They’ve only played five games.
There’s been a sandwiching effect on the talent-level, AHL-wide, due to the advent of Taxi-Squads. Including the Utica Comets, there has been significant evaporation of top-level players, plus a thrust/influx of lesser and inexperienced talent up and into the bottom and middle of AHL lineups.
Logically, it’s too early to get into a statistical dive into the Canucks AHL prospects.
But, given the current state and discourse surrounding the Vancouver Canucks, this writer figures some praise based on early sample sizes is appropriate for a pick-me-up.
The Talent Sammich
Alright, it’s important to flesh out one of those asterisks to the stats I’m about to dish out on the Canucks young guns!
Because of the flat-cap and the advent of ‘Taxi Squads,’ many AHL Teams saw 1/3rd, or more, of their top-six forwards get promoted to Taxi-Squad duty — or move on elsewhere in their pro-careers (KHL, Swiss leagues etc.)
Take Tampa Bay/Syracuse, for example:
Of the Syracuse Crunch’s top-10 scorers from 2019-20, five of them currently find themselves part of the NHL/Taxi-Squad rotation. Barre-Boulet was just called up today and is playing in his first career NHL game
That evaporation of their Top-six, including Cory Conacher and Danick Martel’s departures, means that players like Taylor Raddysh are the veteran on a line with rookies Gabe Fortier and Cole Schwindt as the top line.
So while it’s all good and grand that the Canucks young guns are posting great shot-control metrics and genuinely looking very good. We have to couch some of that praise with the reminder that some aren’t exactly playing against bonafide AHL competition.
Especially in regards to those in the bottom-six, the young guns are facing off against a lot of young, inexperienced rookies and tweeners, who might otherwise be floating in the ECHL during a normal season.
New Roles For the Not-Kids
For some of the relatively more-established Canucks prospects, the evaporation of talent has opened up the door for them to cement themselves as fixtures in the Comets top-six.
The Canucks lost most of their top-six to the KHL and the Taxi-Squad, allowing players like Lind and Jasek to see themselves thrust into important positions as the Comets premiere top centers.
Kole Lind went from second-line winger alongside Justin Bailey and insert-center-here into a first-line center role alongside Sam Anas and Sven Baertschi.
Lukas Jasek went from third-line center getting caved-in by shot-attempt now finds himself as the Comets second-line matchup centerman alongside Nolan Stevens and Curtis McKenzie. And thriving (more on that later).
Jonah Gadjovich, however, went from being a fourth-line powerplay specialist to a third-line powerplay specialist.
Lind and Jasek have adapted well to their new roles. Lind is obviously learning and developing on the fly with his new position, but each game of his as the team’s top center has yielded positive results, even if not reflected on the scoreboard.
Comets 5v5 Play
Who is this team? and what have they done to the Utica Comets of last season?
For perspective, it took the Utica Comets nine games to control shot-attempts at 5v5 five times. This year’s young gun squad has done it in five straight.
By this point last season, the Comets were rocking a negative-30 shot-attempt differential at 5v5. They were undefeated in that stretch, but they were punished heavily for their overly aggressive offensive style as the season progressed and regression started settling in.
In a beautiful piece of contrast, the Comets this year are rocking a plus-30 shot-attempt differential at 5v5.
We love to see it.
Kudos have to go to the players and coaching staff for really dialling back on the overly-aggressive four-man drives on goal for results. They’re utilizing a much safer play style, wherein the 3rd forward into the zone stays high in the slot or high along the boards. Gone are the days of all three forwards and one D pinching up past the circles to “power-forward” their way to the net for shots and rebound-attempts.
Props must also be given to their aggressive forecheck work. Usually, led by two forwards in the neutral zone, the Comets have net significant offensive zone control-time through their pressure and takeaways. The speed brought to the Comets bottom-six by players like Focht, Lockwood, Joshua, and McGing seems to be giving opposing teams fits in this season’s early goings.
For a group with as many rookies as it does, these are all positives moving forward as this group develops!
We really love to see it, folks.
Jasek, Lind, Woo and Focht in the Top-10 for combined shot-attempts and shot-assists.
