Photo Credit: Cory Hergott, Edit: Owen Skye | @OwenSkyeVisuals

2018 Training Camp, Day One: Potential Utica Comets Depth Defencemen Who Caught My Eye

The Vancouver Canucks opened their on-ice sessions on Friday in preparation for the upcoming season and I was fortunate enough to take a day trip to Whistler to view day one of camp.

My day started with a 4:45 am wake up in order to catch the 6:20 am ferry to Horseshoe Bay, before roughly an hour and a half jaunt up the Sea To Sky Highway to Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler. My day wrapped up when I arrived home at roughly 8:30 pm. It made for a long day, but the experience ensured that it was worth every minute.

For the purposes of this piece, I will once again focus on players who will likely spend time in Utica this season.

I had heard in the past that Canucks coach Travis Green likes to kick off opening day with gruelling on-ice sessions and Friday was no different. Several players were seen to be gassed after their drills and at least one player lost his breakfast…we are looking at you Troy Stecher.

The players were split into three groups. The first two groups were mostly comprised of players who will be on the big club to start the season, along with a handful of players who could bounce back and forth between the NHL and AHL this year. The third group was made up of the players who currently have AHL deals with Utica. It should be noted that veteran defender Jaime Sifers, who is on an AHL deal, and the newly signed Jesse Graham, also on an AHL deal, were skating with the first two groups.

I will start off with Graham, who I had never had any viewings of before. Graham is listed as a six-foot, 185lbs, right shot defender over at Elite Prospects. The 24-year-old native of Oshawa Ontario was a sixth-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2012. He has spent the last five seasons splitting time between the AHL and the ECHL. In the AHL, he has played for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the San Antonio Rampage, putting up 15 goals and 55 helpers to give himself 70 points in 163 games. In 46 games with the Rampage last season, he put up 21 points. That total would have had him sitting second in Comets scoring from the backend behind Patrick Wiercioch and his 37 points.

In 58 ECHL games split between the Missouri Mavericks and Florida Everblades, he has tallied seven goals and 41 helpers to give himself 48 points over that span.

I thought that Graham was showing some nice edgework with his skating and he didn’t look shy about going into the corners with bigger players. The Comets didn’t get a lot of offence from their blueline last season, so maybe Graham is a player who could help in that regard. Being a right shot defender will help his case to make the team as the Comets are looking like they will have a right side consisting of Jalen Chatfield, Jaime Sifers and Dylan Blujus. Graham might slide in nicely as a fourth righty who can be used if Chatfield were to be called up to Vancouver or if injuries occur on the right side in Utica.

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Another defender who caught my eye and who could be battling with Graham for a roster spot in Utica is lefty Jagger Dirk. Dirk is also six-feet tall, but he has a little bit more size on his side, tipping the scales at 198lbs according to Elite Prospects. The 25-year-old product of Penticton BC is the son of former Canucks defenceman Robert Dirk.

Jagger just wrapped up a four-year career at St. Francis Xavier University where he put up 73 points in 114 games, good for 0.64 points-per-game. Last season he had a career year with 28 points in 30 games.

At the end of last season, Dirk was signed to a tryout deal with the Binghamton Devils of the AHL where he picked up one assist in seven games played. He was signed to an AHL deal by the Comets not long after.

Dirk plays a heady game and moves the puck well. His skating also stands out when he is on the ice. He showed tenacity and drive during his battle drills along the boards and lead his group during most of their Travis Green bag skate at the end of their session.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jagger once he got off the ice and will share some of that interview below.

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I pointed to Dirk’s 28 points in 30 games last season and asked him if that kind of offence was something that we could expect from him going forward, or if it was a one-off, career year type of scenario for him. He was quick to point out that he played on a very good team last year and that he wouldn’t have been able to put up those kinds of numbers without the help of his teammates. He went on to say the offensive side of his game is something that he has put a lot of work into over the last 10 years as a bit of a late bloomer, learning where to be and to make smart decisions with and without the puck. Dirk said that he wants to bring a well-rounded game to the table as a first-year pro.

Jagger tells me that his first priority is to play well defensively and to stop the other team from moving pucks to their forwards and that if he does those things that the offence will come.

