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Photo Credit: uticacomets.com

Forecasting The 2018/19 Utica Comets Special Teams: Penalty-Kill Edition

Earlier in the week, I took a look at what the Utica Comets power-play units might look like for the upcoming season, and I promised to do the same with the penalty-killing units soon. Well, today is the day for that post, so let’s get down to it, shall we?

Once again, I will first take a look at the how the Comets penalty-kill finished up for the 2017/18 season.

The Comets kill finished the season with an 85.5% efficiency rate, which had them sitting second overall to the Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies. The Comets kill was very good, but will see a little bit of turnover for the upcoming season.

The Utica penalty-killing units saw a lot of faces last season. Many of the players used while down a man were with the team on tryout deals, so, I will focus more on the regular contributors who were with the team for the bulk of the season.

Last year, up front, we saw Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Cole Cassels, Michael Carcone, Reid Boucher, Nikolay Goldobin, Michael Chaput, and Darren Archibald take on the bulk of the penalty-killing duties for the regular season.

On the backend, Patrick Wiercioch, Jalen Chatfield, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Jaime Sifers, and Dylan Blujus did a lot of the heavy lifting on the penalty-kill.

Cassels, Wiercioch and Chaput are no longer with the team, while Nikolay Goldobin isn’t likely to find himself in Utica for the upcoming season as he would first need to clear waivers. I just don’t see that happening. Cassels, Chaput, and Wiercioch were all significant parts of the Comets kill last season and won’t easily be replaced.

So, who are the options to replace the above players who will no longer be around?

The Comets are very likely to see some solid penalty-killers sent down by the big club to start the year and they should be able to mix well with the carryovers on hand from last season.

Waiver Crew

The following players will all require waivers to get to Utica, so consider their inclusions on this list as being pencilled in.

I see Brendan Gaunce starting in Utica and see him as a player who will get plenty of time on the kill. His defensive game is a strong suit, so he may as well play to it.

Darren Archibald is another player who has seen time on the Utica kill, and I can see him getting more of it from coach Cull if he clears waivers as well. Personally, I would lean to keep Archibald’s time as more of the five-on-five variety in order to help grow the games of younger players who have a longer future with the club. I am a fan of Archibald, don’t get me wrong, but I would prefer to see the younger players getting those important minutes, once they have earned them.

Reid Boucher was used a fair bit on the penalty-kill last season, and it looked to help develop his defensive game further. I really like the idea of putting offensive players in those defensive positions to help grow that side of their game. Once again, I am a fan of Boucher, but I would like to see him yield some of those penalty-killing minutes to some of the younger players in order to have them benefit the same way he did last season.

Tanner Kero is the player who was acquired in the deal that sent Michael Chaput out of town. He has had some penalty-killing experience at both the AHL and NHL levels, and I see him as someone who may take on some of the penalty-kill duties this year in Utica, should he clear waivers as well.

Ashton Sautner and Evan McEneny will both require waivers to get to Utica as well. Both men have spent time on the Utica kill, and I don’t expect that to change for either player.

AHL Contracted Players

Up front, captain Carter Bancks and his sidekick, Wacey Hamilton were both staples on the Comets penalty-kill last season, and both have been brought back on two-year AHL deals. Jaime Sifers was the veteran presence on the backend, and he still has one-year remaining on his AHL deal. I expect to see all three vets continue to play roles on the Utica kill.

Tanner MacMaster and Dylan Blujus are both players on AHL deals for the upcoming season who I could see being used on the kill this year as well.

So, who else should the club look at as options on the kill?

I mentioned several times last season that I was of the impression that Zack MacEwen should get a look there. I watched the Big Fella take some big steps in his overall game last year, and I truly believe that getting him some regular penalty-kill time would be huge in developing him into an everyday NHL forward.

Tyler Motte is another forward who saw a little bit of PK time after the trade deadline deal that saw him finish his season with the Comets. Motte can play the middle or the left side, and his speed would help with causing turnovers and shorthanded scoring chances.

I spoke with Tanner MacMaster and Petrus Palmu at the Canucks development camp game and both players indicated to me that they felt more than capable of taking on shorthanded duties as well.

Adam Gaudette, Olli Juolevi, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind and Jonathan Dahlen would also all benefit from PK duty if the coaching staff can get them in over the course of the season.

