Utica Comets Mailbag

It’s mailbag time again after taking the week off for Canucks development camp. We had a few overlapping questions this week, so I will group those together.

Brendan Gaunce was a pending RFA, (restricted free agent) and the Canucks decided not to qualify his contract to keep his rights and moved on from him. I have no inside information on this, so my answer is purely speculative, but I would imagine the team was doing the player a solid and letting him find a new home/change of scenery after he has spent the past five seasons in their organization.

Gaunce has been able to play a very good, all-around game at the AHL level, including some solid offensive contributions. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been able to translate his offensive game to the NHL level to this point. He did look pretty sound on the other side of the puck at the NHL level and I feel like it is entirely possible that he could have provided what Tim Schaller did for them last year for a fraction of the cost.

I hope to see Gaunce get some NHL minutes with the Bruins this season and wish him all the best going forward.

As for Tanner Kero, he was a pending UFA, (unrestricted free agent) and was able to choose which team he would sign with and chose the Dallas Stars. Kero did fantastic work as the Comets number one center last season and finished second on the team in scoring. His skates will be big ones to fill in Utica.

Despite how well he showed as an all-situations player for the Comets, the Canucks didn’t give him a sniff as far as NHL minutes, so I would imagine that the player felt he would find a better opportunity with another organization.

As with Gaunce, I hope to see Kero get another look at the NHL level.

Since those two have moved on, the Canucks have signed center Tyler Graovac and the Comets have inked center/rightwinger Carter Camper to one-year contracts. Camper’s deal is of the AHL variety and as such, he is under contract to the Comets, not the Canucks.

I reached out to the play-by-play voice of the Comets, Joe Roberts, (@RobertsOnTheMic) for the answer to this question. Joe tells me that Mark Barry has been the Comets bus driver for the last few seasons and that he’s known more affectionately as “Marky Mark.”

Joe tells me that Mark is a great guy who is always willing to help the equipment staff load and unload gear and run equipment to the bench.

I have mentioned a few times that I could see Adam Gaudette starting the season in Utica, so this is certainly a fair question. If the Canucks don’t make any more trades and break training camp as a healthy team, (outside of Antoine Roussel) they will have Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brandon Sutter, and Jay Beagle down the middle. One of Sutter or Gaudette could slide to the wing and alleviate the situation a little, but that pushes a winger out.

Of the forwards who could realistically make the team out of camp, only Pettersson, Gaudette, and Zack MacEwen do not require waivers. That fact alone might be the deciding factor when sending the latter two players down out of camp and I think we can all agree that outside of an injury, Pettersson will be starting the season on the Canucks top line.

Starting Gaudette in Utica would also allow him to potentially see bigger minutes in different situations than he will likely get in a sheltered role with the big club. Trent Cull didn’t have an issue giving Gaudette opportunities in Utica last year and I would imagine that Adam would be seeing more opportunities this year from the coaching staff if he ends up there.

I haven’t seen a lot of him, but my best guess right now would go to Francis Perron who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the San Jose Sharks. Perron plays the left side and put up a career-high 47 points in 63 games with the Barracuda last season. I don’t think that it would be fair for me to suggest that any of Lind, Gadjovich, or Jasek will be ready until they get at least another half a season under their belts at the AHL level.

I’ve only seen Josh Teves play one game and haven’t seen Mitch Eliot play any, so it’s hard for me to answer that one. I think that Teves might have a higher ceiling, but I am definitely intrigued by what Eliot will bring. I think that they play different styles and might actually complement each other if paired together. I feel like Eliot might have more edge to his game, while Teves might have a bit more finesse. I’m looking forward to watching both take steps this year.

This is a good question and I had to think pretty hard about it. We won’t see the same influx of rookies this year in Utica as we did last year when the team brought in six rookie wingers, one rookie pivot and a rookie defenceman. This time around, the rookies will be defenders Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, and Mitch Eliot, along with goaltenders Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly.

This year’s “kids” are all a little older than last year’s group as DiPietro is the youngest at 20-years-old while Rafferty and Teves are both 24. The next youngest player is Eliot at 21 and I think that he could potentially be the defenceman out of the three newcomers who could have a bit of a tougher time finding regular minutes until the coaching staff sees what they have in him. That said, it sounds like Eliot can play a hard game and Trent Cull tends to like his defenders to be able to make life difficult for opposing teams.

I think there is also an outside chance that the team could elect to keep Zane McIntyre and Jake Kielly in Utica while sending DiPietro to Kalamazoo to get a ton of playing time while cutting his teeth as a pro. I made a similar suggestion for Jonah Gadjovich last offseason and that was met with ridicule. I still think that starting Gadjovich in Kalamazoo would have been a wise choice and I can see the same argument for starting DiPietro there if the team decides to go that route.

I wanted the team to add some center depth and they did just that over the past week via free agency. I didn’t have anyone in specific in mind, only that I wanted to see a couple of offensively-minded pivots added to the fold.

The Canucks added Tyler Graovac on a one-year, two-way deal and it is likely that he will be starting the season in Utica. Don’t be confused by the term “two-way” deal. It only means that the player earns a higher salary at the NHL level than he does in the AHL. He will still require waivers to get to the Comets.

Graovac put up 50 points in 65 games for the Stockton Heat last season in what was a career-year for him. That kind of production could have been a one-off, or maybe he was able to take advantage of new opportunities. I like the addition, but I will temper my expectations as far as what his offensive production will be for this season.

The Comets, on the other hand, signed Carter Camper to a one-year AHL deal. The veteran has played 510 AHL games split between eight different teams. Dude has been around, but he has been a legitimate point producer and playmaker in the AHL for a long time. I have higher hopes for Camper to be able to replace some of the offence lost when Tanner Kero hit the road to Dallas than I do for Graovac.

I’m hoping that we see the Canucks add one more depth center who would start in Utica. Time will tell if they agree with me.

Anything is possible, but I don’t see DiPietro going back for another year of junior. I’m just not sure there is much for him to prove at that level without possibly stagnating in his development. His season will be one to watch however, as I mentioned above, it is possible that we could see him getting minutes with Kalamazoo in the ECHL.

Carter Bancks has been the captain of the team since the 2016/17 season and I expect no change there. The coaching staff and the young players alike have nothing but good things to say about Bancks and although he doesn’t provide much on the offensive side of things, he does great work on the defensive side and by all accounts has been a very good mentor to the kids in Utica.

I spoke with Trent Cull about this situation, amongst others, at development camp last week and wrote about it for CanucksArmy.

I had a pile of questions for this week’s mailbag, so I will whip up a second edition that contains about 74 questions from Michael Paweska, (@mrpaweska). Stay tuned for that one.