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