COMETS HARVEST: The Final Friday

For most people, Friday’s just the day before the weekend. But after this Friday, the neighborhood’ll never be the same.

Ice Cube’s character, from F. Gary Gray’s cult classic, Friday, summarized it best.

After this weekend, the neighbourhood will never be the same.

The Vancouver hockey landscape will never be the same.

For the first time, the Canucks primary affiliate will be located within BC

I say “primary” because there was that brief period when their ECHL affiliate was the short-lived Victoria Salmon Kings, who ceased operations in 2011 after the Chilliwack Bruins moved to the island to become the Victoria Royals and stole the ECHL’s thunder.

Shame because the logo rocked.

Vancouver will have their AHL affiliate in their backyard, and with it, extra eyes turn to an organization that has struggled to make managing an NHL team look easy.

For nearly a decade, the Utica Comets operated on an island, away from the prying eyes of local Vancouver media.

Dependant on only a few sources for information, no one knew what was happening with Canucks prospects or their development.

When I first started to write about the Comets, it was out of a desire to see how the Canucks 2017 draft class fared in their rookie years.

Narrator: it did not go well.

That 2018-19 season was an unmitigated disaster, marred by goaltending issues and legitimate prospects scratched in favour of ECHL plugs.

The most notable issue being when both Petrus Palmu and Jonathan Dahlen publicly voiced problems with the management and coaching staff over playing time and communication.

If we’re generous to the Canucks management group, there have been three players drafted or signed out of free agency, who have developed in the AHL and turned into full-time NHL players.

Here’s a list of most of the U23 AHL’ers that have entered the Canucks AHL system since the Comets became their affiliate: Alex Grenier, Nicklas Jensen, Alex Friesen, Frank Corrado, Peter Andersson, Alex Mallet, Frank Corrado, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce*, Mike Zalewski, Jordan Subban, Andrey Pedan, Joe Labate, Ashton Sautner, Cole Cassels, Evan McEneny, Jake Virtanen, Marco Roy, Zack MacEwen*, Guillaume Brisebois, Michael Carcone, Jalen Chatfield, Tanner MacMaster, Danny Moynihan, Nikolay Goldobin, Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, Lukas Jasek, Thatcher Demko, Jack Rathbone, Carson Focht, Ethan Keppen, Jett Woo, Mitch Eliot, Adam Gaudetteand I’m missing some more.

  • The Canucks got an entire NHL season out of Brendan Gaunce, but footspeed concerns and a lack of offence kept him out of future call-up considerations. Especially after the team invested in Jay Beagle and other bottom-six contracts. He arguably would be on that Graovac plain of NHL’er if the Canucks had just stuck with him.
  • Virtanen, let’s not even get into it.
  • MacEwen busted his ass to make the taxi squad and appeared to be on the verge of breaking out, but this year has been a disaster for him. He might have an NHL future as a 13th forward, but he isn’t a “must play” starting 16 forward at the NHL level at this juncture.
  • Thatcher Demko – grade A proof of development. The only asterisk is that he is a goalie, and goalies develop much differently than skaters.
  • Adam Gaudette and Jack Rathbone are two players who were infinitely better than those playing around them. They were on different skill levels, and their placement in the AHL was primarily due to circumstance rather than ability or needing time to cook/develop in the AHL.

So after eight years of remote management of prospect development, this club has a goalie and a 13th forward to show for their AHL development work.

The 4700-kilometre distance may have kept this ugly black spot out of the spotlight, but once the Abbotsford Aeronauts hit the ice next September, it will be tough to wave off their spotty development record.

Syracuse re-upped their head coach of the last six seasons, Benoit Groulx, who has churned out a new bottom-six/middle-six forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning every year he has been the head coach. Their recipe is a gold standard of what the Canucks organization should strive to model themselves after.

Syracuse Players with insignificant prior AHL/NHL exp who played 50+ AHL games before graduating to current NHL’ers

I performed the last exercise to examine AHL development records of various NHL franchises. The above list for Syracuse excludes Ross Colton, who debuted as a reliable bottom-six producer for Tampa this season.

The above list also excludes players like Alexander Volkov, who split time with Anaheim and Tampa Bay this season.

Utica players with insignificant prior AHL/NHL experience with 50+ AHL GP before graduating to current NHL’ers

Yikes.

YIKES.

All eyes are on the Canucks organization this summer. If they are truly invested in a grand-scale audit of their organization. It’s about time they include their AHL affiliate into those considerations.

DO SOMETHING

With just two games remaining in this abbreviated Comets season, I’d like to see something from Blues prospect Tyler Tucker.

Mostly because his production chart is hilarious, haha

Absolutely nothing for the bulk of the season, then a casual point-per-game pace over the last six games, haha.

For Canucks prospects, tonight’s ‘do something’ belongs to Carson Focht.

