Is it too early for us to take a look at the rookie crop for the Utica Comets upcoming season? Maybe, but that has never stopped me before.
There may be other players added to this list over the offseason, or some could potentially be moved out in trades. There are also a couple of players listed here who have a better than decent chance of cracking the Vancouver Canucks opening night roster. For now, though, I will go with the players that I believe will start with the Comets this season.
First, let’s take a quick look back at last season’s rookie crew.
Zack MacEwen led all Comets rookie scorers with 33 points in 66 regular season games. The big fella was followed by Alex D’Aoust, who had 21 points in 57 games. D’Aoust has yet to be re-signed by the Comets to this point, and with the roster swelling, he may have been squeezed out.
Defenceman Guillaume Brisebois sat third with 18 points in 68 games, while newly signed Toronto Marlies forward Griffen Molino sat fourth with 10 points in 46 games. Defender Jalen Chatfield rounded out the group of players who got into 15 contests or more with seven points in 60 games.
Tanner MacMaster got into 13 regular season games with the Comets, putting up seven points before going on to lead all Comets rookies with four points in their five-game first-round playoff loss to the Marlies.
Now that we have last season’s group out of the way, let’s take a look at who will head up the group for the upcoming season. Currently, the rookie brigade is made up of a group of six forwards and a pair of defencemen.
Starting with the forward group we have:
The 21-year-old Adam Gaudette is a 6-foot-1, 183-pound, right shot centerman. He was taken in the fifth round, 149th overall by the Canucks in the 2015 draft.
Gaudette finished up his final NCAA season with Northeastern tallying 30 goals and 30 helpers to give him 60 points in 38 games. That season was good enough to earn the pivot the Hobey Baker Award along with a five-game look with the Canucks to end the season in Vancouver.
Gaudette was held pointless while with the Canucks, but head coach Travis Green has been quoted as saying how impressed he was with his game. I believe that Gaudette is a player who could earn a spot with the parent Canucks out of camp. That said, he may end up donning a Comets jersey to start the year until forcing his way onto the big club.
The 20-year-old Dahlen is another player who could start the season with the Canucks, but for now, I am going to take the stance that he begins with the Comets based on the sheer number of wingers spilling over in Vancouver.
Dahlen was acquired in the 2017 trade deadline deal that saw recently retired Canucks legend, Alex Burrows finish up his career with the Ottawa Senators. Burrows, by the way, was recently announced as a new assistant coach with the Laval Rocket, so Comets fans will still see their share of Burr.
Dahlen, a 5-foot-11, 176-pound left-winger had a bit of a shaky start to his season last year as he was recovering from mono and started preseason with the Comets before electing to head back to Sweden to play for Timra in the second tier Allsvenskan.
Once Dahlen’s health got back up to speed, he was able to put his team on his back and lead them back to the SHL for next season, leading his team with 44 points in 44 games along the way. Dahlen was named Allsvenskan Forward of the Year as well as league MVP.
The Swedish winger finished his season with the Comets, getting into two regular season games where he picked up one goal and an assist to go along with it. He also got into four playoff games, tallying one assist.
The 20-year-old Jasek was selected by the Canucks in the sixth round, (174th overall) of the 2015 NHL draft. The 6-foot-1, 172-pound right-winger played in 52 games last season, split between two leagues in his native Czech Republic, picking up a combined nine goals and 13 assists to give him a total of 22 points.
Jasek joined the Comets at the end of the regular season and got into six games for Trent Cull’s club. He looked like a seasoned pro, surprising many with three goals and four helpers to give him seven points and better than a point per game average. Jasek managed just one playoff game before pulling up lame with an injury.
The speedy Czech who oozes hockey sense spent all of last season playing pro hockey with men, and it showed in his game preparation and with what he brought on the ice with each shift.
It was pointed out to me in the comments section of this piece that I somehow managed to leave winger Jonah Gadjovich off of this list…oops. I’m not sure how I missed him when writing this up the first time around, but there’s no time like the present to make things right.
