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Photo Credit: Cory Hergott

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag: Kole Lind’s Season, Breakout Candidates, & The Graovac Injury

Utica Comets Mailbag

It’s that time again, folks. We are back with another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag. Let’s get after it.

The answer to this question will depend a lot on how long players like Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin spend with the Comets this season.

Sven has played in 124 games at the AHL level and has put up 95 points, giving him 0.77 points/game in that league. He last played in the AHL in the 2014/15 season, putting up 15 points in 15 games with the Comets in their regular season before grabbing another 15 points in 21 playoff games en-route to the Calder Cup Final. Sven has played in 216 NHL games since his last stint in Utica where he has accumulated 106 points or 0.49 points-per-game.

Goldy, for his part, last played for the Comets in the 2017/18 season when he earned 31 points in 30 regular-season games before adding six helpers in five playoff contests for the team. In his 148 games at the AHL level, Goldobin has picked up 125 points or 0.84 points-per-game. He played in 63 NHL games last season, collecting 27 points for 0.43 points-per-game. Goldy can produce at the AHL level.

We can’t leave players like Reid Boucher, (101 games over the past two seasons, 56 goals, 52 assists, and 108 points) and Zack MacEwen, (135 games, 32 goals, 53 assists, and 85 points) out of the equation. Francis Perron and Justin Bailey could work their way into the equation as well.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure that Goldy or Sven will spend enough time in Utica to work their way into the top-three, so I will go with Boucher, MacEwen, and Perron as your top-three scorers in Utica this year. I do think that there is a chance for Bailey and possibly Kole Lind to be close as well.

I am going to take a two-pronged approach to this question.

On the back end, I think the Guillaume Brisebois could take a big step this season. I’m not expecting him to blow up offensively, but I do think that he looks poised to push for a regular spot in the NHL for next year. It’s only been one game, but Brisebois looked confident and kept his game clean and simple. He looked good with Brogan Rafferty on his right side, and while that might change, the duo paired well together.

I think that Brisebois has the chance to push for more time in the NHL this season by continuing to take on more important minutes while he’s in Utica.

Up front, I see Lukas Jasek as a guy who could put his name closer to the top of the call-up list this season. The coaching staff is trying him in the middle and with Tyler Graovac already down with an injury, Lukas will have to take on a bigger role early. He brings nice speed, a good shot and a tenacious work ethic to the table and we all know how much the coaching staffs in both Vancouver and Utica appreciate that type of player.

Jasek has versatility in that he can move up and down the lineup and play all three forward positions when needed. He lead all Comets rookies in scoring last year, and while Kole Lind could best him this season in the points column, Jasek could still end up getting an NHL sniff sooner.

Well, Kole grabbed three points in his first game of the season, so that means he will finish the year with 228 points, right? It was one game, and it was a good one for Lind, but we do still have to be realistic with what we can expect from him this year.

During the offseason, I think I predicted somewhere around 35-ish points for Lind this year. I think that would be a reasonable season from him if he can continue to round out the rest of his game and take steps in his game away from the puck.

Would I like to see him put up more than 35 points? Yes, I would. Do I think he is capable of putting up more than 35 points this year? Yes, I do. I just want to be realistic as I have seen enough of the AHL to know that things can change quickly for a player in terms of production depending on injuries/call-ups and the resulting quality of linemates.

I kind of see Kole finishing his season with somewhere around 15-17 goals and 20 or so assists. He’s got three helpers already, so chances are pretty good that my numbers will be off, but that’s what I’m going with.

I expect that we will see DiPietro have an adjustment period to the AHL level. He will likely be playing the backup role on most nights early on, which will make each game that he does get into an important learning tool.

DiPietro has a fantastic attitude and knows that the jump from junior to pro could be a big one for him. The good thing is that for the moment at least, the team has two excellent vets for him to work with in Zane McIntyre and Richard Bachman.

My best guess is that barring injuries, we will see DiPietro start somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30-33 games this year. That is a pretty decent workload for a first-year netminder. Thatcher Demko got into 45 games in his rookie year for the Comets, so it’s possible that we could see DiPietro take on a similar workload, but I’m guessing it could be closer to 30 than it will be to 45.

This is the million-dollar question at the moment. When Adam Gaudette made the Cancuks out of camp, it hampered the Comets’ depth down the middle. With Graovac out, the team has Carter Camper and Wacey Hamilton as healthy players who primarily play the middle. Lukas Jasek played there a little last year, as did Carter Bancks. The coaching staff used them both on the same line in the first game of the year and the two swapped out for faceoff duty, depending on which side of the ice they were starting out on.

Graovac carries vet status, so him being out will help the team with being able to get at least one of Sven or Goldobin into the lineup this weekend without having to sit one of Hamilton, Camper, or Bancks in their stead.

Zack MacEwen grew up playing the middle, so there’s an outside chance that we could see him slide over for a game or two, but I wouldn’t bet on that. Dyson Stevenson can play the pivot role as well and he might end up working the 4C role until Graovac gets back and pushes Hamilton back down the lineup if he moves up to the third unit.

The other player with an outside chance of moving to the middle is Francis Perron. The Canucks used the winger in the middle at camp, so there has at least been a discussion about that being an option. Perron hasn’t taken part in a full practise, however, as he is dinged up and might not be available for this weekend’s game. Seamus Malone would have been the immediate option, but he is also injured and not expected back for this weekend. Tanner Sorenson is the final option if they wanted to summon him from the Kalamazoo Wings.

Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich both saw minutes further up the lineup last season once they were a little more up to speed at the pro level. Both players have spoken at length about how the adjustment to the pro level was much more difficult than they anticipated last year.

This season, Lind started game one on the first line, playing with the team’s best pivot and best winger. Jonah Gadjovich was lined up with the team’s next best duo. From what I have witnessed in watching how this coaching staff has operated over the past couple of years, they have had no issues with giving minutes to young players once they are ready for them.

All of this said, the team, not just Trent Cull, but the entire management group does see value in having their prospects playing in a winning environment. The organization wants to put their kids in positions to succeed rather than seeing them getting their teeth kicked in on the regular.

It might be difficult for Lind and Gadjovich to hang onto those top-six roles on the wings when Goldy and Sven arrive on the scene. It was already going to be tough for them with names like Boucher, MacEwen, Perron, and Bailey trying to earn their way back to the NHL, or in Perron’s case, get his first sniff.

I think that the competition for minutes will be good for players like Lind and Gadjovich. Neither player lacks work ethic or drive. Both want to earn their way into a regular role on the team this year. This is what depth looks like, folks. Now we will have to see how the organization handles the extra bodies.

 

Until next time…