Some Notes Ahead Of Training Camp
As we inch closer and closer to the preseason, I thought I’d take a quick look at a few noteworthy items to keep in mind heading into training camp.
As we all know, teams can carry up to 23 healthy bodies on their roster during the NHL season. Canucks management have already mentioned that Antoine Roussel’s season isn’t likely to begin until well after the regular season begins, so we know that he will be starting the year on the injured list.
Assuming no other moves are made as far as trades or free agency signings and that the team will get both of Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin under contract, there will be some interesting decisions to make.
In goal, I think we can safely assume that it will be Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko holding the fort in Vancouver with some combination of Zane McIntyre, Richard Bachman, Michael DiPietro, and Jake Kielly in Utica.
On the back end, the parent club is also fairly set in terms of who will start the year on the roster as Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Tyler Myers, Quinn Hughes, Troy Stecher, Jordie Benn, Oscar Fantenberg, and Alex Biega look like good bets to start with the Canucks if they decide to run with eight defenders as they have for the majority of the Jim Benning era.
Up front, the picture is not nearly as clear, with a plethora of forwards who already have NHL experience and a couple more who are knocking at the door from the AHL.
If the team does run with eight defencemen, that would mean that they can only keep 13 forwards. There are a good number of forwards that we can mark down as locks to make the team, while a few more will obviously be on the bubble with the aforementioned roster crunch. Let’s start with the locks.
- Elias Pettersson
- Brock Boeser
- Micheal Ferland
- Tanner Pearson
- Bo Horvat
- J.T. Miller
- Sven Baertschi
- Brandon Sutter
- Jake Virtanen
- Jay Beagle
- Josh Leivo
At this point, things start to get a little murky when it comes to figuring out who is penciled into remaining two roster spots. First, let’s take a look at the players who have established themselves for at least a season at the NHL level who will be fighting for one of those spots.
Established Bubble Guys
- Loui Eriksson, LW/RW
- Nikolay Goldobin, LW/RW
- Tyler Motte, LW/RW/C
- Tim Schaller, LW/C
As we can see, all of the above players have versatilty on their side, as they are able to play more than one position at forward. Eriksson has a cap hit of $6M/season, while Tim Schaller clocks in at second with a cap hit of $1.9MM/year. Goldobin is currently an unsigned restricted free agent, but Jim Benning said on TSN 1040 recently that the team is looking to get a deal done. I would expect his salary to slot in somewhere between $1M-$1.25M-ish/season. Motte’s cap hit is currently $975K/year.
All four players would need to clear waivers if they do not make the big club out of camp. Teams can bury up to $1,075,000 in the minors this season. This means that all of Tyler Motte’s cap hit can be buried in Utica if the team decides to go that route, but the other three would still have a portion of their cap hit sticking with the Canucks.
It is fairly likely that Tim Schaller will be one of the players waived out of camp as the team didn’t get a whole lot out of him last year in his 47 games with the club. The other three are not as easy to sort out.
Loui Eriksson is being paid like a first-line NHL player, but has yet to produce like one during his tenure with the Canucks. The team has tried unsuccessfully to move him this offseason and unless something changes it’s likely he’ll be showing up to training camp in Victoria in a couple of weeks. He can still play at the NHL level, but what he has been bringing to the table hasn’t been up to snuff. Having said that, I do expect that he will at least start the season in Vancouver and take up one of those last two roster spots.
That brings us to the battle of two players at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as playing style.
Tyler Motte was Charlie Hustle for the Canucks last year. He skates like the wind, dishes out hits and brings a more well-rounded defensive game than he does goals and assists. Motte got into 74 games for Vancouver last year, picking up nine goals and seven assists to give himself 16 points on the season to go along with just 10 minutes in penalties despite playing a physical game in an energy role. Travis Green trusted the player enough to use him on the penalty kill as well. Motte spent his season playing mostly in a fourth-line role and getting the bulk of his starts away from the offensive zone.
Nikolay Goldobin teased the coaching staff with his elite passing and high-end offensive ceiling, but his defensive game left them wanting at times. Goldy got into 63 games for the Canucks last year and put up seven goals and 20 helpers for his efforts while mostly playing in the top-six with players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Because of that type of deployment, Goldobin saw the bulk of his starts in the offensive zone. Goldobin’s inconsistent play led made him a semi-frequent healthy scratch over the course of the season.
It is a good bet that Goldy’s new deal will check in slightly above what Motte makes, but I’m not sure how much that will factor into the decision of who stays in Vancouver and who hits the waiver wire.
