CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag

We’re back with another edition of the CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag…let’s get down to it.



Replying to


One thing I found interesting when the Canucks signed Zack MacEwen was his demonstrated ability to play with high-skill players in the Q (e.g. Vitaly Abramov).

How has that ability translated to the AHL? How would you rate his overall hockey IQ?

For whatever reason, I was not able to copy/paste this tweet as I normally would, so please excuse the strange looking format for this one.

In my two seasons of watching Zack MacEwen play professional hockey, I have seen him lined up with nearly every forward who has also played for the Comets during his tenure. TheBigFella has been able to successfully move up and down the lineup and put up points whether he is playing with Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Brendan Woods, Cam Darcy, or Tanner Kero, Adam Gaudette, Brendan Gaunce, etc.

This is to say that Zack has been able to play his game whether he is on a line with skaters who are with the club on a tryout deal or if he’s been elevated up the lineup to play with the team’s top players. It is for this reason that I am weary to put a ceiling on him. Whenever I look to the future to see where I see Zack fitting into the Canucks lineup, I tend to see him starting in the bottom six and being used up and down the lineup as needed. I can see him settling into a third-line role down the road with the ability to slide up into the top-six when needed.

TheBigFella has shown that he can hang with the top point producers on a team so far as a pro.

I have yet to make it to a Utica Comets game in person, but it is definitely on the bucket list for me. From everything that I have heard from the players who have spent time with the Comets, the Adirondack Bank Center is a wild barn to play in. The fans come out in full force on most nights in the home barn and many of them load into busses and hit the road to support their squad in opposing buildings.

Obviously, the fans in Utica who are paying to watch the team would prefer to see a winning product on the ice, that said, they do come out and support the team even when they go on extended losing streaks.

The players that I have had the opportunity to speak with, to a man, say that they love playing in front of that crowd.

As for Trent Cull being ready to take the reigns in Vancouver if Green were to be fired…I am not sure that he would be the best choice at this stage of his career. Although Cull has plenty of experience as an assistant coach at the pro level, he only has two seasons as a head coach in professional hockey. I think that even he would tell you that he’d need more time learning that gig before taking over an NHL club.

The Comets finished last season with a record of 34-34-6-2, giving them 76 points. The previous season, they finished with a record of 38-26-8-4 to give themselves 88 points and the final playoff spot in their division.

The team will need to take a big step forward this year to get back into the playoffs, and I believe that is definitely the goal in Utica. I think that the club has made some nice additions to the team, but they have also lost some big contributors from last year.

If I had to take a guess at how many points they will put up this season, I would go with somewhere between 89-92 points. I do think that the team has made some solid changes and that their goaltending and defence should be better, but time will tell how that shakes out in the standings.

The situation with Petrus Palmu will be interesting to see play out. Going into last season, I had some high hopes for Palmu and what he might be able to do in his first season with the Comets. Unfortunately, as we all know, things didn’t go as planned for him or the team.

Palmu was coming off of a rookie-of-the-year award in Finland after playing with TPS Turku for the season. He also had a great rookie camp game against his peers. He only managed to get into 12 games for Utica and put up one assist as he had a difficult time adjusting to the AHL pace and the lack of time and space available to him.

When he finally had enough of sitting in the press box, he asked the team to loan him back to TPS Turku for the remainder of the season, citing a lack of communication from the coaching staff and a want for more minutes on his way out the door.

I’d love to see Palmu come back across this year be willing to go back to Utica and put in the work needed to get him up to speed in that league, but I’m not sure that we will see that happen. My guess is that we will see him heading back to Finland after camp this year and bypassing Utica altogether.

When I think about this question, my mind goes straight to Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich. Both players had disappointing starts to their seasons as they had a tough time adjusting to the pro level, but both also finished their year much stronger.

Jonah put up 10 points, while Kole managed 17 and I expect both to improve on those numbers as the coaching staff trusts them in different situations this year. The other thing that should help is that the Canucks/Comets have provided some pivots with more offensive upside than what we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons in Utica. If these two are able to play with better players, they should be able to take bigger steps in their development as they get more comfortable in the league.

Zack MacEwen has won the Comets Most Improved Player award for the past two seasons and I am hoping to see one of Lind or Gadjovich win it this year.

I kind of answered the second part of this question with my answer to the first question in this article, so I will stick to part-one of Ryan’s question here.

The Comets will see plenty of new faces this year as forwards Carter Camper, Tyler Graovac, Justin Bailey, and Francis Perron all look like they will be big contributors offensively this season. On the backend, the newcomers will be Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Mitch Eliot, and for all intents and purposes, Olli Juolevi, who only got into 18 games in his rookie season. In goal, Zane McIntyre, Michael DiPietro, and Jake Kielly will be battling for work as well.

The Comets could use all the offence that they can get and those additions up front will definitely help with that, but after the carousel of goaltenders used last year, I think that Zane McIntyre has the potential to be the biggest game-changer out of the newcomers this year for the team if he can provide solid, stable goaltending.

