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Photo Credit: Jacob Kupferman/Charlotte Checkers/Cory Hergott edit

A Look At The Utica Comets Players on AHL Deals For The 2018/19 Season, (So Far)

It is the offseason for the NHL/AHL, but that hasn’t stopped the Canucks/Comets from getting a little bit of work done, locking up a handful of players to AHL deals for the upcoming season.

The Comets ended their most recent season with the following players on AHL deals: Forwards, Carter Bancks (C), Wacey Hamilton (A), Alexis D’Aoust, Cam Darcy, Brendan Woods, and Danny Moynihan. Moynihan spent all but 11 games with Kalamazoo of the ECHL. Darren Archibald also started the season with an AHL deal before eventually signing a two-way deal with the parent Canucks. On the backend, Jaime Sifers (A), Dylan Blujus, and Adam Comrie all had AHL deals, while goaltender Michael Garteig rounded out the group between the pipes.

The Comets used a staggering number of players last season due to injuries and call-ups, many of them on PTO, (professional tryout) deals with the club. Because of this, it is understandable why the team would look to add players on AHL deals to help round out their roster, while also hopefully finding a diamond in the rough or two along the way.

Adding players on AHL deals allows the team to keep a full roster without having their contracts count against the maximum 50 allowed by the NHL.

The Comets have added/brought back a handful of players on AHL deals already this offseason, so I thought I would take a look at each of those signings and try to get a handle on where these players will fit into the system.

The following players have been inked to AHL deals by the Comets this offseason:

  • Carter Bancks (F) – (2-year deal)
  • Tanner MacMaster (F)
  • Cam Darcy (F)
  • Vincent Arseneau (F)
  • Dylan Blujus (D)
  • Jagger Dirk (D)
  • Jaime Sifers * Sifers signed a two-year AHL deal with the Comets last season and will be with the team again this season on the last year of that deal.

Carter Bancks: 2017/18 | GP-45, Goals-4, Assists-13, Points-17

Bancks is a Marysville B.C. native who has spent the previous four seasons with the Comets, serving as the team’s captain for the last two. He is a 28-year-old, 5-foot-11, 182lbs forward who can play both centre and wing. Bancks played on both special teams last season when he was in the lineup. He has produced 34 goals and 58 assists, good for 92 points over his 247 games with the club. By all accounts, Bancks has been an excellent leader for the Comets, both on and off the ice, so his re-signing should come as no surprise.

Depending on what other moves are made this summer that affect the Comets’ roster, I could see Bancks lining up anywhere from the first line centreman to a fourth line winger for the Comets this season. His leadership will be needed for what should be a relatively young squad. At the same time, the coaching staff may need to dial back some of his minutes in order to help the younger players get the requisite amount of ice time to keep their development on the right path. Bancks put up one assist in five playoff games in the Comets first-round loss to the Toronto Marlies.

Tanner MacMaster: 2017/18 | GP- 13, Goals-2, Assists-5, Points-7

MacMaster joined the Comets on an ATO, (amateur tryout) near the end of last season. He had spent the previous four seasons with Quinnipiac University of the NCAA, playing in 150 games while putting up 30 goals and 54 assists to give him 84 points over that span.

The 22-year-old, 5-foot-10, 172lbs forward is from Calgary Alberta. MacMaster saw mostly middle six/top six minutes with the Comets and also managed to earn some power-play assignments from the coaching staff. He was used mainly on the LW with the Comets, but he had also spent time as a pivot before joining the club.

I would imagine that we will see MacMaster getting those middle six/top six minutes for Comets head coach Trent Cull’s team again for the upcoming season. He is a heady player who looks to make his linemates better as he processes the game well at speed. MacMaster played in all five post-season games for the Comets, putting up one goal to go along with three assists, good for four points.

Cam Darcy: 2017/18 | GP-46, Goals-6, Assists-18, Points-24

Darcy is a 24-year-old, 6-foot, 190lbs centreman. He was originally drafted in the 7th round, 185th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2014 draft. Darcy played under Trent Cull while both were with the Syracuse Crunch and that familiarity is what likely landed him his PTO to start the 2017/18 season with the Comets. It took less than a month for Darcy to earn an AHL deal to finish the season in Utica. He provided some solid secondary scoring for a team that was/is thin down the middle. Darcy saw some power-play time with the Comets last season, while also serving as the team’s second line centre on many nights. I would imagine that we will be seeing more of the same when the puck drops on the 2018/19 season, with Darcy getting more of those second line type of minutes. Darcy managed to put up one goal and two helpers during the playoffs to give him three points in five games vs the Marlies.

Vincent Arseneau: 2017/18 | GP-20, Goals-1, Assists-1, Points-2

The 25-year-old Arseneau joined the Comets midseason as some bottom of the lineup muscle on a PTO. The 6-foot-2, 200lbs winger from Iles-de-la-Madeline Quebec had been toiling in the ECHL with the Allen Americans before the Comets came calling. Putting up points is not the calling card of Arseneau, rather, his game is based on hits and face punching, for the most part. The Comets will need some edge in their lineup, especially if players like Darren Archibald, Joe LaBate, and Brendan Woods (all pending UFAs) are not brought back, though as far as I know, those decisions have not yet been made. That said, personally, I am hoping that the team only signed Arseneau in order to keep him handy in case of injuries. I would rather see him start in Kalamazoo than have him taking up a roster spot in Utica. Arseneau played in one playoff game for the Comets, (it was a bit of a head-scratcher to see him play ahead of Jonathan Dahlen, but I digress), he did not manage a point.

