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Photo Credit: Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets

CanucksArmy Comets/Marlies Playoff Primer: Will Youth Be Served?

The Utica Comets are set to hit the road to Toronto to take on the powerhouse Marlies for their first-round playoff date this Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific. With that, I felt a playoff primer of sorts was due, to catch you up on the season series, as well as take a look to see what possibilities lie ahead for the first-round matchup.

The Marlies finished the season with 112 points, while the Comets showed 88 points for their season’s efforts. Those 88 points tied the second-highest total by a Comets team since joining the league five seasons ago.

The two clubs played each other eight times this year, with the Marlies holding a five-games-to-three advantage in the season series. Combine that with the fact that the Marlies finished the season as the top team in the AHL, while the Comets finished 15th, and one would think that the Marlies should be able to walk away with this one handily. Well, things may be closer than they seem between the two teams.

As far as special teams go, the Marlies’ penalty kill was ranked first overall in the AHL, while the Comets penalty kill was sitting second. The clubs tied with their power plays both operating at 18.0% as well.

The Marlies scored 24 goals over their eight games against the Comets this season. The Comets, for their part, picked up 22 goals over those same eight contests. That doesn’t seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb for the Comets.

Thatcher Demko played in five of those eight games against the Marlies, losing his first two and winning his final three, posting 107 saves in the trio of wins. Thatcher has had a strong series vs Toronto this season. In total, Demko and Bachman have posted 259 saves during the series, while Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard have put up 207.

Ben Smith led the season series with eight points, while Marlies defender Andrew Nielsen was close behind with seven. Dmytro Timashov and Justin Holl each tallied six points over the series, while Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen had five points apiece for the Marlies.

For the Comets, it was captain Carter Bancks leading the way with five points. Michael Chaput, Reid Boucher, and Alex D’Aoust each had tallied four points in the series, while several Comets had put up three points, including rookie Zack MacEwen and newcomer Lukas Jasek. Jasek’s three points came in just two games.

Two of the Comets season series wins came at home in Utica, while the other was on the road in Toronto.

Now that we have had a look at how things have gone down to this point between the two clubs let’s take a look at what options lay ahead for head coach Trent Cull and his staff heading into game one.

The Comets have a roster made up of AHL veterans, NHL tweeners and AHL rookies, sprinkled with a handful of PTO players out of the ECHL. Now we know that the rookies won’t have any AHL playoff experience, but what about the vets and PTO guys? Let’s take a look, shall we?

In the AHL, teams can only dress five players in any given game who had played in more than 321 pro games before the opening night of the regular season. The Comets have six players who fall under that category, meaning that at least one of the following players will have to take a seat for each game.

  • Michael Chaput: 42 points in 55 games this season – 13 points in 30 career AHL playoff games.
  • Patrick Wiercioch: 37 points in 58 games this season – One point in 15 career AHL playoff games.
  • Wacey Hamilton: 22 points in 45 games this season – Five points in 29 career AHL playoff games.
  • Carter Bancks: 17 points in 45 games this season – One point in 75 career AHL playoff games.
  • Jayson Megna: 13 points in 25 games this season – 13 points in 33 career AHL playoff games.
  • Jaime Sifers: Five points in 37 games this season – 11 points in 37 career AHL playoff games.

That makes a total of 219 AHL games played by the Comets’ veteran players, with a combined 13 goals, 31 assists and 44 points between them.

Richard Bachman, for his part, had a regular season record of 13-13-5 this season with a goals-against average of 2.98 and a save percentage of 0.902. He has played in 21 AHL playoff games in his career and has a record of 7-13 for his efforts with a goals-against average of 2.16 and a save percentage of 0.930.

Now that the vets are out of the way let’s have a look at what kind of AHL experience the ECHL PTO guys bring.

  • Adam Comrie: LD/LW – 17 points in 41 games this season with the Comets. Zero AHL playoff games.
  • Dylan Blujus: RD -16 points in 45 games this season with the Comets. Zero points in four AHL playoff games.
  • Andrew Cherniwchan: RW/C/LW – 10 points in 39 games with the Comets this season. Three points in 15 AHL playoff games.
  • Tony Cameranesi: RW/C – Eight points in 34 games with the Comets this season. Zero points in one AHL playoff game.
  • Willie Corrin: LD – One point in two games with the Comets this season. Zero AHL playoff games.
  • Frankie Simonelli: RD – Four points in nine games with the Comets this season. One point in three AHL playoff games.
  • Vincent Arseneau: LW/RW – Two points in 20 games with the Comets this season. Zero AHL playoff games.
  • Aaron Irving: RD – Zero points in one game with the Comets this season. Zero AHL playoff games.

