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Utica Comets Mailbag

Part Two

It’s time for part two of this week’s CanucksArmy Utica Comets Mailbag and we have a pile of questions from Michael Paweska, (@mrpaweska).

If you go looking to find out information on Reid Boucher, you will often see him listed as a C/LW. I have personally never seen Reid take a shift in the middle, but he has been used on both wings during his time with the Utica Comets. For the most part, he has been used on the right side, but he was shifted to the left late last season when the Comets coaching staff bumped Zack MacEwen to the first line on the right side.

When I look ahead to what the Comets roster could potentially look like, I tend to see Boucher playing on the left side this year. The Comets currently have MacEwen, Justin Bailey, Kole Lind, Lukas Jasek, and Carter Bancks who could potentially end up on the right side. The left side could shake out with some combination of Boucher, Francis Perron, Jonah Gadjovich, Seamus Malone, and Vincent Arseneau.

Some of those wingers can play either side, and there could still be more bodies added/removed as the offseason goes on, but my best guess is that we will be seeing Reid Boucher line up on the left side a little more often this season.

I’m glad to hear that some folks are enjoying these interviews when I am able to get them. I had some trouble getting access to the Comets last season unless it was to speak with players who were called up to Vancouver at the time. I spoke with Ryan Johnson at development camp this year and asked him if he would be able to help me out on that end for the upcoming season and he told me that I shouldn’t have any issues on that front going forward.

So to answer your question, yes…I plan to be making regular calls to the Comets players, management, and coaching staff throughout the season and hope to bring some new Comets content that I have been wanting to get to for the past two seasons. Stay tuned.

This is a good question for those who have a tough time figuring out the AHL and their many rules. I will do my best to answer this accurately.

The AHL considers a player who has dressed in more than 320 professional games, (NHL, AHL, High-Level European leagues) to be a veteran. Teams can have as many of those players on their roster as they like, however, they can only dress five such players in a given game.

Last season, Utica had Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Jaime Sifers, Darren Archibald, Tom Pyatt, (traded for each other)Reid Boucher, Tanner Kero, and Luke Schenn who they had to juggle at different times of the year.

This year, the Comets currently have Bancks, Hamilton, Tyler Graovac, and Carter Camper who fit that description. Reid Boucher has received a qualifying offer from the Canucks and if/when he signs, he will once again count against the veteran limit. That would put the Comets at five veterans and it is still possible that they could add a couple more either via AHL signings or players sent down from the parent Canucks out of training camp.

I’m glad that Michael asked this question. I have been beating the ECHL drum for the past couple of seasons. I thought that it would have made some sense to start Jonah Gadjovich in the ECHL last year in order to get him up to speed at the pro level. When I mentioned that as an option last offseason, some folks lost their minds at the idea.

I haven’t heard much from the organization about going down a similar path as what the Leafs are doing, but I certainly think that it is something that they should consider strongly. I think the only way that it would be effective is if the Canucks employed the coaching/training staff for their ECHL squad in order to have better control over their player’s development. I think it would also be important for other teams to follow suit and try to improve the hockey that is played there and make less about fisticuffs and more about player development.

I think the ECHL is underutilized as a development tool.

I could see Michael DiPietro starting there this season in order to get regular minutes for him as a pro. Time will tell if that’s the case.

I haven’t seen Perron play, so I’m not speaking from a position of strength here. I’ve reached out to some people who cover the Sharks/Barracuda for some info on him but haven’t heard back from them at this point.

He had a career-year last season with 18 goals and 29 helpers to give him 47 points in 63 games. His previous high of six goals, 20 assists, and 26 points came in his 68 game rookie season two years ago with the Belleville Senators. He’s not a big guy at six-feet tall and tipping the scales at 165-pounds, (according to EliteProspects) so I could see him lining up on the opposite wing of one of Zack MacEwen or Justin Bailey.

Perron was able to put up decent points in the QMJHL during his junior career, so there is a history of him producing. Without seeing him play, I have him tentatively pencilled in as the second-line left winger for the upcoming season.

The answer to this question will depend largely on who ends up in Utica, in my opinion. If Ashton Sautner starts there, I could see him being paired with Jalen Chatfield to form a shutdown pair for the Comets. Both men play a hard game and make life difficult for opposing forwards.

That said, if Trent Cull elects to go back to the pairing of Olli Juolevi and Chatfield, maybe we would see the coaching staff turn to a pairing of Guillaume Brisebois and Dylan Blujus to shut down the other team. One thing is for sure, the Comets backend is looking a fair bit more mobile coming into the 2019/20 season and that should help them break pucks out of their own end no matter who is on the ice.

Since this question was asked, the Comets have signed center/rightwinger Carter Camper to a one-year AHL deal. Camper is a playmaker who has been putting up points in the AHL for quite some time. I hope to see the team use him in the middle.

