33
Photo Credit: marlies.ca

A Look Ahead At The 2018/19 Utica Comets

Psst… don’t look now, but hockey season is starting to creep up on us. We are now into August, which means that training camp and pre-season are right around the corner. What better time than now to take a look at what options could lay ahead for Comets head coach Trent Cull and his staff for the upcoming season?

Previously, near the start of the offseason, I took an early look at what Trent Cull and his staff might do. Now that the majority, if not all of the club’s moves have been completed, it’s time to have another look.

CanucksArmy Quick Look Ahead: An Early Look at Forecasting the Utica Comets 2018/18 Roster

First up, we will take a quick look at the outgoing players from last season’s roster. I won’t be listing every outgoing player here as the list of PTO players alone would take up far too many words, rather, I will be listing the players who were regulars in the lineup, or would have been if not for injuries.

Outgoing Forwards

  • Michael Chaput: Chaput finished second in team scoring with 17 goals and 25 assists to give him 42 points in the regular season. He also finished with 20 points on the power-play, including nine goals.
  • Nikolay Goldobin: Goldobin needs to clear waivers to get to Utica this season and I don’t think that he would go unclaimed. As such, he makes the list. Goldy finished fifth in Comets scoring last season with 31 points, despite playing just 30 games for the club. 17 of those points came on the power-play.
  • Cole Cassels: Cassels had a career season for the Comets, finishing eighth in team scoring with 26 points, four of those points came with the man-advantage. Putting up points was not Cassels’ calling card, but he was a valuable player on the defensive side of things and took on some heavy lifting on the penalty-kill while moving up and down the lineup as injuries and call-ups ravaged the team.
  • Alexis D’Aoust: D’Aoust was a rookie last season with the Comets and he showed reasonably well with 10 goals and 21 points to place him second behind Zack MacEwen in rookie scoring for the team. He saw limited special teams work but did manage five points on the power-play while playing a heavy, physical game during five-on-five play.
  • Jayson Megna: Megna had an unfortunate season on the injury front. The speedy forward only managed to get into 25 games with the team, putting up 13 points. Two of his four goals were scored while short-handed.
  • Joseph LaBate: LaBate’s season was also injury plagued as he played just 39 games with the team. Big Joe picked up 11 points during that span while also piling up 87 minutes in the penalty box. The Comets did not have a lot of size in their lineup without LaBate and  Darren Archibald for much of their season and at times it showed.
  • Griffen Molino: The rookie forward made it into 46 games for the Comets but never really got going. He put up three goals and seven helpers to give him 10 points in the regular season. Molino has since been signed to an AHL deal by the Toronto Marlies.

Outgoing Defencemen

  • Patrick Wiercioch: Wiercioch finished third in team scoring with 10 goals and 37 points from the back end last season. Of those 37 points, 13 came on the power-play. Wiercioch played both special teams last season and was paired mostly with Jalen Chatfield, mentoring the first year defender along the way.
  • Philip Holm: Holm played in 42 games with the Comets last season before being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for forward, Brendan Leipsic. Leipsic will be pushing for a job with the Canucks at training camp this season, while Holm has since headed back overseas. Holm put up 11 goals and 29 points from the Comets blueline while tallying 15 of those points on the power-play.
  • Adam Comrie: Comrie joined the team on a PTO, (professional tryout) and eventually earned an AHL deal for the remainder of the season. He was used as both a defenceman and as a winger by Trent Cull and he rewarded his coach with 17 points in 41 games with the team. Three of Comrie’s seven goals came with the man-advantage.

Outgoing Goaltender

  • Michael Garteig: Garteig was summoned from the ECHL a few times last season but never managed to play any minutes for the Comets. The second-year pro played in 24 games with the Kalamazoo Wings, posting a goals-against average of 3.81 and a save percentage of 0.887.

Now that we have had a look at who has moved on, let’s take a look at who Trent Cull and his staff have available to them at the time of this writing.

Forwards

Darren Archibald, Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Reid Boucher, Brendan Gaunce, Tyler Motte, Tanner Kero, Michael Carcone, Zack MacEwen, Jonathan Dahlen, Adam Gaudette, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, Tanner MacMaster, Cam Darcy, Brendan Bradley, Vincent Arseneau, Yan-Pavel Laplante, Reid Gardiner, and Kyle Thomas.

