Comets Militia: Down on the Farm

Josh W
July 15 2014 12:19PM

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In the past year or so my interests as it relates to hockey have shifted towards the analysis and of prospects specifically. With the Canucks acquiring their own farm team only a short drive from where I live I think I paid more attention to the Utica Comets this past season than most fans and probably a good chunk of Vancouver's pro management team, as well.

It's a funny business, really, because even the most minuscule of NHL moves can have major repercussions on the AHL affiliate. There was a point during last season when the Canucks drudged through an inordinate amount of injuries, having to make do with call-ups from Utica. The Comets were already a team that noticeably lacked top-end talent without these substitutions, so the end result was an interesting one to say the least.

This coming season is shaping up to be an even more interesting one (but for different, better reasons) in Utica, following the litany of moves the Canucks have made throughout this offseason.

Just past the jump we'll take a look at the prospective lineup for the Utica Comets in 2014-15, which could have a legitimately exciting influx of young talent should the parent club go with a more veteran-based approach with its own roster.

There are a few league-wide notes we should quickly touch on before getting to the nitty gritty. The AHL announced their divisional realignment, which has the remaining in the West with the likes of Hamilton, Adirondack, Rochester, and Toronto. The big positive takeaway is that Abbotsford's removal will result in less travel for all West teams. The Comets, despite playing in the Western conference, are still more east-ward than the Syracuse Crunch in the North-East Division and the entire East Division. So that's still sort of weird.

To go along with the realignment, there have been some new rule tweaks introduced into the AHL for the coming season. The NHL will be monitoring these closely to see how well they work, using their minor league as a guinea pig for various potential rule changes of their own. These include:

  • Changes to overtime to allow 3-on-3 following the first whistle after 3 minutes of play
  • Expanded overtime to 7 total minutes
  • Long change in overtime
  • A minor penalty to be introduced for players who play the puck without their helmet on and chinstrap done up
  • A game misconduct to any player with 2 fights in a game

As a reminder the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and the National Hockey League (NHL) have an agreement which states when players can leave the CHL to join an NHL’s affiliate team in the AHL. With the caveat being that you need 4 seasons in the CHL, or, to be turning 20 before December 31st of that year before you are allowed to go to the AHL. Prospects that are drafted out of Europe and then come to the CHL are not held to these rules. NCAA players can go to the AHL at any time but the moment they do they can never return to the NCAA.

This agreement limits which prospects can make the jump to the AHL this year and which prospects have to stay in the CHL. Any prospect is eligible to play in the NHL at any time given their team allows them to make the jump. 

Brendan Burke wrote an interesting article on constructing an AHL roster recently, which focused on the rules and requirements for players and contract. Most interesting and new to me are the rules on the number of veterans you're allowed in the AHL and how they are calculated. Jason Botchford also wrote his thoughts on the young Canucks prospects who will likely be joining the Comets this year and how they will have a chance to light up the AHL.

With all of that being clear we can review who is likely to be in Utica this fall:

Departures

  • Pascal Pelletier: an assistant captain on the Comets last year, and one of their top scorers. He was being scouted by the KHL at the end of last season and by no surprise to anyone in the loop, signed a deal with Medvascek Zagreb. It hurts the Comets to lose him but it’s likely that he left for more money given he wasn’t likely to play in the NHL any time soon anyways. Hard to fault him for that.
  • Yann Sauve: one of the Canucks RFAs who was not qualified after a, quite frankly, horrendous season. He was one of the team's worst defensemen, and despite that continued to receive regular minutes. He got hit by a car early in his career and it looks like the previous 2nd rounder was never able to recover. 
  • Jeremy Welsh: came to Vancouver as part of the Dalpe trade with Carolina. He was useful in Utica but it seems there's no real interest in re-signing this UFA.
  • Colin Stuart: was the captain of the Comets and would be good for Vancouver to re-sign for those leadership intangibles. At this point I have not heard any rumours on negotiations, though.
  • Benn Ferriero: another top scorer for Utica, but seemed to benefit from a large amount of puck luck.  Similar to Stuart I haven't heard any on a potential deal.  Ferriero was signed by St. Louis / Chicago Wolves on 16 July.

