Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag: Utica Fans, Defence Corps, and Player Perception

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag


We are back with another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag. Let’s get after it…

If I think about which Canucks prospects in Utica are capable two-way players already, the pickings are a little slim.

At the forward position, Zack MacEwen has had no issues on the offensive side of things in his two years of pro hockey. Last season, he added penalty killing duties to his resume and handled that role well. Reid Boucher also has an underrated two-way game at the AHL level. It’s easy to think of the Comets sniper as a pure offensive talent, but he does some heavy lifting on the defensive side of things in Utica as well.

I haven’t seen enough of newcomers Francis Perron, Justin Bailey, or Tyler Graovac to give an accurate assessment of their 200′ games. I think that Lukas Jasek could take a step towards being a reliable two-way player this year, and time will tell how Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich handle more responsibility on that side of the puck this season.

On the backend, there are some responsible defensive players in Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield, but none have proven the ability to put up much in the way of offensive contributions to this point. Hopefully, one or more of that trio will be able to take a step in that direction this year…or maybe one of Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, or Mitch Eliot can show up with a ready-made two-way game at the pro level.

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I think that I get this question pretty much every week. Up front, I see Zack MacEwen as the most realistic call-up option with Justin Bailey, Reid Boucher, and Francis Perron next in line… in that order. I’m sure that we would all like one of Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, or Lukas Jasek to make that list as well, but I don’t foresee any of them being in line for the first call-up.

On the back end, for me, it would be Ashton Sautner until someone else steps up and shows that they deserve a spot more than he does. That someone else could be any of Olli Juolevi, (once his knee proves to be ready for NHL minutes) Guillaume Brisebois, who got a taste last season, or Jalen Chatfield, who was in line for a look before breaking his foot while blocking a shot last year.

Brogan Rafferty or Josh Teves could also prove to be ready for an early look, but for my money, it has to be Sautner in the early going.

In goal, unless he is injured at the time of a recall, I see Zane McIntyre as the go-to number three for Vancouver.

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This was a great question, and in order to get a proper answer, I reached out to the Utica Comets Chatter fan site on Facebook for a little help. The answers were mixed and many.

Eric Smith: I like Predators and mildly Maple Leafs. Mainly because of a few players. But I root for Comets. It’s easy to separate NHL and AHL.

Sarah Jodlowski: I’m a Blackhawks fan so when we were in the western conference it was great seeing the Ice Hogs, but Comets are only Eastern Conference team I truly support.

Dan Ahrens: Buffalo Sabres. When Rochester comes to town I’m still a Comets fan but the games mean more to me.

Jack Sitts: Always rooting for the Comets. Even when Providence comes to town.

Ron Shaw: I like the Pens, which makes me want to catch the WBS Pens games just to see the talent, but I still root for the Comets.

James M Mills: Rangers/Canucks.

Matt Nellis: Flyers fan here. I like to watch the Phantoms when they come to town.

Jack Pflanz: Sabres but I only follow the Comets for minor league hockey.

Melissa Lynn: New Jersey, definitely due to being younger when the Utica Devils were here. That made me a fan, then watching Brodeur through his career.

Rick Davis: Sabres/Vancouver……Only the COMETS in the AHL.

Christopher Park: Bruins fan here. I follow Providence but only because of prospects. Always rooting for the Comets in the A-League!

Doug Suppe: Carolina/Philly Fan. Comets only AHL.

Rob Topor: Penguins fan, I have found many people cheer for a lot of teams in the NHL. Can’t really say one more than the other. Comets and baby Pens fan, when they play against each other in the Aud it’s a win all the way around for me though I guess being the home team I always want the Comets to win.

Trina Carro: We cheer for whoever is playing the Rangers or the Penguins.

Justin Naymick: I am a Sabres fan, but will only cheer for Utica!!!!

Kevin Gould: Everyone knows me… my heart has always been in Montréal and the young prospects in Laval who get to play with the team. I LOVE that Utica can bring that here.

Luanne Turchetti: Lightning.

Ryan Hocking: Avs.

Sharon Brown: Rangers & Sabres.

Laura DeStefanis: Blue fan. But only the Comets for AHL.

John L Ryczek: I’d say the Rangers… but I still root for the Comet’s when against the Wolf Pack.

Steve Zabko: The New Jersey Devils and any team playing the New York rangers.

Tim Orr: New Jersey.

Robert Griffiths: New Jersey Devils but still love Comets hockey.

Melissa Dunn: Sabers first, then Vancouver because of the Comets. In the AHL, it’s Comets first and Rochester because of the Sabres. Games between the Sabers and Canucks I tend to pull for the home team but really just want a good, exciting game. For Comets vs. Amerks I always cheer for the Comets

Joseph Bird: NY RANGERS!!!!

Anthony Carro: NJ Devils/San Jose Sharks in the NHL but always Comets in the AHL no matter what.

Eva Haynes: Sabers, Rangers, Devils and Boston…but we don’t typically follow NHL. We did for the Stanley Cup last season but holy crap was that a good ride.