Defencemen

Evan McEneny, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Jalen Chatfield, Olli Juolevi, Jaime Sifers, Jagger Dirk, Dylan Blujus, and Brandon Anselmini.

Goaltenders

Thatcher Demko, Richard Bachman, and Ivan Kulbakov.

As you can see by the players listed above, I am making a few assumptions here. With the additions made in Vancouver, I see Boucher, Archibald, Gaunce, Kero, Motte, Gaudette, and Juolevi starting in Utica.

We also need to take into account that not every player listed above is guaranteed to make it to Utica as some may win jobs with the big club out of camp, while others could be lost to waivers or traded to make room.

The following players will have to clear waivers to get to Utica this season: Archibald, Boucher, Kero, Gaunce, McEneny, Sautner, and Bachman. Tyler Motte will require waivers after playing one more game in the NHL.

This is where the fun starts, folks. The Comets have 22 forwards, nine defencemen, and three goaltenders available to them by my count. A handful of these players, however, will be starting with Kalamazoo of the ECHL as the Comets have gone on record as saying that they don’t want to have to go down the PTO road as many times this season as they did last year.

Trent Cull will have some interesting decisions to make in terms of who plays down the middle this season. We know that both of Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton spent time there last season, as did Cam Darcy, but all three players are on AHL deals and it isn’t ideal for the parent Canucks not to have any pivots gaining experience and marinating in the AHL.

Tanner Kero, who was acquired in a deal for Michael Chaput is a centreman, as is Adam Gaudette. It would make sense for both to play in the middle if they end up with the Comets.

Zack MacEwen was a pivot before joining the Comets but has since been moved to the right side. His skating and overall game, however,  improved enough last season to warrant a look back in the middle, in my opinion.

Tyler Motte, Jonathan Dahlen, Tanner MacMaster, Kole Lind, Michael Carcone, Brendan Gaunce, Brendan Bradley, and Yan-Pavel Laplante can all play the middle as well.

It should be noted that Laplante is still recovering from a long-term injury and will not likely be ready for training camp.

Some of the players listed above will obviously be shifted to the wing, but things are pretty crowded up front on both sides of the ice for the Comets.

Darren Archibald, Jonathan Dahlen, Tyler Motte, Brendan Gaunce, Jonah Gadjovich, Tanner MacMaster, and Vincent Arseneau are all players who have primarily been left-wingers.

Reid Boucher, Zack MacEwen, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Michael Carcone, Petrus Palmu, Reid Gardiner, and Kyle Thomas have played the right side for the most part.

There are several players who can play either wing and some can play the middle as well. All of this is to say that Trent Cull will have his hands full when determining who gets the lion’s share of the ice time and who will have to wait their turn from either the press box or from the ECHL.

If we turn our attention to the back end, we quickly see that there are fewer players fighting for open jobs.

Evan McEneny, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Olli Juolevi, Jagger Dirk, and Brandon Anselmini are all left-shooting defenders. The right side is less crowded as Jalen Chatfield, Jaime Sifers, and Dylan Blujus are the only righties and Chatfield is the only one of the three who is on a two-way deal and able to be called up to Vancouver if needed.

McEneny, Sautner, and Brisebois have all had experience on the right side. In fact, Brisebois spent the bulk of last season playing the right side and that is where I see him starting the 2018/19 season.

In the pipes, we have Thatcher Demko and Richard Bachman who should be getting the bulk of the work, while newcomer Ivan Kulbakov will likely ply his trade with Kalamazoo of the ECHL.

It is also not out of the realm of possibility that Demko could win a job with the Canucks out of camp. If that were to transpire, the Canucks could try to trade Nilsson, and if successful, the team would need to acquire another goalie to either pair with Bachman in Utica or to have on standby in Kalamazoo if Kulbakov is deemed AHL ready.

It was pointed out to me by one of my readers that Canucks new goalie coach Ian Clark will know Kulbakov from their time together in the Columbus organization and that may help the netminder if the above situation plays out.

If the Canucks find no takers for Nilsson, they could waive him to Utica and if he clears, pair him with Bachman. If Nilsson decides that the AHL isn’t for him, then maybe they go the Anton Rodin route and put him on unconditional waivers so he can go back overseas.

So, where does all of this leave us? Will Trent Cull play the kids, or will he lean heavily on his vets? I think that ultimately, it will become a combination of both with some players grabbing the bull by the horns and taking more ice time, while some others may have a tough time getting traction.

