Five…that is the number seasons the Vancouver Canucks farm time has been in Utica. It is also the same number of 20-plus regular season goal scorers that have called Utica home over that span.
It all started with Pascal Pelletier picking up 22 goals in the 2013/14 season. Benn Ferriero came close to hitting the mark in that same season but fell just short with 19.
Brandon DeFazio followed up with 21 goals in 2014/15 and that total was matched by Hunter Shinkaruk with 21 goals of his own for the 2015/16 season.
Darren Archibald lead all Comets goal scorers in the 2016/17 season by setting a team record with 23 in the regular season. Reid Boucher surpassed that mark last season when he tallied 25 goals to set a new team record for goals in a single season.
There were 61 AHL players who scored 20 goals or more in the 2017/18 season. Will this be the season when the Comets can finally boast multiple 20 goal men?
Firstly, we need to have a look at which players on the Comets roster have previously topped the 20 goal plateau in the AHL.
The list is a short one, but it does contain more than one player. As we know from above, Darren Archibald and Reid Boucher have both been able to tally 20 goals in a single AHL season, having done so in 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively.
Boucher also picked up 22 goals in 56 games with the Albany Devils back in the 2013/14 season, and 19 in 34 games for those same Devils in the 2015/16 season.
Newcomer, Tanner Kero accomplished the feat in the 2015/16 season with the Rockford IceHogs when he posted 20 goals in 60 games with the team.
That’s it, folks. Those are the only three Comets players who are likely to start with the team with a 20 goal season under their belt in the AHL. This isn’t to say that these three players will all hit 20 again this year either.
Kero followed up his 20 goal effort with seven goals in 28 games and eight goals in 36 games with Rockford. It should be noted that Kero also spent 55 games with the Chicago Blackhawks over those two seasons, picking up seven goals while with the big club.
Both of Boucher and Archibald could spend the season bouncing back and forth between Vancouver and Utica, which could stymie their chances for a 20-plus goal season.
Boucher managed his 25 goals in just 45 games last season though, so it’s possible that he could do something similar this season again.
If we look outside of the players who have been there, done that, we see the likes of Brendan Gaunce, Tyler Motte, and Michael Carcone stepping to the forefront.
Gaunce has a 17 goal AHL season under his belt from his 2015/16 season when he put up 38 points in just 46 games with the club. The utility forward has also played in 114 NHL games since that 17 goal season, picking up just five goals while with the Canucks. Brendan also picked up two goals in five games while with the Comets on a conditioning assignment last season. His offence may not translate at the NHL level, but he can produce in the AHL.
Tyler Motte has also split his time as a pro between the NHL and AHL. In fact, Motte has more games played in the NHL, split between the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Vancouver Canucks with 79, than he has played in the AHL.
It would be interesting to see what Motte could do if left at one level or the other for a full season. In a combined 79 NHL games spread over two seasons, he has put up nine goals. At the AHL level, he has 21 goals in 67 games spread over three seasons.
I think Motte has an outside chance of putting up 20 goals, or close to it this season if he spends the bulk of his time with the Comets. He did manage to score nine times in just 17 games with the Cleveland Monsters last season before his trade to the Canucks organization.
Michael Carcone was somewhat of a revelation last season. The undersized, but gritty winger jumped from a five-goal rookie season to a 15 goal sophomore campaign. He saw some work on both special teams and was a workhorse, moving up and down Trent Cull’s lineup as needed.
It might be asking a lot of Carcone to take another big jump by adding five more goals to his total for the coming year, but the young man does like to put pucks on net. He put 147 shots on net last season, and if he can keep that up for this year, he will be giving himself a chance.
From that group, we move on to second-year forward Zack MacEwen and a pretty exciting rookie class.
Like Carcone, it would be asking a lot for MacEwen to make such a big jump in terms of goals scored. MacEwen had a great rookie season, putting up 10 goals and 23 helpers to give him 33 points in 66 games. The Big Fella put up 31 goals in his final season of junior hockey with Gatineau of the QMJHL when he was a man amongst boys. His towering size would have been an advantage against the younger, smaller competition in the “Q”, but that advantage isn’t the same at the AHL level.
