With the announcement of the NHL’s Return to Play plan, the 24 eligible NHL teams are preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Vegas Golden Knights 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 could make up the Vegas Golden Knights 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.
Vegas Golden Knights 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 Golden Knights’ aces in the hole.
Vegas is a true Stanley Cup contender just three years into their existence. It’s a remarkable feat. But if injury should strike, the Knights will need help filling out open positions on their roster. Despite not having a lot of time to build a deep prospect pool, the Knights still have some intriguing players that could step in. Today, we’ll break down seven of these players who could be considered Vegas Golden Knights Black Aces. We also predict how they can impact the team this summer.
Note: For the purposes of this article, top prospect Cody Glass will not be considered. He is still in recovery from presumed season-ending knee surgery.
Now 29 years old, Brandon Pirri has gone back and forth between full-time NHLer and minor-league role model. This season, he served the latter purpose. He did get into 16 games with the VGK but only posted two assists. His offensive success was much more prominent at the AHL level, posting 35 points in 38 games with the Chicago Wolves.
Although Pirri wasn’t a full-time member on a strong Vegas team this year, he’s shown the ability to hang around in the NHL in the past. He split last season fairly equally between the NHL and the AHL, but was definitely a full-time player in 2016-17 with the New York Rangers, scoring 18 points in 60 games.
His offensive touch is a great fit for a third-line scoring role, and Pirri has been around the Vegas nucleus since their first season. He’s the ideal depth player, and undoubtedly the first black ace Vegas taps into at forward, if need be.
Once a highly-touted prospect, Valentin Zykov has really struggled to make an NHL-level impact. It hasn’t been his ideal season, including a lengthy drug-related suspension this past October. However, Zykov has still shown some flash. He’s played in at least one NHL game for four straight years now but hasn’t earned anything more than brief call-ups. He played in 15 contests with Vegas this year but only tallied four points. He fared better with AHL Chicago, scoring 10 goals and five assists in 29 games. They’re good numbers, but they don’t jump off the page.
Zykov’s asset here is purely NHL experience. He knows what it’s like to play at the highest level, even if he hasn’t made himself stick. He’s a suitable injury replacement for a game or two, but shouldn’t be playing a large role with the team.
‘Vegas Born’ takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Gage Quinney. The undrafted 24-year-old made his NHL debut this year playing for his hometown team, something the Las Vegas native never dreamed of. In three games for Vegas during his brief call-up, Quinney was able to get an assist in and not look entirely out of place. He was one of the better players on the Chicago Wolves’ full-time roster this year too, posting 36 points in 46 games.
Quinney is nothing more than an injury replacement at this point in his career, but a strong showing in the playoffs certainly has the potential to earn him legitimate NHL consideration down the line with Vegas.
Keegan Kolesar, despite being drafted back in 2015 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, still boasts some potential as a prospect. He’s a gritty, bottom-of-the-lineup type of guy that seems well-suited for potential playoff action. He went pointless in one game with Vegas this year (his first in the NHL) but had a solid season with AHL Chicago too with 18 points in 33 games.
While Kolesar’s never been and doesn’t project to be any sort of offensive juggernaut, a break for him to show his physical and hardworking edge in the playoffs could be a blessing for his career.
He’s unlikely to crack the lineup due to Vegas’ strong depth at every forward position, but he’s a name to keep an eye on nonetheless.
Former New York Islanders prospect Jake Bischoff got into his first NHL action this season with the Golden Knights. While he was a standout defenceman at the University of Minnesota, Bischoff has never quite been able to translate his success to the professional level.
Playing in 52 games with the Chicago Wolves this year, Bischoff only scored nine points. He won’t use his offensive game to break into the NHL anytime soon but can be a so-so bottom-pair defenceman in the event of an injury. Don’t count on him making any huge impact, though.
Jimmy Schuldt was Vegas’ prospect before anyone else’s, a rare feat. Signing as a free agent with Vegas out of college near the end of the 2018-19 season, Schuldt spent the entirety of this year in the AHL. His rookie professional season went well, notching 21 points in 52 games.
Schuldt has had a history of offensive and defensive success and won an NCAA championship with St. Cloud State. Receiving the experience of being with the Golden Knights for a playoff run may be invaluable to Schuldt. And, in the event of injury, his offensive spark meshes well with Vegas’ fluid defence system.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans might finally get to see goalie Garret Sparks in playoff action, though he’ll be wearing a different uniform. While still third on Vegas’ goalie depth chart, Sparks’ performance this year at both NHL and AHL levels was underwhelming. While his one-game sample size with Vegas doesn’t prove anything, his numbers were very pedestrian with the AHL’s Chicago. In his last AHL season, the 2017-18 campaign with the Toronto Marlies, Sparks posted a great .936 save percentage. He was one of the league’s best goalies. A rather average .908 for Chicago this season, though, and Sparks looks like he may never be a legitimate NHL contributor.
However, he still has some magic to reclaim, and if he needs to step in due to injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, he’s got a real opportunity to prove he deserves one last shot in the NHL.
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