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Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag: Jett Woo, Jonah Gadjovich, Kole Lind & Petrus Palmu…Who Plays Where & How will They Fare?

Utica Comets Mailbag

It’s time for another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag, so let’s get after it, shall we?

Jett Woo will either take training camp by storm and earn a job with the Vancouver Canucks out of camp, or it will be back to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL for him. This is due to the CHL/NHL transfer agreement that ensures that the teams in the WHL/OHL/QMJHL get to hang onto their higher-end talent for a little longer. Woo is not eligible to join the Comets at the start of the season because he will not yet be of age to play in the AHL, however, he will be able to join the Comets once his junior season wraps up this season. That could land him in Utica for a handful of games at the end of the season and if we are lucky, the Comets will make the playoffs and he will be able to extend that experience a little longer. That’s if the Canucks don’t bring him right to the big club once his WHL season is done.

There has been nothing said officially by the Canucks/Comets regarding their plans for Petrus Palmu for the upcoming season, but it is my impression that he will likely be playing in Finland again. Or at least that he will not be in Utica. When I spoke with Comets coach Trent Cull at development camp this year and asked him about the comments made by Palmu and Jonathan Dahlen after they moved on from the team last year, it felt like we had possibly seen the last of Palmu in a Comets jersey. I could also have been entirely wrong with how I read the situation. Maybe we see him packaged up with another player as the Canucks try to make some room and clear out a few of the excess bodies that they have piled up at the moment?

I saw that Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch answered this question for Alan, so I will include that here, along with some answers that I got when I posted this question on a pair of Comets fan pages.

UTICA COMETS CHATTER

  1. Bob Hartigan – If you don’t put a competitive team on the ice, the fans will leave.
    You need the right veterans to help the young guys!
  2. Eric Christensen – Winning breeds winners, losing breeds liberals.
  3. Andrew Alsheimer – I am mixed on this subject. I really like a competitive team but I also know we are here to support the main team.
  4. Timothy Lambert – These veterans and PTO players are second chance pros still looking for a shot in the NHL. They deserve another look and make the younger players competitive. There is still a lot of playing time for both.

Utica Comets Hardcore

  1. Bob Martin – I’ll speak for myself only but I feel that my opinion is not alone. I want to see a well managed and well-coached hockey team. If done properly the team will win and develop at the same time. It doesn’t have to be winning at the expense of development or development at the expense of winning. Just look at the Syracuse Crunch and Toronto Marlies as examples of well managed and well-coached organizations that have winning teams most seasons and develop good NHL players. The right combination of AHL veterans and prospects leads to success in the standings and in prospect development. When there is a lack of prospects at a certain position such as the Canucks have had at the AHL level at center for several seasons they have to bring in the right veterans in the middle to help the prospects on the wings develop. At the same time, it helps the team win. The ultimate goal of any AHL fan is to watch their team win a Calder Cup and then follow the careers of several of the players on that team in the NHL for years to come.*
  2. Matt Carro – It took Lind and Gadojovich until the end of the year to understand and get the AHL. Palmu wasn’t ready for the AHL and may never be. So for Vancouver fans to cry about it, they didn’t watch what was going on. Just made opinions.
  3. James DiSpirito – To the occasional fan who doesn’t understand the AHL and why we have a team in this league, it’s just win at any cost. The majority of fans would agree with Bob Martin’s and Matt Carro’s assessments.
  4. Kevin Martin – Hey Cory keep up the good work! It is hard right now to discern any direction for the Comets. The roster has undergone a major overhaul this year and last. In the first 4 years, we were blessed with Travis Green at the helm, Jacob Markstrom in net, and a good mix of vets and prospects. Those teams had a definite identity, won some games, and players had to earn time. They picked up Sven Baertschi, Adam Clendening and Cory Conacher at the trade deadline and they were a big part of the Calder Cup run. That was great work by the front office and all three have a decent number of NHL games since then. They weren’t rookies, they were experienced players who were question marks kind of like Goldobin and Boucher are now. Those are pretty easy calls as far as playing time and they are prospects of a sort. It is also a pleasure to watch a young guy like Jake Virtanen put in time here and follow him as he blossoms into a good NHL player. Thatcher Demko, and (hopefully) Olli Juolevi are the same. Very fortunate to see those young guys who have the chance to be very good NHLers and no question they have to be played but there isn’t much doubt that they deserve it. But there are only so many of those to go around that are easy calls. Then you have the next tier of guys who are young projects like Brendan Gaunce or Cole Cassels. Will they or won’t they? Gaudette looks like he won’t be coming back and it was great to watch him develop and earn his spot. Gaunce I thought was going to get there but injuries got him. Zack MacEwen fits here. He has a real chance to collect an NHL paycheck one day for sure barring injury but he is clearly right where he belongs. The next tier you need are the veteran players who have a chance to play like Alex Biega but are overlooked or discarded by other organizations but who might find a place or be depth signings. Maybe Luke Schenn fits here or Ashton Sautner. The last tier are veteran AHLers. I would say you need 3 of those at least but most teams have more. That probably adds up to a long-winded “play the prospects”, mostly, answer.
  5. Clint van Hatten – Well if the Canucks had some serious prospects then I’d say play them.. the problem is the Canucks have only a couple serious prospects……
  6. Greg Wrate – Without any disrespect to them whatsoever, give me a team without Carter and Wacey and the majority of the fans will rejoice and embrace whoever else is in the lineup. Have a great Summer everyone!
  7. Mike Flihan – I’m all for playing prospects when they earn the ice time and actually show they belong on the ice at this level. We’ve seen in the past a couple of things. Some guys feel entitled and don’t put in the work needed and just want to go through the motions ex Dahlen. Or don’t have the skill to be playing here yet and are not ready or able ex Palmu. Also, need a mix. Kids won’t develop or learn to win on their own. Need a group of solid vets to show them the way.
  8. Steve Zabko – I’m just hoping for a healthy team. We can sit here and debate who should play, and when, all day BUT, like the last 4 seasons, without a healthy team, all of this is meaningless.
    Coach has a hard enough time figuring out who can play, let alone, when.
    Vancouver and Utica have been stricken by injuries (I believe even lead the league (s) with lost man games. Let’s just hope for a healthy squad(s) and let the pieces develop (win) along the way.
  9. James Spella – Personally I think the Canucks should be self-interested in recruiting the best talent they can for the Comets and have a winner in Utica. That talent will move up to Vancouver to be a winner there!
  10. Rick Davis – Developing players is a priority, however, the AHL is the 2nd best league in the world…and there’s nothing positive in losing…the other teams are playing to win (that’s why they sign, guys like Cal O’Reilly, TJ Brennan and Archi)….gotta do both…develop and play to win.

*That first answer from Bob Martin was also applauded and echoed by many on the Utica Comets Hardcore page.*

I’m not sure that we will get the chance to see if Petrus Palmu leaves the team again as I’m not 100% sure that he will be making the trip across to play in the AHL this season. Time will tell on that front. As far as whether or not a “player like him” will take the same path…I hope not. The Canucks’ prospect pool is not deep enough for them to have players moving on from the club in that way. I hope that the team has learned a thing or two about how to handle similar situations going forward, or how to avoid them altogether.

Turning to Trent Cull and his job with the Canucks organization, anything is possible. Personally, I don’t think that Trent Cull has done as bad of a job as some do. I have seen players take steps under this coaching staff and have heard more players gush about the staff than I have heard throwing them under the bus. I think that the job of an AHL coach is probably tougher than most think with having to juggle a constant turnover of players due to injuries and call-ups.

All of that said, this could be a big year for the coaching staff in Utica. Players like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich will need to prove worthy of bigger roles this season and others like Jalen Chatfield, Guillaume Brisebois, and Olli Juolevi will have to step up as well.

Ole Ronnie is getting his money’s worth on this one…let’s dig in.

The Vancouver Canucks could park as many players as they like in Kalamazoo, as far as I am aware. NHL teams don’t typically load up their ECHL affiliate with players on two-way deals with the big club, but the Canucks have sent a few of those types down over the years. Mackenze Stewart, Evan McEneny, and Yan-Pavel Laplante come to mind in recent seasons.

The thing is, NHL teams can only have 50 contracts on the books, so having more than a couple sliding down from the AHL level to the ECHL could be seen as problematic. AHL contracts are a different story though. Last year, the Comets had the equivalent of one full forward line, one defensive pair and one goaltender playing with the Kalamazoo Wings.

Moving on to the veteran situation. AHL teams can dress up to five players per game who have veteran status with the league. Those would be players who have played in 320 or more games at the NHL/AHL level, or in high-level European professional leagues.

The Comets currently have captain Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Reid Boucher, and newcomers Tyler Graovac, and Carter Camper who will fall into that category for the upcoming season. Teams can have as many such players on their roster, but as mentioned above, only five can play in a given game. That means that if we see Tim Schaller or Tyler Motte sent down out of camp that they would also count against the veteran limit and Trent Cull will have to whip out the Plinko machine to fit everyone in and keep them happy.

To answer Ron’s last question, I will go back to my interview with Trent Cull at development camp this year. Cull said that the team has to walk a fine line between developing players and winning games. He said that the team makes their lineup decisions as a group and that they see playing in a winning environment as a plus, especially if it means getting into the playoffs where Cull says the players get a whole other layer of development by playing in that kind of environment.

I know that many, including myself, thought that Kole Lind would step into the AHL and show well early on his way to a successful season. Well, things didn’t turn out the way we expected, but they weren’t nearly as bad as some others believe them to be.

Kole had a difficult time making the adjustment from junior to pro and he said as much in more than one media hit. The game was faster than he was ready for and once he finally did start to get some traction with his game, he sustained an injury and missed roughly a month of hockey. After returning from that injury, Kole looked a little rusty for a few games before getting into the swing of things and taking off as the year wound down.

I think that we will see Kole have a better start to the upcoming season now that he has a better idea of what he will need to do on and off the ice to be successful at the pro level. He will also have to prove that he can stay healthy for more of the season in order to give himself the best chance for success.

Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich are often talked about in the same sentence as they were both drafted in the second round by the Canucks in the 2017 draft, but they are different players who bring different elements to the team. That said, they had similar struggles with adapting to the pro level last year.

Jonah had a tougher time keeping up to the pace of the pro level as his skating still needs some work, but it certainly did improve over the course of the season. He also had lingering injury issues that I am convinced stymied his ability to play “his game” earlier in the year. As the season went on, Gadjovich, like Lind, looked more comfortable and we saw him start to impose his will a little more often. I’m not sure how far up the lineup Gadjovich will climb this season, but I do expect him to take on more minutes and be trusted in more situations by the coaching staff. There is no shortage of work ethic from either of Lind or Gadjovich and that will bode well for both young men.

The answer to this question will depend largely on who will be available in Utica to start the season. When I look at the roster that I think will be available, I see things shaking out something like this…

Reid Boucher (A) – Adam Gaudette – Zack MacEwen

Francis Perron – Carter Camper – Justin Bailey

Lukas Jasek – Tyler Graovac – Kole Lind

Jonah Gadjovich – Wacey Hamilton (A) – Carter Bancks (C)

Right now I have Seamus Malone and Vincent Arseneau as the extra forwards, but I expect to see another body or two added on AHL deals.

If the lines end up shaking out this way, Lind will have something solid to work with. Jasek is a puck possession machine and brings some speed to the line, while Graovac managed to put up 50 points last season and would give Lind someone a little more offensive-minded than Brendan Woods, who he saw a good deal of minutes with last year. I think that the line of Jasek-Graovac-Lind could end up being a solid two-way line that could provide some nice secondary offence for the team without getting buried on the defensive side.

We have seen time and again that injuries and call-ups will lay waste to the best-laid plans as far as lineups go, so I’m certain that Lind will see his share of time with each of the pivots who end up in Utica this season.

Stay tuned next week for another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag.

 

 

 

 

 



  • tyhee

    Hi Cory. On the issue of veteran players on the AHL roster:

    1. Every previous statement of the rule has indicated it applies to skaters, not goalies. Is there a change?

    2. Has the AHL done away with veteran-exempt status for skaters with 261-320 games, allowing one more skater? I wondered as it isn’t in your description.

    On the question of Kole Lind’s center, I’m not optimistic that Gaudette will spend much time in Utica this season. He had a couple of brief appearances there last season and it wouldn’t be surprising if he spends much of the season with the Canucks. (Last season I thought it best for him to develop in Utica but it didn’t really happen. I don’t really have an opinion what would be best for his long-term development this season.) It seems to me it might be best for the Comets to sign a good proven AHL playmaker to be sure the young wing prospects have someone to help their development. It isn’t as if there are any centre-ice prospects to get in the way of as Gaudette is good enough to get his ice time while in Utica and the other centermen are all veterans, not prospects in need of development.

    • Cory Hergott

      Tyhee: Goalies are exempt. That’s why I didn’t include them in my list of players on the vet list. The veteran exempt rule still applies but wasn’t asked about in that question. Newcomer Justin Bailey has played exactly 260 pro games, so he will fit into that category.
      I have Gaudette starting in Utica based on who is currently under contract with the Canucks. I think that if Pettersson, Horvat, Sutter, and Beagle are healthy to start the season that they will be the pivots who start in Vancouver. They’re also a pile of wingers, so I’m not sure if either of Gaudette/Sutter slides to the wing. Anything is possible though.

