This past Sunday, Patrick Johnston reported that the Utica Comets had financial concerns about returning to play without crowds. I began to have serious doubts that there would even be a Comets season to watch this year.
Here we are less than 48-hours later, and not only are the Utica Comets back, but it’s as if they’re living out a bizarre, whimsical, Disney sports movie; “Two rival teams from opposite sides of the tracks unexpectedly have to come together before the season! And in order to win, they’re going to have to find out what it takes to work together! Rated G!”
Even without factoring the merger of two clubs players & prospects to a single AHL team, the subject of how the Canucks/Comets were to construct their team without the majority of its star players from last season is a fascinatingly intricate exercise to work through. There were so many implications to take away from the taxi-squad alone, let alone the merger of prospects from two NHL clubs in a competing conference.
Most fans understand that the Canucks are in tough this season by having their affiliate across the border. The Canadian government hasn’t waived the mandatory seven-day quarantine period for re-called players from the AHL. So if the Canucks find themselves in a situation where they have to call up a player, they will have to do so with a week’s foresight. It will be a remarkable season of transactions, and I feel bad for Eliteprospects and Capfriendlys servers during the coming months.
Originally, I had thought the Canucks might opt-out of running a full six-man taxi-squad; instead, running a smaller group to ensure their up-and-coming prospects got more ice-time in the AHL. Unfortunately, that would require thinking ahead on almost a day-to-day basis, something this Canucks management group isn’t exceptionally good at.
Potentially, the Canucks could still opt for a smaller taxi squad group. However, with a condensed schedule, I feel that they will want as many bodies available. This means that of the 36-man training camp roster, at minimum, eight players will be headed to Utica to play out a very truncated and bizarre season in an augmented North Division.
Enter the St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis’s farm team, the San Antonio Rampage, was purchased by the Vegas Golden Knights and re-located to Henderson, NV to become the Henderson Silver Knights.
Crazy name, I know.
Also, it’s kind of incredible that the team responsible for knocking the Blues out of the playoff bubble is now going to be responsible for playing, training, and developing their players/prospects in the immediately ensuing season. Beautiful, really.
Now, to the players and prospects who will most likely be heading to Utica from both sides!
St. Louis Blues AHL-Probables
Using Capfriendly, I put together this roster of all the likely AHL designees from the Blues camp. Listed are all signed players, so I’ve indicated X’s on those who were not invited to training-camp despite their contract status. Polei, Neighbours, and Fitzpatrick are ECHL players and might yet be invited to Utica. There are also a few players assigned to the KHL, in Kostin, Torpchenko and Alexandrov. The latter two being assigned to the K for the remainder of the season, and Kostin being a potential add-on to either the Blues NHL or AHL roster should he be able to sort his visa issues.
CHL players have also been granted the ability to practice/play with the farm-club of their NHL team – so I wonder if, on top of Mathias Laferriere, could we see players like Ethan Keppen and Carson Focht join Utica as well? However, it is unclear if that exception is granted to players with signing rights to their draft-team, or if the exception is only for CHL players with contracts.
Kostin would represent the most significant addition to the Comets roster if he were able to venture stateside. He has the draft pedigree and the skill, but most in Blues-nation believe he’s better off playing games in the AHL than sitting in the press-box or on the taxi squad.
AHL-Probables for the Canucks
Let’s start with the most obvious players: Teves, Eliot, Woo, Gadjovich, Lockwood, and Kielly are all assuredly playing in the AHL this season. Barring monumental improvements to their games and blowing the lids off of everyone in Vancouver. I can’t picture any of these guys making the taxi-squad or the starting roster. Some guys still need time to cook, and some guys have pretty much capped out on how far they can go.
Exempt from this exercise is Petrus Palmu, who was not invited to camp and is currently playing in the DEL, where he’s put up zero points in five games played. He had some very fun seasons in the Liiga, with some spectacular highlight-reel goals, but it doesn’t look like he’ll ever get over the hump.
Moving on to the # “almost-there-fellas.” We have players like Lind, Sautner, Brisebois, Bailey, Jasek, Michaelis, and Graovac. Graovac probably has the best shot of cracking the taxi squad lineup due to his experience, but I can’t see his footspeed making him an effective NHL’er anymore.
On the other end of the footspeed spectrum is Justin Bailey, who, for whatever reason, has been unable to translate his speed-first game to the NHL. His lack of two-way game won’t fly with Travis Green, and his brief stint with the Canucks last season didn’t exactly leave a lot to be desired.
Not his fault, but Lukas Jasek is definitely playing in the AHL this season. Unfortunately, he was a late arrival to camp and, should he complete his quarantine, will be hard-pressed to make a big-enough statement in the final days of camp to earn a roster-spot. It’s possible, but it’s a big ask from a young player who isn’t quite on the Canucks coaches’ radar.
Then there are the rest, Lind, Michaelis, Sautner, and Brisebois. All guys who would be on the cusp of earning cups-of-coffee in a regular, non-truncated season. But a lame-duck coach like Travis Green will be leaning heavily on rotating the defensemen and bottom-six forwards from his taxi-squad and press box, who can penalty-kill, to maintain a somewhat healthy and competitive roster.
Constructing A Starting Lineup
With all of these factors in mind; How do the Utica Comets field a competitive roster that doesn’t break-up existing chemistry, develops two NHL teams prospects and creates a winning environment?
As you can see we have five forwards debuting, seven forwards entering their second or third season, and five entering their fourth or higher. A decent spread of AHL experience, with several players coming off of their best year for AHL production. The players highlighted blue are those with the most AHL/NHL experience. Players highlighted green are those who need AHL ice-time the most for their development. Purple are for the guys who mostly spent time in the ECHL, unlikely to play significant minutes. The two layers highlighted red are possible options from the CHL.
This lineup keeps a relatively balanced distribution of established AHL producers with young forwards and debuting rookies. There is an attempt at maintaining one of the more dynamic bonds of last season in Lind/Bailey. Combining the latter with the AHL’s leading scorer from last season, Sam Anas could be fireworks as a top-line.
I’ve heard only positive things about Michaelis’s game in the NCAA. His placement above Graovac/Jasek isn’t a condemnation of the latter but based entirely on the praise I’ve read of his game. Slotting him alongside another established AHL producer in Curtis McKenzie and Blues prospect Austin Pogasnki should help him transition his game to the AHL.
Lukas Jasek on a good AHL team should be a third-line center who can kill penalties and eat tough all of the tough minutes at 5v5. Slotted alongside him are tenacious forwards Will Lockwood and giant Blues center/left-wing prospect Nolan Stevens. For all of Jasek’s two-way positives, he still has a lack of size. The additions of Nolan Stevens and Will Lockwood to his wings will make up for that in spades. A third-line with aggression and relentless fore-checking could be precisely what Jasek needs to build his confidence as a center. If not, perhaps he can flip back to the left wing, and Stevens can supplant him.
Barring some miraculous training-cam improvements, I can’t picture Gadjovich slotting above some of the previously mentioned forwards. Tyler Graovac is a fine center for him to play with as he’s basically what Gadjovich needs to be at the AHL/NHL level, a big body who can skate and play hard along the boards to produce. Graovac may not have NHL wheels anymore, but he can teach Gadj a thing or two o a tough line with debuting undersized center prospect Hugh McGing.
Suppose the Comets truly embrace the “development” aspect of this truncated season. In that case, we might see full rotations of ECHL-calibre forwards into and out of the lineup regularly.
edit: This list is completely off, as I apparently listed off each player’s GP from their 2019-20 campaign, not their AHL GP. in totality. Speicifically, Walman – 189 GP, Brisebois – 165 GP, Tucker 2 GP, Reinke -122 GP, and Sautner – 242 GP.
The D-Pairings for an amalgamated farm team will be tough to figure out. Not a lot of significant AHL experience, but several players have NHL experience sprinkled throughout.
Who the Canucks stick on the taxi squad is a mystery. And the addition of Travis Hamonic throws massive question-marks on where Rafferty and Chatfield end up.
Because I don’t believe Rafferty’s offence has a place in Green’s lineup, I have to think he’ll get another full-season of AHL duty.
But again, who knows!
The only thing I can guaran-cheese for certain is Ashton Sautner will 100% be put on his off-side to elevate the game of a debuting rookie. In this case, likely Blues prospect Scott Perunovich! Teves likely wont see much ice time this year. Mitch Eliot had fun underlying numbers and a great shot in spurts last season, but didn’t quite earn the trust of the coaching staff, he has a tough list of players to earn ice-time over with the addition of Reinke to the Comets right-side.
It’s pretty clear that Di Pietro is the Canucks third-best goalie, but I find it hard to believe that it’s in his best interest to sit practicing with the taxi squad for an entire season.
The Blues don’t have a goalie option for the AHL outside of Hofer. As a debuting goalie from the WHL, he’ll likely rotate games with Kielly while Di Pietro starts most games.
If Di Pietro does get taxi squad duty, and we see Silovs in the AHL with Kielly and Hofer — we might just see a flat rotation between three rookie goalies for an entire season.
*exhales* man, this is going to be crazy
After writing this, Thomas Drance posited on TSN1040 that the Canucks could loan a player like Justin Bailey to the Toronto Marlies to keep him available for call-ups. Something I hadn’t even considered, and something that could completely tank everything I’ve speculated! There are so many avenues that GMs have for managing their roster this season.
This might be the one season where GM of the year will actually feel deserved.
Despite getting an early lead, the Comets defensive structure collapsed. Michael Di Pietro did all he could to keep the team in it, but after all was said and done, he finished the game having faced down 46 unblocked shot-attempts just at 5-on-5. The Comets’ lazy but typical defensive effort resulted in a 3-1 loss, much to the Utica home crowd’s dismay.
Last year (sorry), the AHL Board of Governors approved a framework for a February return-to-play
With NHL teams submitting their 36-man training-camp rosters, it felt right to complete the 2019-20 Comets season-eulogy that I never started.
As we look forward to the Canucks expanded training camp, let’s examine the Comets players and prospects from last season, who are now vying for a spot on this years’ fabled Taxi Squad.
