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CanucksArmy Utica Comets Season In Review Series: Part Two, Full House

Utica Comets Season In Review

Part Two

Full House

After taking a week to collect myself, I am back with the second installment of my Utica Comets Season in Review series. Last time around, I talked about The Facts Of Life and how things were neither all good nor all bad in Utica for the 2018/19 season.

Full House

Today, I will be digging into the Full House that the club started the year with in Utica. The Comets started the 2018/19 season having one goaltender, five defensemen, and nine forwards signed to AHL deals. That list of players looks like this.

AHL Deals

  1. Ivan Kulbakov: G.
  2. Jaime Sifers: RD.
  3. Dylan Blujus: RD.
  4. Jesse Graham: RD.
  5. Jagger Dirk: LD.
  6. Brandon Anselmini: LD.
  7. Carter Bancks: F.
  8. Wacey Hamilton: F.
  9. Brendan Woods: C.
  10. Cam Darcy: C.
  11. Vincent Arseneau: W.
  12. Tanner MacMaster: F.
  13. Kyle Thomas: W.
  14. Brendan Bradley: F.
  15. Reid Gardiner: F.

Outside of Brendan Bradley, all of those players suited up for the Comets this season. Bradley, Gardiner, Thomas, Dirk, Anselmini, and Kulbakov all spent the bulk of their time this year with the Canucks/Comets ECHL affiliate in Kalamazoo. Out of that group, Kulbakov played the most games in Utica with 25, while Reid Gardiner wasn’t far behind with 21 games spent in a Comets uniform this season. Bradley played in the fewest with zero Comets games to his credit this season, while Kyle Thomas was next with just six games played with Utica this year.

Wacey Hamilton, Carter Bancks, and Jaime Sifers formed a large portion of the leadership group for the team and two of those three will be back to do the same next year…unless something changes between now and the start of the season. Bancks and Hamilton each have another season left on their AHL deals, while Sifers announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Tanner MacMaster put up 11 points in 29 games before being moved to the Marlies in favour of left-shot defender Stefan LeBlanc, who managed six assists and 16 penalty minutes in his 25 games with Utica while also on an AHL deal.

That means that the following AHL contracted players started the season competing for jobs with the Canucks actual prospects:

  1. Bancks.
  2. Hamilton.
  3. Darcy.
  4. Woods.
  5. Arseneau.
  6. MacMaster.
  7. Sifers.
  8. Blujus.
  9. Graham.
  10. Kulbakov. (The Comets did not have any healthy goaltending prospects in Utica during Kulbakov’s time there).

Of that group listed above, Hamilton, Woods, and Darcy played the bulk of their time in the middle, and as such, were not really taking much ice-time away from the prospects. Hamilton did see the odd game on the wing, but he only played in 23 games this year, so he wasn’t really taking much time from the kids there either.

We did see wingers Vincent Arseneau and Tanner MacMaster dress ahead of some of the kids early in the season, as well as defender Jesse Graham, who was used up front ahead of the kids for a few games. On the backend, Sifers, Blujus, and Graham were not really infringing on any prospect’s ice-time…outside of those few games that Graham spent as a winger.

So, we did see some of those AHL contracted players getting looks ahead of the Canucks prospects early on up front, and that isn’t ideal.

Two-Way Deals

If we shift our attention to the players who were on two-way deals with the Canucks, we see more of a logjam, especially up front on the wings.

  1. Reid Boucher.
  2. Tanner Kero.
  3. Brendan Gaunce.
  4. Michael Carcone.
  5. Darren Archibald.
  6. Zack MacEwen.
  7. Jonathan Dahlen.
  8. Lukas Jasek.
  9. Kole Lind.
  10. Jonah Gadjovich.
  11. Petrus Palmu.
  12. Adam Gaudette.
  13. Evan McEneny.
  14. Guillaume Brisebois.
  15. Ashton Sautner.
  16. Olli Juolevi.
  17. Jalen Chatfield.

