins, David Gustafsson also had a surprising season as a young prospect. Gustafsson was a 60th overall pick in 2018 and was expected to play this season back home in Sweden. Surprisingly, he made the team in his first training camp. He is mentally and physically (6′-1″, 192 pounds) mature beyond his years, he has a high hockey IQ, usually makes the right play, and is a defence first centreman.
In the 2020 edition of The Hockey News Future Watch magazine, Jets assistant general manager, Craig Heisinger, said, “(Gustafsson) knows what his role is, and he’s perfected it.”
Gustafsson won’t be providing much offence this year. He scored one goal in 22 games in the NHL. If he gets into a game, Gustafsson will be a reliable player but not provide much scoring. He’s behind more veteran players like Nick Shore, Mark Letestu and Logan Shaw for the fourth line centre role. But Jets beat writer Ken Wiebe wrote that Gustafsson could push to be the Jets fourth-line centre.
Sami Niku is by far the Jets’ first choice among Black Ace defensemen. Winnipeg has three extra regular NHL defencemen, so chances are they won’t cave to use their Black Aces. But you never know.
Niku played 17 games in Winnipeg this year, scoring five assists. In the AHL, he scored 14 points in 18 games. The 23-year-old is a brilliant skater and puck mover with excellent vision and puck skills. His defending is a big issue, especially protecting the front of the net and recognizing threats. You can read about it more in-depth in this article.
Niku was supposed to be a full-time NHL player this year because of Winnipeg’s lack of depth on the blueline. Unfortunately, multiple injuries and misfortune prevented that from happening. If Niku does see playoff action, expect him to have limited minutes until he proves he’s reliable in the defensive end. He might see power play time because that is where his skill set is best suited.
Ville Heinola is the fifth defenceman in the Jets’ replacement depth chart for these upcoming playoffs. It is highly unlikely the 2019 first-round pick and the Jets’ top prospect will play. He started the year playing in eight games for Winnipeg, scoring a goal and five points, and was not timid. Heinola went back home to play in Finland in November and only scored seven assists in 29 games.
He was battling through injuries, and the Jets liked that he learned to fight through a little adversity. Heinola is a poised smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman. He’s good defensively considering his size and age.
If he does see ice-time in the playoffs, look for him to play a poised and confident game as he did in his first few NHL games. For an 18-year-old, there is not much difference jumping into the NHL in October to jumping into the playoffs in the summer. They are both huge leaps. He handled the first leap fine, so he should do the same with the jump to playoff hockey.
Eric Comrie had a weird year. He started in Winnipeg but was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Coyotes early in the season. Comrie never did play for the Coyotes and was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, where he played his first game in Winnipeg of all places and allowed five goals on 30 shots. The Jets grabbed him off waivers from Detroit. Comrie posted a .918 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against-average in the AHL to reclaim his number three role with the Jets.
If Comrie sees action in the playoffs, it might not be pretty. In eight NHL games, Comrie has 4.23 goals-against-average, and a .868 save percentage. Hopefully, that will not happen, and Comrie will either be a practice goalie or do well in the action he does see.