- Kole Lind
- Lukas Jasek
- Jett Woo
- Mitch Eliot
- Jonah Gadjovich
- Carson Focht
- Will Lockwood
- Josh Teves
- Sven Baertschi
Mr. Lind has had a mildly difficult adjustment to his new role as the Comets first-line center, but, despite his team-worst shot-attempt differential at 5v5, there are many positives to take away from his first five games.
Firstly, his engagement in the play is top-notch. Lind is currently leading the Comets in takeaways at 5v5. I’ve loved his efforts on backchecking into the d-zone to break up setups and cycles. While he’s struggled with giveaways of his own (usually off of overly-creative playmaking in the offensive-zone), there is an overall net-positive with Lind on the ice at 5v5.
Last season, he was primarily the set-up man for Justin Bailey, whereas this season, he and his linemates Anas and Baertschi are struggling to find out who’s the set-up man and who are the triggermen. This lack of identity has resulted in many pretty passing plays that don’t result in shots on goal. Or passing plays that have taken one pass too many before a shot is taken. Usually resulting in easy saves for goaltenders who’ve had that extra second to set up.
Lind’s shot has taken another step this year. It’s looked quite lethal. He’s effectively slid into that Reid Boucher one-timer spot on the Comets powerplay and looked great there. He’s tied with Gadjovich for team-lead in goals scored. With three notches on the powerplay.
As the first-line develops a stronger identity with their roles, Lind will start to flourish. He’s doing so many little things correctly while rocking a 99.6% PDO. Odds are that he’s due for some better puck-luck at 5v5. Trust the Process, Mr. Lind… Baertschi and Anas are no Justin Bailey, but surely an NHL talent, a Quad-A talent, and Lind can find a way to produce effectively at 5v5 regularly.
The CometsHarvest when we see Lukas Jasek thriving in his position as a two-way matchup center, PP2 bumper, and PK player:
Jasek has been fantastic to start the season. Probably one of the most “NHL ready” prospects the Canucks have in the AHL right now. Solid two-way foundation, tenacious in board battles, highly underrated distributor, great hand-eye, the only problem being a weak shot.
Jasek has found a way to be productive in every situation he’s been placed in. He’s tied for the team lead in shorthanded points, second in total points, second in primary shot-assists, first in primary-shot assists at 5v5, and tied for second in all-situations takeaways.
Most importantly, after five games, Jasek leads the Comets with a 5v5 shot-attempt differential of +32.
Comets Harvest readers will remember that Jasek had the unsavoury honour of leading the Comets with a team-worst negative-173 5v5 shot-attempt differential last season.
Jasek’s impressive 5v5 metrics this season aren’t just a product of teammate quality either. Jasek’s two most common linemates, Curtis McKenzie and Nolan Stevens, have posted lesser 5v5 shot-attempt differentials away from Jasek than with Jasek. And this is while also posting a below-average shooting percentage. Jasek could conceivably start getting some better puck luck in the offensive-zone at 5v5 and really start distancing himself from the pack for being the best two-way forward in the Comets lineup in all metrics that I’ve been tracking.
Liking how his season has unfolded! Hoping he can string together some more goals-for at 5v5 to really punch up that player-card. He’s easily a top-3 forward right now on the team for his utility and all-situations offence, but some more production at 5v5 will really put him over.
Everyones favourite prospect-name has been having an excellent debut season with the Comets. He’s been a reliable second-pairing defensive defenseman. However, the offensive side of his game has really been MIA thus far.
For most of this season, Woo has found himself on the left side of the ice, so I do wonder if that’s playing into his giveaways, errors, and lack of dynamic offence? Woo leads the defence in giveaways at 5v5 and tied with Lind for the team lead in giveaways overall.
Woo currently leads the Comets defence in 5v5 primary shot-assists but has only found himself on-ice for a single 5v5 tally. The Comets have the second-lowest shooting percentage with Woo on the ice at 5v5. The Comets also post one of their best on-ice save percentages with Woo on the ice at 5v5.
Due to the Comets’ lack of depth on defence, Woo has found himself thrust into a very prominent PK role, again, on his off-side. The team’s PK suppression rate isn’t too hot with him on the ice while shorthanded. I think he could prove to be an effective penalty killer. He’s physical and knows where to pick his spots for breakout passes. However, he looks off on his off-side.
For now, I’ll place more emphasis on his impact at 5v5 over special teams. Currently, I think he’s looked like a solid defensive defenseman. His lack of production shouldn’t cause anyone to panic just yet.
