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CanucksArmy Quick Look Ahead: An Early Look at Forecasting the Utica Comets 2018/18 Roster

Well, it’s that time again folks — or at least, it’s almost that time. I have always enjoyed trying to forecast rosters ahead of the hockey season, and I was going to wait until after the 2018 NHL Entry Draft before putting this piece together, but I was asked by a reader to do a “quick look” ahead to tide you folks over until then.

I figured that the best place to start is by taking a quick look at the Vancouver Canucks roster as it stands, to see which players could filter down to Utica to start the season. For the purpose of this exercise, I will not be speculating on trades. As such, I will only be working with the players on hand, and those who I expect will be re-signed as pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and pending restricted free agents, (RFAs).

Let’s not get too wrapped up in line combos/defensive pairings, but instead just lay out who will likely be around when it comes time for training camp. Some of these players may end up getting traded between now and then, but for now, these are the players with which I’ll work.

Sven Baertschi (RFA) – Bo Horvat – Brock Boeser

Nikolay Goldobin – Elias Pettersson* – Loui Eriksson

Brendan Leipsic – Brandon Sutter – Jake Virtanen (RFA)

Markus Granlund (RFA) – Adam Gaudette – Sam Gagner

          Brendan Gaunce

Alex Edler – Chris Tanev

Michael Del Zotto – Troy Stecher (RFA)

Olli Juolevi – Erik Gudbranson

Ben Hutton – Derrick Pouliot ** (RFA)

           Alex Biega

Jacob Markstrom

Anders Nilsson

* I have Elias Pettersson listed here as a centre, but he is expected to start on the wing.

** Derrick Pouliot is a left shot defenceman, but he is also comfortable playing the right side.

As you can see above, this formula uses thirteen forwards, and eight defencemen as the Canucks have used since Jim Benning became general manager of the team. There will clearly need to be a move made in order to get down to eight defenders instead of the nine listed above. That could be as simple as starting Olli Juolevi in Utica/Finland, or it could take a trade or two to sort things out on the back end.

Up front, Pettersson probably starts on the right side, which could mean the addition of another pivot, either via free agency or trade. Adding that forward, while not subtracting one, could mean that a guy like Brendan Gaunce finds himself on waivers with the hopes of getting him to Utica. I should also state that we can’t rule out the possibility of Jonathan Dahlen making the big club out of camp.

The above lineup also hasn’t taken into consideration the fact that Benning has mentioned more than once that he wants to add someone who “provides a safe working environment” for the team’s younger players and that addition, I assume, will also likely come up front. That could mean that a player such as Nikolay Goldobin, Sven Baertschi, or Markus Granlund could find themselves on the move this summer.

All of this is to say that the Comets’ roster will be directly affected by what happens with the parent Canucks over this offseason.

Below is a list of players who are currently property of the Comets/Canucks who will/could find themselves in Utica next season. I am going to make a couple of assumptions here that may or may not turn out to be correct as far as which players are brought back and which are allowed to walk. I will list each player’s contract status, (if unsigned) beside their name. If a player has nothing written beside their name, you can assume that he has an NHL or AHL deal with the club. Again, this is just an exercise, so don’t read too much into line combos/defensive pairings.

Forwards

Jonathan Dahlen – Michael Chaput (RFA) – Reid Boucher (RFA)

Tanner MacMaster (AHL) – Zack MacEwen – Lukas Jasek

Michael Carcone – Tyler Motte – Kole Lind

Jonah Gadjovich – Cole Cassels (RFA) – Petrus Palmu

Darren Archibald (UFA) – Carter Bancks (AHL) – Alex D’Aoust (UFA)

Wacey Hamilton (UFA) – Cam Darcy (UFA) – Yan-Pavel Laplante

With what we know about the parent Canucks’ roster, it is possible that one or more forwards could be waived from up top, down to Utica as well. The only forwards on the Canucks roster that would not require waivers to get to Utica would be Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, and Elias Pettersson, and I think it’s relatively safe to opine that neither of Boeser or Pettersson will find their way to Utica to start the season. I do think that there is an outside chance that Gaudette could start in Utica before working his way into a full-time role with the Canucks.

Nikolay Goldobin will require waivers, and it isn’t likely that he would clear or that the Canucks would even risk that move in the first place.

I have Michael Chaput and Reid Boucher being re-signed. However, both would require waivers to get to Utica, and Boucher may decide to head overseas for more money/opportunity rather than accept a qualifying offer and face the prospect of playing another year in the AHL. For the record, that is pure speculation on my part and I would be happy to see Boucher back in the fold.

I also have the team at least qualifying Cole Cassels to keep him around. I’m still not convinced that he has an NHL future, but with the Canucks centre depth as thin as it is, he is worth keeping around for another season at least.

