With the announcement of the NHL’s Return to Play plan, the 24 eligible NHL teams are preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Calgary Flames are one of those teams. Last Word on Hockey continues with its Black Aces series, examining teams’ spare players that could make an impact this summer. Today’s installment looks at the players who make up the Calgary Flames Black Aces.
With the cancellation of the AHL season, these call-ups become more important to players on the bubble of NHL teams. This is the only meaningful hockey these players may have the chance to play for a while, and they’ll certainly look to set themselves apart at the NHL level during the playoffs.
Calgary Flames 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 Flames’ aces in the hole.
Calgary’s not a team that has a bunch of bubble players waiting ready to burst. However, they do have some talent sitting on the outside that may be able to step in and contribute to the team’s success in the event of an injury. There’s a healthy mix of players who’ve had some NHL experience in the past, as well as prospects that may surprise given the chance. Today, we’ll break down seven of these players who could be considered Calgary Flames Black Aces. We also predict how they can impact the team this summer.
Out of all the players on this list, Zac Rinaldo certainly has the highest chance of retaining a regular role with the team. Rinaldo only played 33 hockey games this season, splitting his time between the Flames and the AHL’s Stockton Heat. In 19 games with Calgary, Rinaldo tallied three goals and two assists while he tallied seven assists in 14 games with Stockton. He’s a bruiser in the strictest sense of the term, and his enforcer/tough guy label may help give Calgary a physical edge in the playoffs.
Rinaldo is one of the few true enforcers left in the NHL. Through nine NHL seasons, Rinaldo has never scored more than ten points in a single season. His time has been spent largely in the AHL the past few years, and he’s no longer a full-time NHL player. In his days of being a full-time player, he consistently topped 100 penalty minutes per season and grew notoriety around the league.
Since joining the Flames organization before the 2018-19 NHL season, Alan Quine has never found a spot as a full-time NHL player. He only got into nine NHL games with the Flames this season, posting only one goal and no assists. However, Quine was one of Stockton’s most valuable players this year. While only playing in 38 AHL games, he tallied an impressive 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists). His last NHL playoff action was with the New York Islanders in 2015-16, collecting an impressive five points in 10 games. If Quine regains some of that magic, he could factor in as a valuable bottom-six piece for the Flames.
His versatility makes him a valuable asset as well. Quine’s demonstrated the ability to play any forward position. He’s a logical insert into the lineup in the event of an injury.
After being a full-time NHL player in Calgary last season, Austin Czarnik spent the majority of this season with Stockton. Czarnik got into only eight games with Calgary this season, scoring three points. Like Quine, he was much more successful in the AHL. In 32 games with Stockton, Czarnik made an impact, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points. He played in one playoff game last year in Calgary’s first-round loss to the Colorado Avalanche. He didn’t register a point.
Able to play both centre and right-wing, Czarnik has proven his value at the NHL level in the past. As a black ace, he has the chance this summer to regain some confidence and respect at the sport’s highest level.
Buddy Robinson has mostly stuck to the AHL during his professional hockey career but was able to slide into a few games with the Flames this season. He tallied one goal in five games, but again spent the majority of the season in the American League. Since turning pro in 2013-14, Robinson’s only played in 12 NHL games. He’s never gotten into an NHL playoff game, so the experience may be entirely new for him.
It’s worth noting that he didn’t look entirely out of place in the NHL, and has a background playing with Flames star Johnny Gaudreau. While they’d likely never be on the same line, that chemistry may be worth noting. It could improve Robinson’s morale and help him make a better impact on the team’s bottom-six forward group.
Alexander Yelesin is a more intriguing piece for the Flames. An undrafted free agent signing out of the KHL, he also got into a few NHL games this season. In his first season on North American ice, Yelesin tallied five points in 38 AHL games with Stockton and went pointless in four games with Calgary. Yelesin certainly has experience playing at a professional level, having collected three season’s worth of hockey in the KHL.
Yelesin’s never been known for his offensive game, so those low point numbers aren’t exactly surprising. However, having a defenceman who can step in and bring support and solid defence to a banged-up blue line certainly isn’t a bad thing. He could prove valuable if injuries plague the Flames’ defence core.
Formerly a third-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Andrew Nielsen‘s never panned out on an NHL level. His point totals were the same as his teammate Yelesin’s this year, hitting five points in 45 AHL games. Nielsen’s had a few years of professional hockey under his belt, however. He could end up being one of Calgary’s recalls.
Nielsen certainly isn’t known for his offence either, and, like Rinaldo, plays a physical game. While not expected to play any big minutes, Nielsen could step in a bottom-pairing role and help the Flames brutalize their opponents.
Another undrafted Russian free agent signing by the Flames, goalie Artyom Zagidulin looks to be a diamond in the rough for Calgary. While Zagidulin’s hit a few roadblocks this season adjusting to North American ice, his track record in Russia deserves recognition. Zagidulin’s surpassed a lot of Calgary’s goaltending prospects on the depth chart. He may serve as the Flames’ third-stringer this summer.
Zagidulin put up impressive numbers in the playoffs last season with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk, maintaining a 1.70 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in four games. Those are stellar numbers for a 23-year-old, and his potential looks to be unlocked further down the road. It may be this summer if injuries strike the Calgary net.
That does it for the Calgary Flames Black Aces stay tuned for the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 9th.
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