Utica Comets Team Stats (for context)
They finished their season with the third-highest goals-scored and third-highest goals-scored, per-game, in the AHL
Fourth-best powerplay in the league, with 54 goals scored on 254 opportunities
Lost by a goal-differential of four or more only three times this season
Last season, the team lost by a differential of four or more TEN times
AHL Career bests from Justin Bailey, Kole Lind, Olli Juolevi, and Jonah Gadjovich
Concluded the season with a +17 5v5 goal-differential
They rocked an absolutely filthy 75.9 win-percentage when they scored first (21w-6L-1OTL-1SOL)
Utica concluded the season with the second-highest shooting percentage in the league
Comets set a franchise record by winning eight-straight games to start the season
Comets finished the season with the third-fewest number of total shots taken, ending up with the second-lowest shots-for per-game.
Held a better win% while being out-shot by opponents than while out-shooting opponents
238 man-games were lost due to injury
Last season, the Comets lost 366
2019-20 was the second year in a row where the Comets led the league in shorthanded goals allowed (tied with the Charlotte Checkers with 15 allowed)
In 2018-19, The Comets allowed 19
Twelfth-most penalized team in the league, holding the 22nd ranked penalty-kill
They were out-attempted at 5-on-5 in 39 of 61 games played
At their best, they out-shot the opposing Binghamton Devils at 5v5 by a +23 shot differential
At worst, they were out-shot by the Laval Rocket by a shot differential of -32
…they won both games just as an added FYI
Their cumulative shot-attempt differential across the season peaked at +23 in game 3 of the season before plunging to -278 by seasons-end
Long story short, the Comets played an incredibly offensive-minded system that relied on 3 to 4 of their skaters driving towards the goal to create and capitalize on rebound scoring chances. This aggressive system worked thanks to the quality puck-moving from their defensemen, as well as the creativity, playmaking and scoring ability from their forward group—especially those in the Comets top-six.
However, while successful, their system left them considerably open to retaliatory odd-man scoring chances when those offensive drives went unsuccessful. Often, the puck-cycling that came off of their opponents’ odd-man rushes would subject Comets skaters to horrific shot-attempt differentials on a per-game basis due to their inability to regain control of the puck.
Many times last season, it was the standout goaltending performances of Michael Di Pietro that proved to be the difference-maker.
Let’s first talk about the rookie goalie who was arguably the main difference-maker for the Utica Comets this season.
Time and time again, Di Pietro stood on his head to withstand brutal shellackings.
I had a chance to speak with Di Pietro back on my Botchford Project night, and the guy couldn’t have been more likable or more casual about his mindset when facing an excessive number of shots a night.
His raw athleticism was consistently on display as a starter
He was given the hook just twice in 34 starts. His first hook came after returning off a two-week stint with the Canucks in December. The second hook came at the conclusion of a run where Di Pietro started in nine straight games.
I have all the time in the world for Di Pietro, as should Canuck fans. His starts in the NHL have come under awful circumstances. Anyone using his stats, from those games, against him should be publicly shamed.
While sitting cold on a Taxi-Squad isn’t the best utilization of Di Pietro’s skills. The chance to get him as much time with Ian Clark as possible is a tough opportunity for the organization to pass up. Also, Holtby and Demko aren’t exactly known for their clean bills of health lately, so there is a high possibility that he gets came action in a condensed season.
With Markstrom’s two-pad stack gone from the organization, the Canucks could use another fun, quirkie goalie with the wild-ass saves who fills that void.
By this point, I think Canucks nation knows what the Canucks have in Sven Baertschi.
After being waived at the end of training camp, Baertschi, the consummate professional, went to the Comets, tucked in his socks, and then went on an absolute heater.
In eight games-played, Baertschi picked up ten points, with nine of them coming at even strength.
During his brief call-up with the Canucks, he was given a less-than-favourable opportunity to re-establish himself as an NHL winger. After news of a trade request and learning that nobody was interested in him or his contract, Baertschi returned to the Comets for the remainder of the season.
For the rest of the season, Baertschi was a steady producer of points at 5v5, contributing the third most 5v5 points-per-game on the team.
Baertschi floated time on both the powerplay and penalty kill, settling himself down as a quality leader to the young Comets squad.
Bae spent most of his ice-time shared with Reid Boucher, Carter Camper, and Lukas Jasek. At times he was part of a fun “import-line” featuring Jasek, Goldobin, and himself. A line that excelled at times and combined for one of the easiest goals of Baertschi’s season.
While the 5v5 shot-attempt control rates weren’t exactly glowing with Baertschi on the ice, the Comets had the second-best shooting percentage with Baertschi on the ice at 5v5. Which is rather unsurprising given Baertschi’s pedigree as an established playmaking winger at the NHL level.
Overall, Baertschi was exactly what you’d expect from an NHL calibre winger playing with Quad-A players on an offence-first team. Given the Canucks attitudes towards Baertschi and how he fits into their long-term plans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a good camp, only to be un-serendipitously cut at the last minute.
Heres hoping he can impress at camp, and we see a revitalized BaeBoBoes line.
I mean that line could use some grit, and Baertschi worked on that heavily during his time with the Comets. [NSFW warning]
The man with all of the wheels! Justin Bailey was a tonne of fun to watch at the AHL level! Less fun to watch was his very brief cup of coffee with the Canucks.
