Today I will wrap up my three-part series from day one of Vancouver Canucks training camp in Whistler with a look at a pair of defencemen who spent the 2017/18 season with the Utica Comets. For Guillaume Brisebois, it was his rookie season as a pro, while Ashton Sautner was playing his third season with the club.
In part one of this series I looked at a pair of depth defencemen who were signed to AHL deals this offseason by the Comets in Jesse Graham and Jagger Dirk.
In part two, I shared the interviews that I was able to conduct with goaltender Thatcher Demko and power forward Zack MacEwen.
I will start things off today with Guillaume Brisebois.
Brisebois was drafted by the Canucks in the third round of the 2015 NHL draft with one of the picks acquired in the Eddie Lack trade. Partly due to his draft position, but probably more to do with the enthusiastic way with which the team speaks about him seems to have conspired against the young blueliner as many fans in Vancouver tend to look at him as a whipping boy of sorts. I don’t think that is fair to the player as it isn’t his fault that the team pumps his tires when they get the chance. The young blueliner skates quite well and can bring a physical game.
For his part, Brisebois came into Utica last season as a rookie and was quickly pushed into top-four duty as the injuries and call-ups piled up early on, and he acquitted himself pretty well. He spent a lot of time early in the season playing on the right side of former Comets defender, Philip Holm. For those who aren’t aware, Brisebois is a lefty, so playing the right side as well as he does is a feather in his cap that should help him in his goal to become a full-time NHL player.
Brisebois finished the season back on his natural left side with the grizzled veteran, Jaime Sifers on his right. The move back to the left side and the pairing with Sifers seemed to help calm Brisebois’ game a little and the offensive side of his game started to show up a little more often. He finished his season with 18 points, which isn’t world-beating, but those 18 points were enough to see him finish second on the club in blueline scoring.
The six-foot-three, 190lbs native of Longueuil, Quebec was a staple on the Comets penalty kill last season and he also saw some power play time as the year wore on.
Full disclosure on my interview with Guillaume, I hadn’t planned on interviewing him before heading to Whistler but decided that I should after viewing his on-ice session. Because of this, I didn’t have many questions prepared for him. To his credit, Brisebois was patient with me and we managed to get through the interview so that I could bring this article to you today. Thanks, Guillaume.
My first question for Brisebois was about where he sees himself fitting in this season with the Comets in terms of playing the left side or the right.
“We’ll see what the coaches want, I’m up for anything. I’ll work hard and just be at my best everytime I step on the ice.”
Next up I brought up the fact that he played in all situations last season and asked if he saw himself doing that again this year.
“It depends on the coaches and what they want me to do. I will be up for anything that will help the team.”
I then asked Guillaume what he focused on this offseason with his training for the upcoming year.
“I really worked in the gym to get some strength and I worked really hard to gain some muscle and gain some power and I think I did that this summer.”
My final question for Guillaume was about his defence partners last season and if there was someone that he thought he played well with.
“I played with Jaime Sifers at the end of the season and in the playoffs and he’s a great veteran. He helped me a lot and gave me a lot of advice and taught me how to act as a pro on the ice and off the ice. I really enjoyed his presence next to me.”
As mentioned above, I wasn’t as prepared for the Brisebois interview as I would have liked to have been, but Guillaume took it in stride and stuck with me.
Up next is Ashton Sautner. Sautner signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent after wrapping up a four-year WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings. He wore the “C” with the Oil Kings in his last season with the club as well. The six-foot-one, 194lbs, left-shot product of Flin Flon, Manitoba will require waivers if he doesn’t make the big club out of camp.
Sautner has played in 158 AHL games with the Utica Comets, collecting seven goals and 22 helpers to give himself 29 points in that span. Those numbers don’t exactly blow your hair back, but last season was a career year for Ashton in terms of games played, 61, and points, with 13. He was able to bring more offence at the WHL level, picking up 117 points during his 265 games in that league, so there may be a little more offence to come from the 24-year-old blueliner. Sautner also got his first taste of NHL action at the end of the season, playing in five games with the Canucks and picking up a pair of assists.
My first question for Sautner was about what he did this offseason in order to prepare for this year.
“I was back home again with the same trainer that I’ve had for the last five years. I tried to focus on continuing to get stronger. I think the experience that I gained last year up in Vancouver helped me realize that to be able to do that for a full season and maintain that style of play that I know that I want to play and that I know they want me to play its going to be huge to continue to build that strength. That was my main focus. I was on the ice more this summer than I have been in the past as well, I just felt that was important to help come into camp sharper and ready to compete for a spot.”
I had seen a report that Sautner was looking to up his physical game this season and asked if he could tell me about that.
“Yeah, I mean it’s something that I focused on last year too. You know, my first two years, I mean it’s not an easy league to come into as a defenceman out of junior and be expected to be a big physical guy, because I’m not that big, to begin with, so it took me a couple of years. The biggest thing really came down to summers, summers of getting into the gym and being able to build up my body because it’s a tough thing to do during the season. I felt like having those first two summers to do that helped me to be that way last year. Now I’m another year older, I’m 24 and it’s becoming a thing that I’m able to do every summer, keep building on it and getting stronger and that’s what got me up to Vancouver last year and hopefully that’s what can help me earn a spot or a call-up down the road.”
Next up, I asked Sautner if he sees himself as an option on the power play this year or if he might be in more of a shut-down type of role in Utica.
“You know, nobody wants to cut themselves short, I think every guy if you asked him would want to play in every situation and be relied on in all situations. I think last year was a step where I was maybe put into a role where I was relied on defensively and to shut down other team’s top players in the American League and penalty killing as well. When I go back to junior, I was playing the power play for my last two years there and I was able to put up some pretty good numbers. It’s something I always have in my game, it’s a matter of whether they feel I’m the guy for that job or if I’m ready for it too. I mean, it’s not an easy thing to do, to run a power play, or be on a power play in pro hockey, so I’m happy with whatever role I’m given and I think that’s what has allowed me to stay in the lineup and be a key contributor and being a guy who can be relied on in different situations.”
I came away really impressed with Sautner and the answers that he gave. He may not be the sexiest name when it comes to prospects in the system, but Sautner is the type of player that you can win with. He plays a heavy game and showed that early and often in his five games in Vancouver. He can play Big-Boy hockey when the need arises. I think there may be a few more points to squeeze out of him as well. Another career season for Sautner would not surprise me. I expect the blueliner to get into some more NHL games this year as the season rolls on.
That’s a wrap for my three-part series from day one of Canucks training camp in Whistler for the 2018/19 season. The preseason gets underway on Tuesday for the Canucks and if all goes well, I will be at the game against the LA Kings on Thursday. If I do make it in for that game, you can expect a report of some sort to follow.