If we take out the AHL contracted wingers and focus only on wingers who were part of the Canucks system to start the year, we end up with 10 wingers to fit into just eight open spots. Five of those wingers were rookies, and if we add in Tanner MacMaster, he brings that total to six. MacMaster was great for the Comets at the end of last season and led their rookies with four points in five playoff games, so you kind of knew that he would get a good look to start the season after earning a level of trust from the coaching staff.

Brendan Gaunce was also one of those wingers, and he could have been used down the middle in Utica for the full season in order to help reduce those numbers, but he was used on the wing quite often.

All of this is to say that the Comets were front end heavy to start the season and that led to players like Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Dahlen and Lukas Jasek on the outside looking in as far as regular minutes went.

Jasek and Dahlen were getting in for the most part but were spending a good deal of their time playing down the lineup while more experienced wingers like Archibald, Boucher, Gaunce, and Zack MacEwen were playing up the lineup ahead of them.

Michael Carcone was also shuffling in and out of the lineup early with the rookies before he was eventually dispatched to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade to acquire Josh Leivo for the parent Canucks.

There were not the same issues on the backend this year as all of the Canucks prospects were given plenty of minutes when healthy.

Part of the reason behind this logjam of players has to do with the fact that the Comets used about 100 players last year due to injury/illness/call-ups…(the actual number is closer to 60). I understand the logic behind the team wanting to be prepared for a similar situation this year, but at the same time, they had to know that it was going to be tough to keep everyone happy with the minutes that they would be getting.

The team eventually tried to make a little bit of room when they moved MacMaster out for defender LeBlanc and Carcone for Leivo. Another move came later in the season when Archibald was sent to Ottawa, but the team brought forward Tom Pyatt back in that deal and used him in their top-six for the bulk of the remainder of the season.

With all of this going on, Petrus Palmu asked to go back to Finland after not seeing the kind of minutes/deployment that he was accustomed to/hoping for, appearing in just 12 games and picking up one assist for his efforts. The team granted his request and Palmu finished his season in Finland where he put up 18 points in 29 games before finding himself as a healthy scratch there as well.

Jonathan Dahlen also expressed his frustration with his ice-time/deployment and found himself moved to San Jose for center Linus Karlsson.

You can understand the frustration of the two players when you consider their history of producing points while playing prominent roles for their previous clubs. However, if you consider the fact that those two players would have had to outperform/give the coaching staff reasons to play them ahead of players like Reid Boucher, who has been nothing short of elite at the AHL level, Darren Archibald, who is literally called TheMayor in Utica and was the club’s most popular/longest serving player, Brendan Gaunce, who was putting up nearly a point-a-game early in the season, and Zack MacEwen, who killed it as a rookie last year and had already earned the trust of the coaching staff, you can see how it was hard to get regular minutes for them until they were up to speed.

Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich struggled with the pace of the pro-level early on and the coaching staff felt that it was necessary to give them a ton of practice time while limiting their minutes before giving them a regular shift. Those regular shifts didn’t really start to come for either player until the second half of the season. Both also missed time with injuries that were significant enough to hamper their ability to play the kind of game that they have had success with in the past.

Lukas Jasek, for his part, managed to pretty much play a regular shift for the team, outside of a handful of games missed due to injury/illness, he didn’t sit very often. He did find himself shuffled around the lineup, being used at all three forward positions and up and down the roster. You could see Jasek playing the left side on the first line with Reid Boucher and Tanner Kero one game, and the next he would be riding shotgun on the fourth line right wing with Woods and Bancks.

I have no issue with the number of players that the management group brought into the fold this season, especially after the merry-go-round of players used last year, however, I believe that the roster could have been assembled in a more effective way in order for the team to have more minutes available to their prospects.