As you can see above, The Comets are not exactly swimming in playoff experience, and the players who do have experience, haven’t exactly set the world ablaze with their playoff scoring prowess. So what does Trent Cull do? Will he lean on his vets and sprinkle in a few kids, or will he go full development mode and load up the lineup with kids and get them all of the playoff experience that he can? I personally think that we see something in the middle, but let’s take a look at a few possible scenarios and why the coach might use them.

I should probably lay out the injury list while I am at it. This list is as up to date as I am aware of at the moment: Evan McEneny, Yan-Pavel Laplante, Brendan Woods, Joe LaBate, and Frankie Simonelli.

First up, I will lay out a veteran-laden roster, using the maximum-allowable five vets in an alignment that I could see Trent Cull using.

77 Nikolay Goldobin – 21 Michael Chaput – 15 Zack MacEwen

14 Tyler Motte – 11 Cam Darcy – 40 Lukas Jasek

 54 Jonathan Dahlen – 34 Carter Bancks (C) – 82 Andrew Cherniwchan

36 Wacey Hamilton (A) – 19 Cole Cassels – 58 Michael Carcone

28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield

6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus

55 Guillaume Brisebois – Jaime Sifers (A)

30 Thatcher Demko

With the alignment above, Cull would be trying to balance his scoring across his lines and also make sure that the younger players are insulated by a veteran presence. I don’t mind this alignment, and I can see some merit to rolling the team out like this for opening night.

That said, Cull has seemingly been all about development this season in Utica, giving young players a chance to earn prime assignments and allowing them to continue in those roles when they have proven capable. Sure, some of this may be attributed to the fact that the coach had a roster depleted by call-ups and injuries all season, but players like Jalen Chatfield and Guillaume Brisebois on the backend, and Zack MacEwen up front have taken the bull by the horns, and the coaching staff has rewarded them.

More recently, we have seen the debuts of forwards Tanner MacMaster, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Tyler Motte, and Jonathan Dahlen and each of those players have seen time on the power play and decent minutes while playing five-on-five. All five of these players, while young, also bring much-needed speed to the Comets lineup, not to mention offensive abilities.

If Cull wants to try to put up goals in this series, which won’t be easy to do with the quality of the Marlies’ netminding, he may want to serve the youth and load up with young, offensive players rather than a lineup made up of veteran grinders. If that is the case, I could see Cull going with something like this.

77 Nikolay Goldobin – 21 Michael Chaput – 15 Zack MacEwen

14 Tyler Motte – 11 Cam Darcy –  23 Jayson Megna

34 Carter Bancks (C) – 82 Andrew Cherniwchan – 40 Lukas Jasek

18 Vincent Arseneau – 19 Cole Cassels – 58 Michael Carcone

28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield

6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus

55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)

32 Richard Bachman

I have Bachman listed as the starter above, but I would have to think that Demko does get the start.

If Cull and his staff go with the full development route, maybe we would see something like this.

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 21 Michael Chaput (A) – 15 Zack MacEwen

14 Tyler Motte – 11 Cam Darcy – 77 Nikolay Goldobin

7 Tanner MacMaster – 34 Carter Bancks (C) – 40 Lukas Jasek

58 Michael Carcone – 19 Cole Cassels – 37 Kole Lind

28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield

55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)

6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus

30 Thatcher Demko

The above lineup puts young players with others that they’ve shown some chemistry with already this season and would definitely be serving the youth, though I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect the coaching staff to go this route.

With that said, let’s take a look at what a more realistic Comets playoff roster alignment might look like.

77 Nikolay Goldobin – 21 Michael Chaput (A) – 15 Zack MacEwen

14 Tyler Motte – 11 Cam Darcy – 40 Lukas Jasek

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 34 Carter Bancks (C) – 23 Jayson Megna

58 Michael Carcone – 19 Cole Cassels – 82 Andrew Cherniwchan

28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield

6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus

55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)

30 Thatcher Demko

I think the above roster alignment would allow most of the kids to get some valuable playoff minutes while allowing players like Kole Lind and Tanner MacMaster to continue practising with the team and possibly getting into the lineup should someone get injured or perform poorly ahead of them. I have used Jayson Megna, Carter Bancks, and Michael Chaput as my vets up front, though Cull may prefer Wacey Hamilton over one of Bancks or Megna. Hamilton has been the Comets best penalty killer and faceoff man for most of the games that he has played in, which may make the coach prefer to put him in. My concern, however, is that Hamilton has been taking a pile of penalties of late and I’m not sure that would slow down against a dominant Marlies squad.

