Ben Smith could be rewarded with a call up to the Blackhawks' playoff roster this weekend. Who else deserves to be one of Chicago's Black Aces?
The Chicago Blackhawks are readying themselves for what they hope is a lengthy postseason run. For several of the organization's prospects, there is a good chance they will be coming along for the ride.
By the time the playoffs start, and perhaps sooner as the 'Hawks have the top spot in the league, Chicago will expand its current roster by bringing in its Black Aces. This is a term used for players being promoted for as long as the Blackhawks remain in the playoffs.
The athletes are eligible to play in any playoff game. However, the primary reason many of the players will be called up is to be extra bodies in practice and to soak up the playoff atmosphere as a reward for their work this season.
Last year, six players were called up, including Brandon Saad, who played in Chicago's first-round series with Phoenix and just completed a solid rookie season with the 'Hawks in 2013. Who gets the call this season? Let's start with two players who are already with the club.
Drew LeBlanc won't be eligible to play as Saad did in the postseason because of when the Blackhawks signed him this spring. I'd imagine he'll remain with the team even if he can't skate.
Carter Hutton is also currently on the active roster. Depending on Ray Emery's injury status, it may not be a bad idea to get him some action in one of the last two games.
If Emery is unable to return in the next few days, Chicago will be a Corey Crawford injury away from Hutton taking to the crease in a playoff game. It might be a good idea to give him the net once this weekend.
Let's go by position to see which players in the organization could wind up a Black Ace.
I will be stunned if Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes are not announced as call-ups by Friday morning. Hayes was on the roster and played in the Phoenix series last year. Pirri and Morin were Black Aces last season and Smith would have been if he hadn't been recovering from season-ending surgery.
My guess would be that the aforementioned players will see some action in the final weekend of the regular season. It also would not shock me if one of these players sees the ice in a playoff game.
Rostislav Olesz could garner a call up based upon the way he accepted being buried in Rockford and how he performed after knee issues. Prospects Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill might also hop aboard the playoff roster.
The list of guys I would look to join the team would be topped by Steve Montador, who played in 14 games down the stretch for Rockford after missing over a year with concussion symptoms.
Ryan Stanton quietly had a solid season for the IceHogs. He improved on last year's numbers with a 25-point campaign and was a steady defender. He was a Black Ace last spring, and I would expect him to merit serious consideration.
Adam Clendening was an AHL All-Star and had an impressive rookie campaign. He isn't ready to stop NHL forwards. However, with the depth the 'Hawks currently have on the back end he doesn't need to be. I'm pretty sure the team will reward Clendening with a call up after a nine-goal, 37 assist 2012-13 season.
This is kind of a tough call and really depends on Emery's health. If he isn't going to be available for a while, Hutton backs up Crawford and Henrik Karlsson is probably brought up. If Emery is ready to play, neither Karlsson nor prospect Kent Simpson is really needed.
With a weekend that should see several regulars getting some rest going into the playoffs, we should soon get an idea of which players the Blackhawks choose to reward with promotions to the playoff roster.