CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag

It’s that time again, folks. Let’s jump right into this week’s questions.

I had to think about this for a bit, but I think that if there is more “dirty play” in the AHL, it might have something to do with some players literally fighting for their jobs and trying to make an impression not only with their current coaching staff but also with the NHL club that employs them.

The hit on Sautner was egregious, to say the least, but it isn’t the kind of play that I saw often last year.

Teams seem to echo similar traits these days with the way they want to play, and that is fast, hard hockey. When you have players trying to impress by playing that way, lines will be blurred and, unfortunately, injuries like the one that Sautner suffered last season occur.

I haven’t heard any word about a possible change at the Comets GM position and I wouldn’t want to speculate on it. Ryan Johnson just lost his brother, so the timing of a rumour like this is dubious at best.

If I look at who the Comets currently have signed to an AHL deal, I have a difficult time picking anyone out who I think will be playing NHL minutes anytime in the near future.

  1. Carter Bancks: F – 29-years-old.
  2. Wacey Hamilton: F – 28-years-old.
  3. Carter Camper: C – 31-years-old.
  4. Vincent Arseneau: LW/RW – 27-years-old.
  5. Dyson Stevenson: F – 26-years-old.
  6. Tanner Sorenson: C – 26-years-old.
  7. Seamus Malone: F – 23-years-old.
  8. Dylan Blujus: RD – 25-years-old.
  9. Matt Petgrave: LD – 27-years-old.
  10. Stefan LeBlanc: LD – 23-years-old.
  11. Aaron Thow: LD – 24-years-old.
  12. Zach Frye: LD – 25-years-old.

I think that for the most part, the players listed above are AHL level players/AHL depth players who will spend time in the ECHL. If I had to pick one player from that group who could have an outside chance, it would be Seamus Malone. I have only seen him in six games, so the sample size is far too small to make that kind of assessment, at least for me.

I think that if the Comets can get some serviceable minutes out of some of these players and perhaps have one or two grow into their next AHL-level leadership group that it would have to be considered a good thing.

It’s really early for me to predict how this year’s team might do in the standings. The Canucks/Comets have made moves that have changed the look of the potential lineup in Utica for the 2019/20 season, but every other team in the AHL has seen change as well.

What I can say is that the Comets should hopefully have a little more stability in goal with the addition of Zane McIntyre and although their blueline will be pretty green, they will also be pretty mobile. That mobility should help the team play the uptempo style that Trent Cull wants to employ a little more easily than last year.

Up front, the coaching staff could potentially have a little more skill down the middle in terms of having more than one pivot capable of putting up 40-plus points in newcomers Carter Camper and Tyler Graovac. They should also have some speed and skill added to the wings with the addition of Justin Bailey and Francis Perron. Bailey brings some size as well, while Perron looks like a nifty playmaker from the left side who can score as well.

This is all to say that I think the Comets potential roster has improved in areas where it needed improvement, but I’d like to see 20 or so games before I take a stab at where the team could finish at the end of the season.

Anybody who knows me knows that this is one of my favourite exercises…so it’s never too early for me to play coach and set out potential line combos. I figured that I would lay out a couple of options and give a brief explanation behind the reasoning for each. I will leave players like Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, Loui Eriksson etc out of this for now and I will stick to the players who would make up the roster without them.

Load Up The Top-Six

This one is pretty self-explanatory. This alignment would see the coaching staff load up their top two lines with as much firepower as possible and doing the same on the back end. This alignment is all about offence.

Reid Boucher (A) – Carter Camper (A) -Zack MacEwen

Francis Perron – Adam Gaudette – Justin Bailey

Lukas Jasek – Tyler Graovac – Kole Lind

Jonah Gadjovich – Seamus Malone – Carter Bancks (C)

Olli Juolevi – Brogan Rafferty

Ashton Sautner – Guillaume Brisebois

Josh Teves – Mitch Eliot

Zane McIntyre

As you can see, it’s pretty slim pickins’ as far as offensive contributions from that fourth line, and the defense isn’t exactly full of proven players at this level either. I do think that the top-nine listed above should be able to out-produce much of what we saw from last year’s top-nine…if the team stays healthy at both the NHL and AHL level.

Balanced Attack/Help The Kids

This alignment would see the veteran scoring spread out a little more and allow each of the younger players the benefit of playing with someone the coach has trust in and in turn, get more minutes for all of them. You will also notice that this alignment slides Kole Lind over to the left side. He played a few games there last year and spent some time there in junior as well, but I’m not sure that’s where the coaching staff will ultimately see him playing.