Forwards

  • Brandon DeFazio: a Canucks RFA who was qualified this summer and will likely end up back in Utica in playing the top-six. 
  • Darren Archibald: a fan favourite in Utica who was qualified himself this summer. He could make a push for a fourth line position in the NHL, but it's more likely he spends the year in Utica.
  • Hunter Shinkaruk: has met both conditions of the NHL/CHL agreement as he has played four seasons in the CHL and will be 20 on October 13th. He's a bit of a wild card; he could go back to Medicine Hat as an over-ager since he lost most of last season with an injury, he could be put in a position to develop physically in the AHL, or he could make the Canucks out of the fall camp. 
  • Dane Fox: was an over-ager last year in the OHL and combined with the fact he was playing with McDavid (and barring some sort of divine intervention, won't be anymore) I would be surprised to see him in the NHL this season. He will definitely help with scoring in Utica, though.
  • Brendan Gaunce: is eligible this year for the AHL but there have been some rumblings that he could be sent back to the OHL. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be overly surprising seeing as he didn't exactly stand out while playing for a prolific squad in Erie last year.
  • Mike Zalewski: a college free agent that will almost definitely end up in the AHL. He is from the Utica area and their fans love their local boys (i.e. Tim and Tom Sestito, *cough cough*). This move almost seems to appease the ticket buyers since Zalewski didn’t really stand out at RPI.
  • Cal O'Reilly: came into the AHL a quarter of the way into the season last year on a standard AHL player contract. This year he earned a two-way NHL contract but it's likely he will spend most of the year in Utica, with a small chance of being called up should there be another rash of injuries in Vancouver.
  • Alex Grenier: really stepped up this past year and was one of the best Canucks prospects in Utica. He will likely be starting in Utica again but hopefully he can earn some NHL time this year.
  • Alex Friesen: started the previous season terribly, but his performance really picked up as the year came to a close. It'll be interesting to see whether that was a circumstantial aberration, or whether he has legitimately improved.
  • Nicklas Jensen: was similar to Friesen in that he started off the previous year terribly in the AHL but then the scoring started to pick up. He’s still young and could conceivably start in the NHL after not looking out of place there last year, but I’d bet he's likely to be in Utica. He could really benefit from playing with someone like a Shinkaruk for a while down there.
  • Ronalds Kenins: the Latvian Olympian has finished his Swiss-A contract and will be coming to North America this fall. Ronalds Kenins Comes to America! Coming to AHL Game Center Lives near you! 
  • Dustin Jeffrey: was signed by the Canucks the same day they inked Cal O'Reilly to a new deal. He comes from the Texas Stars where he played for Desjardins last year, and could potentially compete for an NHL roster spot, but it's much more likely he was brought in to bolster their farm team.
  • Kellan Lain: will most likely continue his development in the AHL in a defensive centre role. As he approaches his peak age he needs to start looking towards earning a spot in the NHL but I don’t see that happening with Lain this year. He was a black hole for goals at either end of the ice last year, so that'll be a trend worth monitoring.
  • Patrick Kennedy: played for the Comets last year as a 4th line type and performed well enough to earn himself an AHL standard player contract. In 40 games he scored 1 goal and four assists. There's nothing to see here, really.
  • Kane Lafranchise: allows the Comets to possibly have a Patrick, a Kane, and a Weber. Kane played 34 games for Abbotsford last year spending half the year in the ECHL but he did notch 13 assists in those 34 games. He seems poised to fill a bottom line hole in Utica.
  • Alex Mallet: did not perform well enough last year to cement a position for himself this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mallet sent down to the ECHL this fall given the large glut of players likely ending up in the AHL.
  • Ludwig Blomstrand: the Canucks Army top prospect, was struggling last year in the ECHL and that’s where he will likely end up this year as well. He will need to step it up this year if he wants to stay in the system. Free Ludwig Blomstrand.

