Fans rejoiced when the NHL announced that hockey would return this summer. Although the remaining games regular-season games were cancelled, the playoffs are set to start fairly shortly, as training camp has officially been set to begin on July 10. Calgary Flames management will now have to decide who their Black Aces will be for the postseason.
Black Aces are players recalled to the NHL when their season ends either in junior or the AHL. Teams carry a certain number of these players in the playoffs in case of injuries or suspensions. Ideally, they are not used, however, if the Flames need to use a few Black Aces, they have three very good options ready to go.
Austin Czarnik has been with the Flames organization for two seasons. In his first, he played 54 games, scoring six goals and 12 assists. Those numbers aren’t spectacular, but it was a step in the right direction for Czarnik since they marked his career-highs to date including games played.
The 2019-20 season did not go as well. The 27-year-old played in just eight games before he was placed on waivers and sent down to the Stockton Heat in December. He stayed with the Heat for the rest of the season and posted impressive numbers with 16 goals and 33 points in 32 games. In his last 96 AHL games, he has put up 102 points, showing just how skilled he is.
If used in the right spot, Czarnik may be able to translate that skill to the NHL level. He also brings experience, with 121 regular-season NHL games in his career, and one playoff game in 2019.
A big reason for the Flames’ recent playoff disappointments has been their lack of strength and toughness. (from ‘Eric Francis: Gaudreau suffering from Flames’ lack of toughness’, Calgary Herald — 01/27/17) . They did their best to address that issue by bringing forwards Milan Lucic and Zac Rinaldo into the fold this season. However, adding 6-foot-6 forward Buddy Robinson would help.
Flames fans were introduced to the hulking forward this season when he was called up in late January and played in five games. Though the 28-year-old may not ever become a regular in an NHL lineup, he has the size and grittiness to help the team during the upcoming playoffs.
The large forward also has some skill, proven by his 18 goals in 45 games with the Heat this season. He also scored an AHL career-high 25 goals in 2017-18. He doesn’t have the same experience as Czarnik, with just 12 career NHL games to this point, but he will give offer protection for players like Johnny Gaudreau if needed, which is something the Flames haven’t had recently.
Another player who has a fair amount of NHL experience is Alan Quine. The 27-year-old appeared in nine games with the Flames this season, scoring one goal. He has played in 106 regular-season games over his NHL career, posting 10 goals and 18 assists. Those numbers won’t excite anyone; however, he has been much more productive in 10 career playoff games, posting 5 points.
On top of his experience, Quine also brings a high level of skill, perhaps more so than Czarnik. In just 38 games with the Heat this season, he posted 14 goals and 46 points. In the previous season, he put up 19 goals and 52 points in 41 games.
The Flames have talent upfront but they struggled at times offensively this season. If they struggle in the postseason and suffer an injury or two, he may be the perfect player to throw in the lineup.
Best Options Available
Make no mistake, the Flames have some very skilled young prospects in their system, both in the minors and at the junior/collegiate level. However, the three listed here are more developed and would be better suited to be thrown into the intensity of a playoff game. Sure, some prospects will be better players in the long haul, but putting them in a playoff situation would be throwing them to the wolves. These three are the best options the team has, and they should be able to make a positive impact if called upon.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.