Francis Perron – Adam Gaudette – Reid Boucher (A)

Kole Lind – Carter Camper – Zack MacEwen

Lukas Jasek – Tyler Graovac – Justin Bailey

Jonah Gadjovich – Wacey Hamilton (A) – Carter Bancks (C)

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Brogan Rafferty

Guillaume Brisebois – Dylan Blujus

Zane McIntyre

The alignment above would give Gaudette some offensively gifted players to work with, hopefully allowing him to grow his offensive game/confidence at the pro level, while also seeing the other team’s top defensive players. That will only help him elevate his game for his next call-up.

On the second line, TheBigFella finally gets a legitimate offensively minded pivot who can help him take advantage of his underrated shot. Camper could help Lind do the same on the other side and help the young winger take the next step offensively.

The third line brings size with Graovac and Bailey, along with some wheels as both of Bailey and Jasek can haul ass out there. I think these three could be a handful for the opposition as they aren’t likely to see top defensive units and might be able to take advantage of that.

The fourth line gives Gadjovich the two players who are most trusted by the coaching staff and as such, should load him up with minutes on the defensive side of things. That will go a long way in helping Gadjovich develop a big part of his game that he will need to be very good at when he gets to the next level.

On the back end, we see the pairing of Juolevi and Chatfield that worked so well together last season and Brogan Rafferty gets the hard-nosed Sautner on his left side. I actually really like the look of both of these pairings and think they could do well together. The third pairing gives Guillaume Brisebois a steady vet on his right side and that is when Guillaume is at his best.

I think we could see a blue line similar to this on opening night if all are healthy.

I think that this season we will see Lind continue to see time on the second-unit power play and I hope to see him getting a sniff on the penalty kill by the end of the season as well. The way things are shaping up, Lind looks like he will have some better options as far as offensively-minded pivots go this year, so he should be able to put up better points totals.

That will only be part of it for Lind though. He will have to earn the trust of the coaching staff in new situations and then be able to take advantage of those opportunities when he gets them. I can see Kole having a 14-16 goal season and possibly picking up in the neighbourhood of 36-38 points in the regular season. I feel like he might be able to make some noise if the team happens to make the playoffs this year.

I am hoping that by the end of the season that I will be writing about how Kole will be ready for a look at the NHL level at some point the following year.

Starting in goal, I think it has to be Zane McIntyre. I think the Canucks would want their two young goaltenders in Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly to get some experience at the pro level before throwing them to the wolves, while incumbent Richard Bachman had a rough outing in his NHL action last season and may have lost the faith of the coaching staff in Vancouver.

On defense, it is Ashton Sautner, followed closely by Olli Juolevi, (assuming he’s healthy and up to speed). Sautner is the most NHL-ready defenceman in the system, in my opinion. Brogan Rafferty showed well in his two games with the Canucks last year, but we have to remember that it was just that, two games. I haven’t seen enough of his game to push him ahead of the other two just yet.

Up front, on the right side, it is Zack MacEwen, for my money, followed by newcomer Justin Bailey. Bailey has some NHL experience, which might give him an edge, but he will also require waivers, whereas MacEwen can move up and down with no such restrictions.

On the left side, it would be Francis Perron. I’m not sure if Lukas Jasek would be ready for that NHL look just yet.

In the middle, it has to be Adam Gaudette or Tyler Graovac…no other pivot in Utica has an NHL deal at the moment.

If I had to pick a player who could force the team’s hand, it is Zack MacEwen all day, in my book. TheBigFella is the closet to NHL-ready prospect that the team has and he brings elements that the team is looking for. He’s a versatile forward who has come up in their system and has the right attitude, the requisite skill set and work ethic to have success under the Canucks coaching staff.

I really like a lot of what I see from Lukas Jasek and I hope to see him continue to develop his game in Utica this season. Jasek is a puck possession machine and can bring some nice speed and smarts to the table. I see him fitting in on a solid two-way line at the NHL level, but it might take another full season in the AHL before he’s ready for a real look.

My guess is that it will be the NHL or back to Sweden for Hoglander for the upcoming season. I believe that he is already under contract with Rogle of the SHL and I’m not sure that he will beat anyone out for a spot in Vancouver just yet, so that is where I see him playing.

I am no CBA expert and I’m not sure how this relates to the Utica Comets, but I do not believe that teams can structure contracts in this way. It’s an interesting idea though.

I’m not sure that I agree with the sentiment that “very small focus” has been put on developing players in Utica.

Have the results been what we have wanted? No, probably not, but I feel like expectations were a little loftier than what was realistic for some of the kids in the system. Players like Kole Lind, Lukas, Jasek, Jonah Gadjovich etc will definitely have to take noticeable steps in their development this season for the coaching staff to be considered successful, but I have seen progress made by these young players.

From my conversations with Ryan Johnson and Trent Cull at development camp, it was pretty clear that the management group and coaching staff are looking to grow as well.  They are trying to get better as a group every day.