Defensemen

  • Alex Biega: was the Comets best all-around defensemen last year and was signed again this year. 
  • Frank Corrado: will hopefully see the NHL soon enough, but with the addition of Sbisa and re-signing of Tanev and Weber it appears he'll start the year in Utica. That's assuming there isn't an injury or that he doesn't impress the hell out of the coaching staff at camp.
  • Peter Andersson: was a very good, quiet defenseman for the Comets last year. Especially at even strength. He will most likely be in Utica on the second pairing.
  • Henrick Tommernes: has yet to be impressive enough and will surely join Andersson on the 2nd pairing.
  • Bobby Sanguinetti: was another free agent signed by Benning this year and looks to compete for an NHL roster spot or greatly improve the Comets.
  • Jeremie Blain: was fairly good in the ECHL last year, so don’t be surprised if ends up in Utica this Fall.
  • Evan McEneny: is eligible to play in the AHL this fall, with four seasons in the CHL under his belt. He was good last year for Kingston, but not quite elite. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the CHL as an over-ager so he can continue to develop with bigger minutes.
  • Anton Cederholm: is also eligible to play in the AHL this year. He played in the CHL after he was drafted out of Europe, so he can join the Comets at any time. However, since he was essentially a pylon on the top pairing with the Winterhawks last season I can't see the team feeling the need to bring him up to Utica. Not yet. 
  • Yannick Weber: is a stretch to be in the AHL this year, unless someone comes into camp and takes his spot. Weber did play for six games in the AHL last year but there were rumors that he would have gone to Switzerland rather than to the AHL to make sure he was noticed for the Swiss Olympic selection. He's perfectly suited for a 7th defenseman type role with the Canucks. 

Goalies

  • Jacob Markstrom: throws a giant monkey wrench in trying to forecast what the Comets crease will look like this Fall. He doesn’t fit in the NHL currently, but after spending as much time in the AHL as he has, it's fair to wonder whether he can really get anything out of being sent back there again.
  • Joacim Eriksson: performed well in his first season in North America. He definitely needs more time to develop and looks like the de facto #1 netminder for the Comets as of now.
  • Joe Cannata: should likely be in the ECHL, spending plenty of time starting and continuing to develop, but he looks poised to back Eriksson up again unless Markstrom is sent down.
  • Other? The Comets did go out and sign their own goalie last year, Mathieu Corbeil, who was terrible and could not hold down a starter job. He ended up playing for three ECHL teams and one CHL team.

It's honestly probably way too early to know with any certainty how things will turn out for the Comets next season. We are early in the summer and much like Chaos Theory, a single flap of a butterfly’s wings in Vancouver could make these Utica predictions completely wrong.

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I am a Van Fan in Bytown. Living in Ottawa for work, I research Sports Analytics and Machine Learning at the University of Ottawa. I play hockey as well as a timbit but I compete in rowing with hopes of 2016 Olympic Gold. Follow me on twitter at @joshweissbock and feel free to send any questions or comments my way.
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#1 Matt
July 15 2014, 01:37PM
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Really enjoyed reading this post! :-)

Good to know someone has an eye on Utica and not only our Canucks!

Thanks for the in depth roster analysis! :-)

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#2 #FreeLudwigBlomstrand
July 15 2014, 01:44PM
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The Canucks' incredible system depth is blocking his development....

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#3 Franny
July 15 2014, 02:05PM
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Just a quick correction, Kane Lafranchise is a left shooting Dman, not a forward. He'll slot in to a top 4 role on the back end who should be seeing both PP and PK time. Great hockey sense, and an amazing skater.

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#4 Nate
July 15 2014, 04:02PM
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Awesome post! Really informative.

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#5 El Pucko
July 15 2014, 07:04PM
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Thanks for that, I was meaning to follow the Comets this season coming and that was a good introduction.

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#6 Matt
July 15 2014, 11:09PM
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What the f**k!? WHO is Trashing the comments which are just positive and nice!? And also doesn't even have any opinions in them!?

The last two comments @Nate & @El Pucko... WHY would any trash it!? What good will come of it!?

Are people really that sad?

I can understand if you trash a comment which you don't agree with, but trashing a neutral and polite comment... what!?

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#7 Spenny
July 16 2014, 03:56PM
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Ludwig Blomstrand: the Canucks Army top prospect, was struggling last year in the ECHL and that’s where he will likely end up this year as well. He will need to step it up this year if he wants to stay in the system. Free Ludwig Blomstrand.

Actually laughed... Because I was one of the people pissed he didnt make the top twenty or something like that prospects...

Great post though.

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#8 Ted
July 16 2014, 05:50PM
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Matt wrote:

What the f**k!? WHO is Trashing the comments which are just positive and nice!? And also doesn't even have any opinions in them!?

The last two comments @Nate & @El Pucko... WHY would any trash it!? What good will come of it!?

Are people really that sad?

I can understand if you trash a comment which you don't agree with, but trashing a neutral and polite comment... what!?

It's what the kids do...

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#9 Vokailk
July 17 2014, 12:51PM
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Ted wrote:

It's what the kids do...

The website receives money for trashes

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#10 Ted
July 17 2014, 07:18PM
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Any news on the Canucks trying to go after Kevin Hayes who may not sign with the Blackhawks?

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