I had also noticed that Dirk was playing the right side as a lefty during the Young Stars event and brought that up with him. He told me that he has played the right side off and on throughout his career and that he is just as comfortable on either side and can play wherever the coaching staff needs him to. That ability to play either side could give him an edge to stick in Utica over Graham or Brandon Anselmini, who also signed an AHL deal with the Comets this offseason.

I brought up the subject of Dirk’s skating with him, specifically his edge work and he told me that his father had him on skates very early on at the age of one or two. As Dirk got older, the other kids started to catch up to him and once again it was his father telling him that “you can’t play if you can’t skate”. Since then, Jagger has worked with skating coaches in Penticton, focusing specifically on his edge work as well as off-ice training that focused on building leg strength.

I asked Dirk whether he sees himself starting in Utica or if he will need some time in Kalamazzo first and he responded by saying that he definitely wants to start in Utica, but with players who have already established themselves there that it is his job to show the coaching staff that he can play in Utica and that he can play there for the full season.

Dirk went on to say that if he does start in Kalamazzo that he won’t let that discourage him, stating that this is his first year of pro hockey and that he has to keep doing the right things on and off the ice, be consistent, make his mark and hope that the coaching staff and his teammates will take notice of his day to day work.

When I asked Jagger if he worked on anything specific this offseason after signing with the Comets he let me know that skating is still his focus. He told me that he wants to improve his first two-to-three strides when starting from a standstill. He would also like to make quicker decisions with and without the puck to anticipate where it is going to be, taking time and space away from his opposition, especially forwards in the offensive and neutral zones. Dirk said he is looking to be a little more proactive on the ice to help dictate what his opponents will do.

Finally, when I mentioned to Jagger that I noticed him jumping up into the play often at Young Stars, he told me  that he has been taught by his father as well as previous coaches to make the first good play, either to his partner or to a forward and to try to beat his guy up ice if there is an opportunity to do so. He stated that if he can help push the pace of the game by being the guy who turns a play into an odd-man rush that he is going to do it.

Dirk was articulate and thoughtful with his responses and made it easier for a rookie like myself to interview him. I am looking forward to seeing what he will bring this season with the Comets. A team can never have too many defenders, especially those who are versatile enough to play both sides of the ice and who can skate as well as Jagger does.

Dirk and Graham both caught my eye on Friday and watching the pair square off for a regular spot in Utica could be one of the more interesting battles for one of the final roster spots on the backend.

Stay tuned for part two of this piece where I will be looking at Zack MacEwen and Thatcher Demko as well as sharing my interviews with the pair from day one in Whistler. Part three will focus on Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois and my interviews with them.







      • Canuck4Life20

        Pro tip: when you put something in quotation marks, use the actual quote.

        Secondly, why is the multi-troll always so quick to come to the defence of this site? What exactly is your association with the writers and why are you shilling for the Athletic?

        Thirdly, I did sign up for the Athletic after Botchford joined. So far I am not blown away by the ‘extensive Canucks coverage’ (see, that’s how a quote works Junior). Botchford provides great insight. Halford and Brough have their radio show to focus on (which is great listening by the way). JD Burke is still there spewing out his uninformed opinions in his mailbag and bringing the quality of the coverage down.

        • DogBreath

          Bingo. I also purchased when botchford joined them athletic.Canucks4Life is bang on in his assessment of it. So far, underwhelming. Canucksarmy seems to have folded up shop.

          • Macksonious

            Makes you wonder about the future here. I would advise that they replace/remove the out dated poll question. Not doing so gives appearance of an absentee landlord, which may further the speculation about this.

          • Canuck4Life20

            Have you never heard of single quotation marks before Ted? They mean essentially the same thing as double quotation marks do. If he didn’t mean to convey my words then neither is appropriate.

            But hey, while you’re patting yourself on the back because you got me on a technicality, just remember that you’re sticking up for a troll who is on his third account in as many weeks.

    • canuckfan

      Haven’t been on the site for a few days before training camp opened thought I would catch up on some news but there is no real Canucks stuff here disappointing thought there would be some good stuff of who is fit who is not who is having trouble etc.

      • Cory Hergott

        Please keep in mind that many of the writers on this site have young families to look after and an unpaid weekend trip to Whistler tends to run a decent amount of money. We do our best to bring you as much coverage as we can, but it isn’t always possible to have “feet on the ground” at every event like this.