I have listed Zack MacEwen as a pivot in the chart above, though he could very well end up back on right wing. I am using the big fella in the middle for this exercise because that is where I would like to see him start next season. I think that his skating improved enough over the last season to warrant a look back at his natural position in the middle. The kid is driven and determined, and I fully expect him to take another step with his skating after another offseason of training.

I have added both of Darren Archibald and Wacey Hamilton to the above roster, though I have not heard mention of either player coming back. I’m not sure that Archibald did enough to earn a spot with the Canucks during his time with the team this past season, and even though he could probably run for mayor in Utica and win in a landslide, I’m not sure if there will be space for him with the Comets either. Hamilton, for his part, was one of the Comets’ best penalty-killers and is a team leader. I think that it is possible that the team may be looking at an either/or approach with the duo. They can probably get away with bringing back one or the other, but bringing both back would clog up the path for some of the younger Comets who are expected to get a look in the 2018/19 season.

I have Cam Darcy listed above as well as I feel like he may have done enough to earn another AHL deal with the Comets going forward. Darcy is still relatively young, and he provided some solid secondary scoring for the team last season from the middle, and the team is not very strong at the centre-ice position. Alex D’Aoust has also made an appearance above as I feel that he proved himself worthy of another look with the team.

I have left pending UFA forwards Danny Moynihan, Joe LaBate, Jayson Megna, and pending RFA, Griffen Molino off of this list as I just don’t see a fit for any of these players with the club going forward.

The Canucks/Comets will have some decisions to make on more than a few forwards this summer in order to shape their rosters at both levels.

Defencemen

Evan McEneny – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Guillaume Brisebois*

Jagger Dirk (AHL) – Jaime Sifers (AHL)

*Brisebois is a left shot defenceman who played the bulk of last season on the right side.

As you can see above, the Canucks/Comets need to flesh out their back end in Utica. Veteran defender Patrick Wiercioch could be brought back, but it may be better for the team if someone younger, like McEneny, can step into his role on the top pairing. I haven’t listed either of Adam Comrie or Dylan Blujus here. Both players finished the season with the Comets on AHL deals, and one or both could be brought back for depth. Either way, I would expect the team to add another body or two on the back end for Utica.

I was hoping to be able to list Matt Brassard as another right shot defender in Utica for the upcoming season, but he suffered a shoulder injury that will see him out of action until sometime around December. I expect he will go back to junior for the remainder of the season after his recovery.

I have taken the position here that the team will decide not to qualify RFAs Anton Cederholm or MacKenze Stewart, allowing both players to walk. Neither player saw much time in Utica last season, and neither showed that they belonged there when they did.

Goaltending

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman (UFA)

Michael Garteig (UFA)

Thatcher Demko will be entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the organization, and I do expect that he will at least start the season with the Comets. I think it would be a wise course of action to play the skates off of him in Utica while giving him a game or two a month with the Canucks with some well-planned call-up duty. The team could get around some of the long-distance travel issues by giving Demko some road games that are either close to Utica, or close to wherever the Comets happen to be playing on the road at a given time. I feel like this season will be Thatcher’s final push to becoming an NHL regular in Vancouver.

The backup position is a little more cloudy. By all accounts, Richard Bachman would like to be back in Utica next season. He has a young family and would like to stay in Utica if possible. There have been reports, however, that he is being looked at as an option by Timra, (Jonathan Dahlen’s former team) in Sweden, so his coming back is not a foregone conclusion.

Personally, I would be fine with Bachman coming back. He has worked well with Demko, and if he is still around the following year, he could help bring Michael DiPietro along as another “smaller sized” goaltender.

I expect the team to move on from Michael Garteig. The netminder played all season in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings, and he didn’t exactly set the world ablaze with his numbers. When he did get called up to the Comets, he was firmly stapled to the bench as a backup.

Some folks may be wondering about DiPietro playing in Utica next season…sorry folks, he isn’t old enough to start in Utica, but he could find his way to the team closer to the end of the season if/when his OHL team is eliminated from playoff contention.

As you can see, the Comets could be a very young team next season if the club elects to go that route. That said, I expect the team to add another vet or two in Utica to make sure that the young players don’t have to take on too much, too quickly.

We will take another look at this scenario sometime after the NHL Entry Draft. I expect the Canucks to make a trade or two that will force some rearranging of the above charts. Until then, we will have to keep guessing.

  • myshkin

    excellent assessment of utica but you’re not doing juolevi any favors but pairing him with gudbranson on the big roster. the big dream would be moving the comets from utica to abbotsford or anywhere in the metro vancouver/ fraser valley area.

    • Cory Hergott

      “Let’s not get too wrapped up in line combos/defensive pairings, but instead just lay out who will likely be around when it comes time for training camp. Some of these players may end up getting traded between now and then, but for now, these are the players with which I’ll work.”
      I did put this disclaimer in the article…with the hopes that I wouldn’t have to debate who should play with whom. As mentioned in the article, don’t put too much stock into the listed lines/D pairings.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    No more Megna…NOOOO!!!!

