Utica Comets Season In Review
In part three of this series, I took a look at how the rookies fared in Utica this past season in my Eight is Enough article.
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) May 8, 2019
In today’s post, I will take a closer look at Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich to see how they were deployed by the coaching staff and what kind of steps they were able to take over the course of the season.
Kole Lind managed to get into 51 of 76 games for the Comets in his rookie season. So, where did those other 25 games go? I went back through my notes to see just how many times Lind got the healthy scratch treatment and found that he missed three games as a healthy scratch. Those were games two, 26, and 27. The other 22 games that he missed were due to injuries/illness.
Lind missed games eight, through 21 with an early-season injury before missing games 55 and 56 with an illness that was spreading throughout the team at the time. He missed six more games late in the year with another injury as he sat for games 67-71 before making his return for the final three contests of the season.
The Comets are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to their injured players, but I believe that Lind’s early injury that kept him out for 14 games was a shoulder injury and the one at the end of the year may have been his knee.
So, we know that healthy scratches were not what was keeping Lind out of the lineup, for the most part, and that he missed a fair bit of time due to injuries.
One of the issues that many fans in Vancouver had was with the deployment of Lind and Gadjovich this season.
While Lind wasn’t the victim of frequent healthy scratches, he also wasn’t afforded the opportunity to play with the club’s top end players all that often. In fact, Lind saw just one game where he started on a line that featured Tanner Kero as his pivot and not once did he start a game with the club’s most offensively productive winger in Reid Boucher.
Boucher and Kero made up two-thirds of the team’s top line for the bulk of the season and sat one-two in team scoring for the year. Not getting the chance to line up with those two players certainly didn’t help Lind’s offensive numbers for the season.
When I look at who Lind had as his top-five most common linemates, it isn’t all bad considering what the team had to offer outside of Kero and Boucher. It also isn’t ideal for a young player who is trying to put up numbers and contribute offensively in his first season of pro hockey. I really hope to see the Canucks/Comets add an offensively gifted pivot or two this offseason.
Lind’s most common linemate to start a game this season was Cam Darcy at 15 games. Ideal or not, Darcy was the club’s second-best pivot who played the position regularly this season. Personally, I see Darcy as a better fit in a 3C role rather than a 2C, but he is an offensive upgrade on players like Brendan Woods and Wacey Hamilton.
Speaking of Woods, he and Brendan Gaunce slot in at number two as Lind’s most common linemates with 14 games each. While Woods was not a player who was able to help Lind put up points, he did help him out on the defensive side of things and helped Lind stay engaged in games more regularly. Whoever was on Woods’ line this year generally spent a good deal of time in the offensive zone on the forecheck. Because of this, Lind seemed to thrive in an energy role and was seen forcing his share of turnovers for the team.
Gaunce had no issues with putting up points in Utica this year and Lind spending 14 games with him as a linemate helped show him the ropes on both sides of the puck. The bulk of those games with Gaunce didn’t come until a little later in the season than I would have liked as I was hoping to see Lind slide up the lineup earlier once his game looked like it was taking off a little.
Carter Bancks slots in as Lind’s third most common linemate with 13 games, followed up by Vincent Arseneau with 12.
It was pretty clear all season that the coaching staff in Utica were trying to build up Lind’s three-zone game so that they could put him into situations where he could be trusted. It took longer than many would have liked for the training wheels, (Bancks, Hamilton, Arseneau, and Woods) to come off, but the player was able to show some solid improvement in his overall game by the end of the season.
Wacey Hamilton was Lind’s fifth most common linemate, starting six games together. All of this points to the coaching staff wanting to keep their young players aligned with at least one of their trusted vets, which helped them on the defensive side of things, but did not foster much in the way offensive production.
In Lind’s case, I believe that a lot of this has to do with the fact that he wasn’t ready for the step from junior to pro. He needed time with the coaching staff to get up to speed with the pace of the game and the lack of time and space that he had grown accustomed to having at his disposal in junior.
There were growing pains for Lind in his rookie season as he initially struggled to make the adjustment to the pro level. Not only was he learning new systems in a new league, but he also had a gauntlet of wingers ahead of him to try to beat out for regular minutes.
Lind didn’t see any time on the penalty kill in Utica this year, but he did see time on the second unit power play in every game that he played. There were times when the coaching staff had him out on the ice late in games whether the team was winning or losing, but those moments could have come more often rather than rolling out the AHL vets as regularly as they did.
At the end of the day, Lind finished his 51 games as a rookie in Utica this year with five goals and 12 helpers to give himself 17 points to go along with 20 minutes spent in the penalty box. Are those the kind of numbers that you were expecting/hoping for from him? Probably not, but the player took steps in his game that will allow him to come into camp for the 2019/20 season far more prepared to hit the ground running.
