Photo Credit: Canucks.com. Edit: Owen Skye | @OwenSkyeVisuals

Canucks Young Stars Game One: A Utica Comets Perspective

On Friday night we got our first glimpse of this year’s prospect group in game action against their peers, even if it was only a prospects game. You probably know by now that the Canucks group laid a beat down on the Winnipeg Jets prospect group with an 8-2 drubbing.

While it was great to get a win and to do so in such convincing fashion, we need to pump the brakes a little. Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly fine to get excited after watching the top line of Dahlen, Pettersson, and Lind looking dominant at times. It was just a prospects game, though and those three players should have looked good in it.

CanucksArmy’s own Ryan Biech looked after the post-game report last night and I have included a link to that article below.

As someone who writes about the Utica Comets, I was trying to focus on what I felt were things that Comets fans would want to read about. Was it great to see Elias Pettersson snipe a pair of goals? Absolutely it was, however, I was more interested in how players like Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, Zack MacEwen, Lukas Jasek, and Tanner MacMaster fared, as well as others who will likely be starting in Utica this season.

This was a chance for some of these players to make an impression on the Utica coaching staff before they have to compete against the likes of Tyler Motte, Tanner Kero, Reid Boucher, Darren Archibald, Brendan Gaunce, Ashton Sautner, Evan McEneny and others when they get to camp in Utica. Call it a head start of sorts.

Comets head coach Trent Cull was running the bench for the Canucks in this one and I was liking the look of the lines that he rolled out.

Starting Lineup

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 40 Elias Pettersson – 78 Kole Lind

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68 Petrus Palmu – 88 Adam Gaudette – 71 Zack McEwen (A)

41 Jonah Gadjovich – 81 Tanner MacMaster – 67 Lukas Jasek

84 Nando Eggenberger – 96 Anthony Salinitri – 73 Reid Gardiner

48 Olli Juolevi – 63 Jalen Chatfield (A)

45 Jagger Dirk – Guillaume Brisebois (A)

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97 Jacob Brahaney – 93 Garrett McFadden

75 Michael DiPietro

76 Ivan Kulbakov

Starting in goal, we saw Michael DiPietro go the distance and he looked good doing it. That meant that we didn’t get to see Ivan Kulbakov in action. The goaltender signed an AHL deal this offseason to be the number three in Utica’s system and is expected to start in Kalamazoo if both of Thatcher Demko and Richard Bachman start in Utica. Maybe we will get to see what Kulbakov can do in Sunday’s game.

On the backend, two of last season’s rookies were wearing letters on their jerseys as both of Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield were sporting an “A” for the game. Both players had their moments, both good and bad in this one, but played more or less the way I was expecting them to.

Brisebois made his presence felt early when he snapped a point shot that was tipped in by Adam Gaudette to put the team up 1-0.

Brisebois played a simple game, looking steady, if unspectacular in this one. He was physical at times, but not overly. He was paired with Jagger Dirk, who was seeing his first taste of action at this tournament. Brisebois didn’t stand out to me in this one in a good way or a bad one. He saw use on both special teams and I would expect that to continue this season in Utica.

Chatfield had his moments as well. He coughed up a puck from behind his own net, leading to a scoring chance for the Jets, but DiPietro was there to bail him out, however, he also picked up an assist in the game. Otherwise, I saw pretty much what I would expect from the second year pro. He was paired with Olli Juolevi in this game and the two looked like they might make for a solid pair in Utica should they both end up there. We saw Chatfield’s effortless skating on display, along with a few timely shot blocks. Not unlike Brisebois, Chatfield didn’t stand out to me in this one but he played a steady game. He saw action on the penalty-kill, but none on the power play.

The two defenders that I was most interested in viewing for this game were Olli Juolevi and the newly signed Jagger Dirk. Not because I value them more than Brisebois and Chatfield, but because I have had limited viewings of Juolevi coming into this game and hadn’t seen Dirk play a single game.

I thought Juolevi played a solid game, showing some nice wheels and heady play at times. He showed skill and poise in the play linked below.

The Comets didn’t produce a ton of offence from the back end last season, but Juolevi could be a big piece in changing that narrative this season.

