3
Photo Credit: cory hergott

Utica Comets 2018/19-2019/20 Position-by-Position Comparison: Part Five, Left Defence

Utica Comets 2018/19-2019/20

Position-By-Position Comparison

Part Five – Left Defence

We are down to our second-to-last installment in this series comparing last year’s Utica Comets roster to what this year’s potential lineup could look like. I will provide links to the previous articles in this series below.

Center Ice

RW

Right Defence

Today, I will wrap up the skaters with the left side of the defence before finishing up the series with the goaltending position.

Last season, the Comets used 12 different lefties on the backend, while righties Colton Saucerman and Jesse Graham were also sprinkled in for a game or two on their off-side.

The left side of the defence is where more of the offence came from as Olli Juolevi and Evan McEneny were putting up the points when they were healthy. The two defenders played just 76 games between them, which coincidentally, is the number of games in an AHL regular season in the East. In those 76 games, Juolevi picked up one goal, while McEneny grabbed eight. Juolevi earned 12 assists to go along with McEneny’s 23.

Those 44 points would have bested the Comets single-season record of 40 points by a defenceman that Bobby Sanguinetti put up in the 2014/15 season. Of course, Juolevi and McEneny are two separate players, but they only played a full season between them. Exactly half of Juolevi and McEneny’s points came with the man advantage as well.

So, who is out?

Who is Out

  1. Evan McEneny: 25-years-old, 6’2″, 203lbs. Two-way deal with Vancouver. 58 games played, eight goals, 23 assists, 31 points. Four power play goals, 10 power play assists. Unsigned, unrestricted free agent.
  2. Brandon Anselmini: 26-years-old, 5’10”, 183lbs. AHL deal with Utica. 10 games played, one goal, one assist. Zero power play points. Unsigned, unrestricted free agent.
  3. Jagger Dirk: 26-years-old, 6’0″, 198lbs. AHL deal with Utica. Nine games played, zero goals, one assist. Zero power play points. Signed with the Dundee Stars in the EIHL.
  4. Cliff Watson: 25-years-old, 6’2, 190lbs. PTO, (professional tryout offer) with Utica. Five games played, zero points. Unsigned, unrestricted free agent.
  5. Craig Wyszomirski: 26-years-old, 6’4″, 220lbs. PTO with Utica. Three games played, zero goals, one assist. Unsigned, unrestricted free agent.
  6. Derek Pratt: 25-years-old, 6’2″, 194lbs. PTO with Utica. One game played. Zero points.

The biggest loss from the above list will clearly be Evan McEneny. The versatile rearguard could line up on either side of the ice, kill penalties and run a power play from the point. His skating has taken a bit of a hit after suffering season-ending knee injuries in back-to-back seasons, but he has been a useful player in Utica. It is because of that versatility and offensive production that I am floating the idea of bringing him back, (on an AHL deal this time if he’s willing) for another season to help solidify the backend.

If the team were to use him on the right side, McEneny would give the club six legitimate defenders to start the season while rookies Josh Teves and Mitch Eliot find their way. I have included fellow rookie Brogan Rafferty in that first group of legitimate defenceman as I feel he is a bit ahead of Teves and Eliot at this point.

Who is Returning

  1. Olli Juolevi: 21-years-old, 6’2″, 183lbs. Starting the second year of his entry-level deal with Vancouver. 18 games played, one goal, 12 assists. One power play goal. Seven power play assists.
  2. Ashton Sautner: 25-years-old, 6’0″, 194lbs. Starting the final year of his two-way deal with Vancouver. 31 games played, three goals, five assists. One power play goal. Zero power play assists.
  3. Guillaume Brisebois: 22-years-old, 6’2″, 174lbs. Starting the final year of his entry-level deal with Vancouver. 49 games played, three goals, eight assists. Zero power play goals. One power play assist.
  4. Stefan LeBlanc: 23-years-old, 6’0″, 185lbs. One-year AHL deal with Utica. 25 games played, zero goals, six assists. Zero power play goals. One power play assist.
  5. Matt Petgrave: 27-years-old, 6’1″, 201lbs. One-year AHL deal with Utica. 12 games played, one goal, one assist. One power play goal. Zero power play assists.
  6. Aaron Thow: 24-years-old, 6’1″, 194lbs. One-year AHL deal with Utica. Six games played, zero goals, one assist. Zero power play points.