But yes, the dude had wheels
Bailey had glowing overall production stats for the Comets. He finished the season with the second-best 5v5 points-per-game rate and the second-best 5v5 goals-per-game rate.
Like, a lot
At one point, Bailey scored three hat-tricks in four games in a span of seven days. Incredibly, the Canucks waited for him to add another six points in five games before bringing him up for a cup of coffee.
Despite Bailey’s size and speed, he found the bulk of his goals by parking in front of the net and tapping in easy set-ups from the likes of Lind, Baertschi, or Goldobin.
Bailey spent most of the season on a line with Lind and a rotating slew of centermen like Jasek, Camper, or Wacey Hamilton. The latter being a center who gelled quite well with the young Lind and Bailey.
It wasn’t just the pylon-ing that allowed Bailey to be successful last season. His skating alone turned many innocuous puck-moving plays into easy scoring opportunities.
Bailey was involved in 50% of the powerplay goals he was on-ice for, and overall had the fourth-highest involvement on the Comets goals-per-game.
Bailey had decent relative metrics, along with the speed, size, penalty-killing, and powerplay abilities; so he does, in theory, have a chance to seize a spot on this Canucks roster that is desperate for a player who can do all of those things on a cheap ticket.
He does have some areas that the Canucks brass are likely to take issue with. As a 6’4″ winger with wheels for days, they will want him to play the body way more than he currently does. This reverse hit from November was one of the few times where he opted to go for the hit rather than play the puck
Bailey also needs to work on his discipline. In 53 games-played, Bailey took the third-most minor penalties on the team.
Avoidable dumb penalties like the above might fly in the AHL, but Travis Green, with a radically different penalty-killing group, won’t have time for lack of discipline this upcoming season.
As tired as we are talking about it, I’m sure Jonah Gadjovich is tired of hearing about it; His 2018-19 campaign was truly quite dreadful.
There was a glimmer of hope towards the latter end when he returned off an IR-stint to play with Lukas Jasek and Wacey Hamilton. Those two seemed to get the best out of Jonah, who looked like he’d turned a corner in his development and figured out the “what it takes” to score at the AHL level.
A steady diet of relentless pressure in the offensive zone and net-crashing resulted in him contributing several goals for the Comets in an otherwise lost season.
Looking to build upon his strides, Gadjovich came into the 2019-20 season as one of several prospects looking to silence their doubters. Unfortunately, in true Canuck fashion, in his first game; a game where he scored a goal, he went down with yet ANOTHER injury.
An injury that would then sideline him for the next month of action.
That month of missed hockey likely cost Gadjovich a golden opportunity to earn himself a place in the Comets top-six.
Upon returning, Gadjovich seemed stapled to the fourth line playing alongside ECHL depth players like Dyson Stevenson, Vincent Arseneau, Seamus Malone, and Carter Bancks.
On some occasions, Gadjovich would slide up onto a third-line featuring Lukas Jasek, Francis Perron, or John Stevens.
Despite playing mostly with players who typically struggled to produce at the AHL level, Gadjovich had a decent run of 5v5 and powerplay production.
He finished the season with the sixth-most goals scored and the fourth-best 5v5 goals-score per-game. He earned the majority of his goals, like most Comets forwards, by hovering around the front of the net and cashing in on rebounds.
Despite the decent goal-production, Gadjovich’s overall 5v5 profile shows that he was reasonably middle-of-the-pack when it came to individual contributions to on-ice shot-attempts. He averaged less than a shot per-game, and had only 50% of his shots hitting the net at 5v5.
In addition, his underlying shot-attempt control metrics weren’t all too flattering as the team appeared to have worse save and shooting percentages with Gadjovich on-ice at 5v5.
Despite his lackluster 5v5 profile, he did managed to find a home on the Comets second powerplay-unit; at times, showing off a pretty underrated and underutilized shooting game.
Gadjovich’s upside is that he battles hard for pucks, works for his spots, and has decent hands in tight
The area that Gadjovich needs to improve is his skating and defensive awareness. There were glimpses last season that his skating speed had improved, but there still needs to be significant improvement for him to successfully translate his game to being a consistent producer at the AHL level, let alone at the NHL level.
I was quite surprised to see the Utica coaching staff not utilize Gadjovich as a penalty killer. Despite his shortcomings, the kid displays tremendous work-ethic on his shifts, so why not give him the chance to add tools to his toolbox?
This Canucks management group has emphasized “compete” and work-ethic among their draft-picks and their prospects. They’ve shown in the past a willingness to give guys with average AHL production chances.
For Gadjovich, this training camp will be a chance to show what kind of improvements he’s made to his overall game in the past nine months.
Can he elevate himself to being an average to above-average AHL producer with Zack MacEwen like work-ethic? Or is he at best an above-average fourth-line goal-scorer at the AHL level?
Relative to his rookie season, he was mind-blowingly incredible
His overall production stats doubled from last year, his individual stats were tops, but importantly, his relative shot-control metrics at 5v5 were very impressive. There was a confidence to his offensive game in 2019-20 that was simply not there, at all, during his 2018-19 campaign.
When examining his two seasons, Lind stayed even with his 5v5 goals-per-game rate, but he nearly doubled his assist-rate. Becoming integral to the Comets as a creative puck-distributor in the offensive zone.