Gadjovich is the 6-foot-two inch, 209-pound left-winger who was taken with the second of two second-round picks that the Canucks held in the 2017 NHL draft. He was selected 55th overall with the pick that the Canucks received as compensation for the Columbus Blue Jackets hiring of John Tortorella.
The 19-year-old Gadjovich put up 25 goals and 23 helpers to give him 48 points in 42 regular season games last season with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. He also put up four points over nine playoff games, during which he injured his wrist. The wrist injury kept Gadjovich out of the Canucks Summer Development Camp game, but he should be ready to go for camp.
The “Man Child” as he has become known, also earned World Junior Gold with Canada at the 2017/18 tournament of youngsters.
Gadjovich and Petrus Palmu were teammates and often linemates while both were with Owen Sound before Palmu headed to Finland last season. That built-in chemistry may help both men make the transition to AHL hockey in Utica for the upcoming season.
Petrus Palmu, Kole Lind, Tanner MacMaster
The next three players on the list were all at the recent Canucks Development Camp, and I was fortunate enough to take in that game and focus on Palmu, Lind, and MacMaster. As such, I have already written about the trio and have posted the link below. It contains the same type of information as I would have provided here, along with a few quotes from those players along with recent Canucks first-round pick Quinn Hughes as well as Comets GM Ryan Johnson.
Thoughts From Canucks Devolpment Camp Through The Utica Lens https://t.co/9BHFTEJgfT
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) July 7, 2018
Yes, I know “Development” is incorrectly spelled in the header for the link above…oops.
Our last two contenders, both defenders, are players at the opposite end of the development spectrum. Jagger Dirk has taken a long path to get his chance in pro hockey, while Olli Juolevi is a recent first-round pick of the Canucks.
Jagger Dirk is the 25-year-old son of former Canucks defender Robert Dirk. The six-foot, 198-pound, left shot defender who hails from Penticton BC just wrapped up a 114-game university career with St. Francis Xavier, having put up 15 goals and 58 assists, to give him 73 points over that span. Last season he managed 28 points in 30 games with the club.
Dirk is a late bloomer who caught the eye of one of the Canucks Maritime scouts before signing a late-season ATO, (amateur tryout) with the Binghamton Senators. When Dirk was still available this summer, the Comets circled back with a one-year AHL deal.
Dirk is a slick skating defender who is blessed with a high hockey IQ according to both his agent Michael O’Rafferty and Comets GM Ryan Johnson. He is an all zones type of defenceman who can handle duty on both special teams units. He has a lineup of left-shot defenders ahead of him in Utica, so it’s possible that he could start in Kalamazoo until injuries or call-ups happen. Don’t rule him out of the rookie race though, as he could very well turn into a pleasant surprise.
Olli Juolevi is the 20-year-old, left-shot defenceman who was taken with the Canucks first-round pick, fifth overall in the 2016 draft. The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder spent last season with Petrus Palmu and TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga.
Juolevi was able to pick up seven goals and 12 assists to give him 19 points in 38 regular season games. He followed that up with another two goals and five helpers to give him seven points in 11 playoff contests.
With a full year of pro hockey now under his belt, Juolevi should be able to transition relatively smoothly to pro hockey in North America. He spent his junior career with the London Knights of the OHL, so he should have no issues with getting used to the size of the ice.
He became an all-situations player for his Finnish squad by the end of the season, and I would expect him to take on similar responsibilities with the Comets this year. There is also the possibility that Juolevi could start with the big club in Vancouver if he has a really strong showing in training camp.
It should be fairly clear by now that the potential rookie class in Utica for the 2018/19 season could be all kinds of fun to watch. There is a very real chance that one or more of these young prospects could have a huge rookie season for the Comets and shatter previous scoring records.
Stay tuned for what should be a fun season of Utica Comets hockey.