Lynn W Mort Morton: Devils this year with the arrival of P. K. I cheer only for the Comets as a team in the AHL and former Comet players when they come to town. NOT crazy about Vancouver though.

Jeanine LaNeve Surprenant: Definitely Rangers fan for the NHL first; always a Comets fan for the AHL. (Jeanine included a photo of herself with Henrik Lundqvist as well).

Donald O’Connor: Sabres.

Whew…so there’s your answer on that one.

This is another great question because the Comets defence has seen a solid overhaul since last season ended. Gone are veterans Jaime Sifers and Evan McEneny, replaced by rookies Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, and Mitch Eliot. The team will miss McEneny’s offensive contributions as he led their backend with 31 points in 58 games last year. They might miss Sifers’ work defensively even more as the veteran leader was a staple on the penalty kill, sometimes not even leaving the ice while a man down.

There will be some great options as far as defensive pairings go, however. My first thought is that we could see something like this…

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Brogan Rafferty

Guillaume Brisebois – Dylan Blujus

Josh Teves – Mitch Eliot

Stefan LeBlanc

The team also has left-shot defenders Matt Petgrave, Aaron Thow, and Zach Frye on AHL deals, but I see that trio starting in Kalamazoo as depth options.

The above alignment keeps everyone playing in their natural position, but leaves newcomers Josh Teves and Mitch Eliot biding their time for minutes. That might not be ideal for their development and one or both could potentially see some time with Kalamazoo in order to get some playing time.

Trent Cull has used defenders on their off-side before, so I don’t think that he would have an issue with doing that this year. If that is the case, I could see Brisebois potentially moving back to the right side where he spent the bulk of his rookie season with the Comets. That would allow Teves to at least get some ice-time early.

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Brogan Rafferty

Josh Teves – Guillaume Brisebois

Stefan LeBlanc – Mitch Eliot

                              Dylan Blujus

The first two alignments keep Juolevi and Chatfield together as they paired well last year and had some early success. If the coaching staff wants to go with a different look, I could see something like this once Rafferty is up to speed at the AHL level and the coaching staff feels he is ready for first-pairing minutes.

Olli Juolevi – Brogan Rafferty

Ashton Sautner – Jalen Chatfield

Josh Teves – Guillaume Brisebois

Stefan LeBlanc – Dylan Blujus

                         Mitch Eliot

The above group could potentially provide the team with a high-octane offensive unit in Juolevi and Rafferty, as well and a rough and tumble duo in Sautner and Chatfield that would not be any fun at all to play against. Sautner and Chatfield both bring a physical brand of hockey to the table. That third pairing could potentially provide some of both elements if Brisebois starts to use his size to his advantage a little more often.

I would love to be able to give you the kind of answer that I think you are looking for, but honestly, I have not seen enough of Hoglander to accurately assess his game and didn’t see enough of Dahlen before he came across either. What I can do is give you a quick comparison of some of their numbers to date.

The first thing that stood out to me is that they were born on the same day, three years apart. Both men have December 20th birthdays, with Dahlen being three years older. The next thing that struck me was their draft positions. Dahlen was selected in the second round, 42nd overall by Ottawa in the 2016 draft. Hoglander, for his part, was nabbed with the 40th overall pick by the Canucks this offseason. Pretty similar so far.

When we move on to size, well…we have more similarities. According to Elite Prospects, Dahlen stands 5’11” and weighs in at 181lbs. The same site has Hoglander standing 5’9″ and tipping the scales at 190lbs. Hoglander gives up two inches in height but has a nine-pound weight advantage… all in all, still pretty similar.

Again, I haven’t seen enough of Hoglander to say this from my own perspective, but from what I understand, he brings a good deal more edge to his game than does Dahlen. That alone might be what will allow him to have more success than his older counterpart. Hoglander has also already done something that Dahlen has yet to accomplish. He has played regular-season games in the SHL and he is only 18-years-old. Again, this might give the younger forward the edge as he has already shown the ability to play against men in an elite professional league.

At the end of the day, draft pedigree will only take a player so far and it will come down to work ethic, coachability, and the ability to play a well-rounded game that will see players have success in the Vancouver system. So far, it looks like Hoglander could have all of the above on his side, but time will tell if he can put it all together as a pro in North America. We could see Hoglander come across as soon as the end of this season if the team and player feel that he is ready.

I’m not sure that this is really a Utica Comets question, but I will give a brief answer all the same. I think that Markstrom is the goalie of the present. What I mean by that is I see this being a big season as far as answering that question.

Markstrom is in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end if an extension isn’t reached beforehand. He had a very good run in the second half of last season and my guess is that the organization will want to see him carry that play over well into this season before offering up that extension.

The team has three solid young netminders in the system behind Marky, (I am not including Zane McIntyre or Richard Bachman for obvious reasons). They will need to see what all three are capable of this year while making that determination on a Markstrom extension. Thatcher Demko will need to get his starts in Vancouver and continue to improve and show that he is next in line for the starter’s role.