I’d imagine at first glance most fans will assume Goldobin is the easy choice to keep with the big club. He has the higher ceiling offensively and this team needs to score more goals, plus, you can never have enough creative playmakers on your roster. The team has a little more time invested in Goldobin’s development as well, and he brings some elements to the table that the team needs. But will his indifferent play away from the puck be enough to convince the Canucks’ brass they can risk losing him to waivers?
Motte turned 24 in March, while Goldy will catch up to him in October, so I’m not sure that age should be a huge factor either. As mentioned above, both players bring utility with the ability to play either wing, although Motte brings the added ability to play in the middle in a pinch as well.
When we look at NHL experience, Motte has played in 153 games at the NHL level, putting up 18 goals and 12 assists to give himself 30 points, or 0.20 points/game. He also has 67 games of AHL experience, picking up 21 goals and 11 helpers, good for 32 points, or 0.48 points/game.
Goldobin has played in 124 NHL games and has put up 19 goals and 27 assists to give himself 46 points, or 0.37 points/game. At the AHL level, Goldy has played in 148 games and has put up 52 goals, 73 assists, and 125 points for a points/game average of 0.84.
Goldy clearly has the ability to put up more points than Motte, or at least he has historically. We can also see that Goldobin has more games of pro experience and when we add in his 38 games with HIFK in Liiga for the 2014/15 season that gives him veteran-exempt status in the AHL. Motte would carry no such issue with him to Utica.
If the management/coaching staff is trying to decide between these two players, the decision will likely be a difficult one to make. On one hand, they have Motte, who has built a level of trust with the coaching staff due to his effort level, work ethic, and reliable game. On the other hand, they have Goldobin, who has shown chemistry with Elias Pettersson, strong playmaking ability, and a higher offensive upside; but the coaching staff has shown a reluctance to keep him in the lineup due to his play away from the puck and inconsistent effort level.
To compound things a little more, the team also has a few players ticketed for Utica who could also potentially force their name into the conversation for a roster spot out of training camp.
Bubbling Up From Below
- Zack MacEwen, RW
- Justin Bailey, RW
- Francis Perron, LW
Bailey and MacEwen have each had a taste at the NHL level, with Bailey holding the most games of experience in the best league in the world.
Bailey comes into this season with 63 NHL games under his belt, split between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers. With those two clubs, Bailey has picked up five goals and four helpers for a 0.14 points/game average. He has also played in 213 AHL games split between the Rochester Americans and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, picking up 68 goals and 56 assists for a 0.58 points/game average. Because Bailey has played in over 260 pro games. Like Goldobin, he carries AHL veteran-exempt status.
Bailey brings a little more experience than either of MacEwen or Perron, and he also brings speed to go along with his 6’4″, 214lbs frame. The 24-year-old is now with his third organization after being drafted in the second round, 52nd overall by Buffalo in the 2013 NHL draft, so he’s got some draft pedigree, too, for whatever that’s worth.
I haven’t seen enough of Bailey to comfortably suggest that he has an edge over either of MacEwen or Perron for a roster spot with the big club, outside of his experience. Bailey will require waivers if the Canucks plan to send him to Utica.
Next up, we have another newcomer in Francis Perron. The 23-year-old Perron is also on his third organization after being drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round with the 190th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft. He has yet to play an NHL game but does already have three seasons of experience at the AHL level in the Ottawa and San Jose systems.
Perron spent two seasons in the Sens farm system, putting up six goals and 20 helpers with the Binghamton Senators in the 2016/14 season before the team moved to Belleville the following year. In Belleville, Perron only got into 44 games, putting up four goals and 11 assists. After that season, he was traded to the San Jose Sharks as part of the Erik Karlsson trade.
With the San Jose Barracuda last year, Perron took a big step forward, putting up 18 goals and 29 helpers to give himself 47 points on the season. Perron isn’t big like Bailey and MacEwen, but he does bring other attributes to the table. From what I have seen, he is a shifty playmaker who can score some nice goals. I don’t know a whole lot about his play away from the puck, though, so I will have to wait until I see him play a little more before I can say much about that side of his game.
The winger has put up 28 goals and 60 assists to give himself 88 points, or 0.50 points/game at the AHL level.
Perron has no issues as far as veteran-exempt status, but he will require waivers to get to Utica this year.
Last up, we get to Zack MacEwen. Unlike the first two, TheBigFella was not drafted. MacEwen was signed as an undrafted free agent and joined the organization after putting up 116 points in 141 QMJHL games split between the Moncton Wildcats and Gatineau Olympiques.
The 6’4″, 215lbs MacEwen is a late-bloomer who has done nothing but improve his game since turning pro. He has put up 32 goals and 53 assists to give himself 85 points in 135 AHL games over two seasons for a points/game average of 0.63. Zack showed a 12 goal/19 point improvement from his rookie season to last year. After just two seasons, the 23-year-old already sits eighth-overall on the Comets all-time points list and needs just five more to pass Pascal Pelletier for seventh.
