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Forecasting the Utica Comets Roster for the 2018-19 Season

I have always been of the mind that it is never too early to look ahead to what the next season of hockey could hold concerning player movement for the Canucks. Since landing my gig with CanucksArmy for this season, however, I have been following the Comets more closely. As such, I thought I might try my hand at figuring out what may lay ahead for the Comets roster for next season.

I will break things down into groups of players based on their contract status with the Canucks/Comets and how they may or may not fit into the team’s plans going forward. I will also include what I would consider a best-case scenario for what the Comets roster could look like, as well as what I feel would be a more realistic version of what the lineup could end up resembling.

I was going to do this exercise purely for my own enjoyment, but I figured that there might be one or two other curious Comets fans who may like a look as well. So let’s get down to it.

Our first group will consist of players who currently have contracts with the Canucks/Comets beyond this season.

Forwards

  • Jonathan Dahlen
  • Tyler Motte
  • Zack MacEwen
  • Jonah Gadjovich
  • Michael Carcone
  • Kole Lind
  • Yan-Pavel Laplante
  • Nikolay Goldobin
  • Brendan Gaunce

Defensemen

  • Evan McEneny
  • Ashton Sautner
  • Guillaume Brisebois
  • Jalen Chatfield
  • Olli Juolevi
  • Jaime Sifers

Goaltender

  • Thatcher Demko

I have included Brendan Gaunce and Nikolay Goldobin in the above group as I think it is possible that there may not be a spot for either player to start the season in Vancouver. Both players would need to clear waivers to get to Utica. I feel like Goldobin may end up being dealt in the offseason, however, so his inclusion on this list may be moot.

Outside of Goldobin and Gaunce, I think that the bulk of this group will start the season in Utica. I suspect Laplante will go to the ECHL and that Demko could start the year in Vancouver. The other wild card for me in this group is Olli Juolevi. He could end up in Vancouver, Utica, or possibly back with TPS Turku in Finland.

This next group includes the Comets pending restricted free agents, (RFAs).

Forwards

  • Reid Boucher
  • Michael Chaput
  • Cole Cassels
  • Griffen Molino

Defensemen

  • Anton Cederholm
  • MacKenze Stewart

Of the above group, I see no reason to bring back Cederholm or Stewart. Neither player has shown to be a piece that the team can’t do without going forward and both would just be eating up a valuable contract spot.

I also see no reason not to at least qualify Chaput and Boucher. It’s hard to say whether either would clear waivers on the way back to Utica next season, but they may as well be kept around until that time comes.

Cassels and Molino are the wild cards here. I think that Cassels may have done enough this season to earn a qualifying offer to stick around to see if he can build on what has been a decent season for him this year. He could take on more of a leadership role if he is brought back and become the team’s next Wacey Hamilton type of player.

Molino, on the other hand, is another matter. He shows glimpses of being more than just a speedy set of wheels, but I think I would like to see more from him before giving him another two-way deal. I think if it were up to me, I would maybe see about bringing him back on an AHL deal, not unlike what the team did with Mike Zalewski a couple of seasons ago.

Up next is the group of pending unrestricted free agents, (UFAs) who currently have NHL deals, (two-way or one-way) with the Canucks.

Forwards

  • Darren Archibald
  • Joseph LaBate
  • Jayson Megna

Defensemen

  • Patrick Wiercioch

Goaltender

  • Richard Bachman

I included Archibald in the list above, but I do expect that he will have earned another two-way deal with the Canucks for next season. If that does not happen, it is possible that we could see him back with the Comets.

I had high hopes for Joe LaBate this season. I thought it was possible that he could compete for a job with the Canucks at some point, especially with the loss of Dorsett this season. LaBate has had an up and down season in which he hasn’t been overly noticeable when he’s been in the lineup, and he has also been injured for a good portion of the year. I’m not sure that it will make sense for the Canucks to bring him back next season unless he agrees to an AHL pact over a two-way deal.

What can I say about Jayson Megna? He was a whipping boy in Vancouver, mostly just because of the former coach’s intense fondness to play him in a top-six role rather than in a fourth line role where he would have been better suited. It has been an unfortunate season for Megna after having suffered an injury that has kept him out long-term. He may still have a positive impact on the Comets playoff hopes/run, but I do think that the team can move on from him after this season.

As for our last two players on the list, I would think long and hard about bringing both men back. Bachman has been a solid citizen in Utica for a number of years, and he has provided the club with veteran goaltending. If Demko does start in Vancouver, the Comets will need someone to man the net for them, and Bachman has been a big part of the community in Utica and is the kind of pro that you want your kids to learn from.