Jagger Dirk, for his part, showed up and played a sound game. He moved the puck well, jumped into the rush a few times, showing some nice skating and he picked up an assist on one of Petrus Palmu’s goals. Dirk is a little on the old side for this tournament as a 25-year-old, but he has the makings of a late bloomer. He picked up 28 points in 30 CIS games last season, so there may be some offence to be had off of his stick in Utica this season should he make the club. It is possible that Dirk starts in Kalamazoo, but I think he has a good chance of being on the Comets roster on opening night.

Up front, we already know how Pettersson made out, but his linemates were in my crosshairs a little more than he was. He was flanked by pal Jonathan Dahlen and Kole Lind to form a potent offensive unit that put up seven points between them in this game.

Dahlen is one of the players that I have earmarked for the Comets, but he could very well force his way onto the Canucks opening night roster if he continues to show well as he did in game one. He finished with a goal and a pair of helpers, showing a quick release and a playmaker’s touch.

Dahlen also showed his burning desire to take pucks to the net and he used his unique edgework to get there.

Kole Lind showed a different element when he was on the ice. The first-year pro absorbed a couple of big hits in this one and on both occasions, he was able to get back into the play to make a difference.

On the first play, he was crushed along the boards as he came over the Jets’ blueline before popping right back up and grabbing the puck to try making a play. On the second play, he was once again levelled with a big hit, this time beside the Jets net, but was able to get back up and be the first player back to break up the play going the other way.

These are the kinds of second-effort plays that will endear him to his coaching staff and earn him more ice time. Lind didn’t manage to score in this one but did pick up an assist. He saw time on the point on the power play, but none on the penalty-kill. Lind was skating well and at times used his size along the boards to retrieve pucks for his linemates.

Lukas Jasek piled up seven points in six games with the Comets at the end of last season, but for me, it is his 200-foot game that always seems to show well. Jasek is relentless along the boards, using his skating and smarts to maintain puck possession. As Jason Botchford of The Athletic Vancouver pointed out, he can play some big boy hockey when he needs to as well.

Trent Cull had to like what he was seeing out of his third line for this game as the trio of Jonah Gadjovich, Tanner MacMaster, and Jasek looked like a line that might make some sense to keep together in Utica this year. All three were skating well, including Gadjovich, whose skating has been called into question by some in the past.

Gadjovich finished with a pair of goals, while MacMaster earned a pair of helpers.

I really liked what I was seeing from MacMaster in the middle. He spent the bulk of his late-season audition with the Comets last year as a left winger. He showed a playmaker’s vision and some deft hands with some sweet passing in this game. Here he is with a nice feed to set up Gadjovich for one of his goals.

Gadjovich, for his part, looked the part of an up and coming power forward. He showed a scorer’s touch on the goal above while using his size and showing some soft hands with a nifty tip-in goal while working as a net-front presence.

The other line that was used up front that I focused on was the trio of Petrus Palmu, Adam Gaudette, and Zack MacEwen.

We saw the Gaudette tip-in goal at the top of this article, and the Hobey Baker winner showed the kind of game that might earn him a job with the big club out of camp. He played a gritty game and picked up a goal and an assist. He saw time on both special teams and looked good in both roles. Could we see Trent Cull keep this line together with the Comets this season? I wouldn’t be opposed to it. The three seemed to compliment each other well enough to warrant a longer look.

Palmu picked up a pair of goals in this game and is quickly becoming a player that I want to see on the ice a lot in Utica this season. He shows speed, hockey sense, and a penchant for seeking out the dirty areas of the ice. On one play, Palmu was behind the Jets net in a puck battle with three other much larger players and unsurprisingly to me, he came away with the puck.

For his first goal, he buried a Jagger Dirk rebound from a tricky angle to put the Canucks up 3-0.

Later in the game, he was credited with a tip-in goal while battling in front of the net with a much larger player.

Keep an eye on Palmu, he should be fun to watch in Utica this season.

That brings us to the Big Fella. I’m sure that it has been apparent to anyone who has read my work over the last year that I have a bit of a soft spot for Zack MacEwen. I had the pleasure of watching every Comets game last year and seeing Zack go from a big, rookie winger who needed some work with his skating to become a key cog on the team as they took the champion Toronto Marlies to the brink in their first-round playoff series.

I was hoping to see Zack used in the middle in this one, and he did get some reps in before the game, going head to head with Adam Gaudette in faceoff drills, before ending up back on the wing for the game.

