Brogan Rafferty/Josh Teves/Mitch Eliot
In my first article from Vancouver Canucks development camp, I shared my one-on-one interview with Utica Comets head coach Trent Cull.
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) June 29, 2019
For today, I thought I would take a look at the three defencemen from development camp who are most likely to end up plying their trade with the Utica Comets for the 2019/20 season. They would be righties Brogan Rafferty and Mitch Eliot, along with lefty Josh Teves. I had the opportunity to speak with all three defenders and will share the results of those conversations with you here.
Rafferty, a six-foot-two-inch, 192-pounder from West Dundee Illinois turned 24-years-old in May. He signed with the Canucks at the end of last season after completing three seasons with Quinnipiac in the NCAA. During those three seasons, Rafferty managed to put up 10 goals and 55 assists to give himself 65 points in 116 NCAA contests. He also picked up 100 penalty minutes along the way.
Brogan told reporters that getting his foot in the door last year with the Canucks was huge for his confidence that he would be able to take his game to the next level and to see what it will take to stay there. Getting to know the staff and becoming familiar with the way things work and the schedule etc made him hungry for a full-time spot with the big club.
Rafferty pointed out that the Comets staff from Ryan Johnson on down have been great to him at camp. He mentioned how much they were talking with him on the ice during drills and how it was awesome to finally be able to get to know his potential coaching staff during camp. Brogan said that they have been nothing but good to him and he was very appreciative about that.
That was a common theme that I noticed with Rafferty, he mentioned several times how appreciative he is. Personally, I find that to be a fantastic trait in a young man who is embarking on his professional hockey career. I think that at times, young players can take things for granted and from my brief interactions with Rafferty, I feel confident that he will not be one of them. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders. Maybe it was just me, but I also thought that he sounded quite similar to Thatcher Demko when he spoke.
Rafferty played in two games for the Canucks at the end of last season and he was asked if he had watched either of those games yet. I was a little surprised when he said that he hadn’t, but got a chuckle when he said that his father watches them from time to time and he will catch bits and pieces when that happens. He does plan to sit down this offseason and give them a watch though.
Another interesting fact that was brought up by Daniel Wagner, (@passittobulis) from @VanCourierNews is that Brogan is legally blind in his right eye. Rafferty said that his eye has always been that way so he doesn’t see it as a disadvantage to him. He felt that if anything, it might help his hockey sense due to his overall awareness because of it. He also wanted to be clear that his vision is perfect in his other eye.
I asked all three defencemen to describe their game in order to help Utica Comets fans know what to expect when they arrive on the scene. The following was Rafferty’s response.
“I would say that I’m a reliable two-way defenceman. I make the good first pass to the forwards and I can contribute on the offence a bit. I take pride in my defending and I can get physical at times when I need to. I used to be an all-offence kind of guy but in college, I developed my defensive game with the help of the staff. They were awesome for me. So, I like to think of myself as a reliable two-way defenceman and you can use me in any situation you need to and I’m going to give it my best.”
Hearing Rafferty talk about being able to be used in any situation led me to ask him how much experience he has on the power play and penalty kill so far in his career.
“I would say that every team that I’ve been on, I’ve been on the power play. I came into college as a freshman and was on the first power play unit. I don’t anticipate it to be that quick here, if at all, but that’s obviously something that you want to push for. If the opportunity comes for me, I would happily take it. There are a lot of talented defencemen here and it’s all about who fits best in what position and how guys gell together. I’m just going to worry about making the lineup first and see how it goes from there.”
With this being his first season of pro hockey, I asked Brogan if there was an area that he was going to focus on with his training for this offseason.
“Strength! I will be playing against grown men now. They are a lot stronger/faster, so my primary strength, leg strength, and skating. I want to sharpen up those areas. The game is so fast and you need to be able to handle any situation that is thrown at you.”
“To be a great skater, you see Quinn Hughes have a transition from college to pro because primarily, his skating is out of this world. To get something close to that would be ideal, but yeah, I definitely want to work on my skating and strength.”
I thought I would flip that question and ask Brogan what he saw as an area of strength in his game.
“I think that I’m decently quick for a defenceman and I can zip pucks around to the forwards’ tape. I can make plays happen on offence.”
I enjoyed my chat with Brogan and look forward to checking in with him throughout the season this year. He is an articulate young man who seems to have a fairly good grasp on what he will need to do in order to succeed as a pro. The Comets backend will have a decidedly different look from last year and Rafferty could be a big piece towards improving it.
Josh Teves was another college free agent signing by the Canucks at the end of last season. He got into one game with the big club after finishing his four-year NCAA career with Princeton. The six-foot, 170-pound lefty from Calgary Alberta turned 24-years-old in February.
Teves managed 16 goals and 69 helpers to give himself 85 points in his 126 games with Princeton. He also spent 63 minutes in the penalty box.
As someone who attended Canucks development camp last year before earning his deal at the end of the season, Teves told reporters that it was great to be back in Vancouver. He said that last year’s experience helped give him a bit of an idea of what to expect this time around and that it was great to see some familiar faces, put in some work and be able to gauge his progress over the summer/tweak some things that he needs to work on going into training camp in the fall.
With last year’s development camp under his belt, along with the NHL game that he got into, Teves said that he felt really comfortable here. It was helpful for him to know the staff already, what the organization expects in terms of culture and that equated to him being more comfortable on the ice. Teves said that it helped that he didn’t have to learn new systems and he could focus on developing his game. He saw the benefit of that and looked forward to coming into camp this year because of it.
Teves told reporters that it was kind of crazy how much had happened for him over the past year and making his NHL debut was one goal that he was able to cross off his list but that he intends to keep setting his expectations higher. Josh felt that last spring’s experience let him know where to set his standards coming into training camp and what it will take for him to compete at that level and make the team in the fall.
So, how did Teves describe his game when I posed the question to him?
“I’m a reliable two-way defenceman who moves well, skates well and can get down the ice. I can jump in on the offence as well, but I am also trustworthy in the defensive zone.”
“At Princeton, I played a big role on both the power play and the penalty kill. I think that experience was great to get a lot of ice-time and see a lot of different situations and I obviously try to take those lessons forward.”
I asked Josh what he would focus on during this offseason as he gets ready to play his first full season of pro hockey.
“I’m focusing on my strength and getting bigger this offseason. Skating is a huge part of my game and it is something that I am always working on. The game is trending to a really fast skating game so I think that as a defenseman, you can never stop working on your skating.”
I enjoyed my conversation with Josh and look forward to seeing what steps he is able to take in his game with the Comets this season. I wanted to make sure that I was pronouncing his name properly, as I have heard it pronounced a few ways. Josh tells me to pronounce it as though there is an “i” instead of a second “e”…so it’s “Teh-Vis” for those like me who care about such things.
Mitch Eliot is younger than Rafferty and Teves, having turned 21-years old in February. The six-foot, 190-pound righty hails from Orange County, California.
Eliot’s path to the pro ranks is a little different than Rafferty and Teves as well. The defender joined Michigan State in the NCAA after finishing up his USHL career, picking up three points in 35 games to go along with 34 minutes in penalties. The following season he opted to leave the NCAA after putting up five points in 26 games to head to the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. He finished the season with three points in 16 games for the Sting.
Last year, Eliot piled up a staggering 55 points in 66 games as an overage player for Sarnia, while also collecting 84 penalty minutes. In order to keep expectations realistic for Eliot, I want to reiterate that those point totals last season came as an overager. Players can often put up inflated point totals in overage-seasons.
So, how did Eliot describe his playing style?
“I would say that I’m a hard working, two-way defenceman who is relied upon more in my own end. I can break pucks out well, compete hard and I have a heavy shot. I think that I’m pretty mobile and that I use my feet pretty well.”
In order to help Comets fans understand a little more about his game, I asked Mitch if he had much experience with special teams in his career.
“I’ve been a penalty killer probably every year that I’ve played hockey. I was on the power play when I was really young and then when I went to junior, for the first two years, I was on the power play a little bit in Muskegon (USHL). When I was in college, I was on the power play and most recently in Sarnia, I was on the PP and PK. Primarily, I have been a penalty killer, but I can chip in offensively in little holes when I can.”
Next up, I wanted to find out if Mitch was going to be focusing on anything different/specific this offseason in preparation of his first pro season.
“All the cliches…I want to get bigger, faster, stronger. I have to work on my conditioning. We did some tests here and it gave me a gauge of where I am conditioning wise. I definitely need to get back home and put in more work in that area.”
“Hockey-wise, I think that on-ice decision making with the puck is going to be a big one for me. Moving the puck quickly, being efficient when I have it on my stick. My play with the puck is where I think I have to work on my development the most. I’ve always been able to rely on my feet without the puck and defend hard that way, but with the puck, just because it’s so much faster, and the guys are bigger, I just need to be more efficient and be smart with it.”
Something that I noticed when looking at Eliot’s numbers was that picking up penalty minutes seemed to be a fairly regular thing for him. I wondered if that was due to a physical game on his part, so I asked if he brings a physical edge to the table.
“I’d say that I do. I’ve always had a bit of a mean streak in me. You know, I don’t lay a ton of enormous open-ice hits, but I’m always closing guys out/rubbing guys out. I like to close guys out along the wall on the rush. I like to play a chippy, physical style of hockey.”
That last bit sure sounds a lot like Jalen Chatfield to me, and I have all kinds of time for that.
After viewing three days of drills and speaking with the three defenders, I can tell you this much. The Comets blueline is shaping up to be a good bit more mobile than it was last year and I feel like there might be another option or two for Trent Cull to find offensive contributions from.
I don’t want to suggest that these three young men will step in and fix everything on the Comets’ blueline, but I do think that the coaching staff has a little more to work with this year…at least until the injuries/call-ups eventually take their toll.
In my next post, I will share my conversations with potential Comets netminders Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly.