The National Hockey League has confirmed the squad sizes that each of the play-in and playoff teams are allowed. Goalies are unlimited but there is a cap of 28 roster spots for defenders and forwards on each team. This means that several minor league players and prospects will be joining each franchise to bulk out their post-season rosters. Ideally, for teams, the reserve players will not be required. However, franchises will end up needing them when an injury occurs. Today, we are looking at the Pittsburgh Penguins Black Aces.
Pittsburgh Penguins Black Aces
The players that will be included in here likely won’t play a game for the Penguins. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be there. If one of the regulars gets hurt, some of these players could be asked to step in during the playoffs. With that said, let’s take a look at the players that will be a black ace for Pittsburgh.
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 Penguins aces in the hole.
Casey DeSmith has already been seen practicing with some of the Penguin players in recent days so he’s for sure going to be included. He’s going to be the third-string goaltender as Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be the ones vying to get the net for game one against Montreal. DeSmith has seen some NHL action before as he appeared in 14 games during 2017-2018 and 36 games during 2018-2019. He was the backup to Murray before Jarry was and his numbers weren’t bad. They’re still relatively a low sample size but in 2017-2018, he had a .921 save percentage. Then in 2018-2019, he had a .916 save percentage. His even-strength save percentage was even better during those two years (.933 and .928 respectively). When Murray was hurt at times during those seasons, he proved that he was a capable backup for the Penguins.
He was expected to be the backup this season (especially after signing a contract extension), but Jarry had other plans. DeSmith ended up being the number one down at Wilkes-Barre and appeared in 41 games. He had just a .905 save percentage which is well below league average. It’s also well below what he’s done there in the past as for a couple of seasons, he was over a .920 goaltender. Alas, he will be on the Penguins roster but won’t play unless both Jarry and Murray get hurt.
Anthony Angello is likely going to be the 14th or 15th forward for Pittsburgh as he is getting the callup from Wilkes-Barre. Angello appeared in eight games for the Penguins this season because of injuries. He even scored his first NHL goal in his fifth game. It came against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Penguins won that game 5-2.
Down in Wilkes-Barre, Angello had 16 goals and 25 points in 48 games before the season was officially cancelled due to COVID-19. His 16 goals were first on the team along with Riley Barber, who they got in a trade at the trade deadline. The year before that, Angello also put up 16 goals, but this time had 29 points in 65 games. Even though he likely won’t be playing for Pittsburgh during these playoffs, this will still be good for the overall development of his games as he’s still just 24.
Some Penguins fans may not know much about Phil Varone, but expect him to potentially get a recall for the expanded roster. He’s been around the league awhile (he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2009), but has mostly bounced around from team to team. He only has 97 games of NHL experience as he’s been a frequent call-up from the AHL for some of the teams he’s played for (Buffalo, Ottawa, and Philadelphia). Varone was part of the trade with Barber to Wilkes-Barre that sent former Penguins Joseph Blandisi and Jake Lucchini to Laval. For this year in the AHL, he had four goals and 19 points in 33 games. With Wilkes-Barre, he recorded five assists in six games and was centring their second line.
For him to get a chance to play, there would likely have to be a momentous amount of injuries. He’ll still be able to get a good amount of practice time though. That could lead to bigger things for him next season.
Zach Trotman is going to be the top candidate to be recalled for the Penguins’ defence. The defence will be fully healthy going into the playoffs. However, it’s never bad to have more depth on the blue line. Trotman was recalled multiple times this season by the Penguins and played in eight games, registering zero points. Some of those games though, he was playing on his off-side, which was strange considering Pittsburgh had Juuso Riikola ready and waiting on his regular side. Down in the AHL, he played in 27 games and registered four goals and 10 assists.
The Penguins like him for his puck-moving abilities. However, he can be a liability in his own end often as well. There would have to be an injury to at least two of the Penguins regular six defencemen for him to get into the lineup. There’s the potential he could get in after just one injury but with Chad Ruhwedel and Riikola ahead of him, it’s not too likely.