Carson Focht Stats (25GP tracked)

Focht has put up impressive shot suppression and goal suppression numbers relative to his teammates and ice time, but the 5v5 goal scoring has not been there often this season.

STARTING ROSTER

  • DiPietro’s call up to the World Cup is great for him, but man, only starting four games out of a possible seven over a 14-month span looks ugly as hell.
  • Evan Fitzpatrick with his second start since April 14th, 2021
  • Nathan Walker went from being on the quarantine list for Utica to being on the quarantine list of the NHL, so I doubt he plays any more games for the Comets this season.

Don’t feel like reading? Click here for spoilers!!

GAME 27:

1st period:

PK1 – Jasek, Teves, Eliot, John Stevens

PP1 – Five-forward unit

  • Cull elects to go with the five-forward unit, which has scored once since its inception.
  • Jasek blasts a one-timer into the body of an Amerk defender, and Rochester forces the Comets to reset from the neutral zone.

PP2 – Focht, McKenzie, McGing, Woo, Alexandrov

  • Hugh McGing fans on a one-timer set up by Nikita Alexandrov and Rochester clears the zone.
  • PP1 heads back over the boards for Utica
  • Bärtschi passes to the vacant blueline, forcing the Comets to reset from the neutral zone.
    • Nothing happening on this powerplay for Utica
  • Focht (#19) records the Comets only shot on goal during the five-minute powerplay. OOF!
  • The game returns to 5-on-5 with under 55 seconds left in the period; truly, a pathetic powerplay.
  • Some other things happened in the final minute of the period, but it was inconsequential.
  • That powerplay might have killed my will to live.
  • Comets finish the game down in shots on goal nine to eight. Haha.

  • LMAO, I mean, what the fuck is that!?

2nd period:

PK1 – Jasek, Tucker, Wesley, John Stevens

PK1 – Tucker, Wesley, Stevens’ brothers

  • Comets are holding the Amerks to outside very well through the first minute of the Amerks powerplay.
    • Wesley picks off a pass and dumps the puck to allow for a wholesale change of personnel.

PK2 – Jasek, McKenzie, Teves, Eliot

  • Brent Gates Jr. whips a shot nowhere near the net, forcing the Amerks to reset from the neutral zone.
    • McGing hops on for McKenzie on the reset.
  • PK1 back out for a spin, and the Amerks once again force themselves to reset from the neutral zone
  • Amerks finally register a shot on goal with less than one minute remaining in their major powerplay.
  • Oskari Laaksonen records the Amerks second shot on the powerplay

  • Sven Bärtschi joins Nolan Stevens (#17) for a shorthanded rush in the dying seconds of the penalty kill. Stevens and Bärtschi are perhaps too carefree with their setup as the backchecking Amerks disrupt any attempt at a shot on goal.
  • Bad night for five-minute majors, holy guacamole! Only two shots on goal registered by Amerks on their five-minute try
  • A line of Bärtschi, Alexandrov, and Jasek post up inside the offensive zone for a great bit of sustained pressure for Utica.
    • Jett Woo with several shot attempts
  • Shawn Cameron gets called for slashing, and the Comets will close out the second period on another penalty kill.
  • Amerks generate nothing on the powerplay as time winds down on the period
  • Comets have been outshot, 23 to 16, after forty minutes of play.

3rd period:

RESULT:

Utica def. Rochester 1-0

SCORESHEET:

 

GAME THOUGHTS:

  • Let this thought marinate, two of the game’s five-minute major powerplays combined for only three shots on goal. I think my brain might be broken after that.
  • Lukas Jasek led the Comets with five shots on goal, and two of them came while shorthanded. Impressive two-way game from him tonight.
  • Nathan Staios is a pretty speedy little defenceman. I kind of like his overall game. Staios is somewhat undersized, but he holds his ground fairly well in board battles. He and Woo showed much better coordination and chemistry in tonight’s action. Both were much more effective together than they had been in previous outings.
  • It was another solid outing for the rage-king, Curtis McKenzie. He came in clutch with the lone goal and was incredibly effective on the Comets penalty kill.
  • Speaking of the Comets penalty kill, they managed to kill off nearly fourteen minutes facing the man advantage. Over their past ten games played, the Comets have successfully killed 23 of 26 penalties. That PK% of 88% would put them at the top of the league for penalty killing. As it stands, the Comets have an 81% penalty-killing rate which places them 17th among the league.
    • The Comets powerplay, despite its struggles down the stretch, sits ninth in the league.
  • There genuinely isn’t much to take away from tonight’s game except for Evan Fitzpatrick’s stellar performance between the pipes.

COMETS HARVEST THREE STARS

  1. Evan Fitzpatrick
  2. Lukas Jasek
  3. Curtis McKenzie

Next Up on the Docket

The Comets return for their season finale this Sunday at 5:05 PM EST/3:05 PM PST.

Plugs

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