The Canucks have also added winger Justin Bailey and he will bring much-needed size and speed to the lineup and should be able to provide some decent offensive contributions as well.

I have been campaigning for the team to add playmakers down the middle on two-way NHL deals and the Graovac signing addresses that to a point. Last year was a career-year for him, however, so we might want to temper our expectations as far as what he will provide offensively this season.

One player that I wouldn’t mind the team looking at, if they can land him on an AHL deal is center/LW Kalle Kossila. He’s a 5-foot-10 inch, 185-pound pivot who skates well and has proven to be a very good playmaker at the AHL level. He’s been in the Anaheim system since the 2015/16 season on a two-way deal with the Ducks, so he might be looking for another deal that has an NHL component to it. I think he might be worth a look. There have been some injury issues with him, so he might be available on an AHL deal.

Kossila has put up 141 points in 170 games at the AHL level with 90 of those points coming in the way of assists. He’s also managed three points in 19 games at the NHL level spread over three seasons. He wouldn’t count against the club’s veteran limit and I think he could help the younger wingers in Utica put up some points if he were to be acquired.

Now that we have all of Michael’s questions answered, let’s move on to some others.

I think that it would be a great idea to move the Comets ECHL team closer to Utica in order to make shuffling players back and forth a little easier. The drive from Kalamazoo to Utica is roughly a nine-hour trip, while a flight cuts that in half. If the Canucks were able to convince the New Jersey Devils to give up their affiliate in Adirondack, the Comets could have players moved back and forth with a three-hour drive, roughly. I’m not sure that New Jersey would be interested in that, but it would be something to look into.

It sounded like the Canucks wanted to bring Schenn back and it sounded like there was mutual interest from his side. If we look at it from the player’s point of view, he ended up signing with a Cup contender in a nice, sunny locale. That might have played a sizeable part in his choice. That said, we don’t know if the Canucks ever even offered him a deal. With Tampa Bay’s farm team being the Comets’ biggest rival, it would sure suck to see Schenn waived to Syracuse without another team, (preferably Vancouver) picking him up first. The Comets/Crunch play each other 12 times in a season…Utica fans would be less than impressed to see Schenn lining up for Syracuse on the regular.

The team has made some moves since this question was asked, but let’s take a look at where the club is at.

I thought that I would tie these two questions together.

Josh Leivo was signed to a one-year deal for $1.5 million since this chart was made. The Canucks are now up to 41 contracts and still have RFAs Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Francis Perron, Reid Boucher, Josh Teves, and Brogan Rafferty to sign. That would bring them up to a total of 47 contracts. Jett Woo will very likely be plying his trade in the WHL this year as he can’t play in the AHL until his junior season wraps up, so his contract will slide for a year.

Sitting at 46 contracts and butting up against the cap isn’t ideal for a team in Vancouver’s position, and I expect to see them move out a contract or two via trades if they can find takers for some of their extra pieces. As for who will be moved out…I see Loui Eriksson, Nikolay Goldobin, Tim Schaller, and Chris Tanev as possible trade chips of varying value, (some will have little to no value and could cost another asset to move).

As for why Teves and Rafferty haven’t been inked to new deals yet, I would imagine the team is looking to get their bigger fish dealt with first because as you pointed out, their deals will likely be for the league minimum or a little above and they know they can get them done.

The goaltending position is one where there is certainly no lack of depth at the moment. For the first time in a long time, all four goaltenders at Canucks development camp were Canucks prospects. If we look at the list of netminders who are currently in the Canucks system, it is a lengthy one.

  1. Jacob Markstrom
  2. Thatcher Demko
  3. Richard Bachman
  4. Zane McIntyre
  5. Michael DiPietro
  6. Jake Kielly
  7. Michael Theissen
  8. Artus Silovs

Time will tell how many of these prospect netminders will turn into legitimate NHL goalies, but the Canucks have at least given themselves some solid odds of grooming one for the future.

Of course, not all of these men will be in Utica this year, but as things stand, there will be four of them battling it out for two jobs. The battle will be interesting to watch play out and I think that goaltending could be an area of strength this season after a carousel of targets played for the team last year.

As for how things shake out, my initial thought is that we could see McIntyre landing the starter’s role with Jake Kielly backing up to start the year. I think that we could see DiPietro getting the wheels played off of him in Kalamazoo to get him up to speed at the pro level and help him adjust to the changes that he will be seeing. I think that with Kielly being two years older and that much further along in his development that he will have the inside edge on the backup job.

The situation with Richard Bachman is a tough one to sort out. He will be 32-years-old when the season starts and he’s coming off of an Achilles’ injury that ended his season last year. He had a tough outing in his one NHL game last year and with the team bringing in McIntyre as what I am assuming to be their number three, it doesn’t seem like there will be an open spot for the veteran.

