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Photo Credit: © Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Potential Maple Leafs Black Aces

Today Toronto Marlies General Manager, Laurence Gilman, provided some insight on the conclusion of the Marlies season. This included exit interviews for some players, and something else for others:

The players who join an NHL club for practices during playoffs are often referred to as “Black Aces”. In this instance, “taxi squad” fits all the same. In a typical year teams are limited to 3-4 Black Aces, but as you know this is not a typical season.

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Given the potential time restraints, the NHL may allow teams to carry additional extras for the 2020 playoffs.

Who Is On the NHL Roster?

It’s been a while since NHL teams have been viewed as a 23 man roster, so here is a refresher. Rasmus Sandin and Martin Marincin are on the roster. Cody Ceci and Morgan Rielly have been activated from LTIR, while Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev remain there. Mikheyev was extremely close to returning when the rosters were frozen, but for now he is still on LTIR.

The Leafs also traded for Denis Malgin and Calle Rosen, who are on the roster in two different ways. Malgin was acquired before the trade deadline and has remained on the roster since.

When the Leafs acquired Rosen, he was in the AHL. Therefore when he was recalled it was after the deadline, and used one of four recalls allowed after the deadline per CBA Article 13.12(I)(i). Conversely Timothy Liljegren and Kevin Gravel were on the roster at the deadline, and do not count towards the recall limit despite being in the AHL at the time of the pause.

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Another tidbit from Gilman, expect the Leafs to pull Liljegren back up to the NHL for playoffs:

Who Is a Candidate?

Considering Rosen has remained on the roster since his initial recall, we can write his name in pen.

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If this were a normal season, teams can only carry 4 Black Aces if they made 4 recalls during the regular season. Otherwise they are limited to 3. For this exercise I’m going to assume they can make 3 additional recalls, but it’s possible the NHL will allow for more, given the peculiar way the season has unfolded.

Knowing that that the Leafs will have their ‘top’ 6 defencemen plus Sandin, Marincin, Gravel, Liljegren, and Rosen available, it is pretty safe to assume the rest will be forwards.

The first name that jumps to mind is Nic Petan. He’s been on the NHL roster more than any other Marlies forward, and he has high-end skill that would allow him to play up and down the lineup. He can play center and both wings, and chip in on PP2 much the same way Tyler Ennis did in 2018-19. Petan has 31 points in 25 AHL games this year, he’s simply too good for minor leagues.

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If the Leafs want a more steady defensive center, Adam Brooks has been their best depth option since Nick Shore exited. His 3 assists in 7 Leafs games this season are evidence he can produce at the NHL level, but the Leafs really like how he can cover the ice. This is his 4th year of development with the organization, and they have shaped him into the kind of depth they need. He may be undersized, but the Leafs have plenty of 4th line options with size.

Speaking of size, Egor Korshkov might be a good asset in a physical playoff series. He’s 6’4″ and after his first season in North America, he may be adjusted enough to be called upon. Critics question his skating and why he doesn’t use his frame more, but when he does it’s a sight to behold. He could be a fit on the 4th line with Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza. In his one NHL opportunity, Korshkov notched his first NHL goal. Can’t argue with a goal per game, just ask Justin Holl!

The only other current Marlies forward to appear in a game for the Leafs was Pontus Aberg, but he may not be a candidate. Besides rumours of him heading to the KHL next season, Aberg is a single father. In a global pandemic he may have other priorities, and if that’s the case the Leafs have proven in the past to be an organization respectful of that.

Another delicate situation is that of Jeremy Bracco. He was also recalled, but never played for the Leafs. At one point he also reportedly requested a trade. He had just returned from a lengthy personal leave, when the AHL went on pause. I am not going to read into that, but it seems he may not be in contention.

Kenny Agostino may have a strong case, he also received a 1-day callup this season. At 28 he is not a prospect, but he has 85 games of NHL experience and was creeping up on a point per game in the AHL at the pause. He’s earned high praise from Marlies coaches as a consummate professional, and he has another year remaining on his contract. He fits the mould of Black Aces from seasons past.

Finally, there is deadline acquisitions Miikka Salomaki and Max Veronneau.

Salomaki has nearly 200 games of NHL experience between regular season and playoffs with the Nashville Predators, even appearing in 5 games for them in 2019-20. His experience and hard-nosed style may heighten his consideration, but don’t expect him to score any highlight reel goals. Salomaki also played over 100 minutes in the NHL on the Penalty Kill, if that’s what the Leafs require.

Veronneau’s trade to Toronto involved conditions for NHL games played, which means there was some consideration of him getting time in the show. He only ended up playing 3 games for the Marlies, with no points to show for it, so he may not be high on the list.

Finalists

It would make sense for the Leafs to try to cover as many bases as possible, so my top three Black Aces would be Nic Petan, Miikka Salomaki, and Adam Brooks. In those three the Leafs have a PP specialist, a shutdown PKer, and a center with good puck possession skills.

If they were able to add more, I think they take Kenny Agostino and Egor Korshkov. Agostino seems to be a positive influence on the younger players, and if the Leafs had injuries to their top 9, Korshkov has dynamic offensive talent that could mesh surprisingly well with their skilled forwards.

There is one more name, though.

It’s not a Marlie, or even a player with any professional experience. It’s a player who lead the CHL in goals, despite playing ~16 games less than the pack. It’s 2019 2nd round pick Nick Robertson, and he is working hard for his chance:

Since he’s already signed his ELC, he is technically on the Leafs reserve list despite playing in the OHL. He’s 100% eligible to join the Leafs for playoffs, as the OHL season is over. If the Leafs need some scoring, this is their guy. Say they go down in a series and need to shake things up, he is absolutely electric. Robertson likes to shoot more than Mitch Marner likes to pass, stick them on a line and wait for the red light. If you’re worried about his size, try to find a clip of one of the 6’5″+ behemoths in the OHL running him over. There are none.

He may not be ready for things to happen at NHL speed, but all the tools are there. It’s just a matter of time before Robertson is embarrassing NHL goalies, why not this summer?