As it stands right now, the Canucks/Comets currently have Petrus Palmu, Jonah Gadjovich, Lukas Jasek, Lind, Zack MacEwen, Wacey Hamilton, and Carter Bancks under contract up front. At the moment, we are unsure if Palmu will be back in Utica next season and the possibility exists that Zack MacEwen could make the big club out of camp next year.
There will very likely be several moves made this offseason that will directly affect the Comets, but at the moment, it looks like the young wingers in Utica could have more of a clear path to regular minutes. There is word that the Canucks are not going to qualify the contract of Brendan Gaunce, thus allowing him to become a UFA, (unrestricted free agent) and get a fresh start elsewhere. That will open up a spot on the wings in Utica.
If the team isn’t bringing Gaunce back, it begs the question of whether or not we will see Reid Boucher back in Utica as well. Boucher is older than Gaunce, and although he piles up points in the AHL, the team hasn’t seemed to have a lot of time for him to get looks at the NHL level. If both of Gaunce and Boucher end up moving on, that opens up two spots on the wing in the top six. If we add pending UFA Tom Pyatt to that list, it opens up three spots.
Lind and the other young wingers are looking like they could get the chance to take on bigger roles in year two.
Unlike Lind, Jonah Gadjovich saw the healthy scratches coming early and often. We knew coming into the season that Jonah would have to work on his skating in order to have success as a pro and it was evident early on that those concerns were valid. Gadjovich sat 19 times as a healthy player, according to my notes. He missed an additional 14 games due to various injuries.
As mentioned above, the Comets are not very open about their injuries and I am of the mind that a portion of those healthy scratches came due to a lingering wrist issue that has plagued Gadjovich since junior. The injuries to Gadjovich and Lind this year didn’t help either with getting up to speed at the pro level.
Gadjovich got into a total of 43 games for the Comets in his rookie year, picking up four goals and six assists, giving him 10 points to go along with his 32 minutes spent in the penalty box. Once again, those numbers are probably shy of what you were hoping for/expecting from Gadjovich in his rookie campaign, but like Lind, he was looking like a different player by the end of the season.
Gadjovich, like Lind, spoke in the media a few times this season about how the adjustment from junior to pro was a bigger step than he anticipated. If we put his skating aside, one of the other issues that I saw with Gadjovich was learning how to play his game at this level. In junior, he was known as TheManChild because of his dominant size and strength that he was regularly able to impose on much smaller, much younger players in junior.
It took time and playing with guys like Woods, Arseneau, and Hamilton for Gadjovich to start to turn the corner. By the end of the season, Gadjovich was better able to keep up to the pace of the game and he had figured out a way to use his size to his advantage more effectively. Part of what helps Gadjovich, in my mind anyway, is that he is a smart player. He knows where to be on the ice, he just needs to find more efficient ways to be the first one there.
If we look at Jonah’s most common linemates this year, once again we see a steady diet of bottom of the lineup energy players/checkers.
I don’t have as big of an issue with Gadjovich’s linemates as I did with Lind’s. When I look at who is in the system and what the future roster could look like in Vancouver, I see Gadjovich fitting into a bottom-six energy role for the team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for seeing Jonah get minutes higher up the lineup with some more offensively minded linemates, but I do see him ending up as more of an energy guy.
Gadjovich saw Vincent Arseneau on his line to start the game 14 times this year. Brendan Woods is a close second with 12 games on Jonah’s line. Carter Bancks slots in at number three with 10 games, while Lukas Jasek sits third with eight. Wacey Hamilton rounds out his top-five most common linemates with seven.
That is not exactly a murderer’s row of offensive contributors, but they do make up some of the very best defensive forwards that Gadjovich could have lined up with this year in Utica. It was frustrating at times to see Gadjovich dishing sweet passes, only to see the play die on the receiver’s stick or end up hammered straight into the opposing goaltender’s chest protector. Jonah was able to learn a good deal from that group of vets, but how to pile up points wasn’t part of that lesson plan.
I think that there is a little more offence to come from Gadjovich and I’m hoping to see him used in more of a third line role in the upcoming season where he might have the chance at a few more points. Jonah saw time on both power play units at times this year but was mostly used in the net-front role on the second unit. He did not see time on the penalty kill.
I am hoping to see Jonah get some penalty kill time for the coming season as I think that will have to be part of his game in order to become an NHL regular.
The thing that both Lind and Gadjovich have in spades is an excellent work ethic. Both players could have sulked this season, but both chose to put in the work to improve in the areas that the coaching staff was looking for.
There is still work to do for both players, but I expect them to be putting in the work needed this offseason to be that much more prepared for the 2019/20 season. Fingers crossed that the coaching staff saw enough from them as the season came to a close to take the training wheels off for longer stretches this time around.
Stay tuned next week when I will dig into my Three’s Company article where I will take a look at how Reid Boucher, Tanner Kero, and Zack MacEwen were able to do something that has never been done in Utica since the Canucks moved the team there in the 2013/14 season.