Behind him, Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly will be getting their feet wet in their rookie campaigns and both will need to show that they can handle the pro level to push Demko for that heir apparent title. It could take some time before we know who will truly take the starter’s reigns in the future, but the team isn’t lacking for options if a couple of these youngsters pan out.

As for whether or not Markstrom is a trade candidate, I can only see that happening if the Canucks are well out of a playoff spot at the deadline, and/or if Demko goes on an impressive run and one of the kids is lighting it up between the pipes in Utica.

Draft pedigree is an interesting topic. For a lot of fans, the players who are selected in the draft are considered to be “better” prospects than those who have been passed over. On the surface, that is completely understandable, but as with anything in life, things are not always black and white.

For the most part, players who have been drafted will have a better chance of becoming NHL players. Teams tend to put a good deal of time and effort into developing their draft picks and doing whatever they can to ensure that the player they picked has success.

For the team, there will be a sense of pride in choosing the right players in the draft and proving those decisions right. Sometimes that could mean that a player who was drafted will get more minutes than the undrafted player…or at least a little more rope with the coaching staff/management. I don’t always agree with that method, but right or wrong, it is generally the way it goes.

This doesn’t mean that undrafted players do not get their chances as well, but they generally have to work a little harder and impress a little more than the shiny new toys that they are competing for work with. The problem, in my opinion with using draft pedigree as the deciding factor in a player’s ice time, is that it takes the “human factor” out of the equation.

Sometimes, players with the higher draft pedigree haven’t had to work as hard to get to where they are and that can lead to a sense of entitlement. Players who have gone undrafted have often had to outwork their drafted counterparts in order to just get noticed. That extra work ethic can give you a player who is willing to go the extra mile to win, whereas the drafted player could get their nose out of joint if things are not going the way they’d like them to.

At the end of the day, for me at least, I try to evaluate each player on an individual basis. All players are wired differently and some just have what it takes to give them the edge they need whether they were drafted or not.

On to the second part of Craig’s question…

In this day and age, hockey fans can open up the internet and find nearly every stat that they would ever want to find about a particular player. There are countless bloggers, news outlets and websites who will gladly tell you all about the potential of prospects before they have ever played a game of professional hockey. There are stats and analytics services out there that break down the minutia of any player who is likely to show up on NHL ice.

All of this is great and makes this age of being a hockey fan different than any era that we’ve seen in the past. That said, it also ensures that there are more people than ever who are labelled as experts on these young players. I do think that stats and analytics can lend a hand in evaluating players and there is definitely a place for it in hockey, but I also believe that those same people need to actually put eyes on these players before they can realistically talk about a player’s chances of playing NHL minutes.

It is great to have all of this information available at a moments notice, but I am of the opinion that people need to put eyes on players and make the determination on their own about a player’s NHL potential.

This is a long-winded way of saying, yes. I do think that some players are perceived a certain way by fans because they are relying on information from others rather than viewing a player themselves and coming to their own conclusions. I think that it is unfortunate, but that is the way a lot of fans decide who/what a player is or will be.

Until next time…

  • Defenceman Factory

    Thanks Cory. You certainly put the work in to provide the best information possible.

    I have some concerns about the expectations this year for Juolevi. He has had a lot of pressure on him because of the quick success of other players drafted after him. His progression towards becoming an NHL defenceman was very normal and then unfortunately delayed by injuries. Juolevi was still a fair ways off being an NHL calibre Dman before his injury last season. This pretty normal for a 20 yr old especially one with better developed offensive skills. I think it is unrealistic to think Juolevi will be NHL ready in 20 to 30 games. It’s optomistic to think he will be ready this year at all. He will start this year physically behind whee he left off last year and won’t have played a game in almost a year.

    I still believe Juolevi has a high ceiling and will develop into a top 4 NHL Dman. He could surprise me but I expect him to look rather poor at the start of the year, like someone who just missed almost a whole season and 8 months of training. He will rediscover the offensive side of his game within a few months but he still has all the work to do he had a year ago on his gap control and some of the edge work needed by Dmen.

    Expectations for this season need to be tempered. Yes he is now behind schedule but there are no shortcuts.

    • Gino's 3rd Cousin

      I am trying to keep the expectations low for OJ as well. If he does emerge as a viable callup this year or next it will feel like a victory in what’s been an injury plagued couple of years.

  • Gino's 3rd Cousin

    I appreciate Lynn W Mort Morton’s honesty when she says she’s “NOT crazy about Vancouver though.” It’s hard to blame her with the way the team has performed, geographical location, and sometimes decimating the Comets lineup through injury callups and trades with nothing coming back to the Comets ie; Carcone for Leivo

  • rediiis

    I thought some might enjoy a look at SKA’s team preview. Their season starts on Wednesday. This is my new favorite KHL team since Vasily Podkolzin is the teams new shiny bauble. I guess it was like my favorite SHL team, the Vaxjo Lakers. I would always try to get the game summary and glimpses of Pettersson. This is the link to SKA’s team preview: https://en.khl.ru/news/2019/08/29/455388.html