Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag: Goaltending, Brogan Rafferty, & Who Decides Who Gets To Play…

CanucksArmy Utica Comets


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

I think that it is a pinch of both scenarios. Teams have prospects that they want to get a look at against stiffer competition than they’d see on a regular basis in the AHL, so it makes sense on that side of things. Some teams will also have a player or two on AHL deals who they might have time to see a little more of to determine if they can earn an NHL pact.

At the same time, there are certainly players getting into preseason games who aren’t likely to see the inside of an NHL building unless they are there as a fan.

The other part that plays into it is the almighty dollar. The more games they play, the more revenue they are bringing in. It is a business after all, and the owners are always trying to recoup their money in any way possible.

I’ve mentioned it a few times this offseason, but the goaltending situation will be a fascinating one to watch play out. On one hand, it makes a lot of sense for Michael DiPietro to play in Kalamazoo and play a ton, in order to get up to speed at the pro level. That said, he would get more one-on-one time with goaltending coach Curtis Sanford if he stays in Utica.

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I know from speaking with Jim Benning at development camp that he wants both of DiPietro and Kielly to be getting regular minutes this season, so I would not be surprised to see one or both plying their trade in Kalamazoo this year. It could be that we see them swapping back and forth until something shakes out where one of them gets a good run of games with the Comets. That way, both would get the benefit of playing a lot in KZOO, while getting one-on-one with Sanford when in Utica.

Part of me wonders if we see a scenario where the Comets carry three goaltenders this year with Richard Bachman taking on some coaching-type duties when he isn’t playing. That might free up Sanford to spend a bit of time in Kalamazoo with the goaltender who is there.

At the end of the day, the Comets used a bunch of netminders last year, by their standards, so there’s a good chance that we will see both of the young goaltenders getting their minutes with the Comets this year.

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be “do” I think, or if Geordie is insinuating that I have already said that Rafferty has passed Chatfield on the depth chart.

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I like a lot of what Jalen Chatfield brings to the table as a prospect. He skates extremely well, plays a physical game and kills penalties like a beast. That said, Rafferty brings an offensive element that we just haven’t seen from Chatfield at the pro level. It is nice to have more than one call-up option on the right side of the defence this year as these two players bring different games to the table.

I think that if I were to take a guess at which defenders are first in line for call-up duty this year, that it would be Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield…in that order until Olli Juolevi is up to speed and playing his game at the level that we expect from him this year. At the very least, it is nice to have a little more depth in terms of call-up options this season.

I kind of answered this one above, but I will add that I think that anything is possible when it comes to the goaltending situation in Utica this year. Trent Cull and his staff will have plenty of options to go with between the pipes if everyone is healthy.

A tandem of McIntyre/Bachman would be pretty strong for Utica and could be tempting to run with to help the team get off to a good start. That said, I do think that management wants to see their young tenders getting some minutes in Utica this year, so my guess is that at least one of them stays in Utica to start the season.

Different players will carry their weight differently. It’s not really fair to compare Virtanen’s genetics to Lind’s. They are different players/different people. What I can tell you about Kole, from standing next to him for an interview last week is that he definitely looks bigger than he did last season.

Getting bigger isn’t always a good thing for players. Many are trying to become leaner in order to help keep their fitness levels higher and help with their agility. For that reason, I don’t think we need to put a whole lot of stock into Kole’s weight. A few extra pounds will help him in board battles, but it will be improvements in his skating/quickness/confidence that will help him take the next step this season, in my opinion.

The Comets will likely be starting the season with some combination of lefties Olli Juolevi, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Josh Teves, and Stefan LeBlanc on the roster. LeBlanc is with the club on an AHL deal, but he showed well in his 25 games with the team last year. He was able to play some decent minutes on the penalty kill, so he shouldn’t be ruled out as an option as well.

On the right side, Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty, Dylan Blujus, and Mitch Eliot are all likely to be around. That makes for a lot of bodies for only six open spots on a given night. If we assume that Juolevi, Sautner, Brisebois, Chatfield, and Rafferty are all playing, that leaves one open spot…and it’s on the right side if everyone is playing their natural position.

That makes it tough for the coaching staff to get both of Teves and Eliot into games regularly. My best guess right now is that we could see Brisebois possibly move over to the right side where he spent the bulk of his rookie campaign in order to fit Teves in.

If that is the case, we could see something like this.

Juolevi – Rafferty

Sautner – Chatfield

Teves – Brisebois

This type of alignment would give the coaching staff a nice offensively inclined pairing with the first duo, a tough to play against second pairing and a hybrid pairing to wrap things up. It might take a little time for Teves to earn penalty killing minutes with guys like Brisebois, Sautner, Chatfield, and Rafferty likely lining up ahead of him, but I can see him getting his looks there throughout the season.

On the power play, My guess is that we see Juolevi and Reid Boucher manning the points on the first unit with Rafferty and possibly a forward like Jasek or Lind on the point for the second unit. I think that Teves will eventually find his minutes there as well, but it might take a little bit of time.

I spoke with Trent Cull at development camp about player deployment and he was candid with his answer. He told me that when the lineup is being decided on for a game, it is a team decision. It isn’t just Cull writing down player’s names on a napkin. It is a group call. Ryan Johnson is involved, as are the other coaches on his staff. I know that Cull is the easy one to point a finger at if the young players aren’t getting the minutes that you’d like to see them getting, but it isn’t all on him.

In my conversations with Cull, it was pretty clear to me that he wants these young players to succeed. For that to happen, he has to prepare them for life under Travis Green at the NHL level. That means following suit with making players earn their minutes and putting them in positions to succeed rather than just throwing them to the wolves, sink or swim. They have plans in place for each player and they will all develop at different rates. This will be a big year for players like Gadjovich, Lind etc to take the next step and give the coaching staff no choice but to play them and give them more opportunities.


Until next time.