CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag
We are back with another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag. I only got a couple of questions last week, so I will be rolling them into today’s post. I’m just going to throw this out there, but as this is a Utica Comets Mailbag, could we please keep the questions Utica Comets related? If you have Canucks related questions, they are best served by asking Jackson when he does his weekly Mailbag for CanucksArmy. Questions like the one below come to mind…
Virtanen 2021, 2022 second round pics, chris Tanev, Louis Erickson for Puljarvi? I understand that the cap is not going to work just wondering if that is in the ball park
— Jackson (@JacksonCanucks) August 7, 2019
With Juolevi coming back from injury this season, how well do you think he will develop this year consitering he had a very good start to the season last year
— Alex Parkes (@Alex_Parkes_) August 8, 2019
Olli Juolevi had a great start to the season last year…offensively. He showed an ability to run the power play from the point and was able to put up some solid points with the man advantage. It helped to have Reid Boucher and his bomb of a one-timer to feed while putting up those points. Juolevi also showed that he needs to work on his gap control and make his reads more quickly. He was burned more than once because it took him a fraction of a second too long to make his decisions on the ice.
I like a lot of what Olli can do, and I do expect that he will end up being a very good second-pairing defenceman at the NHL level for a long time, but I think that we need to keep our expectations in check to start the season and let him get some games in. He only got into 18 last year and he will need more than that at the pro level in North America before he’s ready for regular minutes in the NHL, in my opinion.
I am not as concerned about Juolevi’s points totals as I am with his defensive play. I think that once he shows that he can handle that side of things at the AHL level that we will see him getting some looks with the big club to see what else needs to improve in his game.
What are the odds Perron plays the whole season in Utica? Or does he stand a chance of making the Canucks roster?
— Jack Luber (@JackLuber2) August 7, 2019
Francis Perron was acquired at the 2019 NHL draft, along with the Sharks 7th round pick, 215th overall, for a 6th round pick, 164th overall and unrestricted free agent Tom Pyatt. The 23-year-old left winger was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 7th round, 190th overall in 2014. He was traded from Ottawa to San Jose last year in the Erik Karlsson deal and ended up playing 63 games for the Barracuda in the AHL, putting up 18 goals, 29 assists, and 47 points on the season.
Perron will require waivers to get to Utica and with any kind of luck, he should clear. Last year was a career-season for Perron, after putting up 26 points and 15 points respectively over his previous two campaigns with Belleville in the AHL.
With Perron playing in the West last year, I didn’t get to see him play, so I don’t have a whole lot to go off of, but if he can manage to repeat last year’s performance, or even improve on it, the Canucks might have found a keeper. There are a lot of bodies ahead of him at LW at the NHL level right now, so he might have to bide his time before he gets a look with the big club.
Fire this question at me again after the Comets have played 20 or so games this year and we will revisit it once I’ve seen him play some games.
Also, what are the chances we see a coaching change in Utica this season?
— Jack Luber (@JackLuber2) August 7, 2019
I have been asked this question a few times already in the Mailbag, but I will answer it again today.
Trent Cull has been raked over the coals by the Canucks fanbase for how he has handled the young prospects…more so for last year than the year before. There is some merit to the concerns expressed by those who want to see a coaching change as far as how those young players were deployed. That said, when we dig a little deeper into things, I think the man deserves another season on the job before we start sending him packing.
In his first year with the team, Trent Cull had rookies Zack MacEwen, Alexis D’Aoust, Griffen Molino, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield to work with. Of that group, only Brisebois was drafted and that was in the third round. MacEwen finished that season as the Comets fourth-leading scorer, while Brisebois finished third in points by a defenceman behind Patrick Wiercioch and the traded Philip Holm. MacEwen and Brisebois also both made their NHL debut last season.
Molino and D’Aoust didn’t pan out, and Jalen Chatfield had some injury issues last year, but all things considered, I think that Cull did good work on the development side with the younger guys in his first season as a head coach at the pro level.
Last year, we saw the parent Canucks send rookie wingers Kole Lind, Jonathan Dahlen, Lukas Jasek, Jonah Gadjovich, and Petrus Palmu to Utica, along with rookie pivot Adam Gaudette and defenceman Olli Juolevi.
Lind, Dahlen, and Gadjovich were all 2nd round picks, while Juolevi was nabbed in the first round. Gaudette was taken in the fifth round, while Jasek and Palmu were grabbed with 6th rounders. Tanner MacMaster was another rookie winger in Utica last season as well, but he was with the team on an AHL deal before his trade to the Toronto Marlies for defenceman Stefan LeBlanc.
Unlike in his first season, Cull now had some prospects who were thought highly enough of to be drafted…, and some of them quite highly. Now that Cull had some “legitimate” prospects to work with, a new problem reared its head as the team just had too many wingers to find regular minutes for.
Jonathan Dahlen had enough of his deployment and reportedly asked for a trade, though that is debatable depending on who is telling the story. Petrus Palmu also wanted out and headed back overseas to finish his season in Finland, where he also found himself as a healthy scratch at times.
Both of Dahlen and Palmu said that they didn’t understand their roles with the club and that they felt communication was lacking from the coaching staff. Both players felt that they should have been getting more minutes than they were given.
Whether the communication issue was real or perceived, it is something that needs to be addressed before this year’s group of rookies gets to Utica. Other players, the ones who have had success under this coaching staff have gushed about their bench-boss and how he goes about developing prospects. That is to say that I think that the truth of the matter lies somewhere between, “He doesn’t communicate well” and “This coaching staff has been huge for my development.”