The Comets gave up 257 goals last year while using a team-record-high of seven different netminders after giving up 216 goals the season before with only Thatcher Demko and Richard Bachman seeing game action. If McIntyre and whoever is backing him up can shave 40-plus goals off of last year’s totals it will go a long way to helping this team win games.

If we are looking at this from a player development side of things, maybe the attention shifts to one or both of Carter Camper and Tyler Graovac. Having two competent pivots who have shown the ability to put up legitimate points at the AHL level will go a long way in helping the team’s young prospects grow their offensive games.

Anybody who has been reading my work since I started writing for CanucksArmy knows how I feel about Zack MacEwen and the game that he brings to the table. I have all the time in the world to see TheBigFella earn a full-time gig with the Canucks, and the sooner, the better. That said, I think that he will likely be starting the season in Utica again this year.

The Canucks currently have a pile of wingers who will require waivers to get to Utica, whereas Zack can go to Utica with no such restrictions. That in itself could be the only reason why he doesn’t make the big club out of camp.

In my opinion, MacEwen brings a lot to the table that the Canucks need on their roster. He has the size to play in the Pacific and in the playoffs, should the team get there. He skates well, plays a physical game, can make plays and has an underrated shot. His ability to slide over from the wing to take faceoffs is also a tool in his toolbox that gets whipped out often in Utica. Zack has proven that he can play in any situation at the pro level, taking on power play and penalty killing duties alike as well as being able to play with the grinders or the elite players on the roster.

My guess is that we will see Zack as the team’s first forward call-up option and it will be up to him to take advantage of that chance when he gets it. I think that Travis Green likes what he sees in Zack, although I also think he sees him as a bit raw still. I am really hoping to see MacEwen as a full-time member of the Canucks by the time this season ends and that he has a long career with the team.

Hmm…this is a really tough question for me. Do we see a guy like Tyler Madden as a darkhorse? Probably not.

Before last season, I would have probably gone with Petrus Palmu, mostly because of his draft position and size and I like an underdog. After seeing how things played out with the team last year, I’m not sure that I would go that way now.

For me, a darkhorse should be one of those underdog types.

From the draft three years ago, I would put Palmu, into that category…and possibly Jack Rathbone. From two years ago, I’d put Matthew Thiessen, Artem Manyukin, and Toni Utunen into that category, and from this past draft, I’d say that anyone taken after Nils Hoglander would fit the bill.

I am going to exclude this most recent draft as quite honestly, I haven’t seen enough of any of that group play to make a comfortable statement on them yet.

For this reason, I am going to go with Toni Utunen. I think that he has a chance to play games with the Comets as early as the end of this season, but if not, I expect him to be in Utica next year. I think that the Comets could see players like Juolevi graduate to the NHL level by next season, while Ashton Sautner could also make the big club or possibly move on. That would leave an opening for Utunen to help establish himself early.

I am not expecting Utunen to pile up points when he comes across, but I do expect that he will be a solid, steady defender who will do well with the team.

I kind of answered this one already in this mailbag, but I will add this…Zack MacEwen has done a good job of taking advantage of opportunities when he gets them and I expect nothing different from him at camp this year. I do think that he will get caught up in the numbers game to start the year in Vancouver, but I also expect him to take advantage of any and all call-ups that he gets this season.

If Biega falls victim to the numbers game in Vancouver and ends up being waived to Utica…and clears, I would welcome him with open arms, as would every fan in Utica.

Biega was a fan favourite in Utica and he has no issue with putting up points at the AHL level. He would provide a young player like Guillaume Brisebois or Josh Teves with a very good veteran partner and that will only help with their development.

That said, he will also count against the veteran limit, which means the coaching staff will have more juggling to do on that end. The other issue with Biega ending up in Utica would be that he would be added to a right side of Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty, Mitch Eliot, and Dylan Blujus. The addition of Biega would likely hamper Eliot’s chances at finding regular minutes and could possibly even push him down to Kalamazoo in order to get regular minutes for him.

I am not against Eliot spending time in Kalamazoo to get up to speed at the pro level, but I wouldn’t want to see him spend the whole season there.

This is a great question, and I touched on this a little bit when I interviewed Ashton Sautner in Vancouver near the end of the season. I don’t have an exact answer for you, and I will be sure to broach this subject with the players that I get the chance to speak with at training camp this year. I do, however, have a little bit of info to pass on to you today.

In my talk with Sautner, he told me that the Canucks send skills coach Glenn Carnegie down to Utica multiple times throughout the year to work with the team and he works with them in groups as well as in one-on-one situations. Sautner also told me that the Canucks organization makes sure that their players get what they need whether they are in Vancouver or Utica.

This is an area where I do expect to see the team make adjustments and possibly name some new staff members in that capacity. In Jim Benning’s press conference yesterday, he mentioned that the team will be making an announcement in the coming weeks pertaining to changes made off the ice. It is possible that additional player development staff could be part of that.

That’s it for now…until next week.