        • Canuck4Life20

          Stop making excuses man. If these guys can’t handle it why don’t they find someone who can? There’s plenty that could be written on the Canucks without attending training camp in person. They always managed in the past before Burke took over. This used to be a great site. Go back and take a look at the coverage in 2015 when training camp was in Prince George.

          • Harman Dayal

            I’m not sure you fully understand the situation here so let me give you some insight into our perspective as writers. Every single writer on here is either a full-time student or has a day job and a family. I can’t go into specifics for each contributor, but I’m a university student with six classes and a lab. Nobody on this site is writing articles for the money — it’s simply out of passion and the few bucks you do get on the side are nothing but a nice bonus.

            To write for this site, we’re sacrificing the limited free-time we have — time that we could instead be spending with family or friends, relaxing from our busy schedules, or pursuing other hobbies.

            As Cory mentioned, we try our best to bring you as much coverage as we can, but we can’t be coming up with original and highly detailed content all the time.

        • Defenceman Factory

          A few points here Cory. First off thanks for your work. it is enjoyable. Second we look at a lot of ads on this site, somebody is getting paid something somewhere. Next the notion of a commercial fan site not covering at least writer expenses to attend the team’s training camp seems ridiculous. Many of the writers here also write for other sites. Are none of them in Whistler or are they there writing for someone else?

          No one has any issues with the work efforts or priorities of the people who write here. I don’t claim to understand the “Nation” business model but training camp sure seems like something a company in the business of covering a team would make an effort to cover.

          • Cory Hergott

            DF: You make some fair points and I appreciate the tactful way in which you phrased them. What I can tell you is that personally, I do everything within my ability to bring the best Utica Comets coverage that I can as someone who lives a long, long way from where the team plays. I was only able to spend one day in Whistler but would have loved to spend the weekend there bringing better/more coverage than I was able to bring from my one day on site but I was doing it on my own dime.

          • Canuck4Life20

            Exactly. Our in-house troll tells us that page hits are at an all-time high. It’s even more disappointing to find out that they can’t even cover a tank of gas and ferry ride for their best writer to go to Whistler. Nor does it explain why every other Nation Network site is able to produce far superior coverage.

        • Holly Wood

          Cory, you can count me is as someone who appreciates your columns. Please don’t make excuses for the other writers from CA who haven’t contributed during training camp. I was hoping for improvements when Burke left but aside from your work I’m not seeing it. Not attending camp just doesn’t cut it.

          • Harman Dayal

            Every single writer on here is either a full-time student or has a day job and a family. I can’t go into specifics for each contributor, but I’m a university student with six classes and a lab. This is a fan-driven site — compensation is not even in the same stratosphere as what you’d expect from professional media coverage. That’s not to hate on Nation Network; it’s just the reality of writing for what’s ultimately a blog.

            Are you seriously expecting myself or any of the other contributors to go up to Whistler on our own dimes and spend the whole weekend writing articles that likely won’t even cover travel expenses?

      • Macksonious

        The coverage on this site has gotten more sparse over the last while, far less than a few years ago, or compared to what’s happening at Oilers and Flames nation. Fair to question why this is the case.

        Thanks for the article Cory Hergott, keep up the good work.

    • Rusty bucket

      When you compare the quality and quantity of Utica to Vancouver articles, they should consider changing the sites name to Comets Army. Good post Cory!

      • Cageyvet

        Exactly this. I appreciate Cory not wanting to be part of dumping on the other writers, but you could listen to the scrimmage on the radio and come up with something.

  • tempest

    Thanks Cory. I have be n at camp the last two days. Here are some observations. I heard Beagle couldn’t get there anymore but he has been skating very well and looks extremely fit. Virtanen was very feisty today in the scrimmage and looks very engaged. Pettersson has skill to burn and is obviously working on his defensive game which shows well inth scrimmage today. Joulevi’s fitness is behind which should be expected, he has made some nice plays and some mistakes. Brisebois impressed me today. Hutton looks very fit. I was also impresssed with Gudbranson’s skating and speed. Motte shower very well in the scrimmage today. Lind needs time to develop for sure and hasn’t been noticeable at all. Overall it has been exciting to watch Andree next few years should prove to be exciting for fans. After some hard years the light seems to be at the end of the tunnel.