    • Whackanuck

      Trash it if you want but Cull was just a career hardrock AHLer (435g-70 points-1049 PIM). He has a very thin coaching resume. His OHL head coaching position was his only position as head coach and he barely had a cumulative .500 record. He wasn’t even the Canucks first choice as Utica coach. He’s had a shot but Lind and Gadjovich and draftees like them don’t have time to waste on a guy who doesn’t realize players don’t learn much in the pressbox. The guy has said he is aiming at the NHL and doesn’t realize he can get there as easily by developing players as by “winning”.

      Apologies Cory as this goes against what you have said but I feel you are being very circumspect about Cull’s ability.

      • Beer Can Boyd

        Have to agree. If the Comets are struggling at Xmas, and the kids aren’t showing any signs of progress, then it’s time to cut bait on Cull. BTW, good work Cory, keep it up.

      • Nuck16

        he can get there as easily by developing players as by “winning”.
        I agree with this. If the Comets finished last in the league last year, but Palmu, Lind, Jonah, Dahlen and OJ all had stellar seasons far exceeding expectations, then he’s a hero.

  • canuckfan

    If injuries are no longer a factor I think the defense will be better Juolevi and Chadfield will be healthy and have more of an idea of what to expect from the AHL. The goaltender situation should be more stable as last year once the guy they got picked up in the trade with Ottawa was taken off the waiver wire it really was at a bad time be cause there was no backup plan.
    Palmu was a late draft selection and was really going to have to work his butt off to make the team, problem is he just was not good enough and he got discouraged and had read to many of the stories of how good he was. It was interesting to hear what the comments were from Utica fans who would have been closer to the situation than us in Vancouver and called these two entitled. This is likely more to the truth of the matter as none of them have panned out to be anything even after moving to another team.

  • Hiatus

    Interesting article; it certainly sheds some light on the organization from the top down to it’s players.
    It makes one ponder the reason(s) as much the why; but there seems to be a noticeable difference between how the (then) Canucks AHL farm team Manitoba Moose and the (now) AHL farm team Utica Comets were/are run.
    I wonder how far (in years) did losing the Manitoba Moose set back the Nuk’s development of their players in the farm.
    Or is it simply because hockey has evolved; and the various leagues/teams have changed how hockey is coached, developed and played.

  • Snoho

    People need to get over Palmu. He was a late round over ager pick. He was always a longshot. It was a swing for the fences type of pick where there might be a 1% shot of a first line player and a 95% chance that he washes out of the AHL after one season. Is it fair to criticize Cull? Probably a bit, but it’s not like he destroyed a top ten pick.

    • Doodly Doot

      Well said. I don’t know if criticizing Cull is warranted, but it seems the reason we’re even talking about Palmu is because, at 181 overall, he’s actually a very plausible AHLer with an outside shot at playing some NHL games. As you say Snoho, he’s a longshot. If he is hungry and wants to be an NHLer, he has a road to travel.

      • Whackanuck

        The Palmu and Dahlen results are one issue but I’m more concerned about the two second round picks Lind and Gadjovich. Either Benning was wrong about their talent or they weren’t being developed well. Neither bodes well for the Canucks draft and develop, unfortunately.

        • North Van Halen

          Did you actually read what the Utica fan site guys wrote. Not one of them agrees with your take. Not one.
          There is not a single 2017 2nd round pick that has played even close to significant NHL minutes. They are projects that develop at their own pace. Having to adapt to the AHL is not unusual and gifting minutes to appease uneducated fans is not going to advance their development.

          • Whackanuck

            Four 2017 second rounders had an NHL look(Lind and Gadjovich’s year). Jumping to the NHL has no relevance to these first year pros. Some had very good AHL seasons. Many more are playing very successfully in European leagues. None of the fans reflected on Cull in any detail.

            “Bob Martin – I’ll speak for myself only but I feel that my opinion is not alone. I want to see a well managed and well-coached hockey team. If done properly the team will win and develop at the same time. It doesn’t have to be winning at the expense of development or development at the expense of winning. Just look at the Syracuse Crunch and Toronto Marlies as examples of well managed and well-coached organizations that have winning teams most seasons and develop good NHL players.”
            This reply got the most attention and he doesn’t cite the Comets as a ‘well-coached team’.