CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag

Part Two

We’re back with the second instalment of this week’s CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag…let’s get after it.

I can’t say that I can tell you which teams do or don’t spend money at the ECHL level, just that I think that it is an underutilized area that teams could be taking advantage of to develop some players who maybe need a little more time.

The Toronto Maple Leafs/Marlies did great work with their ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers. The Growlers, with the help of the Leafs/Marlies, were able to win the Kelly Cup in their first year of existence. The Leafs/Marlies supplied the Growlers with a good deal of their roster and it paid dividends for the organization. The shuttle between the Marlies and Growlers was pretty busy all season long.

Kyle Dubas has talked about using the ECHL as an entry-level to pro hockey and I think it is an idea worth at least exploring for other teams, including Vancouver. Playing in a winning environment is preferable to playing in a losing one, for most people.

You still wouldn’t likely see many players on the ECHL squad who are on NHL two-way deals, outside of goaltenders, but teams could ink CHL/College UFAs to AHL deals if they think the players could “get there” with some time in the ECHL first.

In any scenario like this, the parent club would need to be involved in selecting/hiring the coaching staff and have some input on training staff etc as well. It might not be something that would pay off for every team right away, but I feel that if enough teams got on board, the quality of the ECHL would take a step up as well, which could be good for all concerned.

Last year, Kole Lind got into 51 games, putting up five goals and 12 assists to give himself 17 points. He also picked up 20 minutes in penalties.

Lind spent a good portion of his time playing in the bottom six for Utica last season as he had a slow start that was compounded by a month-long injury. Once he returned from that injury and got a few games under his belt, his season started to take a step in the right direction. His confidence grew and he became far more engaged in games from start to finish.

He was on the second unit power play in virtually every game that he played last year and I expect that to continue for him this season. When I spoke with Trent Cull at development camp, he said that he liked what he saw from Kole in the late going and that he was looking forward to seeing him take another step this year.

I think that we will see Kole playing in the middle six for the most part and hope to see him getting some penalty killing minutes before the season is done. As far as points… I’m going to guess that Kole gets into 62 games, puts up 14 goals, 23 assists, and 37 points on the season. (I’m just pulling those numbers out of…the air).

As far as Jonah Gadjovich goes, he got into 43 games last season and picked up four goals and six assists to give himself 10 points to go along with his 32 minutes in penalties. Gadjovich had a tough go early on last season as he had a difficult time keeping up to the pace of the game at the pro level.

In junior, Jonah was a man amongst boys on most nights and was able to impose his will on the pimple-faced teens that he lined up against on the regular. It’s a little different in the AHL where he had to play against grown men who were fighting for their own careers. Because of the foot-speed issues and his trouble finding a groove, Gadjovich saw the healthy scratch early and often in his rookie year. I don’t expect that to be the case this season.

Jonah saw some time as the net-front presence on the second unit power play at times last season and I hope to see him become a fixture there this year. I would also like to see Jonah nab some time on the penalty kill to help his overall defensive game. I think he will need to have that side of his game wrapped up pretty well before he gets a serious look with the big club.

Trent Cull spoke highly of Gadjovich and the steps that he took last year as well. My guess is that we will see him playing in the bottom six on most nights and hopefully being tasked with some heavy minutes defensively. If I had to guess at point totals for Jonah, I will go with 58 games, nine goals, 14 assists and 23 points to go along with somewhere around 50-ish penalty minutes.

I’m guessing that my point totals for Lind and Gadjovich aren’t blowing your hair back, but I think they are somewhat realistic. I’d love to have both players prove me wrong like Zack MacEwen did last year when I suggested that he would put up 18 goals and 45-ish points. He ended up putting up 22 goals and 30 assists, giving him 52 points.

The players who I see as being on the bubble from the Canucks out of camp this year are Nikolay Goldobin, Tim Schaller, Loui Eriksson, and possibly Tyler Motte. Obviously, Goldobin still needs a contract, but I would imagine that gets done.

If we start with Goldy, the first thing that I will bring up is that he, like the other three, will require waivers to get to Utica. It is my understanding that there isn’t a bunch of trade interest in Goldobin around the league at the moment, but my bet is that if he found himself on waivers that he would also find a team willing to give him a look off the freebie pile.

For that reason, I don’t think that we would see Goldy end up in Utica this season. Goldobin would also carry veteran-exempt status, which means if he is in the lineup, fellow veteran-exempt Justin Bailey would have to come out.

In the AHL, teams can only play five players with veteran status, (over 320 games played in the NHL/AHL, or high-level professional hockey overseas) and one with veteran-exempt status, (over 260 pro games) in a given game. Teams can have as many vets on their roster as they please, but only five can suit up for a game at one time. The Comets are currently maxed out with their five vets in Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Reid Boucher, Tyler Graovac, and Carter Camper. Justin Bailey is currently the only veteran-exempt who is expected to be in Utica.

This brings us to Tim Schaller and Loui Eriksson. Both would bring vet status, which would mean that in order for one of them to be in the lineup, one of the vets listed above would have to sit out, assuming a healthy squad. Schaller is the one player who I could see being waived to Utica and actually clearing. Schaller has mostly been used on the left side, but he can play the middle. If he does end up in Utica, I hope that’s where they use him.

I just don’t see a scenario where the Canucks send Eriksson to Utica, but I could easily be wrong.