I’m not sure if Zack will be able to double up his goal total to hit 20 goals this year with the Comets, but I don’t think that 15-18 is unreasonable for him to reach.
That leaves us with the rookie crew of Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, Adam Gaudette, and Petrus Palmu.
Dahlen, Jasek, and Palmu all have a season of pro hockey to their credit from games played in their respective homelands last year. Dahlen and Jasek each saw time with the Comets to end last season, with Dahlen picking up a goal in his two regular season games, while Jasek scored three goals in six games with the Comets.
Last season in Sweden, Dahlen scored 23 times in 44 games. I see him as more of a playmaker, but the goals will come for him as well. Should he end up with the Comets this season, I see him getting plenty of power play time and heavy use in a top-six role during five-on-five play. I believe that Dahlen will have every opportunity to provide offence for the Comets this year.
Dahlen’s time could also be short-lived in Utica as he could very well make the big team out of camp or show so well with the Comets that the parent Canucks feel obligated to bring him up.
Jasek chose to bet on himself last season when he joined the Comets on a tryout deal in order to show the organization that he should no longer be a forgotten prospect. That bet paid off and he earned his entry-level deal after putting up seven points in six games for the team. He may be in tough to replicate those numbers, but from what I saw in a small sample size last season, he should be able to show that offensive side to his game. Jasek has a sneaky release on his shot and that might fool a few AHL netminders until they get a better read on him as a player.
Adam Gaudette scored 12, 26, and 30 goals respectively over his three seasons with Northeastern of the NCAA. It will be a tall task to expect him to roll into Utica and put up 20-plus goals as a rookie this season. He will need some time to adjust to the pace of the league and quality of competition. Add to that the fact that Gaudette’s stay with the Comets may not be for a full season and it makes it less likely that he will be able to provide 20 goals for the Comets this year.
I would imagine that Gaudette will be seeing plenty of five aside time and his share of time on both special teams. While with the Comets, he will likely be on the ice often, so that should help his chances of providing offence. I see Gaudette hovering around 13-16 goals for the team in the 2018/19 season.
Kole Lind is up next and he has the kind of shot that just might make him a 20-plus goal threat in his rookie season. Lind was a solid goal scorer over his junior career, putting up 83 goals in 204 WHL contests with the Kelowna Rockets. He managed 39 goals in 58 regular season games to finish his time with the Rockets last season.
It is a big jump from junior to the AHL, and Kole got a taste of that last season with a brief six-game audition. He looked more dangerous with each game that he played, gaining some confidence along the way.
Lind has spent his summer working out with former NHLer, Rich Pilon in order to come in ready to play this season. I’m not sure if Lind will hit 20 goals this season, but I don’t want to count him out either. I will take a stab at 14-16 goals for young Kole in his rookie season.
Last but not least, I have Petrus Palmu as a guy with an outside shot at a 20 goal season with the Comets this year. As mentioned above, Palmu already has experience with playing pro hockey against men last season in the Finnish Liiga. He put up 17 goals there and won the league’s rookie of the year honours for his efforts. Palmu is no stranger when it comes to lighting the lamp. He put up 40 goals in his final year of junior hockey with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack.
Palmu is a player that I can see getting work on both special teams this year with the Comets. He has a good shot and has no problem with going to the dirty areas to get his goals. He has soft hands and he is shifty on the ice. It may be pushing it to suggest that he has 20 goal potential in his rookie season with the Comets, but somewhere around 15 would not surprise me.
So, will the Comets finally have more than one 20-goal scorer this season? I am going to go with, yes. I can’t say for sure which players will do it, but I am going to predict that the team produces three 20-goal men in 2018/19. That may be optimistic, but that is my guess.
Which players do you believe will have a chance at a 20 goal season in Utica this year