TheBigFella made his NHL debut last season and managed to grab an assist in his first game. That would be his only point before being sent back to Utica after four games to give himself 0.25 points/game at the NHL level in his brief time with the big club.
MacEwen brings size, skating, physicality, and a nice skill set to the table in what is almost a nice blend of the two other players in this category. Unlike the other two, Zack will not require waivers if the team were to assign him to Utica out of camp.
I’m not sure that any of these three will be able to force their way onto the big club roster out of camp, but of the three, my money would be on Zack MacEwen. He is an excellent example of the kind of player who does what is asked of him by the coaching staff, puts in the work, absorbs coaching, and puts it all into action on the ice.
Moving on to another area of interest to Utica Comets fans…AHL deals/AHL vets/AHL veteran-exempts.
After going into last season with 15 players on AHL deals, the Comets currently have 13 such contracts signed. Of those 13, two will likely spend the bulk of their time playing the middle for the Comets, while five will play defence.
- Carter Bancks: LW/RW/C. 30-years-old. 540 AHL games, 159 points.
- Wacey Hamilton: C/LW/RW. 28-years-old. 404 AHL games, 121 points.
- Carter Camper: C. 31-years-old. 510 AHL games, 380 points.
- Vincent Arseneau: LW/RW. 27-years-old. 89 AHL games, 14 points.
- Seamus Malone: C/LW. 23-years-old. Six AHL games, three points.
- Tanner Sorenson: C. 26-years-old. Zero AHL games.
- Dyson Stevenson: C/RW/LW. 26-years-old. Nine AHL games, zero points.
- Dylan Sadowy: LW/RW. 23-years-old. 65 AHL games, seven points.
- Dylan Blujus: RD. 25-years-old. 239 AHL games, 73 points.
- Stefan LeBlanc: LD. 23-years-old. 98 AHL games, 23 points.
- Matt Petgrave: LD/F. 27-years-old. 27 AHL games, 2 points.
- Aaron Thow: LD. 24-years-old. Six AHL games, one point.
- Zach Frye: LD. 25-years-old. 18 AHL games, four points.
My guess is that we will see Bancks, Hamilton, Camper, Malone, and Arseneau stick with Utica up front, while Sadowy, Sorenson, and Stevenson serve as depth in Kalamazoo. On the backend, I see Blujus and LeBlanc sticking with the Comets, while Petgrave, Thow, and Frye ply their trade in KZOO as well.
AHL Veteran Status
In the AHL, teams can only dress up to five skaters in a game who have more than 320 games of experience at the pro level in the NHL/AHL or elite-level European leagues. They can have as many such players as they want on their roster, but can only dress five. The following players carry that status into this season for the Comets.
- Carter Bancks.
- Wacey Hamilton.
- Carter Camper.
- Reid Boucher.
- Tyler Graovac.
- Loui Eriksson. *
- Tim Schaller. *
I have included Eriksson and Schaller here in order to demonstrate that they would push the Comets over the veteran limit should they be assigned to Utica. That would mean the inclusion of one or both in any given game would come at the expense of one of the players listed above them.
AHL Veteran-Exempt Status
The AHL considers a player who has appeared in more than 260 games at the NHL/AHL or high-level European leagues to be veteran-exempt. There are two players who could potentially find themselves in Utica who fall into that category.
- Justin Bailey.
- Nikolay Goldobin.
In one of my recent articles, I made an error that was pointed out to me by reader Tyhee where I had incorrectly said that Goldobin would only be able to play if Bailey came out of the lineup. I misread the rule as it is posted on the AHL website. The coaching staff would be able to use both in a game if they were to be available to them.
The following group of players who are expected to…or could potentially end up in Utica will have to clear waivers.
- Loui Eriksson – LW/RW
- Tim Schaller – LW/C
- Nikolay Goldobin – LW/RW
- Tyler Motte – LW/RW/C
- Reid Boucher – LW/RW
- Tyler Graovac – C
- Francis Perron – LW
- Justin Bailey – RW
- Ashton Sautner – LD
- Richard Bachman – G
- Zane McIntyre – G
The following players who are expected to start with the big club would not require waivers to be sent down, and as such, could see themselves “papered” to Utica in order for the Canucks to start the year in compliance with the salary cap/roster numbers before moving players over to the injured reserve list.
- Elias Pettersson – C
- Brock Boeser – RW
- Quinn Hughes – LD
- Thatcher Demko G
These were a couple of issues that I figured would be worth taking a look at before camp gets underway. Stay tuned to this space for any and all Utica Comets news as the season approaches.