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Utica Comets Mailbag

We are back at it with another Utica Comets Mailbag for CanucksArmy and my good pal Coop is back with another question.

The first ever goal scored on home ice for the Utica Comets was scored by none other than Frank Corrado and it earned him third star of the game honours. The goal came in a 4-1 loss to the Albany Devils on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013. Yann Sauve and Pascal Pelletier were credited with the helpers on the Corrado tally. Current Canucks/Comets winger Reid Boucher, (then in the New Jersey organization) picked up an assist for the Devils on Jon Merrill’s first goal of the season in the same game.

This is an interesting thought, but I’m unsure of the answer. The Comets lost Olli Juolevi, Jalen Chatfield, Evan McEneny, and Dylan Blujus to long-term injuries last season. The Blujus injury was a broken hand/finger, while Chatfield broke his foot. Mobility hasn’t been an issue for Chatfield since I’ve been watching him and the broken foot came as the result of a blocked shot. I would have to say that mobility didn’t factor into his injury.

Blujus broke his hand/finger while also blocking a shot, so ditto for him. The Juolevi and McEneny injuries were knee injuries that could have possibly been prevented by better skating mechanics, but I’m certainly no expert where that is concerned.

It will be nice, however, for the Comets coaching staff to be able to call on a defensive stable full of very capable skaters for the coming season. They aren’t all elite movers, but the bulk of them have skating as a strength in their arsenal.

I think that it is very possible that we could see an NHL player or two waived in order to get them to Utica to start the season.

If, for a moment, we leave out the prospects who could be pushing for a spot out of camp, (Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwen, Ashton Sautner) as well as the players who were signed for depth, (Tyler Graovac, Justin Bailey) and look only at players who spent the bulk of their time on an NHL roster last year, a few names do come to the forefront.

On the backend, we could see either of Alex Biega or newcomer Oscar Fantenberg waived with the intent of getting them to Utica if the team elects to run with seven defencemen and 14 forwards. The backend in Utica is getting a little crowded, but I’m sure the coaching staff would be thrilled to have either player available to them to pair with one of the three rookies who will be patrolling the blueline this year…four if we consider that Juolevi only got into 18 games last season.

Up front, I think that it is possible for any of Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, or even Nikolay Goldobin to end up getting waived with the intention of getting them to Utica. I think that Goldobin would likely get plucked and it’s possible the Motte could as well. I’m not so sure that another team takes Schaller without Van taking a similarly undesirable contract back, but you never know.

I have seen plenty of talk about Loui Eriksson ending up in Utica, but I’m not sure that I see that happening. If the player is unhappy with the organization, I’m not sure that the team would want to have him riding the busses with their kids. I could see the team going a similar route with Loui as they did with Sam Gagner last year and loaning him to a team where he will be more comfortable. Eriksson has apparently moved his family back to the Dallas area, so maybe the Texas Stars or San Antonio Rampage would fit the bill on that front.

If that’s the case, he could have former Comets pivot Cam Darcy, (signed one-year AHL deal) dishing him pucks in San Antonio, or Tanner Kero, (signed one-year, two-way deal with the Dallas Stars) in Texas.

All of this said, it is still early enough in the offseason that we could see more moves made as far as trades and signings. The picture should become more clear once we get closer to training camp.

I think that the biggest area of concern as far as the Comets depth goes is down the middle. The team currently have newcomers Carter Camper and Tyler Graovac who play the middle, along with veteran holdover, Wacey Hamilton. The team also has rookie Seamus Malone on an AHL deal and he can play all three positions up front, but Trent Cull seemed to prefer him on the left side in his six games with the Comets last season. Lukas Jasek also saw a few games in the middle, as did captain Carter Bancks, but again, the coach seems to prefer them on the wall.

At the moment, Graovac is the only pivot who is on an NHL deal and as such, he is the only one who the Canucks can call up if there is an injury. Adam Gaudette, should he end up in Utica, would make two.

Tim Schaller and Tyler Motte have also spent time in the middle as pros, but I would like to see the Canucks add another depth center if possible.

As far as whether or not the Comets will “be good” this season, I think that depends on what you consider to be good. Are we talking about the team being better overall and climbing the standings/making the playoffs/pushing for a Calder Cup, or are we talking about whether or not we see solid development from the prospects who are plying their trade there?

I think that the team could show improvement in the standings and could possibly push for a playoff spot. The team has added some new faces, but they have also lost some big pieces from last year. I’m working on a piece right now that will break down the roster by position with a comparison of last year’s roster to what this season’s team could look like…stay tuned for that one.

Kole Lind’s healthy scratch scenario from last season has been wildly overblown. He missed exactly three games as a healthy scratch and the rest were due to injuries and illness. Jonah Gadjovich, however, saw the healthy scratch early and often due to not being up to the task for regular minutes. By the end of the season, both players were seeing more minutes and being put into more situations by the coaching staff.

When I spoke with Trent Cull at development camp a couple of weeks ago, I was left with the impression that he liked what he saw from both Lind and Gadjovich as the season wound down and that both would be getting more looks this season. That said, the team has added winger Justin Bailey, who will likely slot ahead of both in the lineup and we could also see a veteran NHLer or two sent down as well. If that happens, the wings will be crowded and once again, Trent Cull and his coaching staff will have to try to find minutes for everyone.