Wiercioch has been very good this season for the Comets and could be a veteran call-up for the Canucks during the injuries that always come on the back end during an NHL season. He would provide some offence from the blueline in Utica and help bring along youngsters like Juolevi, Chatfield, Brisebois, Brassard, etc.

Our next group consists of players who are currently on expiring AHL deals.

Forwards

  • Wacey Hamilton (A)
  • Carter Bancks (C)
  • Cam Darcy
  • Brendan Woods
  • Danny Moynihan
  • Alex D’Aoust

Defensemen

  • Adam Comrie
  • Dylan Blujus

Of the above group, I would like to see Bancks, Hamilton, and D’Aoust brought back up front, and I would be looking to give D’Aoust a two-way deal over the AHL deal that he currently has. Bancks and Hamilton are straight up good people and excellent pros to have the kids learning from, and D’Aoust plays a hard, gritty game that the Canucks could use on their fourth line. I think he’s worth another look.

I would probably say goodbye to Brendan Woods, Danny Moynihan, and Adam Comrie, but I might be inclined to see about bringing Darcy and Blujus back on AHL deals, depending on what moves are made in the offseason that will affect the Comets roster. Both players have a history with head coach Trent Cull, and both have proven that they can provide some decent secondary scoring in Utica. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it if neither man were back, but I can see a case for both to get another look.

Up next we look at the drafted players who could be signed to deals by the Canucks and could be in Utica next season.

Forwards

  • Elias Pettersson
  • Adam Gaudette
  • Brett McKenzie

Defensemen

  • Kristoffer Gunnarsson
  • Matt Brassard
  • Cole Candella

Of the above group, I would obviously like to see Pettersson and Gaudette signed, and I think I’d like to see Brassard in Utica next season as well. The other three, however, I am not as sure about. If the team moves on from Darcy, then I can see a case for giving McKenzie a look on the lower lines in Utica.

I’m not sure if Candella would be worth the contract spot at this point with a long line of lefties ahead of him on the depth chart. As for Gunnarsson, Jim Benning did say in that draft video that was circulated a while back that he wanted to leave him in Sweden for a year and bring him over for the following season. That would put us in line to see him make the jump to Utica for the 2018/19 season. Depending on what happens with Wiercioch, I suppose I could see Gunnarsson getting a look in Utica, but I think I would personally hold off on signing that contract.

Last, but not least is the list of players who would fall under the veteran rule clause. AHL teams can only dress up to five players with 321 or more pro games at the start of the AHL season. This is important to remember as it has an effect on who can dress on any given night.

Forwards

  • Darren Archibald
  • Wacey Hamilton
  • Carter Bancks
  • Michael Chaput
  • Reid Boucher
  • Jayson Megna

Defensemen

  • Patrick Wiercicoch
  • Jaime Sifers

As mentioned previously, we know that Jaime Sifers has another year on his AHL deal with the Comets, so he will likely be back. I would imagine that the team will bring back both of Wacey Hamilton and Carter Bancks. All three of these fellows have been wearing letters in Utica this season, and all have been solid leaders/pros for the kids to apprentice under.

It makes sense for the Canucks to qualify both of Chaput and Boucher as both are very good players in the AHL who can help the farm team while being capable call-up players for the big club as well. I do wonder if Boucher might pass on his qualifying offer, should he get one, and head overseas rather than face the prospect of spending another year in the AHL.

I would thank Megna for his time and move on from him so he won’t be an issue with the vet rule going forward. The other vet is Wiercioch, and as mentioned above, I can see a case for bringing him back, depending on what else happens with the Canucks/Comets defence group going forward.

So where does all of this leave us? Let’s have some fun and build what would be an ideal play the kids roster for next season’s Utica Comets.

Forwards

Jonathan Dahlen – Elias Pettersson – Zack MacEwen

Jonah Gadjovich – Adam Gaudette – Kole Lind

Tyler Motte – Cole Cassels – Michael Carcone

Griffen Molino – Brett McKenzie – Alex D’Aoust

Wacey Hamilton (A) – Carter Bancks (C) – Michael Chaput

Cam Darcy

Defensemen

Evan McEneny – Guillaume Brisebois

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Matt Brassard

Patrick Wiercioch – Jaime Sifers (A)

                             Dylan Blujus

Goaltenders

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

While it would be very interesting to see this as the Comets roster next season, I don’t think it is realistic. I don’t see the coach playing all of those youngsters together without some help from veteran players. There will be player movement in the form of trades and signings and some of the above players will either make the Canucks roster or head back to junior or overseas.