Dylan Blujus: 2017/18 | GP-45, Goals-4, Assists-12, Points-16

Blujus is another player who had some previous history with Trent Cull, having been drafted in the second round, 40th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 draft and spending time with the Syracuse Crunch. The 24-year-old, right shot defender stands 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at 202lbs. Blujus came to the Comets on a PTO but eventually earned an AHL deal to end the season with the team. He was mostly paired with Ashton Sautner and the duo formed a solid tandem for the Comets. Blujus saw plenty of time on the penalty kill as well. Where Blujus fits with the Comets may depend on whether or not Olli Juolevi makes the Canucks out of camp, or if he ends up being sent to Utica to start the year. If Juolevi starts in Vancouver, I see Blujus on a pairing with Sautner, however, if Juolevi starts in Utica, I think the coaching staff may go back to a Sautner-Brisebois pairing, with Breezy Gui back to working the right side, while Juolevi would possibly match up with Sifers on another pairing. This scenario would see Blujus waiting for an injury or call-up to get into the lineup, or possibly a veteran scratch as we saw in the early goings last season. Blujus played in all five playoff contests for the Comets, putting up two helpers along the way.

Jagger Dirk: 2017/18 | GP-30, Goals-6, Assists-22, Points-28

The first newcomer to this list is Jagger Dirk. Dirk is the 25-year-old son of former Cancuks defender, Robert Dirk. It was not easy to find much information on Dirk, so I was happy to have his agent, Mike O’Rafferty reach out to help me fill in the blanks.

The Penticton B.C. native is a left shot defenseman who stands 6-feet tall and weighs in at 198lbs. Dirk put up 28 points in 30 games with St. Francis Xavier University last season and had totalled 15 goals and 58 assists, good for 73 points over 114 games with the USports club. Previous to joining St. Francis Xavier, Dirk plied his trade with the Kootenay Ice over five seasons of junior hockey, winning a Memorial Cup as a 16-year-old.

O’Rafferty tells me that Dirk popped up on the Canucks/Comets radar when one of their Maritime scouts saw him playing, but the Comets were into their playoff series with the Marlies and didn’t have room to fit him in. Dirk finished the season on an ATO with the Binghamton Senators, getting into seven games with the club and earning an assist along the way. He quickly went from playing 18 minutes in his first pro game to 25-plus minutes a night by the end of his seven-game stint in Bingo. The Comets circled back after their season ended and a deal was signed.

According to his agent, Dirk is an “all zones” kind of player who handles himself well in his own end, can transition the puck in the neutral zone, and he likes to jump into the rush in the offensive end. O’Rafferty says that Dirk is a fluid skater who can handle first unit penalty kill time, along with second unit power-play use and he makes his teammates better. When I asked if Jagger was doing anything differently this offseason to get ready for his first full season of pro hockey, I was told that he is already working hard on his conditioning with trainers in Vancouver, looking to cut roughly 10 pounds from his frame. He has also been working with a track & field coach to get quicker in order to help with his gap control in the neutral zone.

O’Rafferty tells me that Dirk is a different kind of player than his father was. Robert Dirk’s bread and butter was bringing the nasty, playing a heavy game and making life difficult for his opponents. The younger Dirk can also play a hard, heavy game, but he has a skill element to go along with it that might just open some eyes at camp.

Dirk appears to be a late bloomer with some untapped upside. He finished his university career having been named the 2017/18 CIS Defenceman of the Year, CIS First Team All-Star, CIS All-Canadian First Team, and CIS University Cup All-Star Team. Time will tell how Dirk’s first year with the Comets will go, but he does seem to be a player who has something to offer the Comets going forward.

Jaime Sifers: 2017/18 | GP-37, Goals-0, Assists-5, Points-5

Sifers is a carryover from last year as he signed a two-year AHL deal with the club last offseason. The 35-year-old, right shot defender stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 200lbs. Sifers has played in 37 NHL games, split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild over the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons. During his time in the NHL, he managed two assists and 24 minutes spent in the penalty box. Points are not the Hallmark of Sifers game, as he is more of a “stay at home” sort of defenceman, but the man can hit like a truck. More than once did I see Sifers absolutely crush an opponent with a big hit. He is a reliable defender for Trent Cull and may end up with Juolevi or Dirk on his left side to help bring them along. Sifers wears an “A” when he is in the lineup and by all accounts, he is the type of player that a team would want their young players learning from on and off the ice. Sifers is a staple on the penalty kill and I expect that to continue going forward. He played in all five playoff games for the Comets, going pointless for his efforts.

As you can see, the Comets have already been taking steps this offseason to keep/build some depth for the upcoming season. We don’t know if the team is done signing players to AHL deals yet or not, but I would not be surprised to see another player or two added before the 2018/19 season starts. Will we see, Alex D’Aoust brought back? How about Wacey Hamilton? Time will tell, but until then, we will have plenty of Canucks news to digest on the way with the draft and free agency quickly approaching.

  • Is that pronounced with a normal J mick Jagger or a soft J as in jagermeister?

    Anyway good one as always Cory. Love reading your stuff. Sounds like Utica will be fun this year, also, I wonder if an argument could be made that the AHL style of hockey is more the traditionally old school brand, rock’em sock’em kind. Face punchers have an easier time to find a role, and a lot of those character guys without NHL chops in other areas don’t quite make it in the bigs stick around in the AHL. I don’t know, but what I glean from news and articles in the periphery, it seems like a tough league.

  • It’s too bad that we can’t sign Bancks and Hamilton to contracts that could let them play a few NHL games. They’ve been solid for Utica, even though they aren’t prospects, it would be cool to let them get a few big league games as a reward.