Trent Cull Interview
After spending the last handful of days in Vancouver shuttling back and forth to the Canucks development camp, I am finally able to sit down and fill you in on a few things from my three days of viewings, along with an interview or two that I was able to conduct.
I wanted to start things off with my talk with Utica Comets GM, Ryan Johnson, but I am having some technical difficulties with my audio file. I will try to save it but haven’t been successful so far.
The Comets started last season with six rookie wingers to fit into eight open wing spots while also carrying Reid Boucher, Darren Archibald, Brendan Gaunce, Zack MacEwen, and Michael Carcone as wingers who were under contract to the parent club.
Much was made in this market about how the young Comets’ players were deployed by the coaching staff last year so I thought I would give head coach Trent Cull the opportunity to respond to how he managed the roster and the suggestion that he has been coaching to win rather than coaching to develop prospects for the Canucks.
“With setting the lineup, it is a team decision. Ryan Johnson is my boss and we are always trying to find the right avenue. It’s not just me, spur of the moment, writing down on a napkin who we think we are going with, so it’s something we talk about as a staff.”
“There are considerations. Is that young player ready for the challenge every night? There’s more when you’re reading deeper into it.”
“It would be great to put all of the young guys in, but we are wanting to make sure that we are putting them into situations where they can succeed. We want to make sure that we can put them with a player with experience who can help them.”
“There are quite a few balls to balance. At the start of the season in the AHL, you are always heavy. We were practising with, I think, 29 skaters before Michael Carcone ended up being moved out in a trade. We had a lot of bodies, guys want to play and you’re trying to be competitive.”
“It’s a delicate balance and we just try to sit down and navigate the best path for our prospects and our other guys who have been there and played in the past.”
“We see team success and the playoffs as another level of development for the young players. It’s valuable experience for them going forward.”
I mentioned to Trent that I had noticed Kole Lind’s game take off a bit after he came back from an injury and was lined up with Vincent Arseneau. I mentioned that I saw Lind pick up on Arseneau’s energy and how he seemed to be more engaged and looked more confident. I then said that I felt that would have been a good time to try giving Kole a few more minutes further up the lineup with that newfound confidence and engagement.
“I don’t have my numbers in front of me, but Kole played further up the lineup near the end of the season. He had multiple injuries and once he got going, he got injured again. That kind of hurts a young player. They get some momentum, which can be difficult to do, and then they get injured.”
“It’s part of the process, we want to get ice time for everybody, but we are still trying to make sure that we are fine-tuning the other layer of prospects. The Zack MacEwen’s, the Thatcher Demko’s, the Sautner’s, the Brisebois’ etc. We have to make sure that we’re putting those guys in good situations too.”
“It’s certainly a balance and I understand in my job that I’m only as good as who is and isn’t playing or whatever it is. It doesn’t matter how many guys are playing well or getting called up, or over achieving, it’s always going to be about what’s going on with the things that aren’t going the way we’d like them to.”
“We have to make sure that we’re thinking about the players’ success. Sometimes at the start of the year, guys aren’t ready for that every night. It’s a tough league and we say that all the time.”
“Sometimes we can play them too much. I had Lukas Jasek playing on the top line for the first two months of the year and he almost played too much. He’s a guy who got to the finish line and just barely made it over.”
It was at this point when I told Cull that I thought Jasek had a pretty solid season and that I liked his game, work ethic and especially his work in board battles and wondered if he would be up for another challenge this year.
“We needed a dynamic of more team speed and Lukas has great speed. He brought that speed to the Kero/Boucher line, but when you’re given a lot, you have to be able to keep that up and it can be difficult to do at times for young players. You know what, it’s a learning process for all the kids and I thought that Lukas had a good year too.”
Another area where the Comets coaching staff has taken some heat was the handling of Petrus Palmu and Jonathan Dahlen. I mentioned to Trent that I had spoken with some players from his team who had gushed about what the coaching staff was doing with them and how there were no issues with communication between the player and staff. I asked how it was possible that Dahlen and Palmu’s comments after leaving the club could have been so opposite of what I had been hearing from other players.
“I can’t say why they feel like that. I wish I could tell you how much time I have spent with the young players. The players who are younger get the lion’s share of our time as a coaching staff to get them up to speed.”
“I felt that there was a lot of communication with both players, but I do understand that when things aren’t going the way they think is good enough for them…they’re young men and sometimes people don’t volunteer that maybe they could have done things better. They’re good young men and I enjoyed coaching them. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out, but that can happen in this game.”
“Vancouver does a great job of drafting/identifying players. We like our group, these are good young men, the quality and character of the guys they are. It’s a pleasure to coach them. Zack MacEwen, Thatcher Demko, Sautner, Brisebois…I have three sons of my own, but when you’re telling those guys that they’re getting called up, or that they’re doing a great job, it’s such a great feeling.”
“There are always ups and downs, it’s a process. They all have different timelines and we try to make sure that we’re getting better every day. If people have a different timeline for themselves, that isn’t in our control. We are trying to better the group and better the individual every day.”
Moving on, I wanted to touch on what will be a fairly different looking blueline in Utica for the upcoming season. The Comets had a tough time getting points from the backend last year without Olli Juolevi and Evan McEneny after both were lost to season-ending injuries. I asked if Cull saw the trio of Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, and Mitch Eliot as players who could potentially provide some offence for the club.
“I would be so remiss if I gave an opinion on that right now. I mean, I hope so, I know they are highly touted and it’s great that we’ve got these guys coming in.”
“It was crazy last year in that aspect. I thought that Olli had a really good start to the year and unfortunately, Evan was coming off an injury from the year before and was putting up career numbers and all of a sudden we lose him.”
“We were so happy for Sautner and Brisebois when they were called up, but suddenly you’re looking around the room and saying, these aren’t the six guys that I started the year with.”
“We know what these young guys are coming in and I’m looking forward to coaching them. It’s going to be great to get Olli back. I’d imagine it will take some time for him to get back into the routine, the poor guy hasn’t even played 20 games in the American League.”
I had a couple more questions for Cull, but unfortunately, as I said, I had some technical difficulties with my audio files from day one and lost the last three or so minutes of this interview.
My takeaway from my discussion with the Comets head coach was more or less what I was expecting to hear from him. His answers were in line with what I saw while watching the Comets play over the past two seasons.
This team is trying to build a culture where players can succeed when they put in the work and earn their minutes. Trent Cull is trying to prepare players so that they can play a regular shift under Canucks bench boss Travis Green. We might not always like/agree with his methods, but the coach does have the best interest of the players in mind when he is handing out minutes and when he adds more responsibility to the mix.
After speaking with Trent, I feel that we will see players like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich take on more minutes in the 2019/20 season. It will be up to the players to take advantage of those minutes when they get them.
Stay tuned over the coming days as I will be breaking down my chats with Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Mitch Eliot and Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning.