State of the Utica Comets

Now that the dust has settled on two crazy trades in the NHL yesterday, it’s time to turn our attention to tomorrow, Canada Day, also known as ‘Free Agent Frenzy’. 

Although the frenzy may be tempered tomorrow, it’s time to take stock of where the Canucks stand as an organization. We are obviously aware of the Canucks and what their plans are, which is trying to add an impact winger, but a part that may slip everyone’s mind is where the Utica Comets fit into all of this.

There has been a bit of under the radar roster overhaul for the Canucks farm team, so let’s take a look what happened down there, and what should be the course of action starting tomorrow.

Forwards

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  • Players on PTO/ATO excluded in above chart, but the players who ended the season on a PTO with Utica – Kellan Lain, Milos Bubela, Kellen Jones, Brandon Marino, Mike Pereira.
  • Lukas Jasek and Dmitry Zhukenov are the only possibility of Canucks drafted prospects to join Utica, as they aren’t minded by the CHL/NHL agreement. But Jasek is still under contract with HC Trinec in the Czech Republic and Zhukenov will likely return to the CHL. Neither are signed to an ELC at the moment.
  • Jake Virtanen is a maybe because he doesn’t require waivers to be assigned to the AHL. If the Canucks land one or two forwards in UFA, it may simply be a numbers game. I don’t think it happens, but just ensuring to cover all bases here.
  • Rodrigo Abols is a likely addition to the Comets next season.
There is going to be a huge turnover for the Comets in the forward ranks, which is common in the AHL, but is still very noticeable. This does not include Hunter Shinkaruk (traded) and Linden Vey (UFA), who saw large portion of the season in the AHL and were large drivers of the offence.

Brendan Gaunce, Mike Zalewski, and Alexandre Grenier are in the mix for a forward spot with the big club but could all start the season in the AHL. Grenier and Zalewski are subject to waivers next season.

Laplante will make the jump to the AHL next season, he won’t be relied on to provide much offence but could find himself in a third line role there. There was an expectation that McCann was going to start the season in the AHL next year, but he has since been moved to Florida in the Erik Gudbranson trade.

It’s clear that there will need to be some injection of offence to this group.

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Defence

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  • Players on PTO/ATO excluded in above chart, but the players who ended the season on a PTO with Utica – David Shields.
  • Carl Neill is eligible to make the transition to the AHL next season – the Canucks would likely sign him to an ELC first. That may still happen, or he may return to the CHL for his overage season
The defence is getting very young, very quickly for the Utica Comets. With Subban and Sautner being the only returnees that actually saw time in the AHL, with Cederholm and McEneny spending the entire past season in the ECHL. Stecher and Nilsson will join the defensive ranks from the NCAA and Sweden respectively. Nilsson will look to assume a hard-nosed defensive defenceman role, while Stetcher will likely step into a more offensive two way game.

Sides are an important consideration, so currently the Comets are sitting like this (pairings are not important):

Subban
Sautner Nilsson
Stecher

Alex Biega is a right side defenceman, while Andrey Pedan is normally left sided – one of them could be waived and assigned to Utica.

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Goalies

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There isn’t a lot of explanation needed here, as it’s been covered before, but Bachman and Demko will likely be the guys in Utica, with Garteig plying his trade in the ECHL.

When an injury happens in Vancouver, and we know it’s inevitable, Bachman likely moves up, with Demko and Garteig holding the fort until everyone is healthy again. Joe Cannata and Clay Witt are currently UFA, however there are suggestions that the Canucks may loop back to Cannata in the coming weeks. The only way that makes sense, is if the Canucks move Bachman and go with Cannata/Demko in Utica. Which isn’t a terrible idea, as Cannata was actually the more consistent net minder for the Comets last year and in my opinion, deserves to get a chance.

Conclusion

The Canucks currently have 36/50 contracts and look to be active in adding 2-3 NHL free agents, so that leaves them with a bunch of contract spots left to help out Utica. They may also offer some AHL contracts that the Comets sign over the coming weeks to help supplement their depth. It’s clear that they need to add some bodies in the forward ranks and some more defenceman.

Back in February, leading up to the trading deadline, I wrote that the Canucks need to target some forward prospects too for many reasons, one of which was that the Comets may have some issues going forward. That was before Shinkaruk and Jared McCann were moved, both of which would’ve likely started the season in Utica. 

Injuries happen, there is no way around it. So if there are one or two injuries in the forward group for the Canucks, then players like Gaunce, Grenier and Zalewski may get the call up to Vancouver, further depleting an already depleted group.

The Canucks will need to be active adding AHL veteran depth and reclamation projects with hopes of finding players that can help create offence in Utica. The blog ‘Chirps from Center Ice’ has a list of the Top 100 AHL free agents, and there are some interesting names there that could be signed to help the Comets and also provide more depth to the Canucks organization.

At the very least, the Canucks shopping list for the Comets includes two top six forwards and two top 4 defenceman (preferably left sided).

So, I would expect the Canucks to be active over the weekend adding a bunch of under the radar signings to help out the Comets. It’s not fair for me to speculate who they will target, but it’s clear that it has to be done. 



  • Steamer

    I’m really annoyed that Valk never seems to get much of a chance. He’s really skilled, and clearly helped out Utica last year when they had trouble scoring.

    What’s the deal, JB?

  • Steamer

    Note that Reid Gardiner not invited to Shawnigan – any word on him?
    Likelihood that Valk will earn a job in Utica? Decent #’s in short stint last season. Lastly, did JB qualify Blomstrand – does Van still have his rights?

    • cupnucks

      (Archibald) – Laplante – (Grenier)———————
      Hamilton – Cassels – Bancks ————————–
      (Zalewski) – (Valk) – Abols —————————-
      Labate – (Friesen) – ————————-

      Neill – Subban
      Nilsson – Stecher
      McEneney – Olson
      Sautner

      Demko
      Bachman

      The Alaska Aces
      Cederholm Stewart Garteig