Let’s have a look at a couple of options.

Play The Kids

While I don’t think this scenario is likely, or a recipe for success, I still think it is fun to have a look at what a very young Comets roster could look like.

Jonathan Dahlen – Adam Gaudette – Kole Lind

Tyler Motte – Tanner Kero – Lukas Jasek

Jonah Gadjovich – Zack MacEwen – Petrus Palmu

Tanner MacMaster – Michael Carcone – Reid Boucher

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Evan McEneny – Guillaume Brisebois

Ashton Sautner – Dylan Blujus

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

In this scenario, Trent Cull is looking to load up on youth and outskate/outscore his opposition. This roster would ensure that the young players whom the team is looking to develop into NHL regulars will get plenty of ice time and opportunity.

It would also be tough for this group to shut down their opponents’ top lines, however, as there are not many on the list who are known for their defensive game. I do think there are players up front who could rise to the occasion in Dahlen, Jasek, MacEwen, Carcone, MacMaster, Gaudette, Palmu, and Lind, however, the team didn’t bring Bancks and Hamilton back just to have them watching games from the press box and being good cheerleaders.

Veteran Heavy Lineup

Darren Archibald – Carter Bancks – Wacey Hamilton

Brendan Gaunce – Tanner Kero – Reid Boucher

Tyler Motte – Cam Darcy – Michael Carcone

Jonathan Dahlen – Adam Gaudette – Zack MacEwen

Evan McEneny – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Guillaume Brisebois

Olli Juolevi – Jaime Sifers

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

The above roster takes a more conservative approach as far as working the kids into the lineup. Cull would be leaning heavily on his vets to soak up ice time and would use his young players sparingly on a rotating fourth line. Olli Juolevi would break in on the left side of grizzled veteran, Jaime Sifers.

I can see Cull using a veteran-heavy line like the first one listed above from time to time during the season, depending on the matchup, or maybe Boucher slides into Hamilton’s spot. I can’t, however, really see him muting the kid’s ice time in favour of a vet heavy lineup all that often.

So, where does this leave us? Well, I can see Trent Cull opting to go with a more balanced lineup consisting of a nice blend of youth and experience.

We have to remember that while players like Dahlen, Jasek, Palmu, and Juolevi will be considered rookies for the upcoming season, all four spent last season playing pro hockey against men overseas. Add to that the fact that Kole Lind and Tanner MacMaster also saw some pro action at the end of last season and you can see that many of the kids have more experience than one might expect.

The experience that these younger players have will help the coaching staff feel more comfortable with giving them more rope to earn big minutes.

Balanced Roster

Jonathan Dahlen – Carter Bancks – Reid Boucher

Brendan Gaunce – Adam Gaudette – Lukas Jasek

Darren Archibald – Zack MacEwen – Kole Lind

Tyler Motte – Tanner Kero – Michael Carcone

Evan McEneny – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Guillaume Brisebois

Olli Juolevi – Jaime Sifers

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

I’m sure many of you are noticing that promising, young players such as Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, and Tanner MacMaster are not in this lineup. I would desperately like to include the trio as I feel like all three will be big parts of the team this season, however, I’m not sure where they would fit in to start without call-ups or injuries occurring first. I have also left veteran Wacey Hamilton off of this roster and I’m not 100% sold that Trent Cull would agree with that move.

I think we will see players like Vincent Arseneau, Brendan Bradley, Reid Gardiner, Kyle Thomas, Brandon Anselmini, and Ivan Kulbakov start in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.

I see Dylan Blujus, Jagger Dirk, Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, Tanner MacMaster, Wacey Hamilton, and Cam Darcy fighting it out as black aces, but remaining on the roster.

I really do feel like all three of Palmu, Gadjovich, and MacMaster are very good players, and they will get their minutes this season. I’m just not sure which wingers they will realistically beat out for a job out of camp.

All of the wingers listed above have played for Trent Cull already and have earned at least some level of his trust from last season. Maybe Palmu, Gadjovich, or MacMaster ends up having a huge camp and earns a job, but we can see that the fight for roster spots will definitely be competitive.

This is what it is like to have some depth in the organization, folks. Some good, young players will likely have to sit each night until the inevitable injuries and call-ups start to happen.