By the end of last season, players like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich, who had a tough time finding regular minutes early on, were being used higher up the lineup and getting more opportunity than they did to start the year.
Whether we agree with making the prospects earn their minutes rather than letting them sink or swim regardless of how they play, we have to remember that Trent Cull has to send players to Vancouver who Travis Green will be prepared to give a regular shift to. We saw how things went for Nikolay Goldobin on that front last year, so sending a guy like Jonathan Dahlen up last year when he was clearly behind where Goldobin already was would have been a mistake, in my opinion.
I don’t always agree with how Trent Cull handles the kids, but I can usually understand where he is coming from when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture from his point of view.
The proof will be in the pudding in season three for Trent Cull and his staff. If the team gives the young guys their minutes and they make good use of them, they have to keep playing them. If the kids get their chances and can’t take advantage of them…well…that is where things will get interesting.
In my conversation with Cull at development camp, it was pretty clear to me that he wants these young players to succeed. He wants to help them achieve their goals of becoming NHL players. The way his face lit up when he described watching Zack MacEwen play his first NHL game was as though he was speaking about one of his own sons. The sense of pride was very clear.
The issue that the team is facing, once again, is a numbers game. The Comets currently have Reid Boucher, Zack MacEwen, Justin Bailey, Francis Perron, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, Jonah Gadjovich, and Carter Bancks as wingers who will likely be pencilled into the opening night lineup. Seamus Malone and Vincent Arseneau will also be waiting in the wings for their turn. This is fine and won’t be an issue for most of the younger guys to get their minutes and get them with some decent pivots this year.
The problem arises if/when the parent Canucks try to send any of Loui Eriksson, Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, or Nikolay Goldobin down via waivers. Two of those players will count against the AHL veteran limit, so that is one thing that helps as the Comets are already at their limit. Playing one of Schaller or Eriksson would likely come at the expense of another veteran status player if everyone is healthy.
Motte and Schaller can both play the middle as well, which might actually help matters by possibly pushing Wacey Hamilton into fill-in duty. Hamilton is great defensively and has been a solid penalty killer, but he’s had a tough time staying healthy for the past couple of seasons and tends to spend a good deal of time serving penalties of his own.
I do think that this will be a big season in terms of Trent Cull’s future with the organization. If players like Lind, Gadjovich etc don’t take noticeable steps in their development, there could be a coaching change before the 2020/21 season.
How will goaltending splits play out in the minors this year? Do you fear MacIntyre will take valuable AHL development reps from DiPietro and Kielly? Is Bachman just a practice goalie/cheerleader at this point?
— MJ (@MJVanCity) August 13, 2019
This is one of the most intriguing areas of the team for me this year. In McIntyre and Bachman, the team will have a pair of bonafide AHL starters to lean on…if they are healthy. They will also have a pair of rookies in Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly.
McIntyre has started 46, 47, 31, and 31 games going in reverse order since he turned pro with Providence in the 2015/16 season. The Canucks signed him to a two-way deal that pays him $400K at the AHL level and my guess is that they see him as their number three this year ahead of Bachman.
Bachman, for his part, is 32-years-old and he’s coming off of an Achilles tendon injury. He played one game for Vancouver last year and nine for Utica and didn’t look especially good in any of them. He’s been a solid contributor to this team since joining the organization for the 2015/16 season. He could very well end up challenging for the starter’s job in Utica, or possibly the backup role, but I feel like he might end up either playing elsewhere or maybe even retiring and moving into a coaching/player development type of role with the team.
DiPietro and Kielly will need to play and the best bet for one of them to get legitimate minutes might be with the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL. I have mentioned that as a possible option for DiPietro a few times now as it would allow him to eat minutes as he cuts his teeth at the pro level. Kielly is a couple of years older and a little more mature physically for the backup role in Utica. I can see a scenario where the Comets run with a tandem of McIntyre and Kielly while DiPietro gets the lion’s share of the starts in Kalamazoo. That said, it could just as easily go the other way with DiPietro and Kielly swapping spots.
How will the North division standings pan out next season?
— Ryan Fitzgerald (@Ryan_Fitz18) August 13, 2019
Maybe it's been covered already Cory, but I'm fascinated to learn where Lucas Jasek will fit in Utica this year. Hoping for some pp / ok time, but with some of the new signings I'm not sure what the top 9 are looking like.
— br(J)ed = Jojo in Edmonton (@hvng_n_avg_wknd) August 12, 2019
Lukas Jasek is a player that I have all kinds of time for. I love the way he plays the game. He does fantastic work along the boards, skates well and can get a pretty decent shot away. Jasek is a puck possession machine. If he doesn’t have the puck, he is doing everything within his power to retrieve it.
One thing that helps his case is that Jasek is able to play either wing without much issue of a falloff in his game. He can also move to the middle in a pinch, although his style of game seems to be better suited to the wing.
The way things currently stand, I see Jasek lining up on the left side on the third line with Tyler Graovac in the middle and Kole Lind on the right side. The coaching staff used him on the second unit power play last season and I expect that to continue this year. He didn’t see much if any time on the penalty kill, but I do see that as a natural progression for him this year to take on those responsibilities.
Jasek’s ability to slide up and down the lineup to play different roles will also help him in his effort to land regular minutes.
Stay tuned for part two…