The Comets controlled shots 3.44% better with Lind on the ice at 5v5, which places him third overall among all Comets. No easy feat when you consider that last year’s Comets had three Quad-A and one (In this writer’s opinion) legitimate NHL players on its roster.
Lind earned a tonne of even-strength and powerplay ice-time last season, slotting in mostly with players like Carter Camper, Justin Bailey, Nikolay Goldobin, and Lukas Jasek.
On the powerplay, Lind was effective in the bumper position and found himself contributing heavily on rebound tallies.
The most promising aspect of Lind’s abilities, to me, is his agitator game. No prospect in the Canucks system has the offensive chops, skating, or tenacity that Lind has. He’s consistently shown a willingness to muck things up around the front of the net to draw penalties or to just to be a jerk.
The kid is tough as nails, and I like his shot at earning a spot in the Canucks bottom-six. His one detriment is having no PK experience (another demerit to the Comets coaching staff who for whatever reason staunchly refuse to utilize u22 forwards in PK roles).
That and he can be caught with his head down, a bit too often for my liking. This propensity for being unaware has led to some brutal hits and giveaway flubs.
All said, as he did coming back from his disastrous rookie season, Lind bounced back immediately after this merciless hit
Lind made a statement at the return-to-play camp that he could be a contender for a spot. He’s basically what the Canucks wanted Goldobin to be, a puck-distributing winger with silky mitts, but someone who would actually engage in puck-battles to create scoring chances.
He should be a shoo-in for the Taxi Squad if he doesn’t outright make the team.
Lukas Jasek was one of the underrated standouts from the Utica Comets dismal 2018-19 campaign. I remember my first ever radio hit was with RinkWide, and I felt like a complete goof for talking about this prospects two-way game as if anybody knew who I was talking about.
Unlike Kole Lind’s loud sophomore comeback, Jasek had a quieter, slightly more peculiar improvement.
Despite his rather successful rookie season as a winger, Jasek was moved to the center position. With the coaching staff believing in Jasek’s two-way game enough, while hoping his passing game would translate to the position. In a sense, they aren’t wrong, Jasek had decent 5v5 production and led the team with the best relative on-ice save percentage.
However, despite his on-ice ability to thwart goals-against, he still ended up with the worst shot-attempt differential at 5v5, and it wasn’t really close.
That’s why Jasek’s 2019-20 season was so peculiar. His 5v5 production was solid, he finished fourth on the team in goals, and his goal-suppression ability was elite (relatively) at evens and solid whilst shorthanded!
Still, the Comets got absolutely caved-in with him on the ice in terms of shot-attempt differential.
That aside, Jasek has so many good qualities to his game, especially as a pretty undersized center transplant.
He’s shown quality hockey-sense, knowing when to step up on loose pucks and when to distribute. Even as an undersized forward, his puck-protection is very impressive.
Even while under pressure, Jasek has a very calming presence with the way he plays. Check out this shorthanded tally; he’s so nonchalant, making great use out of his time and space, even after a long shift.
While he doesn’t possess an outrageous set of wheels, he always seems to be in the right place at the right time to capitalize on opportunities.
Solid puck control while under pressure
He’s just so efficient under pressure, it’s admirable
Speaking of efficiency, here he is wheeling to beat out an icing, sets up his trailer, recognizes the Marlies defence leaving him wide open, and parks at the bottom-half of the left circle for an easy one-timer goal.
I believe I mentioned in my 2018-19 Comets season euology that the things Jasek would have to work on are his shot, his power, and his strength.
He still had issues here and there during the 2019-20 season where he would be muscled around by the bigger players, but his ability to win puck-battles along the boards in spite of that, was impressive. His shot could stand to be stronger too. Too often he had some good shooting lanes and waffled it into the pads or the goalies glove.
Jasek finds himself with a unique opportunity here, as he possesses one of the better two-way profiles among last year’s Comets players, has offensive chops, great board-work, can penalty-kill, and can be effective on a powerplay.
His versatility makes him a strong candidate to make the Canucks Taxi-Squad. His place depends on the other intrinsic values that the Canucks management group cherishes, battle, compete, work-ethic. He possesses a solid work-ethic along the boards, good skating etc.
It’s just that his skills are not as loud as, say, a Zack MacEwen, or a Jalen Chatfield, who are loud with their speed and physicality above all else.
He’s had an impressive run with the Czech Men’s League prior to leaving for quarantine, so he has the advantage of not coming into camp cold.
Fingers crossed because I’m a fan of his game (if it wasn’t obvious)
The largest of fellas had an interesting season; he had solid 5v5 production to start the year in Utica, fell off, came back around marginally, then was essentially an NHL tweener the remainder of the season. Eventually finding himself on the Canucks roster during playoffs!
For the Canucks, finding gold out of an undrafted overager from the QMJHL is huge. A cost-effective Big Fella is exactly what the Canucks need to round out their bottom-six. Not cost-ineffective Old Fella’s.
Throwing the above clip into this deep-dive because MacEwen scores with some good moves and slick mitts. But also because the goalie is non other than future Canuck baker, Louis Domingue, who promptly rages at the referee. Wonderful sequence.
MacEwen was fine in his very limited showings for the Comets last year. It always seemed like his place on the Comets was temporary until the Canucks made space for him.
