The Black Ace Series continues on Last Word on Hockey. After a few months of uncertainty due to COVID-19, it is now known who will be in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the roster size for each team. While there is no limit on the amount of goalies a team can carry, teams will have to cap their skaters at 28, which is still a significant amount of skaters teams can bring from their AHL clubs. With that said, let’s take a look at the St. Louis Blues Black Aces.
St. Louis Blues Potential Black Aces
The term “Black Ace” was once used negatively. The term originated from Eddie Shore, who referred to spare players as a “Black Ace.” Shore said that a team would be in bad shape if it had to use one of its black aces in a game. Recently, however, it has been used more positively. A team would use a black ace to help it overcome the loss of a player or to utilize a player in a different way to help the team win.
Today’s installment of the Black Ace Series looks at the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues and the black aces who could help bring more “Gloria” to St. Louis. To be a black ace, a player cannot be a full-time NHL player. Players such as Jordan Kyrou and Carl Gunnarsson, therefore, would not be eligible for this list, as they are full-time players even though they have not played in as many games as other players have. The Blues have plenty of depth on their AHL team, with plenty of potential talent available.
The Blues drafted Klim Kostin as the final first-round pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. There were high expectations for Kostin’s impact in the Blues lineup, and that time could come in the playoffs. Kostin has spent three seasons in the Blues minor league system, scoring a total of 29 goals and 53 assists in 181 games. His NHL debut came this season, as he scored one goal in four games. The Blues have had success with size and toughness, especially during the playoffs, and Kostin fits that mould.
Kostin has played on a higher stage before. He played for the Russian U-20 (under the age of 20) team during the 2018 and 2019 World Junior U-20 Championships. Kostin recorded eight points in five games in 2018 and six points in seven games in 2019.
Kostin’s size and skating ability could prove useful to the Blues should he be needed. Kostin was projected to be drafted higher than he was in 2017, so the playoffs could be his chance to make teams regret passing on him.
Nathan Walker was a part of the Washington Capitals team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018. He became the first Australian player to win a Stanley Cup. Walker left the Capitals to sign with the Blues on July 1, 2019. Walker played in four games in the preseason, picking up just one assist. In five regular-season games, Walker scored one goal and picked up one assist.
While these are not flashy numbers by any means, Walker’s production in the AHL makes him an interesting option for the Blues. In 46 games in the AHL, Walker scored 19 goals and had 13 assists. Walker led the team with seven powerplay goals. In the few games Walker played with the Blues, he was playing on the top two lines, showing that Coach Craig Berube has enough trust to put him in that spot when needed. Walker’s AHL production shows that he can produce when he is on the top lines.
In addition to his numbers in the AHL, Walker’s experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs can make him a valuable black ace. In the Capitals Stanley Cup run, Walker played in Game 6 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Walker picked up an assist as the Capitals won in overtime to eliminate the Penguins. Should the Blues need assistance from their AHL roster for the playoffs, Walker has experience. That alone can be a valuable asset.
Niko Mikkola has not put up flashy numbers in his two seasons on the Blues AHL team, scoring nine points in 70 games last year and 14 points in 48 games this year. In five regular-season games, Mikkola just had one assist. However, Mikkola’s skillset shows there is value to this defenceman.
Mikkola is a fast skater. He has shown the ability to get down both sides of the ice quickly. Mikkola plays the game the way the Blues like to play it. He can play the boards well and poses a toughness that may surprise some due to his size (6’4” and 185 lbs). Mikkola’s skill set, as well as his experience in winning a gold medal with Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship, has led to some believing Mikkokla could be a candidate to replace fellow defencemen Alex Pietrangelo should he leave in free agency.
Mikkola does not bring much offensively to the Blues, but what he brings on defence could play a large role should he be needed during the playoffs.
Unlike Mikkola, Mitch Reinke has found offensive success in the AHL. Reinke put up 45 points in 76 games during the 2018-19 season and put up 22 points in 45 games this season. Reinke’s ability to move the puck as well his hard slap shot shows signs of a player who could find himself on the Blues power play.
Reinke’s play on the defensive side does not quite match Mikkola. Reinke also does not have the experience of playing on a bigger stage like Mikkola did in the World Juniors. What could give Reinke the edge over Mikkola, however, is that he is a right-handed shot. The Blues currently only have four defencemen who are right-handed: Alex Pietrangelo, Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, and Robert Bortuzzo. Should one of those four go down, the Blues could call on Reinke in an attempt to keep four right-handed shooters. The Blues have always had a surplus of left-handed shooters, so maintaining the balance between right and left would not be a bad idea.
Reinke’s potential is such that there are some that believe Reinke would have had the chance to make an NHL team out of training camp had he not been on a Blues team that was so deep defensively. Reinke was one of the extras the Blues carried during last year’s postseason, and there is no reason to believe they will not do it again.
Ville Husso, Adam Wilcox, Joe Hofner, and Evan Fitzpatrick
With no limit to the number of goalies teams can carry during the playoffs, there is no reason not to carry as many as possible. The Blues carried Ville Husso last postseason, so he would most likely be the first up should Jordan Binnington or Jake Allen get injured. Guys like Adam Wilcox, Joel Hofer, and Evan Fitzpatrick should come with the team even though they are not likely to play. They will benefit from being able to practice with the team, especially with the remainder of the AHL season cancelled.
In 42 games played in the AHL this season, Husso had a 2.56 goals-against average with a .909 save percentage. Both are big improvements from the previous season when Husso only played in 27 games due to injury. Husso has the most experience of all the goalies in the Blues system. He has brief experience in the NHL. He is close to, if not ready, to play in the NHL full time.
Should the Blues need more than just Husso, Wilcox backed up Husso this season in the AHL, posting a 3.14 goals-against average and a 0.877 save percentage. Needless to say, those are not impressive numbers. Fitzpatrick posted a 2.66 goals-against average with a 0.901 save percentage during the 2018-19 season, but he only played in eight games. Needless to say, injuries to both Binnington and Allen could be detrimental to a team looking to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
That will do it for the St. Louis Blues black aces. Anything can happen in hockey, this year especially. Perhaps a name mentioned today will find itself in the history book someday.