As much as I would like to see MacEwen moved to the middle, I will settle for seeing him get regular use on the penalty kill. I believe that using the Big Fella while down a man will help improve his overall defensive game. I was therefore thrilled to see him being used each time the team was short-handed. In fact, Cull even sent him out as the only forward in a four-on-three penalty kill situation. The Canucks ended up giving up a goal on that kill, but Zack was getting his opportunities to show what he can do with more responsibility. Zack was also wearing an “A” on his jersey today.

It wasn’t just his penalty killing duty that I was liking from MacEwen as he was also dishing out the hits. He sent one Winnipeg defender staggering back to the bench for a trip down the tunnel after standing him up at the Canucks blueline. I also thought Zack’s skating looked more fluid than it did to end last season. I have spoken many times about how I noticed MacEwen’s improved skating last season, but even then his stride seemed a little choppy at times. That didn’t appear to be the case last night as the big winger looked much more effortless in his stride.

One other player that I would like to touch on briefly is Reid Gardiner. Gardiner was signed to an AHL deal this offseason to help provide depth for the club after the merry-go-round of tryout players that they had to use last season. He played the game on a fourth line with Nando Eggenberger on the left side and Anthony Salinitri in the middle. Gardiner ended up taking a number of faceoffs in the game when Salinitri was tossed from the circle and even saw a little bit of penalty kill time. I expect Gardiner to start in Kalamazoo this year, but he showed that he has some versatility and that is something that this coaching staff and management seems to appreciate.

All in all, game one showed that there are plenty of things to be excited about this year and in the years that follow as some in this group begin to make up the next core of the Vancouver Canucks.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on game two as Young Stars wraps up on Sunday and we head into main camp next week.


  • canuckfan

    Nice to see the prospects with a bit of swagger just hope they don’t take the Jets too lightly for todays game. Jet players will want to show that they have game so expect a better game today.
    When does the main camp start is it this coming week?

    • Cory Hergott

      Yes, the main camp starts this coming week. I am planning to be in Whistler on Friday to take in some of the proceedings and possibly get some player interviews and hopefully have some articles based on that to follow.

  • Dirty30

    Great to see some prospect depth that shows some actual prospect!

    Interested to see how this depth is moacts the rosters of both clubs (Canucks and Comets).

    I’m a fan of Reid Boucher, but his call ups haven’t inspired and how long do they Canucks keep him in a contract spot when there’s players like Dahlen, Gaudette and Lind (among others) who are showing jump and producing.

    The Comets last ok to be an exciting team to watch this season regardless of what they do.

    • Cory Hergott

      Boucher was just re-signed to a one year deal. I really enjoy his game in Utica, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his last deal with Vancouver. As you mention, there are others ahead of him now who look to be a longer-term fit than he is. I could see a scenario where he heads overseas for a few years to keep playing. All of this said, maybe he enjoys Utica enough to keep coming back as one of their vets if he is paid well enough?

      • Doodly Doot

        I really like the idea of convincing Gaunce to embrace the role of Utica vet to help guide the younger guys and pitch-in with the big club as needed. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.

      • LTFan

        wojo – rumours and inuendo are simply trying to spread a falsehood of which you have absolutely no facts. As you say we will find out who is and who is not in fit and ready to go in Whistler.. Let’s wait until the players hit the ice in Whistler, then you will have some information as to who is and is not fit. While you did not say that JV wasn’t fit you certainly implied it. Not what any responsible commentator would or should say without some facts.

        • wojohowitz

          Absolutely. Nothing but rumours and innuendo. I`ve been saying that about Donald Trump for years. Lies and half-truths put out by his enemies – no hard facts. He`s actually a hard working, honest, stand-up guy. Although the rumour is he goes to sleep every night clutching the nuclear codes – you know – just in case NAFTA doesn`t get done.

      • canuckfan

        From how Jake prepared for last season he showed up at camp as a beast. In shape and full of piss and vinegar. I don’t see him falling from there as last season there wasn’t the competition that there will be on the right side as there will be showing up at training camp. Jake has got a bit of a swagger now, feels good about his game, and wants to improve. It is up to Jake to get it done a have faith in him to come into camp motivated and ready to go and it all started with his off season training. Jake wants to get better and has taken steps to improve his game. He will show up in shape and ready to go. If not he won’t make the team with all the talent on the right side Jake knows this that is why he will even go harder than he did last training camp.