He is likely on the main roster or on the Taxi Squad to start next year. Would be shocked if he got demoted back to the AHL.
Everyone’s favourite nickname, The Brise Fella, had a relatively solid season with the Comets!
His production rates were a career-best, eclipsing his AHL career-high goals and AHL career points-per-game rate.
If 5v5 goal-differential is your thing, Brisebois led the Comets with a +20 differential.
A smaller two-way defenseman, the Brise Fella made a name for himself as one of the Comets go-to shutdown guy. Brisebois ranked fourth overall when it came to the team’s on-ice save percentage, with him on-ice at 5v5.
An effective penalty-killer, Brisebois had decent enough on-ice save percentage metrics while recording the sixth-most blocked shots while shorthanded.
He was used sparingly on the powerplay but managed to be involved enough to earn points on 50% of the ten goals he was on-ice for.
When facing down two-on-one opportunities, a common occurrence with last year’s offensively aggressive and defensively porous team. Brisebois remained a calm presence on the back-end.
Throughout the season, Brisebois specialty appeared to be blocking those pass-attempts into the Comets high-slot.
Brisebois’ skating has always been one of his strong suits. However, he does tend to struggle against explosive maneuvers from in tight.
The Canucks left side is pretty loaded. For Brisebois to earn a spot on the Taxi Squad, he will be competing with Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, then fellow depth LD options, including Jordie Benn and fellow Comet shutdown D-man, Ashton Sautner.
I think he’ll be in tough trying to crack the Taxi Squad, but here’s hoping he makes a go of it, so we get five months of “BREEEZEBAHHHHHH” jokes.
There are plenty of qualities to Chatfield’s game at the AHL level that could translate into being an effective bottom-pair/7th defenceman. Qualities that are no-doubt revered by NHL general managers everywhere.
Chatfield possesses decent straight-away speed like in this backcheck against the Binghamton Devils. A play in which fellow future Canucks NHL defenceman Olli Juolevi misses a loose puck along the blueline, prompting a two-on-one opportunity for the Devils.
Along with the skates, Chatfield shares that “compete-level” the Canucks brass has emphasized heavily in regards to their draft strategy.
In this clip, an exhausted Chatfield lays a few hits and battles for the loose puck along the end-boards to try and force the Laval Rocket outside of the zone.
The penalty-kill is where Chatfield made a name for himself. In the below clip against the Binghamton Devils, Chatfield blocks a brutal shot off of the knee, gets up, goes for a second block, then engages in a little shoving match post-whistle with the forward, despite being hardly able to skate.
Relative to his fellow penalty-killers, the team had the seventh-best on-ice save percentage while shorthanded with Chatfield on the ice.
The biggest glaring weakness in Chatfields game is his offensive game, passing, his propensity for turnovers under pressure, and his coverage lapses around the net.
This is where my frustration with the Chris Tanev comparison boils to the surface.
Many pundits like to point to Tanevs less-than-impressive NHL production in his first three seasons as justification that Chatfield is a fair comparison.
Firstly, Chris Tanev’s NHL production didn’t matter because he had the AHL production and defensive game to warrant extended looks with the Canucks. Two things that Chatfield has yet to display with the Comets.
Through Tanev’s first three seasons in the Canucks farm system, he held a 0.34 points-per-game without being a volume-shooter (an important thing to note).
Back in 2013, Edmonton enthusiast Thomas Drance was noting in prospect reports how Tanev’s offseason focus (to improve offence) resulted in a less-than-impressive shot-rate improvement during the 2012-13 season.
Harkening back to how low expectations have become, that known-quantity, Chris Tanev, the smooth-skating, calm, defensive-defenceman with gorgeous breakout passes, wasn’t pushing the needle offensively with his 0.41 points-per-game rate.
If Tanev’s 0.41 points-per-game rate as a 23-year-old weren’t pushing the needle, then I’m not sure what Chatfield’s 0.08 points-per-game rate as a 23-year-old is. More concerning is that Chatfield is barely cracking an 0.11 points-per-game rate despite having double the shots of Tanev.
Chatfield loves to join the rush and jump up into the offence, but the stats speak for themselves; his shot is ineffective at the AHL level.
Perhaps he’d be better off as a distributor, but too often, Chatfield is prone to giveaways due to weak passes that aren’t tape-to-tape, especially if those passes are completed while under pressure.
Despite Chatfield’s underwhelming offensive game, he deserves credit for managing to post the 7th best shot-attempt differential relative to the team when he was on the ice at 5v5.
However, we circle-back to the fact that the team just does not score with him on the ice. All shot-attempts, no results. Only Wacey Hamilton held a higher on-ice CF% at 5v5 with a worse on-ice shooting percentage than Chatfield. Not great company.
Apologies to Chris Faber for the slanderous graphic of Nikolay Goldobin
Chatfield is not Tanev, nor is he Stecher, but that’s okay. He is neither a defensive defenceman nor an offensive-defenceman. He is an agile, big-bodied defenceman who battles hard every shift, hits hard, shows a complete disregard for his body to block shots, and can chew through minutes in tough situations at 5v5.
