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.)
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.