    • Cory Hergott

      Tempest, you should have shot me a message over on Twitter, we could have met up for some hockey talk on Friday. I managed to meet up with a couple of CA readers to talk some hockey while I was there.

  • myshkin

    why rag on the coverage? we’re all just biding our time until the pre-season opens. i’ll expect more articles when the real season starts. the one thing i would like is stats on the conditioning tests at the beginning of camp. did jv18 really show up in excellent shape?

    i can’t understand anyone paying to read botchford’s predictable columns.

    • DJ_44

      I guess there are some individuals that subscribed to The Athletic for Botchford’s schitck. One devotee commented that Botchford was the hockey equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson (I $_h_i_t you not).

      From my experience and observation, most subscribers do so for the quality content. Not so inflammatory, with writers responding to valid comments by the readers; CanucksArmy with fewer trolls (which is why subscription is a nice idea). That said, I follow both closely and appreciate the writers, especially at CA given the more or less voluntaristic nature.

  • speering major

    I’m not hating or anything but for a Vancouver based site to drop the ball on a training camp in whistler is pretty weak. Most of the readers probably take day trips to Whistler, it’s not that far at all. If a Vancouver fan site chooses someone who needs to take ferries to get to Whistler then they should be prepared to pay for them or find someone on the mainland.

    I had assumed the Canucks 2022-2023 series was pre-written. The site had no updates for a couple days. I have zero problems with the site going dark on a long weekend in the summer etc, but during training camp and when there is likely pre-written material?

    I’m not complaining, it’s free. But if you’re running the site and actually care, there is clearly room for improvement.

  • Bud Poile

    SN 650 has had excellent coverage of camp.
    I find myself listening to the radio more than ever considering what they bring Canucks fans.
    Ryan is on there often and Cory brings it here.
    Good Weisbrod interview today.
    High on Brisebois.

    • Canucks Army is what it is.
      It doesn’t compare to other nation networks, which raises the question why. Both Flames and Oilers Nation have full time writers and I doubt they are there on a volunteer bases. Somehow CanucksArmy is different from other Nation sites, and not just by name. (Army vs Nation)

      Perhaps a writer can explain the different business models and explain why, without resorting to the we have children excuse. This site is fun to visit but it’s not the go to site for Canucks related news, that’s for sure. How training camp slips by without mention reflects poorly on this site.

      • Also this, I want to praise both 650 and 1040 sports talk stations. Good coverage, good radio, and good up to date news.

        @ Bro Jake
        Congrats on your new show, it’s good to have your voice back on the airways. I only caught part of the first two shows, but so far so good. Love the Champ, it never gets old.

    • Canuck4Life20

      I prefer TSN. Well, except for the morning show. Halford and Brough have become my favourite for the humorous slant they put on things, followed closely by Sekeres and Price.

  • I am Ted

    Cory, thanks for the article. Not bad at all. I am impressed with the time, effort and articles you provide for the Comets.

    Now, I am going to echo what others have said more than once: CA is struggling in regards to coverage. I also don’t buy the rationale regarding the staff writers that are too busy. However, I won’t go on as I don’t have an idea of the CA business model or internal workings. Bottom line: CA needs to return to what it was before Butthole Burke absolutely sent it down the crapper. I don’t know why so many watched and didn’t do anything about it. That guy probably doesn’t have a high school education (it shows) and is extremely lazy. I am guessing his lack of education and work ethic spread through CA like a virus. Anyway, I hope the current staff here can make CA great again! 🙂

    • Harman Dayal

      “I also don’t buy the rationale regarding the staff writers that are too busy.”

      I don’t mean to come off as rude, but that’s just plain wrong. The writers on this site have actual day jobs, families to tend to, etc. Personally, I’m a first-year university student taking six classes and a lab first semester. Hell, even during August I did a 9-5 internship downtown and still managed to put out original and highly detailed content. The kicker in all this? Contrary to what you may believe, writing on this site does very little in terms of compensation. Nobody on this site is writing articles for the money — it’s simply out of passion and the few bucks you do get on the side are nothing but a nice bonus.

