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Who will be joining the Comets next season?

Yesterday, I wrote about all the players that are waiver exempt in the organization and how long they will be exempt.

There wasn’t really any shocking revelations about what may happen next season but it does make us look at the group that the Canucks hope will provide their NHL depth and how to balance that between the NHL and AHL.

This year saw a lot of prospects graduate from their various junior leagues, and some pro leagues from Europe, to Utica and there was real optimism about that group. It also brought a lot of questions about deployment, development, and how to use your AHL team to your benefit.

That isn’t what is to be discussed together, rather get an idea of which prospects will be making the leap to the AHL and which ones won’t be.

The Reinforcements (Prospects)

It was a year of youth for the Comets with prospects like Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Lukas Jasek, Petrus Palmu, Olli Juolevi, and Adam Gaudette starting the year in the AHL. Fans were expected to see what the wave of players could do together over the course of the season and establish winning hockey. Next season won’t see as much of an influx of a few prospects and then the NCAA UFA’s that joined the team to close out the season.

Mitch Eliot concluded his final OHL season with 55 PTS (17-38-55) in 66 games with the Sting and then was held off the scoresheet in Sarnia’s four playoff games. He joined the Comets to close out the year but didn’t suit up in any games to avoid being eligible for the Seattle expansion draft. It might’ve been worrying about something likely won’t be an issue but at least the Canucks were hedging their bets that if Eliot rapidly ascends in the system, that they aren’t worried about exposing a player that they invested in.

There is a really good opportunity for him on the right side with Jalen Chatfield being the only natural right-sided defenceman that is expected to return to the Comets next season. Not saying that he will be busting down doors but there is a chance for him to earn a full spot in the lineup.

Michael DiPietro will almost certainly make the leap to professional hockey as there won’t be much left for him to do at the junior level. If all goes according to plan, the 67’s will win the OHL title and Memorial Cup and DiPietro will end his junior career a champion after setting the record for most shutouts in a career.

It will be really interesting to see how the Comets handle their goaltending situation next season, as it’s clear that they want to go five deep in the organization with Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Richard Bachman, Jake Kielly, and DiPietro. It may result in a rotation among the three farm hands or we may see one of them head to the ECHL to start the year but inevitably come up when an injury occurs.

The Reinforcements (NCAA)

Separated into a different group just because they weren’t draft picks, the Comets should get some additions coming from the NCAA.

Josh Teves, Brogan Rafferty, and G Jake Kielly all signed contracts with the Canucks to close out last season and will look to battle for a spot with the big club, with obviously varying levels of hurdles to overcome. But it’s more than likely all their start the year in Utica.

If I had to hazard a guess, Rafferty has the best chance to lock down a spot in the Canucks top 8 but that could be pushed out if the Canucks add depth. If that happens, he could find himself being the first call-up option on the right side. He played well in his two games with the big club and given his age, a rapid ascension through the depth chart isn’t crazy.

Teves might have a slightly harder path on the left side but has a mature game that should allow him to play quite a bit with the Comets.

The situation for Kielly was briefly covered in the writeup about DiPietro. Ideally, the Comets go with the tandem of Kielly and DiPietro for the upcoming season and have Bachman as the third guy until needed.

The Won’t Be There

In terms of the AHL, the number one player that I get asked about is Jett Woo.

Unfortuantely, he is unable to join the Comets next season as he only turns 19 in this calander year. If he had turned 20 this July, the Canucks would be able to assign him to the AHL but alas he is bound by the CHL/NHL agreement, which means the WHL or NHL for the right-handed defender. Woo will be the Warriors number one defenceman next season and if their season goes off the rails, their biggest trade chip.

Unless something changes, the following players will return to Europe for another season as they appear to be under contract:

  • Toni Utunen (Tappara – Liiga)
  • Artyom Manukyan (Avangard – KHL)
  • Linus Karlsson (Karlskrona – Allsvenskan)

The following players have committed to their respective NCAA programs:

  • Tyler Madden (Northeastern)
  • William Lockwood (Michigan)
  • G Matthew Thiessen (Maine)

The Canucks have Matt Brassard and Kristoffer Gunnarsson’s rights until June 1, and I wouldn’t expect them to sign either (it has been reported that they have already notified Brassard’s representation that they won’t be signing him.)

Conclusion

Next season won’t see a huge influx of talent being added to the Comets but have some intriguing additions that are led by the NCAA free agents signed to close out the year. Ideally, the organization use these players and the prospects that have been there a couple of years, as the ‘veteran’ leaders and then take some more swings on high upside younger players on ATO’s.

At the very least, the defence and goaltending positions will have some interesting depth and the forward ranks should be led by the prospects that joined the Comets this season.

We’ll take a look at how the depth chart for the Comets shakes out in the coming weeks.



  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    in light of JB’s 30 second “investigation” as to what went wrong in Utica and conclusion that there is nothing wrong at all, I would hope that no prospects choose the Utica route within this organization. Better off developing elsewhere.