      • bushdog

        some dolt yapping about virtanen. i can’t believe it! must be over-excited about graduating from kindergarden. i would like to read a lot more of the decent posts that come up on this site, not the nonsense that wojo fool puts up. i want a ‘block’ option on here…

  • Doodly Doot

    This is a transformational year for the organization. The Comets should be one of the best clubs in the AHL as long as Dempko is in net for most of it (and I hope he will be for reasons I won’t go into). I think Gaudette would be with the big club if it weren’t for the signings, although we could all be surprised by a trade that creates an opening. After watching Dahlen the other night with Pettersson, I really want nothing more than for the two of them to both begin shaping their careers on the same line in Van. It seems so natural and synergistic and empowering for Dahlen, but Eriksson ‘seems’ like the roadblock. I wonder what Green will be thinking through camp. (I caught a few interesting reactions from him and Jim at the game on Friday.)

    If I were to go with current general perspective and assume that ‘only’ Pettersson makes the opening night roster for the Canucks, then I’m hoping that the Comets opening night top two lines look something like this:

    Dalhen – MacEwen – Lind
    Gadjovich – Gaudette – Palmu

    Btw, I could see that Gadj, Gaudette, Palmu line as Van’s #3 next year and for years to come. That could become a for-real top NHL #3 line. With a couple years experience with the big club, a line like that could become really tough to handle for the opposition. Fast, nasty and skilled. That’s a line with 55th, 149th and 181st overall picks. Impressive.

    I think

    • Cory Hergott

      I think the Comets will be better this season, but they may have a bit of work ahead of them to be considered one of the best teams in the AHL just yet. They squeaked into the playoffs last season and it might be a bit too big of a jump to expect them to leap to the top of the league that quickly. Other teams have made changes to improve their teams as well.
      Dahlen – Gaudette – Boucher
      Palmu – MacEwen – Lind
      Those are two lines I’d like to see tried if Zack gets moved to the middle.

      • Doodly Doot

        I know I shouldn’t write off Boucher so easily, but I can’t imagine him serving as more than his contract suggests which seems to be in the form of (strong) scoring support for the Comets and a functional call-up for the Canucks.

        It seemed to me (from afar) that the Comets chief challenge last year was a bit of a roster-in-a-blender season. I wonder if there was a bit of chaos in the lineup that made it difficult to create some stability and inertia for winning. A full season with the additions of Dahlen, Gaudette, Palmu, Lind, Gadjovich, and Juolevi, added with a more experienced Chatfield and Brisbois and a full season with a pleasant surprise like Jasek is what makes me think that they are going to be very good. I’m not sure where Gaunce will land after perhaps (likely) not making the Canucks, but if he’s back, that only makes them deeper from my perspective. Total speculation on my part though. I respect your insights over my own on this matter for sure and watching it unfold over the season will be a lot of fun.

        • Cory Hergott

          DD: Don’t get me wrong, I do expect the Comets to take a jump in the standings. As you mention, They will be a deeper team and will be able to withstand injuries/call-ups better this year than last. The skill level on the team will go up, for sure. I just like to keep my expectations in check. The first 20 or so games should be interesting to watch in terms of how Cull integrates the rookies with the veteran leaders on the team. I have said this already a few times, but some pretty good young players may have to wait their turn before they get a proper look.

    • Dirty30

      On the other hand, Eriksson would make a good line-mate for Pettersson and Dahlen. He may not be the player we hoped for, but he would be a steady influence, likes to score garbage goals, and maybe it jumpstarts his career a bit.

      It would mean someone like Gagner or Granlund need to be sent down or traded sooner but if P-D have that chemistry it’s going to be hard to convince fans that it shouldn’t be a line.

      • canuckfan

        Eriksson would be a good fit to play with Jake with all those breakaways Jake had where he powered up to the net and was then stopped by the goalie imagine if there was someone who was there to pop in the rebound. I would imagine there would be a lot of garbage to be picked up. I am hoping the Gaudette will center Jake and Eriksson.

  • Burnabybob

    Good analysis. As you say, though, it’s tough to read too much into prospects games. We should have a much better reading on these players within the next few months.