Black Aces is the term given to players that are brought to the NHL club to practice and keep in game shape in case the team needs them during the playoffs for injuries. This is usually made up of players from the AHL that would normally be in line for call-ups, plus some extras, and sometimes younger prospects that get an opportunity to work with strength and conditioning staff before heading home for the summer.
Since the Syracuse Crunch made it into the playoffs, the only player the Lightning brought down to Tampa at the start of the playoffs was Riley Nash. Unfortunately, the Syracuse Crunch were eliminated in overtime of Game Five in a five-game series and are out of the playoffs. I expect most of the players will be given a day or two, but a number of them should be on a flight to Tampa before the weekend.
Let’s go through who I think could come down to be a Black Ace and why each one would be here.
Barre-Boulet has yet to show that he can thrive in the NHL. However, he is one of the most offensively skilled prospects the Tampa Bay Lightning have in the system. With Brayden Point dealing with an injury, it’s possible that ABB could make his playoff debut and get a chance in the toughest environment to show that he’s improved from his previous NHL showings.
Dumont was signed as a UFA to be veteran depth in Syracuse. Fortunately, the Lightning were pretty healthy through the season and didn’t need to dip into his particular brand of depth. Dumont has enough NHL experience that I wouldn’t be afraid of putting him into the line-up, especially since he’s a defensively sound center that can kill penalties and take faceoffs.
The third leading scorer for the Crunch behind Barre-Boulet and Dumont, Hudon is another veteran the Lightning brought in for depth. It’s doubtful he would make it into the line-up, but it’s worth having him around just in case.
Smith has battled injuries all season, so it’s also possible that the Lightning let him go home for the summer. He only played 13 games in the regular season for the Crunch, and the Lightning can effectively get the same kind of game that he provides from Nash and Dumont.
Koepke has yet to make his NHL debut and is unlikely to get the tap on his shoulder to play in the playoffs. However, he’s a player I think has a really good chance of being on the roster next season and it’d be good for him to get some more practice time and be around the team.
Fortier made his NHL debut this season. Like Koepke, he’s unlikely to make it into the line-up, but is a possibility to be on the roster next season, even if not at the beginning of the year, but as an injury call-up.
Goncalves is a young prospect that is in his first season as a pro. He’s not NHL ready and the team could easily send him home maybe even after a short stay as a Black Ace.
Especially with Erik Cernak appearing to be injured last night, pretty much a guarantee Raddysh will be with the team as a Black Ace and is the most likely player to join the team before Game Two and not wait for the team to go home for Game Three.
Day made his NHL debut this season and would make a lot of sense to have in Tampa has a Black Ace and an insurance policy against injury. For both Raddysh and Day, it’s most likely that if they made it into the line-up, the Lightning would be more likely to go 11 forwards and 7 D to protect them.
Claesson has the most NHL experience and may be the guy that would go into a game before either Raddysh or Day. Like Raddysh, he could be another guy that joins the Lightning immediately before game two of this series.
Perbix signed with the Lightning at the end of the season and joined the Crunch on an Amateur Try Out. He quickly worked his way into the top four and is looking like a promising, future third pairing defenseman on the right side for the Lightning. He’s an older prospect at 23 years old having come out of NCAA hockey. At the very least, he’d benefit from working with the strength and conditioning coaches as he could stand to put some muscle on his 6’4” frame.
Lagace was injured during this Crunch series, but made a surprise return to the net for Game Five when all indications were pointing to Hugo Alnefelt. Assuming he remained healthy enough to play after Game Five, it’s a guarantee that Lagace will be in Tampa to practice with the Black Aces and fill the third goaltender role.
Alnefelt had a pretty rough NHL debut this season, coming in in relief of Lagace when Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott were unavailable after the Christmas break. With Lagace’s full health and fitness in question, it would behoove the Lightning to bring Alnefelt down to Tampa for a bit. Plus it would give him some time with Lightning goaltending coach Franz Jean to work on his game and get ready for the offseason.