Utica Comets 2018/19 – 2019/20
Part Six – Goaltending
This is it, folks. We have come to the final position in this series as today we will discuss the goaltending group.
But first, I will provide links to the other five positions that came before this piece.
Part One – Centers
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) July 16, 2019
Part Two – RW
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) July 19, 2019
Part Three – LW
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) July 25, 2019
Part Four – RD
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) August 2, 2019
Part Five – LD
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) August 6, 2019
What a difference a year makes. In the 2017/18 season, the Comets dressed a total of six goaltenders, but only Thatcher Demko and Richard Bachman played minutes for Utica. That’s a bit of a contrast to the nine men who suited up for the Comets in the 2018/19 season considering all but two actually saw some action with the team.
The Vancouver Canucks came into the 2018/19 season with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as the two targets with the big club. Demko and Bachman were earmarked for Utica, while youngster Ivan Kulbakov was signed to an AHL deal by the Comets with the expectation that he would provide depth while plying his trade in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.
Things didn’t go as planned when Demko suffered a concussion during a preseason practice while with the Canucks and missed a good deal of time early. Thatcher would end up playing just 16 games in Utica last season, going 8-6-0 with a goals-against-average of 2.58 with a save percentage of 0.911% before he was summoned back to Vancouver for the remainder of the season.
Bachman didn’t fare so well last year as he only managed to get into nine games with Utica before an Achilles’ injury ended his campaign. The Comets veteran went 5-4-0 in Utica while posting a goals-against-average of 3.76 and a 0.884% save percentage. Bachman also got into one game with the Canucks, but he didn’t do so well in that contest, which may have lead to the signing of Zane McIntyre to a one-year, two-way deal this offseason… but we’ll get to him in a moment.
Ivan Kulbakov, the 22-year-old netminder who plays an athletic style, ended up getting more game time than anyone anticipated as he saw 25 games of action, going 10-15-2 for his efforts with a 3.50 goals-against-average and a 0.893% save percentage. Kulbakov was all kinds of fun to watch, but he was definitely a little raw to be thrust into starter’s duties in the AHL for the early going.
When Demko was called up to Vancouver, the Canucks made a trade to make room for him by sending Anders Nilsson and Comets fan favourite Darren Archibald to the Ottawa Senators for Tom Pyatt and goaltender Mike McKenna. McKenna was going to be the Comets new netminder for the rest of the season until the Philadelphia Flyers nabbed him off waivers when the Canucks tried to send him down.
That debacle lead to the Canucks needing to play rookie Michael DiPietro right out of junior in an NHL game when neither of Markstrom or Demko was able to play due to injuries. After DiPietro was shelled in his NHL debut, the Canucks quickly traded for Marek Mazanec and soon sent him to Utica. Nobody was claiming Mazanec off waivers and he finished his season with the Comets, going 3-5-2 in his 10 games of action. He ended up posting a 2.99 goals-against-average along with a save percentage of 0.874%.
The Canucks weren’t done there. They soon gave Michael Leighton a two-way deal for the rest of the season as Leighton staved off retirement thanks to the Comets signing him to a PTO, (professional tryout offer). Leighton got into 19 games for Utica, going 8-10-0 with a goals-against-average of 2.70 and a 0.901% save percentage.
The Comets also used another four netminders on tryout deals with two of them seeing minutes while the other two dressed as the backup but did not get into any action.
Connor LaCouvee was the busiest of the four as he saw time in three games, going 0-1 with a GAA of 2.87 and a save percentage of 0.877%.
Ty Reichenbach went 0-1 in his one appearance while posting a 3.05 GAA and a 0.880% save percentage.
Devin Buffalo and Alex Sakellaropoulos were the two who rode the pine in backup duty.
So, after coming into last season with Markstrom, Nilsson, Demko, and Bachman as the top-four with Kulbakov on an AHL pact, the Canucks have gone all-in with six netminders under contract in Markstrom, Demko, Bachman, Zane McIntyre, Michael DiPietro, and Jake Kielly all packing NHL deals.
The smart money will be on Markstrom and Demko being the two in Vancouver…barring injuries, with some combination of Bachman, McIntyre, DiPietro, and Kielly in Utica.
I wrote a bit about DiPietro and Kielly after speaking with them at Development camp and will include that piece here.
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) July 4, 2019
The situation with Richard Bachman will be interesting to see play out. He’s 32-years-old now and is coming off of that Achilles’ injury and what would have to be considered a subpar season for him, numbers-wise. Bachman has been an excellent mentor for Thatcher Demko and has been great in the community for the team. That said, the team did just sign McIntyre and they are paying him $400K at the AHL level, so he looks to be their new number three.
Where does that leave Bachman? Will the team keep him around as insurance and use him as the backup in Utica while DiPietro and Kielly battle it out in Kalamazoo? Or, could we see a situation where the player is moved in some sort of deal or perhaps retires and transitions into a development/coaching role. Time will tell on that front.
I haven’t seen a ton of Zane McIntyre, so I reached out to Catherine Silverman, (@catmsilverman) for her take on him. This is what she had to say.
“Okay, so McIntyre works in the summers – at least he has in the past – with JP Lamoureux, the eldest brother of the American Lamoureux twins of the USWNT. He’s been big on learning the right techniques and getting involved in new drills for things like tracking, depth, etc, but just hasn’t seemed to pan out in Boston.”
“I know he struggled with the uncertainty of the depth chart in Providence, but ultimately, he lost the starting gig to Jordan Binnington two years ago as a player loaned to their team and that kind of spoke volumes.”
“I think with some TLC that he’s going to be a solid AHL option, but I don’t think he’s in any way someone that the Canucks will consider as an heir apparent to any NHL time if they can help it.”
Big thanks to Cat for that breakdown on McIntyre.
It sounds to me like the soon-to-be 27-year-old McIntyre should be able to be counted on to carry the bulk of the starts in Utica if he stays healthy as he managed to get into 46 games for Providence last year, going 25-21-2 with a goals-against-average of 2.59 and a 0.898% save percentage. He also went 0-2 in the playoffs while putting up a GAA of 4.14 with a 0.855% save percentage.
Those aren’t exactly stellar numbers, but McIntyre has proven in the past that he can play well in the AHL and I think that this change of scenery could help him find his stride again.
Behind McIntyre will likely be one of DiPietro or Kielly. It will be interesting to see which way the team goes here. Kielly is two-years older than DiPietro and has that much more experience to lean on and that might give him an early edge. If that is the case and Kielly wins the backup job in Utica to start the year, DiPietro can go to Kalamazoo and eat minutes as their starter while he learns the pro game. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing for his development.
If the team decides to keep DiPietro in Utica and send Kielly to Kalamazoo instead, the younger netminder can get practice reps in with the Comets while learning under McIntyre and the coaching staff. The club could also elect to run with some sort of rotation that sees DiPietro and Kielly cycling back and forth between Utica and Kalamazoo so that both can get game action in the ECHL while also getting time with the coaching staff in the AHL.
At the end of the day, the Comets should have a nice blend of youth and experience to work with in net and they should also have sufficient depth when the injuries strike.
Stay tuned to this space as I will do a final wrap-up on this series with an overall look at what the 2019/20 Comets could look like.