Where does that leave us as far as players who could/should get looks on the kill? Well, it leaves Trent Cull and his staff with a long list of players who could be tapped for PK duty.

Forwards

  • Carter Bancks
  • Wacey Hamilton
  • Brendan Gaunce (requires waivers)
  • Tanner Kero (requires waivers)
  • Tyler Motte
  • Michael Carcone
  • Reid Boucher (requires waivers)
  • Darren Archibald (requires waivers)
  • Zack MacEwen
  • Tanner MacMaster
  • Petrus Palmu
  • Adam Gaudette
  • Lukas Jasek
  • Kole Lind
  • Jonathan Dahlen

Defence

  • Jaime Sifers
  • Ashton Sautner (requires waivers)
  • Guillaume Brisebois
  • Jalen Chatfield
  • Olli Juolevi
  • Evan McEneny (requires waivers)
  • Dylan Blujus

As you can see from the list above, Trent Cull and his staff should have plenty to work with to keep their penalty-kill near the top of the league again this season.

So, what do my PK units look like? With so many options, it can be tough to hammer out specific pairs, but I will go with what I feel might work.

  1. Carter Bancks and Zack MacEwen up front with Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois on the backend.
  2. Wacey Hamilton and Tanner MacMaster up front with Evan McEneny and Jalen Chatfield on the backend.
  3. Tanner Kero and Petrus Palmu up front with Olli Juolevi and Jaime Sifers on the backend.
  4. Tyler Motte and Michael Carcone up front with Sautner and Brisebois.
  5. Brendan Gaunce and Adam Gaudette with McEneny and Chatfield.

Stay tuned as the team continues to make moves over the offseason.

    • Cory Hergott

      Well, I hope that I am wrong when I say this, but when I lay out possible line combos to start the season in Utica, I have a tough time finding the spot where Gadjovich will beat out other players. I don’t think it will take “too” long before injuries and call-ups change that, but until then, I was trying to use the players that I think the coaching staff will go with to start the season. Dahlen, Archibald, Motte, Gaunce, Carcone, MacMaster, Palmu, Lind, MacEwen, Boucher, Jasek…there are a lot of players to beat out for a regular spot unless some are traded out or lost on waivers.

      • I would think, based on pedigree, size and NHL upside, Gadjovich would be ahead of at least Motte, Carcone, and MacMaster? I really don’t see any of those guys becoming NHL regulars (sorry Motte, you had your chance).

        • Cory Hergott

          It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles things. Carcone scored 15 goals last year while playing responsible defensively and getting work on both special teams. MacMaster picked up 7 points in 13 regular season games and went on to pick up four more in five playoff games. The team thinks they have something there to develop and I see it too. Motte has been a pretty solid AHL contributor in his career and the big club may still think he can be a player with a little more work. There will be injuries and call-ups that will make all of this moot before the season gets far along anyway.

      • El Kabong

        Interesting about Jonah, he has a skill set the Canucks sorely need. We need a second/third line player that can hit, bang and drop the gloves if necessary. I find it surprising he doesn’t have a place locked down with the Comets but hopefully he’ll make it a tough decision for Cull. As guess as Canucks fans we’re not used to the depth of young talent we have right now.

  • McEneny and Sautner both require waivers to get to Utica.
    If they stay with the big team, our left side is crowded, which brings me to this: Canucks have plenty of cap space, so why not keep more players up in Van and play them in and out of the lineup. Guys like Hughes, Pettersson , and Juolevi could stay and practice with the team and play maybe every second or third game. Same with any other player at risk of being lost to waivers. The only downside I can see is they won’t play a full season. There is also the matter of injuries and having replacement players ready to go.

    • Cory Hergott

      NHL teams can only carry 23 players on their roster. It would be hard to justify having the likes of McEneny and Sautner in Van ahead of the NHL defenders who are already there ahead of them.

      • “Nhl teams can only carry 23 players on their roster”
        Yes, I know that, but teams can carry more players, as long as they don’t dress for games.
        Also, McEneny and Sautner would not be there ahead of others. They fill in as needed.(There is also no risk of losing them to waivers, which was my point to begin with)

        • Cory Hergott

          Maybe I am misunderstanding you. As far as I am aware, the only way a team can carry more than 23 players on the roster is if those “extra” players are on the IR. I don’t believe that a team can keep players around and not play them if they already have 23 healthy bodies. I may be wrong, but I believe that you may be incorrect in saying that teams can have more than 23 players “as long as they don’t dress for games”

          • Just a thought, but I may be wrong.