      Based on all this, do you really think I or any of the other writers are inclined to take the whole weekend off to go up to Whistler on our dime and write articles that won’t even cover travel expenses? Of course, that’s going off the assumption that any of us would even have the time to sink a whole weekend into such a thing(I absolutely couldn’t).

      I know it sounds like an excuse when we say we’re busy, but it’s a completely legitimate reason when considering that this is ultimately a fan blog.

      • Canuck4Life20

        I have several points/questions:

        No one expects you to go to Whistler on your own dime. There is plenty that can be written about this team without attending training camp (see Corey, who is able to cover the Comets from the other side of the continent). This site functioned for years without any media access to the team, and that’s actually when it was at it’s best. What made it so great is that they came up with different angles using analytics instead of just trotting out the same quote-heavy articles that you can find in the mainstream media.

        Why are the other Nation sites able to produce so much more content? Do they pay better? Oilers Nation has several professional media members with radio shows and newspaper gigs. They also have a dedicated fan providing recaps of games and interviews (I would have no problem believing that baggedmilk has no life). Has anyone ever thought of reaching out to them to find out how they are able to keep so many quality writers on board? What has changed from the past when this was the go-to site for Canucks analysis?

        If this is a fan driven blog then why are we subjected to one of the most moronic trolls on the internet posting under multiple accounts and constantly putting Canucks fans down? Why does this troll seem to be connected to those in charge of the site? How hard would it be for someone to take 5 minutes out of their busy schedule to take his comments down? Why don’t you give a couple of fans the power to moderate the comment section instead of just ignoring the issue? There are several good candidates on here, I am not one of them.

        If this is really a fan blog then why do they keep bringing in people who make it abundantly clear that they are not fans of the Canucks and are using the gig as a stepping stones to bigger and better things?

        As others have said, the intention is not to criticize the writers or question their schedules. The intention is to criticize those in charge. If this is a fan blog, then why don’t you get some more fans involved? Hell, I’ve complained enough, how can I contribute in a more positive way?

        • Harman Dayal

          “What made it so great is that they came up with different angles using analytics instead of just trotting out the same quote-heavy articles that you can find in the mainstream media.”

          That’s still the focus with CA. Jackson always incorporates advanced stats as does Jeremy when he writes an article. Hell, if you look at my most recent article, for example, it presented a unique analytical argument that some lauded as one of the best work they’ve ever read on the site.

          The season’s coming up so yes, naturally you’d expect relevant content. But personally, I’d rather invest time into the next big analytical project or article than write something about training camp. Ideally, you’d be able to do both, but time doesn’t allow for it and in my case, so I’d rather go with the long-term game.

          “Why are the other Nation sites able to produce so much more content? Do they pay better?”

          I don’t frequent the other Nation Network sites very often, so I can’t speak to that. I also have no idea about compensation with the other sites.

          “What has changed from the past when this was the go-to site for Canucks analysis?”

          I’d still argue that CA produced excellent offseason content. Draft coverage with the top-100 countdown was outstanding thanks to Ryan and Jeremy. Then, if you look through my post history, you’ll see that I produced a lot of analytics-based articles that the readers seemed to enjoy(keep in mind that every article I’ve written has been in the offseason since I was brought on after the end of the regular season). Jackson’s also done some great work(check out his Loui Eriksson piece if you haven’t).

          Sure, the last couple weeks have been a bit dry in terms of Canucks content but in the grand scheme of things CA’s off-season content matched up well against say The Athletic.

          “Why don’t you give a couple of fans the power to moderate the comment section instead of just ignoring the issue?”

          This is something above me, but I’ll pass on the suggestion.

          “If this is really a fan blog then why do they keep bringing in people who make it abundantly clear that they are not fans of the Canucks and are using the gig as a stepping stones to bigger and better things?”

          Everyone I’ve worked with at CA is a Canucks’ fan. JD’s the exception, but he was certainly one growing up. He’s also local to Vancouver and delivered great content during his time at CA(even if people didn’t always agree with his opinions).

          • I am Ted

            Thanks for the logical reply without the snark. There were a couple of bloggers here that enjoyed the snark and boy did they pay for it on the comment section 😉 Anyway, I also appreciate the responses to viewer concerns. It’s nice to see readers are being heard.

