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More Black Aces arrive In Tampa

Earlier today, the Lightning announced the addition of nine more players to the roster. These Black Aces will supplement the team in case of injuries and participate in practices.

Luke Witkowski and Jason Garrison converse on the ice.
Luke Witkowski and Jason Garrison converse on the ice.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced the addition of nine players to the roster as Black Aces.

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled forwards Yanni Gourde, Joel Vermin, Henri Ikonen and Tanner Richard, along with defensemen Dylan Blujus, Jake Dotchin, Luke Witkowski, Slater Koekkoek and Anthony DeAngelo, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.

Of the group recalled, defensemen Luke Witkowski and Slater Koekkoek are the most likely players to see game action as they are the most NHL ready players and the only ones that have seen time in the NHL.

Witkowski spent a good chunk of time (16 games) with the big club and acquitted himself well. We saw that he still has some holes and needs to improve on things like handling the puck and moving it out of the zone cleaner over the summer, but he’s not a huge liability when he plays within his limits. Being a right hander helps him on the depth chart since the only right handed players ahead of him are Stralman and Sustr, but with Garrison, Coburn, and Nesterov able to play the right side, he may only find his way into the lineup if Stralman or Sustr become injured.

Koekkoek showed what he could bring to the blue line as a left handed, puck mover that played more physical than I think some fans expected. He is a smooth skater that allows him to pinch into the play and be able to recover his positioning fast. Despite being a rookie in his first pro season, Koekkoek played with a confidence that you generally don’t expect of a young blue liner making his NHL debut (he played a total of 3 games with the Lightning late in the season). It’s very possible that if a left handed D was needed, that he could jump over Barberio after the poise he displayed in his call-up. For him, getting practice time with the NHL players is more important than the possibility of getting into a game. It also gives the coaching staff and front office a leg up on evaluating him for next year.

Anthony DeAngelo was a bit of a dark horse to be called up, but with the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds of the OHL being eliminated and his Junior career over, he was added to the roster. He suffered an injury during the series and didn't look himself until the last game of the series. The medical staff will have an opportunity to evaluate and treat him if he’s still hurting. If not, he’ll get a jump on preparing for next year and get the opportunity to work out an offseason program with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.

Dylan Blujus and Jake Dotchin are in similar spots. Both players made their pro debuts with Syracuse this season. Neither player received a contract until after their 19 year old Junior seasons. Blujus was a 2nd round pick and Dotchin was a 6th round pick in the 2012 draft. Their rookie seasons were up and down for both players. This will be a good opportunity for them to get a taste of the NHL in practice and like DeAngelo get a leg up on their offseason work-out programs.

Yanni Gourde fits into the same mold as the already recalled Jonathan Marchessault as a third line scoring winger, but he’s even smaller than Marchessault. He’s still a toss up on if he’ll make it in the NHL and it will depend on him seizing his chance when he does get an opportunity in the next season or two. Gourde needs to add strength and will be a warm forward body for practice.

Tanner Richard was a center that I anticipated getting called up. He’s inching closer to being NHL ready as a fourth line grinder. He’s a pest and hard to play against. He’s shown adequate scoring skill in the AHL, but won’t likely put up much in the way of points in the NHL. There’s definitely forwards in front of him, but if the Lightning need someone to piss the other team off, Richard is that guy.

Joel Vermin is another pesty winger that plays hard. The Swiss born skater made his debut in North America at the end of last season and spent the entirety of this season playing on the bottom lines in Syracuse. He’s got a long way to go, but working with the big boys in practice and watching some games from the press box may be the motivation that he needs to kick off a much better sophomore season with the Crunch. He needs to turn the corner or his NHL chances could be slipping away.

Henri Ikonen was an older draft pick in the 6th round out of the 2013 draft. He spent another year in the OHL playing with future first round draft pick Sam Bennett before making his pro debut with the Crunch. The Finnish winger played in the bottom six with the Crunch and put up 13 points in 54 games. He is another player that should benefit from practicing with the big team and watching in the press box. The team will be looking for him to step up and play better in his sophomore season. Even with a better showing, he still projects as a bottom six NHL forward at best. To get to that though, he’ll need to show more offensive ability in the AHL.