He legitimately has a case for making the Canucks roster due to his niche as a penalty-killing specialist. The experience of playing with Juolevi is an added bonus and might play into both of their chances of making the lineup or Taxi Squad.
I didn’t get to see much of Mitch Eliot play last season; he spent most of the season in the ECHL or as a healthy-scratch. But when he did make the lineup, he was usually a fun watch.
Possesses a bomb of a shot from the blueline
Unafraid to be physically active in the d-zone, even if he wasn’t necessarily the strongest man for the job
Decent defensive chops from what I saw as well, like this play where he calmly breaks up the two-on-one opportunity from Belleville. Obviously need a bigger sample size of games and minutes to get a real sense of his entire game
I don’t think he’s anywhere close to cracking a Taxi Squad lineup, but I do think he’s much better than his deployment last season would indicate.
I can see him getting a more significant role with Utica with the advent of the Taxi Squad. Comets will need someone to fill the void left by Rafferty, who I presume will be a shoo-in for at least Taxi Squad duty.
The last time I wrote about Olli Juolevi, I wondered whether the cancelled AHL season would give him the proper amount of time to get healthy and in shape for the 2020-21 season
I had also wondered if he’d get bitten by a poisonous snake, but for once, luck was on Juolevi’s side during an offseason!
Given the struggles Juolevi faced last season, it’s quite amazing that he finished his season as a member of the Canucks black aces squad! Doubly so for actually dressing and playing in a playoff game!
Pretty much everything I wrote in my FARMHOUSE review for OJ48 still applies!
This time with the added asterisk that he actually played an NHL game! One that won’t ever show up on his scoresheet due to its nature as an exhibition game, but nonetheless, an NHL game*!
I mean, this entire piece of commentary is surreal… as someone who pretty much wrote off Juolevi’s hopes of being an everyday NHL’er based on his horrific skating at the AHL level, I didn’t ever expect to here Jim Hughson letting the audience know that Juolevi was handing off the puck to Elias freaking Pettersson in a playoff game.
He looked completely fine in sheltered minutes, and although he might not ever live up to the 5th overall pedigree, he still might be a player for them in this upcoming season. A season where the team will be desperate for major contributions from their players on cheap tickets.
Juolevi spent most of his AHL season on pairings with Jalen Chatfield or Ashton Sautner as a minute-munching/penalty-killing duo.
Of Juolevi’s many d-partners last season, one of the more effective ones for controlling shot-attempts at 5v5 came while on a pairing with Brogan Rafferty.
While together, the two held Juolevi’s best d-pairing goal-differential and ended up being one of Juolevi’s better d-partners for controlling shot-attempts at 5v5.
In fact, it was while on this pairing that we first started getting glimpses of Juolevi’s skating issues seemingly becoming less of an issue.
Juolevi probably stands to have the best shot of cracking the Canucks lineup of last year’s Comets bunch. His versatility as a penalty-killer and minute muncher will be way more useful to Travis Green than what a Brogan Rafferty can bring.
Green desperately needs to replace the minute-munching and penalty-killing that was previously brought to the Canucks by Oscar Fantenberg, Troy Stecher, and Chris Tanev.
A stable and reliable puck-mover like Juolevi could be exactly what they need on that third-pair. His experience on a pair with Chatfield and Rafferty could also bode well for those two players chances of cracking the starting lineup or the Taxi Squad.
I don’t have much to add to what I already wrote about with Pass it to Bulis… so here’s some random Juolevi clips to inspire confidence!
That rinkwide vision to create something out of nothing
The absolute disregard for the health and safety of his body
Another rinkwide feed for the easy zone-entry and scoring opportunity
Juolevi showing no fear in stepping into the play to set up a no-look pass to Justin Bailey, only for his shot to get blocked by a Providence defender
I’m pulling for Olli to have a big showing at training camp. He’s had a horrific run of injuries leading up to the last two training-camps. Both of which threatened to derail his entire career. That and I’m sick of hearing the “we could of drafted Tkachuk” tkakes.
Fingers crossed that playoff game against Minnesota was a confidence booster shot and we finally get to see the real OJ at Canucks camp!
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Brogan Rafferty.
Like Juolevi before him, Rafferty found himself as part of the Canucks playoff black aces squad. Although he didn’t see any game action, he obviously had impressed enough, that the Canucks management group thought he was worthy of a spot on the Canucks 52-person travelling party.
During the Canucks return-to-play camp, I didn’t think Rafferty had done anything to stand out during intra-squad scrimmages.
At one point Rafferty was demoted to the “black aces scrimmage group” rather than the main squad. A point of contention with some in Canucks nation who thought Rafferty was going to knock down the doors at the RTP camp.
At that time, the Canucks were taking a look at fellow right-shot defenceman Jalen Chatfield. Chatfield’s look with the main group ended up being a small factor in the “Bo Horvat chewing-out of Jake Virtanen for his attitude during a dismal scrimmage performance.”
Jake Virtanen and Jalen Chatfield exchange words as they go off after Virtanen claims Chatfield was holding him.
Back to his season with the Comets, Rafferty proved himself to be an above-average offensive play-driver with an excellent shot from the blueline, smooth-skating, smooth hands, and fantastic creativity.
