With the roster turnover that we have seen so far this offseason, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what the Utica Comets special teams might look like for the upcoming campaign.
Once again, it is a little early for this exercise as there could still be plenty of roster movement between now and the start of the season, but I am going to go ahead with it anyway. Today I will focus on the power-play.
First though, a quick recap of how last season’s special teams finished up.
The Comets power-play finished the 2017/18 regular season tied for 13th in the league with the Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies with an 18.0% effective rate. The team had the man advantage 317 times and scored 57 goals for their efforts. They also gave up nine shorthanded goals for the season.
With the number of bodies that the club went through last season, there were numerous faces used on the power-play, but I will focus on the players used most often.
Up front, we saw Michael Chaput, Reid Boucher, Nikolay Goldobin, Darren Archibald, Zack MacEwen, Michael Carcone, Carter Bancks, and Cam Darcy take on the bulk of the heavy lifting with the man advantage. Later in the season, players like Tanner MacMaster, Lukas Jasek, Jonathan Dahlen, and Kole Lind all got a taste as well as they arrived on the scene.
Of that group listed above, Chaput has been traded out of the organization, and Nikolay Goldobin would require waivers to get to Utica, and I don’t think I would count on him clearing if the team elects to go that route out of camp. Darren Archibald and Reid Boucher will also require waivers to get to Utica, and there is no guarantee that they get through either. Those four players accounted for 24 of the Comets 57 power-play goals.
On the backend, Philip Holm, Patrick Wiercioch, Adam Comrie, Guillaume Brisebois, Dylan Blujus, Evan McEneny, and Ashton Sautner all saw differing amounts of time with on the power-play. Some were more successful than others.
Patrick Wiercioch had a career year but managed just one power-play marker for his efforts. Philip Holm, on the other hand, picked up seven power-play goals which tied him with sniper Reid Boucher for second behind Chaput’s nine.
Out of the group of defenders listed above, Wiercioch, Holm, and Comrie, having contributed 11 power-play goals between them, are no longer with the team. Of the remaining three, McEneny has the most promise as a point producer, but I think there may be a little more to come from Brisebois this season as well.
Now we know that the outgoing group accounted for 35 of the Comets 57 power-play goals, or 0.61%, and I’m not counting the handful of PTO players who also contributed with power-play markers. It has to be said that Boucher and Archibald could very well clear waivers and bring their combined nine power-play goals back into the fold with them.
So, who do Trent Cull and his staff have at their disposal for power-play duty this season? Let’s take a look, shall we?
I am going to base all of this on who I believe will actually be in Utica this season. I do think that both of Boucher and Archibald will clear waivers if the club elects to send them to Utica. I also think that Adam Gaudette and Olli Juolevi will start their respective seasons with the Comets as well. One wildcard for me though is Brendan Gaunce.
Gaunce may find himself squeezed out in Vancouver after the additions of Jay Beagle, Tim Schaller and to a lesser degree, Antione Roussel. We also need to realize though, that Cancuks coach, Travis Green has a lot of time for Gaunce.
The other question with Gaunce is whether or not he would clear waivers in the first place. There may be a team or two out there who see him as a fit in a bottom of the lineup defensive role.
Gaunce has not been able to put up much in the way of points at the NHL level, but he has been a solid contributor in the AHL. That said, he has only accumulated four power-play goals over 129 regular season AHL games, so he may be better suited to dig in on penalty-killing duty.
At this stage of where the team is, I think I’d rather see Archibald yield his power-play time to a younger player. As for Boucher, I don’t think anyone would be able to convince Cull to dial his time back. After those three, I think it’s open game as to who could potentially help the power-play.
Michael Chaput lead all Comets players with 20 points on the man advantage last season and has since been traded for Tanner Kero. I took a look at what Kero may bring to the table and found him to have scored one goal and assisted on four others over 36 games with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs last season.
My suggestion for Trent Cull and his staff is to go young this year on the power-play.
I see a first unit consisting of Jonathan Dahlen, Zack MacEwen, and Kole Lind up front, with Olli Juolevi and Reid Boucher manning the points. Cull can park the Big Fella in front and have Dahlen and Juolevi teeing up shots for Lind and Boucher.
My second unit would see Tanner MacMaster, Adam Gaudette, and Lukas Jasek up front, with Evan McEneny and Petrus Palmu manning the points. This unit would be trying to take advantage of McEneny’s point shot, Jasek’s quick release, and the playmaking of MacMaster and Palmu. Gaudette gets the net front assignment with this group.
There are other options, as players such as Carcone, Brisebois, Blujus, and Cam Darcy will all undoubtedly get looks there as well. We can’t count out the possibility of captain Carter Bancks making an appearance or two himself, though I believe he fits in better as a mentor on the penalty-kill. But I will save that for part two of this article that I plan to roll out in the next day or two.