If you think about the Utica Comets and difference makers, it’s hard to look past Reid Boucher, but I would imagine that you are talking about someone other than the obvious.

The Comets struggled on the backend and in net last year with a revolving cast of players at both positions. I think that newcomer Zane McIntyre having a strong, steady season could have a huge impact as far as being a difference maker compared to last year.

Having a healthy Olli Juolevi could be huge for the backend as well. Add Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Mitch Eliot, and a possible return of Ashton Sautner and the blueline suddenly looks like it could be an area of strength for the team.

Up front, I think this is a big year for Zack MacEwen to take another step and hopefully see first line minutes with regular linemates after spending the past two seasons making hay while lining up with a carousel of players beside him while Reid Boucher ate up minutes with the only legitimate playmaking pivot that the team had in Tanner Kero.

If TheBigFella can see regular minutes with a guy like Carter Camper, Adam Gaudette, or a playmaker yet to be acquired, I can see him having a big, big season for the team.

I spent my first season of covering the Comets watching the games on the old AHL Live stream…and it was bad. We are talking about it being like watching the game while wearing your grandmother’s glasses on a 720P tv screen smeared with petroleum jelly. It wasn’t good and it was crazy expensive, especially given the potato quality stream that was foisted upon the viewers.

Last season, however, we switched to AHL TV and although there were some issues early on, things got much better as the season progressed. Yes, there were times when my feed would drop out, and others when there was no audio, but overall, it was a much better experience for a much more affordable price. By the time the end of the season rolled around, the issues were few and far between.

I have a couple of answers to this question, depending on what is considered stealing a spot. I think that Adam Gaudette could certainly earn an opening night spot with the team, but many expect him to be there anyway, so I’m not sure if he’s the type that you are speaking about.

I think that Zack MacEwen brings a unique skill set that would help him fit into a bottom-six role to start, with him possibly earning looks further up the lineup as the season goes on, but with Zack not needing waivers and the massive crowd that currently gums up the wing position, he may have to go back to Utica and force his way back up to the big club.

Justin Bailey has speed and size on his side, along with a little bit of NHL experience, so I suppose he is a candidate as well.

On the backend, I think it could be one of Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty, or possibly Olli Juolevi who could force the big club to think hard before sending them down. Jett Woo is a darkhorse here as well, but it will be Vancouver or the Calgary Hitmen for him due to the NHL/CHL transfer agreement.

I think that it might be a little optimistic to expect Jonah Gadjovich to be ready for NHL minutes in the 2019/20 season, but I don’t want to rule it out either. Jonah will have to make some solid strides with his skating to be considered for an NHL look, and he has some work to do there still. I agree that he brings some great intensity and that was more apparent as he got more comfortable at the pro level later in the season. I’m hoping that by the time the upcoming season comes to an end that I will be writing about how Jonah made big improvements over the course of the year and that he will push for some NHL work in his third year of pro hockey.

I expect to see big seasons out of Boucher and MacEwen offensively this year as Boucher continues to tear up the AHL and MacEwen starts to impose his will even more now that he has more experience in the league. I’m hoping that Carter Camper and Tyler Graovac can produce at least as much as they did last year on other teams as well.

I think that Kole Lind and Jonh Gadjovich will improve their overall games and be able to produce a bit more offensively, but the guy up front who I think could surprise is Lukas Jasek. I love his overall game and I think that he could make a bit more noise this year.

I’d love to see Jalen Chatfield and Guillaume Brisebois break out offensively a little as well. I think both have a bit more offence to give. I’m also hoping to see at least one of Rafferty, Teves, or Eliot surprise with strong, steady play and a bit more offence than what we are used to from the Comets backend.

The four-headed goaltending monster that will end up in Utica out of training camp will be an interesting situation to watch play out.

My first thought is that we could see some combo of Zane McIntyre and one of Michael DiPietro or Jake Kielly. Kielly is a little older and a little more mature so I give him the edge for the backup role while DiPietro goes to the ECHL and gets the wheels played off of him to get up to speed at the pro level. It could just as easily go the other way and see DiPietro stay in Utica to work with the coaching staff there while Kielly gets the minutes in Kalamazoo.

As for Richard Bachman, he still has a year left on his contract with the Canucks. He’s coming off of an Achilles’ injury but from all reports, he’s doing just fine and the injury shouldn’t be an issue. The grizzled vet had a tough outing in his one NHL game as the Canucks number three man last year and I wonder if the team doesn’t see him as an option for that role for the upcoming season.

Bachman and his family apparently really like the area, so maybe it’s possible that we could see him retire and be offered a role in player development or perhaps a coaching gig of some sort with the team. He could also be right there in the mix for the Comets starting job out of camp…as I said, it will be an interesting situation to watch play out. It’s possible that Bachman could be traded as well. Time will tell.

I haven’t heard any talk about Petrus Palmu making a return to the Comets for the 2019/20 season and I didn’t get the impression from my talk with Trent Cull that we would be seeing him back either. Cull didn’t say that Palmu wasn’t returning, but my impression was that he wouldn’t be back this year.

That’s it for this week, folks. Let’s do it all again next week, shall we?

 

 


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