At the end of the day, it becomes about being able to put your young prospects into positions to succeed. While I was fine with young players like Lind/Gadjovich playing further down the lineup until they got up to speed, I would have liked to see both players get looks further up the lineup earlier than they did.

Both players showed that they were not ready for regular minutes early on, but both ended up showing that they could be effective with more minutes and when lined up with some of the more skilled players later on in the season. I would have liked to see both players get those minutes a little sooner than they did.

The way things are looking at the moment, there will not be nearly the same sort of influx of rookies for the Comets in the 2019/20 season, and it is quite possible that we will see a much different looking team going forward in Utica. This will be a big year for players like Lind, Gadjovich, and Jasek to take that next step and give the coaching staff no choice but to play them more often…not unlike the way that Zack MacEwen did this season.

I will dig into what the Comets roster could look like in an upcoming article, as well as giving my opinion as to how the roster could be constructed in a way that would hopefully maximize the development of the team’s young prospects.

Up next, however, in part three of this series, I will be looking into the Comets 2018/19 rookie class and how they fared with my Eight Is Enough piece sometime this week.

  • Fred-65

    As I recall there was great optimism preseason. Things looked good but apparently, the optimism was misplaced. It’s hard not to look at the end product without stating the obvious, Utica failed. Short but true. Pointing out that there were injuries is a legitimate point, but frankly, all teams suffer injuries. It’s to be expected and covered. The most obvious failure to manage injuries was when the goaltending issue reared it’s ugly head with Bachman ending his season, replaced by Kulbakov but then management failed to replace Kulbakov in the ECHL. To my way of thinking, Utica was manned by too many vets and has no injury provision( or inadequate ) in Kalamazoo. Much like Vcr., Utica was strong on management rhetoric but at the end of the day like Vcr. it failed to materialize. That’s two years in a row the measure of Management is what action will they take during the summer to right the ship

  • wojohowitz

    Something went seriously wrong during the last twenty games of the season when they went from a playoff spot to being unable to beat anybody and how it looks from afar is Dahlen voiced his frustration at his lack of playing time, Cull gave them the speech about `my way or the highway` and from that point on they stopped playing – a classic case of the coach lost the room.

    Also the constant question about winning or developing and it looks like they did neither although we can give them the benefit of the doubt in that maybe last years rookies will be front and center next season – guys like Lind, Jasek and Gadjovich stepping right up.

  • TheRealPB

    Great article Cory, very measured and fair (unlike some of the knee-jerk reactions). There’s definitely questions about deployment but all of the conjecture about Cull being too difficult to play for or somehow not favoring young players are overblown. There were a number of players who came up from Utica and did not look at all out of place (not tremendous but still at least competent players like Brisebois and MacEwan) while other blue chip prospects like Gaudette and Demko did not see their development suffer in Utica. I think the story, as you nicely lay out, is much more complicated and simply saying we need to fire the coach or move the team (I’m sorry, this makes little sense — there’s way less travel and more opportunity to practice out east and the Comets get amazing support from the Utica fans) is foolhardy. I think there does need to be an overhaul — perhaps in getting someone who can better support European players in their transition (although Jasek and Juolevi seemed to not have the same problems) would be a good idea.

    • Fred-65

      There’s a non-bias method of judging a teams success. Be it the AHL or the NHL. It’s called the playoffs. If you’re good enough you make it otherwise you fail. Good farm systems succeed the rest fall by the wayside. fans might like to make excuses but GM’s should be cognizant of reality. I’m looking at teams tat make playoffs season after season. Most Vcr fans praise the amateur scouting but the fact is few make an impact at the AHL level. There were 57 players pass through Utica of which 9 were drafted including one left to play elsewhere ( approx 260 games = almost 30 games each ) Frankly we have better success with FA’s after the draft, MacEwen/Sautner. To me that doesn’t spell success

  • Hockey Bunker

    The number and quality of the young players should grow every year so that we begin to see some results. Having draftees play a year or two post draft years in college or Europe or junior and then come to the comets is ideal. Canucks are close to the stage where this will pay dividends. The goal is to generate low priced young players who can make a difference while most of your cap is tied up in the stars. And every year you turn over a few players and aquire more picks as needed to feed the machine. And no more NTC or NMC. Management has to be able to move on from players before they get too old.