            I will also argue that Butthole Burke was not a good blogger. He struggled to get material out, his grammar was poor, attitude was poor and he was just annoying. I appreciate you feel otherwise and that is your right. However, do not try and tell me (and some others) that he did a good job here overall – sure some good stuff but CA has been slipping under his watch. It’s too bad. This was once a pretty informative site.

      • Cageyvet

        Harman, I enjoy your work and don’t begrudge the writers their personal time, but….yeah, their had to be a but coming….it makes it much harder to take this site seriously when it’s such a part-time gig with nobody ensuring content at times when the fan base’s interest is high.

        You put some real depth into your columns, but many of the writers editorialize without much foundation. That’s fine when you’re listening to a proven sports journalist, there’s an assumption they put in the work to keep their job. When a CA writer does this, and then the site basically goes dark while the pros are pumping out content, it really undermines their credibility.

        More than once I have felt as though the “we’re busy with our lives” excuse is a poor one, since after taking a lengthy break, CA writers come back with endless rehashes of the same old topics. You can’t have it both ways, either keep the volume high or the quality high, but having both low is an ominous trend for this site.

  • El Kabong

    Thank goodness for Cory. With out him the Canucks coverage would be next to non existent.
    We have waited all summer, excited about the new crop of players pushing for a spot on the Canucks or Comets and the coverage since the Prospects Tournament has disappeared. What can we do as readers to help remedy this?

  • Rodeobill

    CA writers, we come here every day because this is our site of choice, and because of the articles and topics you write about. Please do not take some of these comments personally, as most of them are framed in a respectable, constructive manner. Also the responsibility for lack of content or coverage does not fall on your shoulders, rather than those organizing and managing the site. Do not feel the need to make excuses for anything you have not done wrong. You situations are yours and no one else’s business, and you are not responsible to us to explain. The content you do get out is professional and appreciated, so much so that we want more! this is positive and constructive feedback that some companies pay big dollars to hear from their market, just take that back and fire it upstream to let them deal with it (who is it Ryan and Drancer?), and keep doing what you are doing in the meantime!

    • Harman Dayal

      You’re bang on with your points, but at the same time, I do feel the need to give people context. I understand that some of the criticisms are directed towards management above the writers, but I’d argue that there are just as many that are aimed at the contributors. From my perspective, it’s important that readers know that we’re not hiding behind excuses of being busy and that there are legitimate obstacles that prevent us from being able to provide the additional coverage that readers want.

  • TheRealPB

    Great article Cory, and loved the interview with Jagger Dirk in particular. It did make me smile to think of Robert Dirk emphasizing the importance of skating; I loved him back in the day but it was not for his skating…

    Where do you find info about AHL contracts? I know that Jagger’s been signed by Utica but there’s nothing on CapFriendly about AHL teams or him in particular. Just curious as to what the conditions are (I think you get paid the same in the AHL and ECHL depending on contract).

    On the complaint about a lack of content, I can’t agree. I mean it can be a little disappointing on occasion — when a post-game after a rare win against a team I really hate like the Leafs doesn’t show up, or when I am curious about what’s going on in training camp. But the suggestion that it is NOT valid that people on a free fan site have other lives is ludicrous. Young families, being a student, having another job, whatever, if a story about a hockey team is enough to call into question whether or not someone has their priorities straight then I think that’s an incredibly entitled point of view. There are enough other sources that I really think you can get your fix elsewhere in the moment.

    I mean there were people complaining in the summer about too much content in the draft previews. This is a site that’s undergone and is undergoing lots of transitions. If you’re really unhappy read something else.

    • Cory Hergott

      TRPB: Funny that you bring up Robert Dirk’s skating. I was messaging with Jagger’s agent throughout the day on Friday and let him know that Jagger lead his group during the bag skate. He responded by saying that “Robert would be proud, he would have never lead a bag skate in his day…but not for a lack of trying.”

      As for where to find AHL contract info…I am unsure of where you can source that info at the moment, but it is something that I am interested in as well. The info that I pass on is what the team itself puts out as far as their contracts go.

  • Holly Wood

    While some of us are disappointed with the content on this site, it is miles ahead of what has been on Blue Jays nation this season. The maturity level of that site is unbelievable