One thing is for certain, the Comets will be a younger team than they were last season and Trent Cull and his staff will have plenty of options at their disposal.

  • TanevistheMan-ev

    Cool article, thanks for putting it together. Sure would be nice if there was a chance for at least a few of these guys to make the big club and clear out a bit of the logjam up front

  • Sandpaper

    Nice job as always Cory.
    Your veteran heavy lineup, that you have, might have exceeded the veteran limit.
    I can’t recall the numbers for that rule, maybe you could clarify.
    Thanks.

    • Cory Hergott

      I “believe” that Archibald, Bancks, Hamilton, Boucher, and Sifers are the players who will qualify for vet status this season. I will have to go do some math to verify. I “think” that Gaunce would fall into the veteran exempt territory, but once again, I will have to verify this.

      • Cory Hergott

        What is the AHL’s development rule?
        In the AHL, player development is a top priority. The American Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association have the following development rule in place:

        Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.
        This is taken from the AHL’s website.

        • Defenceman Factory

          So basically anyone who has played pro hockey for 4 seasons is not development player. Need to double check the game numbers of a few more than just Gaunce.

          • Cory Hergott

            Okay, so after some quick calculations, Archibald, (399) Sifers, (618) Hamilton, (381) Bancks, (473) and Boucher, (346) are above the 320 game threshold and would be considered “vets”. As of right now, they can play all of them in any given game for the 2018/19 season. The games played threshold goes by the start of the regular season, so the clock doesn’t start ticking on games played until next offseason. I hope that makes sense. Gaunce has played 243 pro games, Kero has played 202, and Motte has played 146. It looks like the vet rule will not be an issue this year as long as no changes are made before the season.

    • Dahlenfan

      It’s good to see that we are starting to infuse some youth to the comets. Hopefully the days of megna and chaput type guys is over. I still cant believe two years ago megna and chaput both played over 50 games with the canucks. Hope to see some of these young guys come up once the injuries start. I would like to see what we have in guys like dahlen, gaudette and Lind. Maybe we could see juolevi crack the nhl roster and move out mdz or Hutton. But I think that’s just a nice August daydream. You do a Greta job cory. Have enjoyed the hard work you have put together for the comets. Very informative.

  • Defenceman Factory

    This will be a good team especially if the young guys start to outperform the veterans as the season wears on.

    Really hope MacEwan in used at centre. When signed some believed him the waste of a contract then he quietly led rookies in points. He developed late and on his current trajectory he could be an NHL bottom 6 centre in a year or 2.

    Still no RD depth, with only Woo yet to arrive the glut at LD and wing has to be used to add right side Dmen or the extra picks to acquire them.

    • Cory Hergott

      Don’t count out Matt Brassard yet as a potential righty. He may have been getting a look this year with the Comets if not for his injury that will see him out of action until around Christmas time. He could still be someone who gets a look for next season if his rehab goes well and he can get back into game shape in time to show well down the stretch.

        • Cory Hergott

          Brassard was showing pretty well until his injury. I get what you’re saying about him being a 7th round pick, but he may still be worth some development time. This is where I would like to see the ECHL re-imagined into a proper feeder league where players can still be developed rather than just being seen as a lower level pro league. You may not unearth many, but if you end up with a player or two here and there, it could be worth it.

          • Dahlenfan

            It’s true not every star goes in the first 2 rounds. But most do. You have the zetterbergs and datsuks.
            Gaudette was 5th round pick he looks to be a 3rd line center with a ceiling of a 2C if he develops well. I just haven’t heard much of brassard. Canucks have been swinging for the fences the last 2 years at the draft. Too bad they didn’t implement this strategy their first 3 yrs. I think virtanen and juolevi will be key kogs to the machine in the future. Just don’t think they were worth their high picks. But time will tell. Some guys take longer to get going. But you can say power forward take longer to develop but then look at tkachuk in Calgary. Still think we should have taken him. But if we didn’t have juolevi our defence pool would be shaky to say the least

          • Cory Hergott

            DF: I wasn’t suggesting Brassard will be a star, sorry for the confusion. What I meant was that maybe he ends up being a guy who can run a power-play in Utica with the “possibility” of becoming more than that at some point. Those players are handy to have if they can contribute to the farm team which will ultimately help with the development of other players in your system. This is my long-winded way of saying that I think that players can still bring some value to the organization even if they never get to the NHL level.

