With the announcement of the NHL’s Return to Play plan, the 24 eligible NHL teams are preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Boston Bruins 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 Boston Bruins 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.
Boston Bruins 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 Bruins’ aces in the hole.
The Bruins have been a model of success this decade. Since 2010 they have lifted the Stanley Cup in Vancouver, returned to the Finals twice more, and only missed the playoffs twice. It’s worth mentioning that they just barely missed the cut in both of those years. Unfortunately in recent years, we have seen injuries plague this team. On a positive note, they have the depth to overcome them. Who will step up to the plate when key players get knocked down?
While not yet NHL ready, Jack Studnicka has been dubbed by many as the next great centre in Boston. While eventually replacing Patrice Bergeron is a tall order, he could be their best chance to do so. This post-season could see him get his first real shot at NHL action. If one of the Bruins forwards goes down, Studnicka could be one of the first to fill a hole in the lineup.
To say that Studnicka had a good rookie year would be an understatement. The former second-round draft selection played in 60 games with the Providence Bruins of the AHL before play was stopped. He led all Providence players in points scored with 49, including 23 goals. His pro career is off to a good start. He should be a top reserve this post-season and it may not be long until we see him in Boston full time.
A former first-round draft pick, Brendan Gaunce did not pan out for the Vancouver Canucks. He signed on with Boston in the off-season and was assigned to Providence. In 52 games, Gaunce produced a respectable 37 points. He also meshes well with the type of game played in Boston. Fast and physical is how the Bruins want to approach the postseason. Gaunce is unafraid to do just that after he led all Vancouver forwards in hits during the 2016-17 season in only 57 games.
Gaunce might not be the best option on Boston’s roster but he comes with NHL experience. One thing that has greatly benefitted Boston in recent years is their roster depth. Gaunce adds to that. While not a highly talented offencive producer, Gaunce is capable of filling a bottom-six role if needed. His style of play will fit in well on one of the most physically imposing fourth lines in the NHL.
As an NHL journeyman, Paul Carey has suited up for five NHL franchises. He could be a top reserve for Boston this postseason. Carey’s best NHL season was with the New York Rangers in 2017-18. He played 60 games for New York and posted a seven goal, seven assist season. Carey has also worn the Boston sweater three times over two seasons with the Bruins.
Carey has had a strong AHL season. With 39 points in 60 games, Carey has proven he is a capable forward at the AHL level. This could earn him a spot on the bench should Boston’s current roster suffer injuries. He should not be relied upon to produce offence but he can be a solid contributor in a pinch.
If there is an injury to a top-six defenceman, Urho Vaakanainen could be the next man up. Vaakanainen was a first-round draft pick by Boston in 2017. They have high hopes for him. If not for having such a deep roster on the back end, he could be an NHL regular. Vaakanainen was on the opening day roster in 2018 but suffered an injury after just two games. He also appeared in five games in November of 2019.
Vaakanainen does not score often. He is a stay at home defenceman who plays a strong game in his own zone. His value to this team should not be diminished by that fact. Boston needs to stand tall in front of Tuukka Rask. If they can protect the net they can win games. Should injuries bring down members of the playoff roster, Vaakanainen is ready to step in.
Alex Petrovic almost saw his pro career come to an end after a disappointing season with the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers. In stepped the Bruins, signing him to a professional tryout back in August. Since then, he has played a top-four defenceman role with Providence. Should the Bruins defence suffer injuries, Petrovic could earn himself a way back to the NHL full time.
Don’t let Petrovic’s position fool you. He might play at the blue line but he can be dangerous in the offencive zone. His passing skills resulted in 18 assists with Providence this season. He has 45 during his NHL career. Petrovic has NHL level talent, he just has to prove it.
Dan Vladar had an incredible season with Providence. He is a frontrunner for the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the best goaltender in the AHL. A third-round draft choice in 2015, Vladar has shown why he deserved to be drafted. He led all American Hockey League goalies in both goals-against average and save percentage with a 1.79 and .936% respectively.
Boston already has one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL. Rask is a bonafide franchise goaltender. Jaroslav Halak has been more of a 1B than a backup. Vladar gives them even more depth at the position. Although the odds of him seeing NHL ice time is very slim, he could be the best of the goalie black aces on an NHL roster this postseason.