Now, in case you’re wondering what my preferred playoff roster would look like, now that we know who is available, it would go something like this.

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 21 Michael Chaput (A) – 15 Zack MacEwen

77 Nikolay Goldobin – 11 Cam Darcy – 23 Jayson Megna

7 Tanner MacMaster – 34 Carter Bancks (C) – 40 Lukas Jasek

14 Tyler Motte – 19 Cole Cassels – 58 Michael Carcone

28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield

55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)

6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus

30 Thatcher Demko

I feel like the above roster gives the team a nice blend of speed, skill, and just enough grit to make a series with the Marlies interesting. It also allows for most of the younger players to get into games and play prominent roles.

It is also possible that the Comets could see the additions of Olli Juolevi, and/or Jonah Gadjovich in the coming week, though I’m not sure how likely that is. If Juolevi happened to join the team and the coaching staff were looking to put him into the lineup, I would probably bump Brisebois back to the right side in place of Blujus on the Sautner pair, as the two played well together earlier in the season as a unit. I would then slide Juolevi into Brisebois’ spot on the left side beside steady veteran defender Jaime Sifers.

At the end of the day, Trent Cull has a lot of important decisions to make ahead of game one, and he has more bullets in the chamber than he has at any point in the season. I think that at the end of the day that we will see a blend of kids and veterans making up the Comets first-round playoff roster.

Should the team move on to the second round, there could be even more of those decisions to be made as Reid Boucher could return to the team once his broken hand has healed… but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Comets at Marlies

Game One

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

1:00 pm Pacific

  • Holmes

    No offense to the battle tested AHLs in the lineup but all I want to see is the young guys who have a sniff of making the Canucks. Demko, Lind, Goldy, Dahlen, maybe MacEwen, Mote and Breezy. That’s it. Lavish ice time on them, supplement strategically with veteran’s ice time allocation.

    • Cory Hergott

      Those kids will need a few vets around them in order to get more than three games of playoff experience this year. I have no problem with vets getting minutes, as long as the kids do as well.

      • argoleas

        I like this balanced approach, because that probably is the best (least slimmest?) bet to get into the next round, which will give more opportunities to play more kids due to the inevitable injuries.

  • apr

    Great work Cory. I think the only reason to bring on Juolevi, Gadjovich, and perhaps McKenzie is to make them feel apart of the team in a playoff environment. I don’t think Cull and his coaches would just parachute them in ahead of the guys who have worked so hard to get the Comets in the playoffs. I may have missed this earlier – but is Molino injured?

    • Cory Hergott

      Molino isn’t injured, he just hasn’t found his spot on the roster yet. He has had a couple of injuries to deal with off and on over the season though. I think the big issue for him is that he doesn’t bring much in the way of offence yet, and he isn’t good enough defensively yet to be used in a shutdown role.

  • North Van Halen

    I think it’s time to change the name of this blog to Cory’s Comets & JD’s mailbag. Canucks Army appears to have lost the war!
    Any chance the 2018 NHL pre-season prospect rankings(aka mid-seaon prospect rankings) gets done before the season starts?

    • Cageyvet

      Amen. There is now routinely 2 or 3 Monday Mailbags each week, because, well, information on prospects, etc take a back seat to our need to know which pie JD prefers, pumpkin or apple? Ffs, answer it privately if you must, but posting that crap with the reply is only excusable if you’re actually putting out relevant content as well. Waited forever for anything on Dahlen and Petterson in their playoffs, it was a CA black hole….trolling has gone down just because JD is boring them to death.

  • Ah, something interesting to read.

    Lots of line combinations possible, lots of personal to choose from. That’s a nice problem for Cull to have. All year Utica struggled with injuries, call ups, and PTO’s, but not now.
    I’m gonna try and catch this game on Utica radio. (TSN LAME 1410 should carry this. Oh wait, it’s now the new CKNW.)

    Anyway, Go Comets Go. You had a great year, best in franchise history. Finish what you started.

  • TD

    Obviously Goldobin will play, but I also want Jasek, Dahlen and Lind. The recent write-ups had them all playing well. Jasek and Dahlen put up the points to justify their presence in the post season. Lind didn’t put up the same number of points, but the write ups indicated he was showing lots and was mentioned as a star in one of the games.