    • Dahlenfan

      Not enough RD for both van and Utica. Our top Rd at nhl lvl are tanev,guddy,and biega. Pouliot also plays RD. That is a rough set of Dmen. Our top RD prospects are Woo, Chatfield, and Brisbois. Need to start building that side of the roster. At least on Ld we have Hughes and juolevi as well as sautner. That would be an alright top 3 LD if their projections pan out. Plus we have a the darkhorses for the future tryamkin .our prospect pool is getting better but needs to grow more. 2 more years of ducking would be helpful imo

  • Go Comets Go!

    The balanced approach looks like the winner. A nice mix of youth and experience.
    Young men usually ooze with confidence and will tell you they can do it all, (Just try to tell a teenager to do something) but those of us who have been there know better, or should know better. Letting the kids play sounds good in practice, however allowing them to run the show is a bad idea (Oilers) Veterans need to lead and young guys need to follow, and earn the ice time they are given.

    To be honest, I really had little to add to this excellent article, but I did so in support of the writer.

    Also, there is an interesting article about Schneids. (hockeybuzz)

        • Cory Hergott

          You can pay for a subscription to the AHL Live package. You can opt for a full league package or just Comets games. I think you may also be able to watch a game at a time on a pay-per-view basis, but I’m not 100% sure on that. It isn’t cheap and the quality is often subpar, but if you want to watch the team play without being in the building, that is about your only (legal) option. Alternatively, you can at least listen to the games via the KROCK radio app.

  • Ken Priestlay Fan

    I feel like this kinda lays bare how much the signings of Roussel, Schaller and Beagle have potentially affected the pathway for youth in the Canucks organisation. Cory lays out a perfectly logical line up for the Comes opening night and 3 promising young forwards can’t make it because there are too many numbers. I actually didn’t mind the signing as much as some (Roussel will be tradeable at any point imo, Schaller has some untapped potential and Beagle’s contract is only a year too long), but before a puck has been dropped they seem to be standing in the way of young players coming through

    • Defenceman Factory

      I’m interested to hear where you see the biggest issues of the path of young players being blocked. I like your assessment of the 3 UFA signings this summer but I’m not too concerned about these signings blocking the young guys, yet. All 3 are solid NHL players as are Ericksson and Sutter. I won’t consider any of these 5 vets as blocking a path until a young player proves they are more effective. That will happen probably before veteran contracts expire so hopefully Benning is good to his word and makes the roster spot available.

      Two guys who are going to have trouble staying in the line-up are Gaunce and Granlund but at this point they may not be as good as Roussel or Schaller, two guys definitely harder to play against. There is some concern about Leipsic and Goldobin. I don’t think the Canucks need both but I would hate to see one lost on waivers.

      Two players I see as potentially being blocked when/if they are ready to make the jump are Gadjovich and MacEwen but this isn’t an issue yet. Gagner is in the way I think his sheltered minutes should go to younger players as Gagner has not been effective.

      The depth and internal competition that has been built up does make it harder for young players to crack the line-ups but hopefully it is more a motivator than a problem and Benning can make the moves necessary to clear out veterans when the times come. Where do you see the most significant examples of young players being blocked?

    • Neil B

      Roussel’s & Beagle’s contracts are front-loaded, both in terms of cash and in terms of NTC protection. From the structure of both, it really looks like the team thinks that they will only be needed for 2 (Roussel) or 3 (Beagle) years; but they added the extra time to cover their bets, and to make them more attractive trade chits after 2020-21.

      There will be at least two forward spots opening next year, if not more. Unless something bad happens with Pettersson’s development, Gagner will likely be gone by the end of the year. The only way that I can see us having both Jake and Goldobin around next year is if they both play so well that the team is willing to move Baertschi; and that would be a good thing. If neither plays themselves into a top-6 role, they might both be moved, or let go, in the case of Goldy.

      The logjam will resolve itself; in the meantime, let’s let the kids take advantage of the easier travel schedule, better practice-to-game time ratio, and more individual instruction of the AHL to be better players, so that they can hit the ground running.

      • Defenceman Factory

        I agree with everything you said except I don’t see Jake and Goldy as similar players. Jake is perfectly fine in a 3rd line role if he can’t crack top 6. Goldy not so much. Probably before the end of the season one of Goldy, Leipsic or Dahlen will supplant Baertschi on the top line.