Hell, Jalen Chatfield’s AHL production left a lot to be desired. Yet, after less than 10 games played in the NHL, Canucks fans had a fever and what they need was more Chatfield. Woo is still incredibly green in his pro-career and will pick up the offensive side as he comes along.
His skating hasn’t looked out of place, and I think if he were able to slide back to his natural side on the right, he might look more comfortable offensively and defensively. Maybe the addition of Jack Rathbone on the left side will help improve that. Those two could be a great compliment to each other and give the Comets second-pairing a much better dynamic than the one it currently has with Woo/Reinke.
Mitch Eliot for short.
‘Mitchy the kid’ for City Slickers fans.
He’s been solid!
Trent Cull has his reservations about using an offensively minded defenseman on his third-pairing. As such, defencemen like Tyler Tucker and Steven Santini wind up eating most minutes during games due to Cull’s reluctance to trust his third pair.
Eliot has a net-positive in the giveaways/takeaways side of the game but isn’t much of a distributor. He’s purely a “queue me up for a one-timer” type of defenceman. He’s currently rocking a +16 shot-attempt differential at 5v5.
Like Woo before him, I have to wonder if playing on his off-side is impacting his offensive game and defensive play?
Much was made about Jalen Chatfields “fine” offensive stats from last season. It was funny that no one ever brought up how Eliot had more points than him in half as many games.
Skating has looked ok so far in four games played. Though, at times there have been some races to the puck that have been dicier than they ought to have been.
For a couple of games, I’d like to see Cull deploying the Canucks D-prospects on their proper sides on the right and try the Blues prospects on their left. Just switch it up a bit.
It can’t hurt to try and see what kind of offence they can get out of them, especially in a mean-nothing season with no Calder Cup implications to season results.
Eliot has solid underlying metrics to back up his play, so it would stand to reason that Cull takes the reigns off of him a bit and see what he can do for this club that only has one goal and one primary-assist from its defence so far this season.
Jonah continues to be a viable goalscoring threat for the Comets at 5v5. With a knack for the net-front and scoring greasy goals, it looks like nothing has really changed for Jonah when it comes to coming in clutch for his team at 5v5.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed since last year. His skating is still plodding, clunky, and slow. He makes it work for him, but you can’t trust him on backchecks or two-way play in any stretch due to his inability to retreat with pace.
The Canucks certainly have a potent goalscorer who plays the tough “fighter” role well enough. Outside of that, he isn’t much of a distributor, nor is he creative enough with the puck in the offensive zone. He has just five primary shot-assists while remaining neutral in the takeaways/giveaways department with two apiece.
I was hoping to see him get some looks on the penalty-kill to see if there could be some utility to get out of the big-bodied forward. Unfortunately, right now, he looks to be mostly a goal-scoring powerplay specialist who is mostly reliant on the distribution and playmaking of his linemates.
His underlying metrics against lesser-quality competition are fantastic. But for someone who’s into his third AHL season, I’d have hoped to see him competing for something a bit more difficult.
I was really quite surprised to see how low his shot-assist totals were. I’ve often praised Gadjovich’s underrated set-up game, but we haven’t seen much of those set-ups result in meaningful shots in five games.
Again, it’s still early in the season, so I’m hoping to see a lot more from him as the season progresses.
Queue up the white-guy-blinking.gif for the early results on Carson Focht!
I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting much from the overager who saw a points regression in his D+3 season.
Focht has been quite a surprise for the Utica Comets! Added a serious two-way punch and immediate impact to that third-line with Gadjovich and fellow rookie Will Lockwood.
Away from them on powerplay time, and even in brief looks in the top-six with Jasek, Anas, Baertschi and company, he’s looked solid.
Have liked his tenacity on pucks, his involvement in play to steal possession and just in general, his skating. He’s looked just as good on his edges as any other forward in the Comets top-six.
His productivity on the ice has led to him posting the second-best shot-attempt differential at 5v5 with a +22.
Also, he’s tied for third in 5v5 shot-attempts and tied for first on the team in shots on goal with fourteen.
Personally, I would like to see Cull and staff go back to Focht as a penalty-killer for the exact same reasons that I want Höglander to get PK time in the NHL. I dig his skating and drive to get on the puck-possessor.