            If a player is a healthy scratch, that would reduce the roster to 22. Yet 23 players dress for the game. Somewhere, there is room for spare players. Last year there was talk of rotating guys in and out of the lineup, so there is a way as long as the roster does not exceed 23.
            Hutton sat on multiple nights, keeping him around, but not playing him. Isn’t that what a healthy scratch is? I don’t think this matters to the 23 man roster.

          • Cory Hergott

            Only 20 players can play in a game though, including both goalies. Which means you can have only have three healthy skaters sitting. Those can be your only healthy scratches.

          • Cory has it bang on: “There may be a maximum of 23 players on each Club’s playing roster at any one time from the commencement of the NHL regular season through the trade deadline. Prior to the start of the season, each Club must submit to the NHL its “Opening Day Playing Roster” which shall be comprised of not more than 23 players. Each Club must have a roster of at least 20 players, composed of 18 skaters and two goaltenders. Players on Injured Reserve do not count in the 23-man limit.”

            http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=26377

  • Nuck16

    When discussing the big club and the returning D core, nobody talks about Sautner who I thought was a very nice surprise end of last season. I would hate to lose him on waivers without having another opportunity to see him in a Canucks uniform, which would be another argument for starting Hughes in the AHL until he gets an injury call up, if in fact he signs.

    • Cory Hergott

      I’m not sure that we need to worry about losing Sautner on waivers. There will be plenty of “better” options for teams to claim coming out of camp. Generally, most teams are trying to get their own numbers down coming out of camp, so we don’t often see those fringe players snapped up at the start of the season. Also, I’m not sure that Sautner is a better option than any of the players ahead of him in Vancouver at the moment.

    • Cory Hergott

      What would be the point of having a 23 man limit on the roster if teams could just carry extras who aren’t on IR…maybe I’m missing something here?

      • I believe the 23 man roster limit is for game day. Teams can only dress 23 players. I believe more players can practice and travel with the team, as long as this does not exceed the salary cap.
        I bet Lawrence Gilman has the answer.

        • Cory Hergott

          Sorry, I don’t believe that to be correct. I don’t want to come off in any sort of bad way here. The logic escapes me in your scenario. We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

        • wojohowitz

          It`s part of the CBA that limits the roster and with good reason. A team loaded with talent that doesn`t want to lose players can not park them in the press box for extended periods. It`s a union bargaining position; If a team does not want to play or pay a young player then the player must be made available via waivers to other teams. The way around it is the loose approach to injuries and the IR as most teams start the year with two or three players on the IR with a pinkie sprain.

  • Rodeobill

    Wow. Reading this article it makes me realize how much things have changed. 2 years ago, I thought for sure LVK were going to take Gaunce at the expansion draft, and was happy to see they took Spisa (although in retrospect seemed like he got a lot better that year). Last year after training camp, I was rooting for archie to clear waivers as he was the best Utica player the year before and I thought he deserved a place on our bottom 6. Ried Boucher and Goldobin were the new blood fans were clamouring to have brought up and given a shot. Now, it seems, all these players (Goldy is still a hot topic) are almost afterthoughts. With so many new high end prospects coming in our attention turns to the new and shiny, and thats all and good, we should be grateful, but a year or two ago these were the best “ready-ish” prospects we wanted to see on the big team, and who knows, they may still come around yet, it would be a pity to see them lost on waivers too.

    • Cory Hergott

      When I think back to Jim Benning’s comments last season about how he thought he had “actual NHL players” to call up from Utica when needed, I think of Wiercioch on the backend, Boucher, Goldobin, Archibald, and Megna. This year, those “actual NHL players” who will be called up could be Boucher, Archibald, Gaunce, Motte, Kero, Dahlen, Sautner, and Juolevi. I think that’s a solid improvement. I’m not cutting bait on Boucher and Archibald by any means. I think they are the guys who get the first call-ups along with Gaunce. I’d still like to see the younger players, some of whom are not far off, get the opportunities in Utica if they earn them.