Utica Comets 2018/19-2019/20 Position-by-Position Comparison
Part Four – Right Defence
We’re hitting the home stretch in this series comparing the 2018/19 Utica Comets roster with the potential 2019/20 lineup as we have already covered the middle and left and right sides up front.
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Today, in part four, I will be digging into the right side of the defence.
Last year, the Comets used a total of eight players on the right side, one of whom was lefty Evan McEneny, who spent a good deal of the first half of the season playing his off-side.
For the most part, the players used on the right side played more of a shut-down style than an offensive, puck-moving one. We saw veteran Jaime Sifers, along with second-year-pro Jalen Chatfield getting the bulk of the minutes when healthy, while AHL contracted Dylan Blujus and Jesse Graham saw their share of minutes as well, when healthy.
Graham was the righty who put up the most points of the group with 18, half of which came on the man advantage.
Alex Biega saw three games with the Comets last year and grabbed two power play assists for his efforts, while short-timer Luke Schenn got into seven games with the Comets before the parent Canucks summoned him to Vancouver for the remainder of the season. Schenn managed to pick up five points with the Comets, all of them with the man advantage.
The man with the famous beard (and name), Colton Saucerman rounded out the players who saw time on the right side. Saucerman was with the team on a pair of PTOs, (professional tryout offers) and picked up five points in his 24 games.
This season, the back end will see a couple of returnees, but also some fresh faces who will be looking to make an impression.
Who is Out
- Jaime Sifers: RD, 36-years-old. 70 games played, four goals, 10 assists, 14 points. Zero power play points. 5’11”, 198lbs. AHL deal. Retired.
- Jesse Graham: RD, 25-years-old. 52 games played, four goals, 14 assists, 18 points. Nine power play points. 6’0″, 185lbs. AHL deal. Unsigned UFA.
- Luke Schenn: RD, 29-years-old. Seven games played, one goal, four assists, five points. Five power play points. 6’2″, 220lbs. NHL two-way deal. Signed with Tampa Bay.
- Colton Saucerman: RD, 27-years-old. 24 games played, one goal, five assists, six points. Zero power play points. 5’9″, 194lbs. PTO. Unsigned UFA.
- Evan McEneny: LD, 25-years-old. 58 games, eight goals, 23 assists, 31 points. 14 power play points. 6’2″, 203lbs. NHL two-way deal. Unsigned UFA.
Who is Back
- Jalen Chatfield: RD, 23-years-old. 34 games played, zero goals, six assists, six points. Zero power play points. 6’1″, 187lbs. In the final year of his NHL entry-level deal.
- Dylan Blujus: RD, 25-years-old. 43 games, one goal, seven assists, eight points. One power play point. 6’3″, 203lbs. One-year AHL deal.
Who is New
- Brogan Rafferty: RD, 24-years-old. 38 games played, (Quinnipiac, NCAA) four goals, 20 assists, 24 points. Three power play goals. 6’2″, 192lbs. In year one of a two-year deal with Canucks. First-year is two-way, the second year is one-way.
- Mitch Eliot: RD, 21-years-old. 66 games played, (Sarnia Sting, OHL) 17 goals, 38 assists, 55 points. Eight power play goals. 6’0″, 190lbs. In the second year of his entry-level deal.
Of the outgoing group of righties, Jaime Sifers will be missed most for his leadership, his defensive play and his unrelenting shot-blocking on the penalty kill. He brought stability to the Comets blueline.
Speaking of stability, in his brief time with the team, Luke Schenn brought that in spades and I sure hope that we don’t have to watch him suiting up for the Syracuse Crunch if the Bolts happen to waive him and he clears.
The Comets only have four righties under contract for the coming season, so it is entirely possible that we could see one or all of Graham, Saucerman, or lefty McEneny brought back on AHL deals.. .or maybe the team will go for a different look if they decide to add another righty or two.
Blujus brings a steady third pairing type of game and he can handle penalty killing duties. The big defender did his share of shot-blocking last season as well. If the team doesn’t add any more righties, I could see him settling in on the third pair with Guillaume Brisebois on his left side. Blujus is the type of partner that Brisebois has thrived with in the past, so they might make a nice pairing for Trent Cull and his staff to work with.
Jalen Chatfield brings a smooth-skating game and made a great partner for Olli Juolevi last year. He doesn’t pile up the points, but he plays a greasy game and is always involved physically. I don’t really see any need to break up the Juolevi/Chatfield partnership to start the season as the duo fed off of each other well last season and formed the team’s top pair until they were both felled by injuries.
So, what does the team get with the two rookies on the right side? Well, they get one who is older than Chatfield and Juolevi and one who is younger than Jalen, but a couple of months older than Olli.
Rafferty got into two NHL games with the Canucks at the end of last season and didn’t really look out of place. There are some who think that he could push for a job with the Canucks out of training camp this year, or at least be the first call-up on the back end. He brings some decent size, some nice wheels and some offensive upside to the table.
Eliot, for his part, had a big season offensively last year, but we need to remember that he was playing as an overage player in junior and players like that tend to be able to put up inflated point totals. That said, he will also bring some nice wheels to the table and a bit of snarl as well. Of the two right-side-rookies, Eliot will likely have a tougher time finding regular minutes until the injuries hit or until he earns the trust of the coaching staff. Another thing he brings to the table is shots…and lots of them. Eliot was credited with 206 shots on goal last season in Sarnia.
When I spoke with Eliot at development camp, he mentioned that his decision making with the puck will have to improve for in order to have success at the pro level, so I think we will want to keep our expectations in check in terms of his projected minutes early on until he is up to speed.
When I look at the potential of the right side this season, I think there is some reason to be excited. The trio of Chatfield, Rafferty, and Eliot can all skate and move the puck up the ice well, and Blujus brings a Sifers-lite type of game that could complement the group. Time will tell how things go this season, but I can see this group doing a better job of breaking pucks out of their own end than last year’s crew.
Next up, I will dig into the left side of the defence before wrapping things up with the group of four goaltenders who will be duking it out for a job with the Comets out of training camp.