Overall, it’s been an auspicious start for the rookie! Been thoroughly impressed with his play despite his lack of discipline. In the last two games, Focht has picked up three minor-penalties. One of which led to the game-tying goal that led to their shootout loss to Rochester.
He’s still young and will figure things out. And given how much he’s appeared to figure out already. I like the direction he’s headed so far.
Have got to love that he’s only in year 1 of a 3-year ELC. Very promising stuff from the young rookie! Even if at the end of the day, he’s only fourth-line depth! Cheap depth is good depth!
Lockwood has had an interesting run with the Comets so far this season. I’m still not quite sure what to make of him.
His skating is tops, his edgework is clean, hits, and he isn’t afraid to dig deep in board battles. But something is missing.
It isn’t floating, but it’s this weird middle-ground area of doing just enough of the little-things to yield positive results, but not enough to yield a tangible 5v5 offence.
Currently, Lockwood is rocking the second-lowest PDO of any Utica Comet with 93.6%. Only Tanner Kaspick has a lower PDO, an 83.3% PDO picked up in just one game.
Not only are the Comets not getting a good on-ice save percentage with Lockwood on the ice at 5v5, but their shooting-rates are also incredibly low despite posting decent shot-control metrics.
Given his line’s control-rates with him on the ice, I’d like to see him invest more into his own shooting. Currently, he’s only contributed six shot-attempts to the 53 total shot-attempts taken with him on the ice at 5v5.
To quote the great Matthew McConaughey, “alright alright alright.”
Wait, that’s not it.
“You gotta bump those numbers up. Those are rookie numbers.”
For his limited ice-time at 5v5, he shouldn’t be rocking the first 5v5 goal-differential on the team this early in the game. He’s got to start using his skating to find shooting lanes and start throwing pucks on net. He has the little things down when it comes to the tenacity and the work-rate to earn possession of the puck, but he’s got to start doing something with it.
I’m sure the Canucks will take a cheap Eriksson, but being a no-offence forward in the AHL doesn’t earn you too many cups of coffee with the NHL club looking to add some punch to its bottom-six.
I said it already on the CreaseCast with Lachlan Irvine, but Josh Teves getting paid $700,000 of Francesco Aquilini’s money to ride-pine in Utica is very cool and good.
Terrific skater and volume shooter — but oh man, he and Mitch Reinke were an absolutely disastrous combination for the blue line.
Teves has been a healthy scratch the past three games, and it wasn’t unjust. Teves managed six giveaways in two games played and a 5v5 shot-attempt differential of negative-6.
Again, that’s very impressive considering how few minutes he’s played and the fact that the Comets have posted positive shot-attempt differentials in every single game they’ve played this season so far.
It’s kind of funny because Teves was literally only one of two natural left-shot defencemen coming to the Comets from both the Canucks and the Blues. And despite that absolute gimme, he’s still managed to play his way to the press box.
And I don’t even think he’s that bad. He just doesn’t play physically enough nor contribute enough meaningful offence to justify his adventures in the offensive zone. If he used his skating to just be a point-shot defenceman who played conservatively, he’d be a huge boost to the team. But it’s just not his playstyle.
He’s one of three Comets players to have all negative scores on his team-relative metrics. Tanner Kaspick has the most egregious card due to such a brutal one-game sample size in which he got crushed. Vincent Arseneau is the other, who, like Kaspick, only has a small sample size to work with and got crushed in both games he played.
He’s not a prospect.
He’s just Bae.
Also, big surprise the NHL’er has the highest GF/60 relative metric on the Comets.
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Well, folks, there are still 27 games left to go in the Comets season — plenty of data to suss out!
The St. Louis Blues have called up Nathan Walker and Dakota Joshua to the Taxi Squad, which could mean some internal promotions of prospects to the top-six!
The underlying metrics are promising, and I’m looking forward to revisiting this in 5 games or, better yet, at the sixteen-game mark (the midway point of the season).
Either way, I hope you enjoyed this little eye-test/analytics dive into the early-showings of the Canucks prospects currently playing for the Comets!
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Next Comets Harvest gameday recap is coming this Friday/Saturday, as Utica takes on Rochester and Syracuse, again, in back-to-back weekend action!