He finished his rookie season with the fourth-most primary assists, ninth-most goals, fourth-highest shots on goal, and second-most shot-attempts overall! Not bad for a rookie!
Chalk it up to his history as a power-forward during his youth because Rafferty’s ability to wheel down the wing for goals is the type of stuff that make the staunchest of Virtanen fans envious.
It’s not just the speed or the big body that lends to it either. Rafferty’s puck-control while cutting through the neutral-zone and into the offensive-zone are absolutely top-notch.
With the Comets, Rafferty showed no hesitation jumping up into a rush on goal
While these highlights aren’t the best indicator of defensive acumen in the AHL, it is worth noting how his end-to-end rushes were something to behold. If Rafferty can impress at camp and prove that his game can translate to the NHL, then the Canucks once again will have struck gold with their NCAA free-agent signings.
I’m still not sure if Green will have time for a third-pairing defenseman who is this aggressive at transitioning the puck and joining the play.
That being said. We do live in a crazy enough timeline where the Canucks could roll a Hughes/Rafferty all-offence pairing, with Rathbone/Juolevi/Schmidt on minute-munch, secondary scoring duty, with Edler/Myers being dished the hard matchups. Just spitballing.
Rafferty, for all of his offensive upside, wasn’t exactly notable for his defensive play. The Comets shot-attempt control rates were fairly middle of the pack with him on the ice at 5v5.
Rafferty did penalty-kill a bit with the Comets, but not nearly to the extent of a Chatfield or a Juolevi. This lack of utility might be the final nail that relegates Rafferty to Taxi-Squad duty.
For what it’s worth, while used sparingly, Rafferty’s brief appearances on the Comets penalty-kill last season ended with him third-overall in shorthanded points, eleventh most PK blocks, and giving the Comets the fourth best on-ice save percentage with him on the PK.
Rafferty spent most of his rookie season exclusively on a pairing with Guillaume Brisebois. Together they posted a +16 goal differential at 5v5, and had one of the best shot-attempt control rates of all pairings, controlling attempts 2.7% better with the two on-ice at 5v5.
Green will be looking to replace Fantenberg, Stecher, and Tanev with players who play hard, battle, hit, chew minutes, and kill penalties. Rafferty has all of the attributes this lineup needs to move the puck up-ice and score goals. But I’m not sure he has enough of the nuances down in his defensive side to earn ice-time in a Travis Green defensive structure.
Green will be hard-pressed to replace the reliability that came with Stecher and Tanev. Not sure he’ll have the patience as a lame-duck coach in a shortened season to put up with mistakes like these.
Again, I’m a big fan of Rafferty’s offensive and puck-transition game, and I believe he has what it takes to be an NHL calibre defenceman.
Plus, we mustn’t forget that this team, as recent as 2018-19, dressed Derrick Pouliot in 62 games, so I have to believe that someone with Rafferty’s offensive upside can get that same kind of chance, flaws and all.
Trent Cull’s go-to shutdown defenseman, the jack of all trades, Ashton Sautner, is coming into Canucks training camp trying to re-assert himself as that next-man-up 7th d-man. A spot he basically had secured just a few seasons ago when he dressed for 17 games with the Canucks in 2018-19.
While not the biggest producer at the AHL level, he fits the mould of a tough, shutdown, two-way defenseman who can chew minutes, kill penalties, and be that reliable “defensive” partner to an offensively-minded young-gun.
Sautner has been a staple to the Comets Harvest, renowned for his recurring ability of being on the receiving end of some brutal hits, elbows, and boardings.
Infamously, known around Reddit for getting his face fucking destroyed by a greasy elbow from Eric Tangradi. A man who would later apologize for the hit on Twitter after receiving a one-game suspension.
Sautner has learned from his pain, however, and has dabbled in the art of dishing hits, elbows, and boradings of his own.
Sautner has been a reliable guy for the past two seasons that I’ve watched, he could be a good Taxi-Squad option for the Canucks if they need an Oscar Fantenberg-type 7th/8th D option. He absolutely won’t wow anybody with puck-movement, creativity, or goal-scoring, but he can be “a guy.” Which might be exactly what Travis Green is looking for.
Youth is not on his side, but his experience playing both sides of the ice to prop-up young rookie defenders bodes well for him. This organization pays a premium for veteran leadership afterall.
Last year Sautner had a near-even split of ice time between all Comets defenseman. Though he did spend most of his 5v5 ice-time with Olli Juolevi, with Sautner playing on his off-side.
By season’s end, Sautner had his best rate of controlling shot-attempts on a pair with Juolevi. However, his goal-suppression was most positive with Guillaume Brisebois, where together they had a +2 goal differential.
Given the organizations’ emphasis on “battle” and “compete, Sautner might have a chance at sneaking onto the Taxi Squad. That’s why this expanded camp is so bloody intriguing.
They always say jobs are on the line at camp, and except for a few surprise cuts (Baertschi last season), the Canucks usually wait for a season to begin before making any of the radical moves that would otherwise make training camp interesting.
However, there is now a palpable tension that the prospects and players coming into camp are actually fighting for opportunities to crack the Canucks lineup! With a Taxi Squad at their disposable, the inability to recall players from the AHL in a timely fashion. There’s a lot of intrigue in seeing what kind of starting roster builds itself out of training camp!