With the NHL preparing for the playoffs over the summer, teams will be looking to get any edge they can over the competition. With the rosters expanded to 28 skaters (and no limit on goaltenders), teams will look to their minor leagues and prospects to assist them. Today we will be looking at what the Toronto Maple Leafs can do to gain an edge over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Toronto Maple Leafs Potential “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 Toronto Maple Leafs black aces.
Timothy Liljegren has spent lots of time AHL this season, but also played 11 games for the Leafs. He was the best defenceman on the Marlies but struggled in his limited games in the NHL. With one assist in that time, Liljegren also had the worst xG% at 5v5 on the team with an abysmal 35.58%. Albeit, this was in limited time on ice and limited games. Based on his extraordinary performance in the AHL, it is not unreasonable to expect better from him moving forward.
The Leafs have the issue of being very weak on defence if they experience just one major injury (such as Morgan Rielly or Jake Muzzin). Rotating in Liljegren if there is a single injury isn’t outlandish, even though the Leafs have nine defencemen in the NHL at the moment. It will also provide a valuable playing experience in an NHL playoff setting. While Liljegren was a key piece of the Marlies winning the Calder Cup, playing in the NHL will be a different experience.
Liljegren has more to offer, and if head coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas see him doing well in camp, he could get a shot.
Agostino was the Marlies leading scorer this season, but at the NHL level he would likely fill in as a fourth-line role. Many people believed he was deserving of a spot in the NHL after training camp for the day one roster.
Chart from Evolving Hockey
Based on his RAPM charts from Montreal and New Jersey in 2018-19, Agostino provided solid defence, slightly above replacement level, and an incredibly solid fourth liner. Based on his past performance, and his success in the AHL, Agostino very well could be the first choice to fill into the lineup should there be an injury. GM Kyle Dubas saw something with him when he signed him in free agency. Agostino has also played half a season under Keefe before he was named head coach, so there is experience with the system.
The Leafs big new prospect. Kyle Dubas has already confirmed that Robertson will be with the team for the playoffs. This is likely so he can practice with the team as the OHL is cancelled and wouldn’t be able to practice otherwise. This doesn’t mean he won’t play, however. Through 46 games with the Peterborough Petes this season, Robertson posted an astounding 55 goals and 86 points. This is good enough for 10th in the OHL in points, and first in the league in goals. Robertson has truly excelled this season, with many thinking he could even be NHL ready at this point.
While Robertson has no professional hockey experience yet, he has proven that he is extremely talented from his production in the OHL. With the Leafs being a hyper offensive team, he could fit in very nicely if there is an injury to someone within the top 9 and on the second power-play unit. He likely won’t be game-breaking at the still young age of 18, however, he can still slot in during times of emergency and potentially contribute offensively.
There are more experienced players the Leafs can call upon to help them out, but there are none as gifted as Robertson that isn’t already on the full-time roster.
Petan played 16 games at the NHL level this season and 25 games at the AHL level. In the AHL he was above a point-per-game. However, similar to Agostino, Petan would fit in like on the fourth line as a center (as opposed to the wing for Agostino). Petan has provided respectable defensive support in years past and seemingly has been steadily improving offensively.
Petan would be an excellent choice to fill in for the current fourth-line centre Jason Spezza if he were to go down. While Petan clocked nearly half his time this season with Spezza, it seems the only way for him to squeeze into the lineup is if Spezza is out.
The days of playing a rotation are over, as it is the play-in for the playoffs. The only way Petan will see time is if there is an injury, however, he could be a fine depth replacement for the team should it be necessary.
After posting a career-high in goals, assists, and points in 2018-19 with the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, Aberg had a downswing this season. Only playing five games in the NHL this season, he ended up playing significant time with the Marlies. He ended the season as the second-highest scorer on the team. He was behind only Agostino, but ahead of other notable players like Jeremy Bracco. Aberg would need to see multiple injuries on the Leafs to make his way up the depth charts to make it onto the team for the play-in, and potentially playoffs.
Aberg has shown flashes of offence, scoring 11 goals in 37 games for Anaheim last season. If the Leafs call upon Aberg as a black ace, he will look to make the most of his opportunity to prove his worth and earn himself another contract. After bouncing around to multiple teams in the past three seasons, Aberg doesn’t have much to show for his time. He is a good choice to have as a 6th or 7th center, should it come to that.
The last of the Toronto Maple Leafs black aces is Kasimir Kaskisuo. The goaltending depth for the Leafs isn’t what it was when the Marlies won the Calder Cup. For the 2017-18 season, the Leafs goaltending included Frederik Andersen, Curtis McElhinney, Garret Sparks, Calvin Pickard, and finally Kaskisuo. Now, two years later, only Andersen and Kaskisuo remain from that group, and Kaskisuo has moved to third on the goaltending depth chart.
Kaskisuo played his first, and only, NHL game this season. He posted just an 0.842 in that game. While Joseph Woll played more games than Kaskisuo in the AHL, there was no doubt that Kaskisuo was the starter.
While he may not be the ideal black ace for the Leafs to have as a goaltender, he is their only real black ace. If either Andersen or Jack Campbell goes down, Kaskisuo will be the first to step in and be the backup.
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