I feel like the only thing that will be keeping the young forwards out of the lineup most nights this year will be injuries or poor/lazy/inconsistent efforts.

Moving on to Tyler Motte, I’m not sure that the coaching staff in Vancouver is all that eager to remove him from the big club roster. They like his hustle, his work ethic and effort. They also like his speed. If he did end up on waivers and making it to Utica, he would be the one who could potentially take time away from the kids. He is neither a veteran nor veteran-exempt and as such, he could be used on any night that the coaching staff saw fit and they could remove any player from the forward ranks to fit him in as he plays all three positions up front.

All of this said I am truly hoping that Canucks management is able to swing a deal or two in order to avoid these issues altogether.

I think that it is very possible that we could see either or both of Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly in Kalamazoo. The Canucks will have Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko in Vancouver, while the Comets will have to choose from Zane McIntyre, Richard Bachman, DiPietro, and Kielly for Utica.

I think that it is pretty clear that at least one of DiPietro or Kielly will be starting in the ECHL, while the other could stick around to be the backup in Utica. The goaltending position will be fascinating to watch play out this year.

I think there is also a good chance that Mitch Eliot and or Josh Teves could see some time with Kalamazoo as well. With Eliot, I think there might be an adjustment to the pro level that he will need to work through, so they might try to get him some minutes in the ECHL early on.

With Teves, I just see a long line of lefties in front of him and he might have to wait for an injury before the regular minutes come.

Utica currently has a left side of Olli Juolevi, Ashton Sautner, and Guillaume Brisebois ahead of Teves. They could possibly look to move Brisebois over to the right side if they wanted to get Teves in as Brisebois spent the bulk of his first season playing on his off-side. He spent essentially all of last season on the left, however.

Outside of that group, I only see the players who were brought in as depth on AHL deals ending up in KZOO.

The medical staff, like everyone else involved on that side of things in Utica, is employed by the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have their prospects playing in Utica and have surrounded them with people that they trust, on all fronts.

When I spoke with Ashton Sautner at a Canucks game-day skate this season, we talked about the type of resources that the Canucks make available to their players in Utica. Sautner told me that if a player wants something, they generally get it. He spoke about how the team is very good to their players from the top-down, no matter if they are playing in Utica or Vancouver. As someone who had his face caved in by a brutal hit this past season, Sautner would know all about that side of things as he missed substantial time due to that injury, but was able to step back into the lineup and look like he hadn’t missed a game. Soon after he was back in the NHL to finish the season.

These are some solid questions.

Right now, I see Lukas Jasek as the guy who is flying under the radar of a lot of Canucks fans. I get a lot of questions about Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich, but few people ask about Lukas Jasek. I’m not sure that he will ever be a top-six type of forward if he makes it to the NHL, but I do see him as a guy who could be a solid contributor on a winning team.

He’s the type of player who can move up and down the lineup and swap from RW to LW without missing a beat. He is a puck possession machine and can bring some decent speed to a line as well. Keep an eye on Jasek this season.

I’d like to see Zack MacEwen win a job out of training camp and I firmly believe that he has the requisite skill set and work ethic to win over the coaching staff to do just that. Unfortunately, Zack, like so many others on the Canucks roster, plays the wing.

TheBigFella has predominately played the right side with Utica with the odd shift on the left side and a pile of faceoff work sprinkled into the mix. He has guys like Brock Boeser, Micheal Ferland, JT Miller, Josh Leivo, and Jake Virtanen who could potentially be ahead of him on the depth chart for the right side. Unlike all of those players but Brock Boeser, Zack will not have to clear waivers to get to Utica this year.

That means that I see MacEwen starting in Utica and when I look at the wingers who could be on the recall list for Vancouver, he slots in right at the top with Justin Bailey. Last year, the Canucks started the season with wingers like Darren Archibald and Brendan Gaunce who saw callup duty ahead of MacEwen. This year, those players are no longer in the picture, while Bailey, and potentially Francis Perron could also get a look.

Reid Boucher is still around as well, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Canucks would slide him in ahead of MacEwen, Bailey, or Perron for callup duty.

I still haven’t answered your question of when, but I will say this…I would like to see TheBigFella play 40% or more of his season with the big club this year. When the first call-up comes, I don’t know, but I would like to see him play a good chunk of games with the Canucks this year.

Is that a little optimistic for an undrafted player in just his third year of pro hockey? Maybe…but I’m not about to be the guy who sells Zack MacEwen short and ends up with egg on my face for it.

On to Olli Juolevi. I do not think that he is a bust. He has had some ridiculously bad luck on the injury front, and he still needs to work on areas of his game, but in his brief 18 games of AHL action last year, I saw someone who I think will be a solid player for the Canucks…or some other team for a long time.

He was able to do some nice work on the man advantage, but I don’t see him as a guy who will pile up points at the NHL level. His 13 points in 18 games last season were a nice surprise, but I think it will be his overall game that will make him a favourite of the coaching staff during his career.

Juolevi had his moments last year where he was burned by opposing forwards in places where he shouldn’t have been, but he can fix that with more reps. Once he can make quicker reads and tighten up his gaps, he should be a reliable defender. Will he ever live up to his draft position? Maybe not, but that isn’t on him, it’s on the ones who picked him where they did. That said, if the team can get a Dan Hamhuis type of defenseman out of him for a decade or so, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

Until next week…