Bachman’s nine games for the Comets last year were not exactly show stoppers either, so the writing might be on the wall for his time tending the net for the Comets. I’m not ready to write him off with the organization just yet though as I think there is a possibility that the team keeps him around.

By all accounts, Bachman and his family really like the Utica area and the Utica area likes them as well. I could see a scenario where the team could move him into a player development or coaching role if he decides to hang up the skates. The Bachman situation will be an interesting one to see play out.

It’s kind of hard to give an “ideal” opening night lineup without really knowing who will be available to the team. What I can do, is roll out a lineup of who is currently, and realistically available to the team. Players like Gaudette, MacEwen, Sautner, Juolevi could possibly make the big club, but for this exercise, let’s assume that they will be available to the Utica coaching staff.

Reid Boucher – Adam Gaudette – Josh Bailey

This line gives Gaudette two wingers who can put up points and with Bailey, there is some legitimate size and speed as well. It allows the coaching staff to surround Adam with a responsible veteran on either side. It also allows Gaudette to develop his offensive game while likely seeing the other team’s top defensive units on the other side of the ice. I think that could potentially be good for his development.

Francis Perron – Carter Camper – Zack MacEwen

Perron and Camper are smaller guys, so I like the idea of having TheBigFella on their line to bring some size. Camper is a playmaker and both Perron and MacEwen should be able to take advantage of that and put up career numbers once again. I think this line could be tough to play against and would spend a good deal of their time in the offensive zone.

Lukas Jasek – Tyler Graovac – Kole Lind

This line should also be able to provide some solid offensive contributions if Jasek and Lind can improve on last year’s totals and Graovac can prove that last season’s 50 points were not a one-off. Graovac brings the size, Jasek brings the speed/puck possession/retrieval and Lind should be able to bring some energy and hopefully some scoring from the wing. Graovac also gives Jasek and Lind a veteran presence, which the coaching staff tends to appreciate.

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

This line wouldn’t be a lot of fun to play against and gives the coaching staff two reliable vets who can help Gadjovich’s overall game. Playing on this line would likely see Gadjovich getting some good minutes on the defensive side of things, which I believe would help grow his game and develop him further. There would not likely be much in the way of offensive opportunity for Gadjovich on this line so I think it would be important for the coaching staff to keep giving him looks as the net-front guy on the second power play unit.

Seamus Malone/Vincent Arseneau

Malone and Arseneau are both on one-year AHL deals and both men have a role to play for this team. Malone brings some solid skating, playmaking and scoring ability in a small package, while BigVinny brings the pain with big hits and a penchant for pugilistic endeavours. They are polar opposites as far as what they bring to the table but both are good fits for the team.

I would expect to see a couple more players added on AHL deals as depth and there is always the possibility of someone like Tim Schaller finding their way to Utica out of camp via waivers.

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

This was last season’s top pair on the backend until Juolevi went down to his season-ending knee injury and Chatfield broke his foot. The duo played well together and I see no real need to split them up. They both skate well and were able to move the puck out of their end effectively last season. Playing with Chatfield tends to give Juolevi some offensive looks with the puck and it would be great to see that continue and see Olli putting up similar points/game as he did last season.

Ashton Sautner (A) – Brogan Rafferty

This is a pairing that I am excited to see tried. Both men skate well and both can play a physical game. Rafferty could bring some offensive contributions to the table and Sautner can be his defensive conscience while he learns the AHL game. I think they would pair well together. This unit would likely have a little more room offensively as Juolevi and Chatfield would probably see the better defensive players from opposing coaches.

Guillaume Brisebois – Dylan Blujus

This would be Trent Cull’s “shutdown” pair. Blujus has proven to be a solid player in his own end who does great work with blocking shots and can bring a physical game, (though not as often as I would like). He has a decent shot from the blueline as well. Playing on this unit might give Brisebois the chance to explore his offensive side a little more as well. Both players handle their own end pretty well and Brisebois tends to play better when he has a steady partner on his right side.

Josh Teves/Mitch Eliot/Stefan LeBlanc

That leaves the trio of Teves, Eliot, and LeBlanc. Teves and LeBlanc are lefties, while Eliot is a righty. If the above six are playing ahead of them, it will be up to Teves, Eliot, and LeBlanc to be ready to jump in when the inevitable injuries and call-ups hit that have been plaguing the club for years. It might be tough for the three to get regular minutes early on, but they will all likely be seeing their minutes this season.

McIntyre/Kielly

This is the duo that I see manning the net in Utica to start the season. I think that Kielly will stay in Utica as the backup, while DiPietro plays a ton with Kalamazoo in the ECHL. That might not be how the team or anyone else sees it, but I think that it’s possible. I can also see a scenario where Kielly and DiPietro shuffle back and forth between Utica and Kalamazoo in order to make sure that both are developing their game.

 

 

 

 


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