    It is quite galling how thin the entire organization is on the blueline. I think the team should explore bringing Wiercioch back, if he’s willing, with the thinking that he can shore up Utica and try to do more to earn a callup next year too (and the guy must have done something right to have played 268 NHL games in the past). Also, as much as I am grateful to Alex Biega for his hard work, he would probably clear waivers easily and in an “odd man out” situation should really be considered more of a part time NHLer than a lock for a roster spot with the big club. Having said that, I would just as soon trade Pouliot or Gudbranson as I don’t think all that much of either of their games.

    Thanks for the detailed forecast, Cory!

      • Chris the Curmudgeon

        Pouliot is vastly overrated in my view, with next to no defensive ability. Hutton is coming off a bad season but has shown a much more well-rounded game in the past. The latter is at the nadir of his value, whereas the former has had plenty of chances to prove himself. It was very clear to me why Pittsburgh moved on from Pouliot: the tools are all there, but the toolbox is irredeemably faulty.

  • Steamer

    Thanks Cory – Hope your health is improving! Doubt we’ll see Juolevi with the Canucks next season – still needs to improve, so likely Comets. What’s Jasek’s status? I know he signed an ELC, but is he still bound to his Czech club or have the Canucks bought that out?

  • Killer Marmot

    This assumes that there are no injuries, which means of course that it won’t happen. I can see Benning signing a few forward UFAs to fill out the Canucks roster. Their principle job might be to patrol the press box so that a younger player doesn’t have to, and to ensure that Utica prospects need not be called up too early.

  • fretallack

    “Veteran defender Patrick Wiercioch could be brought back, but it may be better for the team if someone younger” – Ignoring Philip Holm, it’s my impression that Wiercioch was by far the best defenseman on the Comets last year, in the same tier as Holm. He’s 27 now, but seems like a borderline NHL player, who has in fact put up good Corsi numbers in the NHL in the past. What I’m getting at is, why don’t people see any value in this guy’s with the organization? If I were him I would definitely leave, but if he wants to stay he seems like a great depth guy to have on the club… Probably few of those other defenders listed will ever by as good as Wiercioch is now.

    • argoleas

      Could be a question of development priorities. There could be Juolevi, Sautner, Brisebois, and McEneny on LD, and although some can play on RD, I think the preference would be for them to play as much as possible on their natural/preferred side. As such, not sure how that complicates having Wiercioch there too.

    • Cory Hergott

      I’m okay with bringing Wiercioch back and I have said as much in this space in previous articles. My thinking, for the purposes of this exercise, was that the team will want to be calling up the likes of McEneny or Sautner ahead of him. Wiercioch was called up for a month in the early goings last season and barely got a sniff. I can see him coming back, but I think I’d prefer the team add a younger defender or two either via UFA or trade.

  • argoleas

    As always, excellent work.

    1. Who do you see doing the following:
    – Power play
    – Penalty kill
    – Toughest defensive assignments

    2. Could Brisebois and Chatfield be seeing near to first-pairing minutes, or will Cull still opt for more experience there (you mentioned McEneny as a candidate for that)?

    • Cory Hergott

      A lot of this special teams stuff will hinge on whether or not we see Reid Boucher and Michael Chaput back, in my opinion. If both are back, I could see a first unit power play of Dahlen, MacEwen, and Chaput up front with McEneny and Boucher on the points. The second unit might be something like MacMaster, Motte, and Lind up front, with Brisebois and Carcone on the points. I think I’d still like to try to find space for Jasek and Palmu in there somewhere as well.
      as for the PK, I’d like to see MacEwen worked in, so I will go with Chaput and MacEwen up front on one unit with McEneny and Chatfield; Cassels and Jasek up front on another unit with Sautner and Brisebois and a third unit of Motte and Carcone with Sifers and whoever is the fresher of Brisebois, Sautner or McEneny.
      I think the toughest assignments will go to those same “top four” defenders. Brisebois and Chatfield both showed last season that they can handle piles of ice-time in all situations, so I am hoping that Cull allows them to continue to play big minutes.

    • Cory Hergott

      I checked in with Ryan Biech on this one to be sure, but yes…it is my understanding that Brassard has had shoulder surgery and is expected to be out until December-ish.

  • Sandpaper

    Will be nice too see mostly Canucks prospects on the Utica roster.
    Hope McMaster continues to play well also. I have loked the reports you have given on him.
    Another good blog, thanks Cory.

  • Locust

    Great well written article, thanks.

    Once some of the deadwood leaves this site, this is the kind of quality interesting and topical info we can expect.

    Cant wait…..