2021 Canucks Training Camp Primer: A Deep-Dive into the Players of the 2019-20 Utica Comets

It feels genuinely surreal to be writing about hockey again. 

The last time I wrote about hockey here, the Comets were returning home off of a three-game road hit, hoping to extend their current win streak to four. 

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)

The Pro’s

  • 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

The So-So’s

  • 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

The Not-Pro’s

  • 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.

Player Reviews

Goalies

Forwards

Defencemen

 

Goalies

Michael Di Pietro

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.

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Jake Kielly

He was fine.

He looked a bit nervous in his one start and one game as a reliever with the Comets but otherwise played fine.

 

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Forwards

Sven Baertschi

 

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]

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Justin Bailey

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.

Dude scored.

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. 

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Tyler Graovac

Allegedly played 11 games for the Comets. I don’t remember any of them, to be honest… It’s been a long year

His two goals as part of the Canucks second powerplay-unit were pretty fun!

Skating was pretty clunky and slow for the big fella (sorry Cory, Tyler is technically a slightly larger fellow of inordinate size)

Gravy spent most of his AHL ice-time on lines with MacEwen, Perron, Goldobin, or Lind.

Decent depth at this point, but I don’t think he has the speed to be a valuable NHL contributor on the Canucks fourth-line. Speed is the future.

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Jonah Gadjovich

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?

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Kole Lind

Kole Lind was very very very very good

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.

It’s the kind of comeback story that even Chris Pratt would enjoy.

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Lukas Jasek

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)

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Zack MacEwen

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.

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Defencemen

Guillaume Brisebois

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.

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Jalen Chatfield

Let’s clear the air a bit here, Jalen Chatfield is not the second coming of Chris Tanev.

That being said, I am a massive fan of how Jim Benning pulled a GOB, and his $1600 suit, in elevating the market’s expectations of Chatfield.

Chatfield looks like he’s ready to play.”

Chatfield would figure out a way to be a good player in the league.”

“When I watched [Chatfield] play, he was like a cross between the two of them [Tanev/Stecher].”

Come on!

The Tanev-like:

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 Not-Tanev-like:

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.

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Josh Teves

Big-ups to Teves for securing himself a one-way deal for the 2020-21 season

He had completely underwhelming individual stats, relative metrics and despite his skating, wasn’t trusted by the coaching staff to be used on either the penalty-kill or the powerplay.

Teves’ game simply wasn’t up to snuff

Risky plays in front of the net

Decent enough skates, but just a severe lack of hockey IQ to make anything happen with the puck on his stick

Would be surprised to see him make any kind of noise at camp.

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Mitch Eliot

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.

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Olli Juolevi

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.

It was great, briefly transitioning into an OJ48 stan account! It was cool seeing him deployed on the Canucks penalty-kill, his bread and butter in the AHL!

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!

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Brogan Rafferty

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.”

Rafferty eventually made his way back to the main group, but again, his game was pretty quiet, and generally didn’t force the coaches hands to give him an extended look.

He did turn heads a bit with his unreal bear-crawl that went viral on Twitter (#3, close to the bench)

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.

 

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Ashton Sautner

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.

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Conclusion

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!

Damn, I’m hyped up!

Just feels so good to have hockey back!

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