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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- Carter Bancks and Zack MacEwen up front with Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois on the backend.
- Wacey Hamilton and Tanner MacMaster up front with Evan McEneny and Jalen Chatfield on the backend.
- Tanner Kero and Petrus Palmu up front with Olli Juolevi and Jaime Sifers on the backend.
- Tyler Motte and Michael Carcone up front with Sautner and Brisebois.
- Brendan Gaunce and Adam Gaudette with McEneny and Chatfield.
Stay tuned as the team continues to make moves over the offseason.