Of the players listed in the group above, it is entirely possible that we could see one of Juolevi or Sautner start with the parent Canucks if there are injuries during camp. I expect to see Petgrave and Thow starting in the ECHL with Kalamazoo, barring injuries.

Who is New

  1. Josh Teves: 24-years-old, 6’0″, 170lbs. Starting the first year of his two-year deal with Vancouver. 30 games played, (Princeton University, NCAA) three goals, 17 assists. 10 power play assists.
  2. Zach Frye: 25-years-old, 6’1″, 201lbs. One-year AHL deal with Utica. Seven games played, (San Jose Barracuda, AHL) one goal, one assist. Zero power play points.

As things stand, the Comets will have just Teves and Frye as new lefties in the system on the backend. I expect to see Teves sticking with the Comets, with Frye heading to Kalamazoo as depth.

So, what are we left with as a potential backend in Utica for the 2019/20 season? I kind of see something like this shaking out…

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Brogan Rafferty

Guillaume Brisebois – Dylan Blujus

Josh Teves – Mitch Eliot

Stefan LeBlanc

I see the trio of Petgrave, Thow, and Frye starting in Kalamazoo, but with the way the Canucks/Comets chew through defenders, don’t be surprised to see all three getting minutes with Utica as the season goes on.

Now, imagine if you will, a world where Evan McEneny returns on an AHL deal and gives the coaching staff one more legitimate defender to work with…

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Brogan Rafferty

Guillaume Brisebois – Evan McEneny

Josh Teves – Mitch Eliot

Stefan LeBlanc – Dylan Blujus

Doesn’t that look just a little bit stronger? It actually looks a lot like what the team started with last year if we substitute Rafferty with Jaime Sifers.

Adding McEneny would give the team another option on the power play as well as another penalty killer. Without him, we can probably expect to see Juolevi on the point on the first power play, while one or more of Sautner, Rafferty, or Brisebois sees time on the second unit.

Outside of Juolevi, it might be a tall order to expect any of this year’s defenders to replicate the 31 points that McEneny put up last year, so it might have to be an offence-by-committee approach this season until someone else steps up and proves they are up to the task.

On the other side of the puck, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Trent Cull and his staff to flesh out the penalty kill on the backend. All of Chatfield, Sautner, Brisebois, Blujus, and LeBlanc have proven to be capable penalty killers at the AHL level. Rafferty, Teves, and Eliot have all had plenty of experience on the kill at lower levels as well, so I would imagine that we will see all three get looks there this year as the season goes on.

As with the forward ranks, it looks like the Canucks/Comets have targeted players who skate well and bring a strong work ethic to the table with the moves made this offseason. This should allow the coaching staff in Utica to employ more of an uptempo brand of hockey this year, which in turn, should hopefully lead to more offence…time will tell on that front.

Stay tuned to this space as I will be tackling the goaltending position later this week before doing an overall wrap up looking at the team as a whole.



  • El Kabong

    Hey Cory, how do you feel about the fact the Canucks didn’t draft any defensemen in 2019? I know they brought in a couple NCAA UFA’S but outside of Woo there isn’t a lot in the pipeline for the Comets.

    • Defenceman Factory

      You are certainly right not much in the pipeline. Have to expect the 2020 draft to focus on centres and Dmen.

      Woo and Utenen will be in Utica 20-21 and Rathbone a year or two after that. Add another one or two NCAA or CHL free agents end of next year and a couple draft picks next draft and the cupboards will be quite well stocked. Hopefully one or more of Teves, Rafferty or Eliot shows some real upside this season.