An argument for Black Aces: Which Wolves should come to Vegas?
Now that the Chicago Wolves’ season is complete, the Vegas Golden Knights can begin taking players. Here’s who they should bring up.
The “Black Ace” is a hockey term for players recalled from the AHL for their NHL team’s playoff run. It can also refer to players at the AHL level recalled from the minors. So far, the Vegas Golden Knights haven’t had any Black Aces, as the Chicago Wolves have been in their own playoff hunt.
Now, with the Wolves out, the Golden Knights are free to make their selections from the roster. Will they take any Black Aces? If so, who will they choose? Future players or veterans? Players who can plug and play, or players who make sense with the future core? Who’s earned a designation as a Black Ace?
Presented below are the cases for every player, broken down into two categories. Those who deserve to be Black Aces, and those who didn’t perform as well.
The should-be Black Aces
Tomas Hyka, RW
Hyka led the team in points per game through the regular season, but didn’t generate a point until Game 3 in the playoffs. Still, he has proven himself as an NHL player, even with a shortened span (1-2—3 in 10 games). He generates pressure, can play well in the defensive end and can play anywhere in the lineup.
If the Golden Knights ever need to add more speed to the lineup, Hyka is a natural choice. If William Carrier gets hurt, Hyka may be the best fit next to Tomas Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Plus, he’s likely to sign a new contract with the Golden Knights and should get more time to work with the NHL lineup. He should be in Vegas next season.
Keegan Kolesar, C/LW
Keegan Kolesar developed incredibly well over the course of the season. He had his troubles at the beginning of the year, but through determination, hard work and a competitive spirit, transformed himself into the best forward for the Golden Knights in Game 3. He’s a penalty killer and can play throughout the lineup.
Kolesar has more than earned time with the Golden Knights, and though multiple players looked exhausted against the IceHogs, Kolesar never did. His competitive edge took over, even in practice, and that energy is something the Knights could use. Besides, Kolesar is a player for the future in Vegas. He needs some time to get to know the roster, and his personality should fit well with the Knights. He can learn from the best while there, as well.
Brandon Pirri, LW/C
Pirri, despite not getting a point in the playoffs, still has proven himself productive within the Knights’ lineup. He had three goals in two games at the end of the season and can gel with the first line. If a top-six player gets hurt and Gerard Gallant decides to work with the same lines, Pirri makes the most sense to slot in (at least from the Wolves roster).
Pirri will want redemption for his series against Rockford, and that could come with the Golden Knights. While his future is still up in the air, Pirri makes a ton of sense as a Black Ace and would be an ideal addition to the Knights’ depth.
Jake Bischoff, D
Jake Bischoff has beaten out Jason Garrison and Griffin Reinhart over the course of the season to become the most important defenseman on the Wolves’ roster. He plays everywhere, has scored seven goals this season and is an important prospect moving forward for Vegas. Which should mean that Bischoff gets the call-up. He continues to want to play, and he’s had a good enough postseason to do so. Bischoff makes sense on any pairing, and he played well with Shea Theodore back in October.
Bischoff could earn a roster spot with a good camp this summer, and it would be interesting to see how he practices and looks with the rest of the team.
Zac Leslie, D
Leslie has been the best offensive defenseman for the Wolves since he set foot in Chicago. He scored 17 points in 27 games and added three points in three playoff games. Leslie could add a ton to the Knights roster as well, and he’s not bad in his own zone. He’s actually developed well there, given plenty of penalty kill time and being paired with Garrison.
The trouble is, Leslie might be injured. He looked to have done some damage to his arm in the third OT, which may have eventually led to the final goal against. If he is, then there’s no use in calling him up. Let him rest and recover.
If he’s not seriously hurt, though, he needs time with the Golden Knights. His motivation and production deserves to be rewarded, if possible.
Nicolas Hague, D
Despite being the second round pick, fourth for the Golden Knights, Hague has developed the most and had the best time with the Wolves out of all of Vegas’ 2017 draft picks. He’s lanky, mobile and can use his big stick for good purposes. Hague’s gotten time on all three units with the Wolves, and kills penalties especially well.
It will be important to get Hague more professional time before next season, even in a practice setting. Let him interact with the other defensemen, let him continue to build chemistry with Leslie and Bischoff and let him get to know Gallant’s coaching system. For a 19-year-old kid, Hague is well set up for the future.
Max Lagace, G
Lagace is not the goaltender people would think would be here. But in the postseason, Lagace outplayed Oscar Dansk. In one game, Lagace made 72 saves on 76 shots, posting a .947 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average. Compare that to Dansk’s .894 and 3.05 over 57 shots in two games. Lagace was clearly better.
Lagace has also played in more NHL games. The third goaltender on Vegas’ roster will very likely not play. But if they do, right now, the preference should be Lagace.
While Dansk is likely a more sure bet for the Golden Knights’ future, Lagace stepped up when the pressure was on him, and Dansk did not. That’s what matters this postseason. Lagace should be called up if need be.
What to do with the others
Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki
Both were too young to really provide help for the Wolves. Suzuki played in one game, and was done playing halfway through regulation. Glass didn’t get any on-ice time in Chicago. There’s a reason for that.
Neither should be a Black Ace. Instead, they should head off to summer and get prepared to impress in camp. They need more time to develop, which they won’t get in Vegas.
Jason Garrison and Teemu Pulkkinen
While these veterans make sense as short-term plug-ins in case of emergency, Black Aces for Vegas should be more prospect-based. There’s plenty of talent on the roster, and plenty of talent amongst future Knights players. Neither Garrison nor Pulkkinen are destined for long-term futures with the Golden Knights.
For that reason, they should be allowed to plan for their own futures.
Griffin Reinhart and T.J. Tynan
Both Reinhart and Tynan are signed through next season and played well in the regular season. The problem is, neither played well enough in the postseason to earn themselves a spot on the Golden Knights. Tynan needs to impress in camp next season to get a roster spot, and Reinhart will likely not stick in the NHL anytime soon.
While they’re building blocks for next season’s iteration of the Wolves, they should not be Black Aces this season.
Stefan Matteau and Paul Thompson
Both are free agents following this season. Matteau is a restricted free agent, but it will be interesting to see what George McPhee decides to do with him. After all, it was his penalty that ended the Wolves’ season. Thompson is an unrestricted free agent, and is likely destined for a new team.
With both futures up in the air and their lack of production in the playoffs, they’re likely not Black Ace candidates.
If Leslie is indeed hurt, then Holm is the likely candidate to replace him as a Black Ace. He’s just as good in the offensive zone, posting 1-8—9 through 21 games in a Wolves jersey and 1-1—2 in the postseason.
Holm has been excellent since being acquired in exchange for Brendan Leipsic and could be a Black Ace candidate, but there are other players who take precedence.
Dansk became the third goaltender for the Golden Knights over the course of the season and ended as the Wolves’ starter. He got the first two games for the Wolves, but both were losses, and bad ones. His inability to make a save on the penalty kill led the Wolves down this path, and he’s begun making mistakes.
I think Dansk needs some separation from the end of this season, and the best thing for him might be an early summer. Lagace seems ready to go, and his excellence late in game 3 deserves to be rewarded over Dansk’s stumbles in game one and two.