  • Kanuckhotep

    It seems the regulations regarding AHL veterans and their contracts seem to be counter productive as to how prospects are best deployed in terms of their very crucial development. How could Lind or Gadjovich learn a frigging thing being scratched or riding the bench? I hope the Comets can right their ship for 19-20 because you don’t want young guys with upside/potential to be disheartened by this odd process which permeates the “A”. Play the kids, I say, and damn the torpedoes.

  • tyhee

    1. Dahlen and, to a slightly lesser extent Jasek, were good enough for regular deployment and for the most part they got it. The problem in my view was that the centers they got to play with weren’t helpful either for them to show their best or for their development.

    When Cam Darcy (who had been a PTO) is often playing as your second line AHL center, your young wingers aren’t going to shine offensively and aren’t going to be helped in their development.

    When Wacey Hamilton is taking up one of the regular veteran spots and playing center, then he can help develop grinding defensive wingers. His offence is too weak to help offensive wingers develop or to get them the puck in scoring position. The youngsters need centers who are defensively responsible but also have some ability to score at the AHL level.

    Someone like, say, Brendan Gaunce, who the Comets insisted on playing on the wing until there were virtually no healthy centers left.

    Someone like, say, Adam Gaudette, who played virtually the entire season in Vancouver, at times because that was where the Canucks chose to play him and at other times because of injuries.

    The problem imo isn’t that the Comets had players like Boucher and Pyatt (and the mayor of Utica before him, as well as MacEwen who is a legitimate prospect) who were better than the kids and played ahead of them. The problem was that the Comets roster was constructed by management or used by the coaching staff (take your pick) so that a 3rd and 4th line wingers were playing with ECHL level centers and much of the time a 2nd line winger was playing with a 4th line or depth-level AHL center.

    2. Lind, Gadjovitch and Palmu weren’t ready for the AHL at the beginning of the season. It was too big a jump for them. They were, in a word, terrible. By the end of the season Lind had progressed to where he belonged in the AHL, Gadjovitch had improved somewhat but still struggled and Palmu had fled to Europe.

    The Canucks had a couple of options. One was to play them at a lower level where they would be good enough to play regularly against other professionals until they were ready for regular ice time in Utica. The Kalamazoo Wings would have seemed suitable for Gadjovitch, at least.

    Another option was to keep them in Utica, play them in rotation but not every game and have them work out and get extensive practice to bring them up to AHL level.

    A third option was to play them regularly even though they weren’t close to being good enough for that level. Some fans and media are in favour of this option. I am not one of them. It hurts the team, hurts team morale and, more importantly imo, risks actually hurting their development. Playing someone at a level too far beyond what he’s capable of risks just leaving the player overwhelmed and confused. Some will fight through it and some will never progress.

    I think the Canucks should have developed Gadjovitch in the ECHL this season.

    It’s hard to say what would have been best for Lind. He might have developed more quickly by starting the season in the ECHL and getting extensive ice time and favourable opportunities there, but by the end of the season Lind had developed into an AHL winger. In view of that development it’s hard to say that the Canucks were wrong to keep him in Utica, playing him in rotation and practising with the team.

    The Comets at times had too many vets, but can only play 5 “veterans” and 1 vet-exempt skater in any game. Decreasing the number of vets on the roster would merely mean there weren’t veterans watching games in the pressbox because there weren’t enough spots for them.

    Imo the Comets roster wasn’t contructed either for development of their young wing prospects nor for team success. Further, the coaching staff chose to exacerbate the problem by often leaving a weak lineup at center and using Gaunce at wing, shoving Dahlen and Jasek a spot down the lineup while ensuring they’d be playing with an ECHL-level grinder at center. Gaunce may be better at wing, but the team need was more acute at center.

