Carolina Hurricanes: Predicting the Black Aces

The Carolina Hurricanes have a lot of hidden gems

With teams officially allowed to carry a 31 man roster, who will be among the “Black Aces” for the Carolina Hurricanes once play resumes?

Details are still pouring in about the NHL and NHLPA’s return to play plan but it appears as if each team is going to be allowed to bring 52 personnel into a host city, 31 of which are players. A traditional NHL roster is limited to 21 skaters during the regular season, so basically each team is going to be allowed to bring up to 10 additional players with them.

While there are about 23 guys who are locks to be named to the Carolina Hurricanes roster, who else will be invited to tag along as a “black ace?”

Of the 23 players that I am 100% positive will be named to the roster two are goalies, nine defensemen (including the injured Brett Pesce), and twelve are forwards. I am also positive that Morgan Geekie, who joined the team just before the halt in play, will also be named to the roster, bring the total to 24.

It was confirmed that Alex Nedeljkovic, Steven Lorentz, and recent first rounder Ryan Suzuki all have been participating in voluntary skates in Raleigh shortly after Phase Two begun. Because of this, I think it is safe to say that all three are going to be among the “black aces.”

With six spots left, it has been rumored for a while that Don Waddell and Co. are taking a long look at bringing in two top prospects in Dominik Bokk and Joey Keane for the play-in rounds. While the odds of them actually playing are rather slim, it will be beneficial for both sides if they should join the team.

A part of the proposed plan involves a condense season schedule and training camp for next year. Looking more and more likely to be unable to have a traditional camp, this will be a good opportunity for the Hurricanes coaching staff to get a good look at Bokk and Keane up close. At the same time, it will expose these two young players to the grind of the NHL playoffs and could go a long way in their development.

Clark Bishop is also another guy who would be near the top of the candidate list. Spending time with Carolina in both the regular season and playoffs at various points in the past year, he’s been a guy Rod Brind’amour has shown some confidence in a bottom six role.

It wouldn’t be surprising if reigning AHL Defenseman of the Year, Jake Bean, got the call as well. I am aware of the depth on the backend without him and Keane but if he’s going to have an NHL future with the Hurricanes it doesn’t make sense to not include him.

Should all of the aforementioned players make the cut there would only be two slots left? Among the notable names remaining are Roland McKeown, Gustav Forsling, Jesper Sellgren, and Oliwer Kaski on defense and Brian Gibbons, Spencer Smallman, Max McCormick, and Stelio Mattheos upfront.

I went into a bit more detail here on what each of these guys could bring when expanded rosters were first speculated, but then it was rumored to be 28 skaters and unlimited goalies. With next minders now included in the 31 player limit, this is where things get a bit more interesting.

Both McKeown and Forsling would be solid options traditionally as they both are NHL bottom D pair caliber players right now. Should an injury occur you could plug either guy in and know what to expect from them. However, given the Hurricanes depth at the position and Bean and Keane higher on the depth chart, I am unsure if either guy will make the cut.

Additionally, I am not all that convinced that McKeown will be with the organization much longer, as he is about to age out of the prospect status and will likely want a shot at an NHL spot with another organization whose not as deep on defense. As for Forsling, I am unsure how the organization views him in terms of his future with the club as well.

Sellgren, although another defender, is a guy who I could see getting some valuable experience should he join the team. He was added to the Checkers’ roster for their Championship run last spring and it appeared to have had a positive impact on his development.

He is a guy who could compete for a spot in the lineup in another year or two, so he’d be in the same boat as guys like Bokk and Suzuki. I am unsure how he, or any European prospect for that mater, would feel about coming over to just sit in the press box but who knows.

Kaski and Gibbons are two guys who have already signed contracts overseas for next year and beyond so I doubt they are on the radar any more. Mattheos, given his recent cancer treatment and a brief stint with Charlotte this season, may be better off sitting this one out and focus on becoming an impact player for the Checkers (maybe?) next season.

Smallman split time between the AHL and ECHL and is still a few years away from being NHL ready if he even reaches his potential. With that in mind, given his position on the depth chart as well, I don’t think he’ll be among the “black aces.”

McCormick has signed to a two-way deal this past offseason and has 71 NHL games under his belt. That experience could give him an edge but, given that fact that he’s likely to depart once free agency opens up, he too seems unlikely.

With how the goaltending position is you’d think that Anton Forsberg is strongly being considered, if not already invited, in addition to Nedeljkovic. With him and Ned waiting in the wings, the Hurricanes would have depth at an extremely important position should anything happen to Mrazek or Reimer.

Both the Cotton brothers are ineligible to participate from what I understand so they’ve been excluded for the candidate list. All things considered, of the last couple of names mentioned, I personally would go with Sellgren and Forsberg.

I know the defense is more than covered but I think the playoff experience is really important for the player. To witness the grind of the playoffs at both the NHL and AHL level before actually suiting up for a single NHL game could go a long way. And you can never have enough goalies so Forsberg is no brainier in my opinion.

Of course this all just pure speculation as any player can opt out of participating for any reason without penalty. According to reports they are to notify their organizations of this decision by the 13th, which also happens to be the day training camps (phase 3) are set open.

There is always that chance that the Hurricanes opt not to bring the maximum 31 skaters and could go for a smaller group. Teams are required to submit their expanded rosters to the league on the 13th as well, so we should have a better idea of who these “black aces” are then.

Question for CC readers: If it was up to you, which players would you bring along as “black aces” for the play-in and playoff rounds?