  • wojohowitz

    Their depth does not appear to change with the retirement of Sifers and the free agency of McEneny being replaced by Teves and Rafferty although I suppose the forgotten Juolevi will get every opportunity to show himself capable and does it make sense for Woo to get a 9 game Canuck try out and maybe stick.

    • Fred-65

      Sorry I just don’t see Woo showing evidence of his ability to play in the NHL next season. On the other hand, RHD Rafferty showed he’s capable of being a player that can make the grade. Those couple of shifts when playing with Hughes were very good, they had simpatico on the ice IMO. Frankly, I wonder if the Rafferty signing may have taken some pressure off of JB for summer FA quests

      • canuckfan

        I agree that the Rafferty signing has given the management a different path and do not need to sign any free agents on defense. Tanev is still going to be the top d man on the right side Stetcher has proven that he can eat up a lot of minutes and if they use him more and Tanev less they maybe able to keep Tanev in the lineup as he won’t have to be on the ice at all times which I would hope translates into him not getting hurt. With Schenn now an option we will see if one they sign him and two if he can make the lineup out of training camp and now add Rafferty the right side is looking a bit better.
        On the left side there is Edler, Hughes, Hutton, and Juolevi one of this foursome will not be with the team at the end of next season. Will we see Juolevi finally take the step forward and be the player we need him to be from his record he seems to really step up in big games such as the playoffs, I am hoping he makes the step that would leave out Hutton who has either been really good or really bad which Ben Hutton will show up next year? If I were the GM I would not be giving him the big raise it would be a contract with bonuses so if he does play good he gets what he is worth, if he is the crappy Hutton he will get paid his worth if he even plays, plus the contract would be attractive if another team wanted him.

  • bushdog

    woo needs that year in junior. lots of time in the weight room, a nutritionist and more maturity will boost him right into the top 4 next year. with him and jullovi (?) making the roster, it’s going to get crowded. great! lol – a battle between 5-6 guys for a #6 or 7 spot…when was the last time we had That happen?

    • Defenceman Factory

      While I agree Woo is a year and maybe two away from cracking the NHL roster it is unfortunate the CHL agreement forces him to play in junior. At 6 foot 200 lbs he won’t get much bigger. Junior hockey is not going to challenge him to improve his game like the AHL would. Woo will likely need most or all of a season in Utica to adjust to the pro game even after next year. The resources and practice time available to AHL players are far superior to junior. I can’t imagine anyone hugely excited about another winter in Moosejaw with no money.

  • tyhee

    It will be an interesting summer for Comets watchers.

    Four of their top five forwards are free agents needing to be signed or replaced. Other than MacEwen, the best scoring forward that is returning and not needing to be re-signed scored 29 pts and next behind him was 17 pts. There should be some progression from some of the prospects that struggled this season but that still leaves a lot of management work to do.

    On defence the group this year was weak and will almost certainly move on from aging veteran Jamie Sifers. I don’t know what the future holds for soon-to-be free agent Evan McEneny, who this year depended on vision, size and decision-making to counteract a loss of mobility due to injury. People argue about Juolevi’s performance and his potential, but whether one is high on him or low on him, it’s probably a safe guess that if his defence and physical engagement aren’t problems next season he’ll spend most of his time with the Canucks, not the Comets. Sautner and Brisebois are probably mid-six AHL defenders (Sautner pretty sound defensively without much offensive help, Brisebois a little behind him don’t provide a strong core (Sautner is defensively pretty sound without providing much offence, Brisebois so far a little behind Sautner but three years younger.) Chatfield in 2018-19 (part of which he missed due to injury) was a depth defender at the AHL level. Blujus, on an AHL contract, is a 2nd or 3rd pair AHL defenceman who if not re-signed will be a free agent this summer. Their numbers were increased by some ECHL players on professional tryout contracts (who performed about the level one would expect of an ECHL player performing in the AHL) and will be increased by the addition of three undrafted rookie free agent signings who could adapt quickly, slowly or not at all to the AHL. They are unproven as pros.

    Luke Schenn, who played much of this season in the AHL and from what I’ve read spent time with some of the younger defenders during his brief time in Utica, is on an expiring contract so could become an unrestricted free agent.

    There’s a lot of work for Canucks’ management this summer with respect to the Comets. They will need to increase the numbers at forward, provide the prospect wingers with a couple of centers to show them the ropes and get them the puck, and imo they need to sign a veteran first-pairing level AHL defender.

    • wojohowitz

      The UFAs are Pyatt, Kero, McEneny, Schenn, Leighton and Mazanec. Kero and Schenn might get offers. The RFAs have poor negotiating positions. Gaunce just turned 25 so his trade value depreciates as he`s labelled.

  • apr

    Ryan, you forgot the downtrodden group who won’t make the big club next year and will taste Utica: Goldobon, Erickson, Motte, Schaller, Sutter. Sadly, I’m not even joking….

    • Dinsdale

      You also forgot Spooner.
      I don’t know if FA could stomach parking north of $13 million in the minors, though.
      Not sure if that’s even allowed, assigning that many players on one-way contracts to the Comets.