  • tyhee

    1. Dahlen and, to a slightly lesser extent Jasek, were good enough for regular deployment and for the most part they got it. The problem in my view was that the centers they got to play with weren’t helpful either for them to show their best or for their development.

    When Cam Darcy (who had been a PTO) is often playing as your second line AHL center, your young wingers aren’t going to shine offensively and aren’t going to be helped in their development.

    When Wacey Hamilton is taking up one of the regular veteran spots and playing center, then he can help develop grinding defensive wingers. His offence is too weak to help offensive wingers develop or to get them the puck in scoring position. The youngsters need centers who are defensively responsible but also have some ability to score at the AHL level.

    Someone like, say, Brendan Gaunce, who the Comets insisted on playing on the wing until there were virtually no healthy centers left.

    Someone like, say, Adam Gaudette, who played virtually the entire season in Vancouver, at times because that was where the Canucks chose to play him and at other times because of injuries.

    The Canucks could also have played Kero as 2nd line center behind Sam Gagner, but chose a different direction for Gagner.

    The problem imo isn’t that the Comets had players like Boucher and Pyatt (and the mayor of Utica before him, as well as MacEwen who is a legitimate prospect) who were better than the kids and played ahead of them. The problem was that the Comets roster was constructed by management or used by the coaching staff (take your pick) so that a 3rd and 4th line wingers were playing with ECHL level centers and much of the time a 2nd line winger was playing with a 4th line or depth-level AHL center.

    2. Lind, Gadjovitch and Palmu weren’t ready for the AHL at the beginning of the season. It was too big a jump for them. They were, in a word, terrible. By the end of the season Lind had progressed to where he belonged in the AHL, Gadjovitch had improved somewhat but still struggled and Palmu had fled to Europe.

    The Canucks had a couple of options. One was to play them at a lower level where they would be good enough to play regularly against other professionals until they were ready for regular ice time in Utica. The Kalamazoo Wings would have seemed suitable for Gadjovitch, at least.

    Another option was to keep them in Utica, play them in rotation but not every game and have them work out and get extensive practice to bring them up to AHL level.

    A third option was to play them regularly even though they weren’t close to being good enough for that level. Some fans and media are in favour of this option. I am not one of them. It hurts the team, hurts team morale and, more importantly imo, risks actually hurting their development. Playing someone at a level too far beyond what he’s capable of risks just leaving the player overwhelmed and confused. Some will fight through it and some will never progress.

    I think the Canucks should have developed Gadjovitch in the ECHL this season. System injuries would have guaranteed him some looks in Utica after he’d had his chance to shine in Kalamazoo.

    It’s hard to say what would have been best for Lind. He might have developed more quickly by starting the season in the ECHL and getting extensive ice time and favourable opportunities there, but by the end of the season Lind had developed into an AHL winger. In view of that development it’s hard to say that the Canucks were wrong to keep him in Utica, playing him in rotation and practising with the team.

    I’m not able to say if there was a right way to handle Palmu. Most reports I saw indicated he was terrible, totally ill suited for the AHL, which was obviously inconsistent with the high hopes we had after his ROY performance the previous season in the Finnish Liga.

    The Comets at times had too many vets, but can only play 5 “veteran” and 1 veteran-exempt skater in any game. Decreasing the number of vets on the roster would merely mean there weren’t veterans watching games in the pressbox because there weren’t enough spots for them.

    Imo the Comets roster wasn’t contructed either for development of their young wing prospects nor for team success. Further, the coaching staff chose to exacerbate the problem by often leaving a weak lineup at center and using Gaunce at wing, shoving Dahlen and Jasek a spot down the lineup while ensuring they’d be playing with an ECHL-level grinder at center. Gaunce may be better at wing, but the team need was more acute at center.