So what does a more realistic 2018/19 Comets roster look like? For this roster, I will assume that Pettersson and Juolevi have either made the Canucks or headed back overseas. I will assume that Bancks and Hamilton are brought back on AHL deals and that Goldobin has been traded or has managed to stick with the Canucks. Archibald and Boucher will also be absent as I think Archibald will stick with the Canucks and Boucher could head overseas for a new opportunity.

Forwards

Jonathan Dahlen – Micheal Chaput – Zack MacEwen

Tyler Motte – Carter Bancks (C) – Kole Lind

Wacey Hamilton (A) – Adam Gaudette – Michael Carcone

Jonah Gadjovich – Cole Cassels – Alex D’Aoust

                    Brett McKenzie – Cam Darcy – Griffen Molino

Defensemen

Patrick Wiercioch – Guillaume Brisebois

Evan McEneny – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Jaime Sifers (A)

                          Matt Brassard

                        Dylan Blujus

Goaltenders

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

I think that this second roster is a little bit closer to what we might see on opening night in Utica for the start of the 2018/19 season. Clearly, many things can change as the result of offseason trades etc, and this was just an exercise for fun, but we can see how the Comets could be a very different team next season.

The Comets are back in action on Friday, March 23rd as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come to town to take on the Comets for game number 65 of the season. As always, CanucksArmy will have your post-game report following the game.

    • Cory Hergott

      Glad you enjoyed the post. It was an interesting exercise to go through. Plenty of moving parts there. I will forgo any playoff odds. They will likely be looking at the powerhouse Marlies for their first-round opponent…so they could be in tough, but I won’t count out the Cardiac Comets until the final buzzer sounds on their season.

  • Rodeobill

    I can’t see EP not getting a shot to play in the bigs next year, but maybe they start him in Utica to get used to the rinks over here.
    Also a grim reminder of how bare the cupboards are on D compared to our forwards.

  • argoleas

    Highly in favor of EP starting in Utica and getting used to the smaller ice and playing as a center. As always, patience oh Canucks Nation.

    As for Gaudette, I see him as the most NHL-ready forward prospect. Maybe he will need some polishing in Utica, but likely he is in the bigs at the start of the season.

    Joulevi will be an interesting case. Will there be kinks in his game that will require Cull’s attention to fix, or will it be something that Canucks will want to address in Van alongside Tanev and Edler? Also, in the remote case they draft Dahlin, would Canucks want two rookie D’s in Van at the same time?

    Dahlen I definitely see starting in Utica, and likely to be a prime injury callup.

    Goldy will not be back in Utica. I agree its Van or trade. I hope they will find the space to keep him in Van. He is showing more glimpses of what he can be, and would hate to bail on that prematurely.

    MacEwen, Brisebois, and Chatfield will play their entire season in Utica, but I expect a callup at some point, maybe even a game. Probably a good idea to give them a taste. Lind and Gadj full-time. Only called up if Canucks are completely decimated with injuries. On second thought, make that likely callups 🙂

    They will stick to The Plan with Demko, so all season in Utica but a few callups/games are IMO a guarantee. Say 5 games in Van?

  • El Kabong

    I thought the Comets were going to have a stacked roster for 20`7/18 but it never happened. Another year and some of these guys should be on the team and we should have another good draft, or two to keep filling the prospect pipeline.

    • Cory Hergott

      Haha, I had the Comets having a pretty stacked roster coming into this season as well. It didn’t turn out that way, but there is a pretty decent chance that we see a pretty strong team in Utica next season.

  • TD

    Thanks for the post, it was interesting. Is the “realistic” forward lines in order, i.e. first line on top? If so, I would make two changes. Chapati has proven he is not a top 9 forward in the NHL so I would switch Chaput and Guadette. Tyler Motte has also shown he is not a top 9 NHL forward (if an NHLer at all). I would move Gadjovich from the fourth line to the second and move Motte down. Cull may not agree meaning your lines are more realistic, but I don’t see how giving prime minutes and better line mates to tweeners while leaving better prospects in worse situations will help develop our top prospects.

    • Cory Hergott

      The “realistic” lineup is how I would see Trent Cull using the players at his disposal. I think he would want to have a “veteran” type player with each of the new players. Don’t look at it as giving Motte prime time ice, think of it as Motte playing on the line allows the coach to trust the younger players with more ice. Not every “useful” player will make the big club, some will work on the farm and help your kids grow. Just my two cents.