2020-21 Utica Comets: Season Deep-Dive and Player Reviews

And now, 11,000 words on why the Canucks sucked last season!

Just kidding! I think we’ve read enough about that by now!

Instead, here’s 11,000 words on the Utica Comets 2020-21 season and the Canucks players who skated for them!

Click here to skip to the player reviews (please don’t, I spent so much time on the context sections)

Table of Contents

League Stats (for context)

Due to the advent of Taxi-Squads, the lack of cross-border travel, the lack of playoffs, and the truncated nature of this past season, we must identify the many asterisks factoring into our evaluation of last season.

As stated above, because of Taxi-Squads and teams pinching pennies on their AHL expenditures, the AHL saw a significant reduction in talent, both in skill and experience.

Player Base: Age and Scoring
  • 46% of the AHL’s 2019-20 player base did not appear in 2020-21
    • 40% of the AHL’s top-50 producers in 2019-20 did not return to the AHL in the 2020-21 season
    • 40% of the AHL’s top-300 producers in 2019-20 did not return to the AHL in 2020-21
  • Of the 1000+ players who skated for the  AHL in 2020-21, more than 350 of them came into the season with zero prior AHL or NHL experience
    • The 2019-20 AHL season, by comparison, saw 120 players enter the league with zero prior AHL or NHL experience
  • Taxi squads peeled away every AHL team’s starting goalie, top d-pair, and two of their best forwards
  • For Utica, they operated without any of their core defencemen from 2019-20, as well as any of their highest-scoring wingers
    • Their entire d-core: Sautner (Played with Manitoba Moose in between Taxi-Squad stints), Juolevi, Chatfield, Rafferty, Brisebois (Played with the Laval Rocket in between Taxi-Squad stints)
    • Their best scoring wingers: Reid Boucher (Signed to the KHL, winning the Gagarin Cup), Nikolay Goldobin (Not re-signed by Vancouver), Justin Bailey, and Kole Lind, who would join Bailey on the Taxi-Squad after circumventing quarantine procedures with a broken nose evaluation
2019-20 Utica Comets Scoring Leaders

The AHL was much younger in 2020-21. The age distribution of players from 2019-20 to 2020-21 skewed heavily towards the usage of much younger players. Due to the CHL agreement with the AHL, we don’t see many 18 or 19-year-olds debuting in the AHL. This season, due to the number of CHL shutdowns, the AHL saw an influx of youth.

  • The total number of 18-year-olds jumped from four to thirty-four
  • The total number of 19-year-olds jumped from eleven to fifty-four
  • The total number of 20-year-olds jumped from 74 to 83

AHL Player Age Distribution

Goaltending:

Goaltending quality slumped this past season, with league-average save percentages, in particular, dropping by half a percent.

  • It seems small, but half a percent over 1000 shots is an additional five goals allowed per season.
AHL Goaltending year-over-year comparison
  • With NHL teams keeping their third-string goalie on Taxi-Squads, their AHL teams ran tandems consisting of the organizations’ fourth-best goalie prospect alongside a rotation of rookies and ECHL starters. Or, in Buffalo’s case, their best goalie prospect and a run of ECHL depth goalies.
  • Relative to their divisional competition, the Comets goaltending finished middle-of-the-pack with an average save percentage of 0.899.
Comets Average Save Percentage Relative to Division
  •  The Comets main starters, Hofer and Kielly, carried save percentages that were both below league-average
    • Michael DiPietro and surprise performances from Will Cranley and Evan Fitzpatrick contributed to the Comets placement in the middle of the above chart.
2020-21 Utica Comets Goaltender Stats
  • It’s worth noting that the Utica Comets did manage to record the second-most shutouts in the league despite their starters’ less-than-stellar save percentages.
    • They also avoided getting shut out this past season, scoring at least one goal in every game played.

With some league-wide context out of the way, let’s evaluate the Utica Comets 2021 campaign specifically for even MORE context!

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Utica Comets Team Stats (for even contextier context)

The Comets 2020-21 campaign was strange …

Firstly, let’s address how the AHL refers to this past season as the 2020-21 campaign, even though the first official games did not begin until February 5th, 2021.

There was no 2020 aspect of the most recent season! Why AHL? Why must you make things this way?

Beyond that, the Comets experienced some wicked highs and lows during their abbreviated 28-game season.

Through their first nine games played, the Comets picked up thirteen points out of a possible eighteen. They then underwent a month-long hiatus due to a COVID outbreak. The outbreak began after a shootout victory over the Rochester Americans on March 10th. After their COVID-hiatus, the Comets picked up an additional twenty points out of nineteen games played.

2020-21 Utica Comets Schedule (Noting rest days between games)

The return schedule after their COVID hiatus was not on their side, either. The Comets squad only had four games with more than a one-day rest in between, including three back-to-backs. Their immediate return from hiatus saw them play five games in eight days, before a final stretch of the season where they played seven games in twelve days.

It was a slog. Head coach Trent Cull even acknowledged that the team wouldn’t play as well as they had to start the season.

Despite the COVID-hiatus and the brutal schedule, the Comets performed admirably throughout.

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5v5 Play

Compared to 2019-20, the Utica Comets played a much safer, reserved, and tactical style of play. The team opted to score via sustained time in the offensive zone through shot volume from the perimeter. The Comets loved to create off of the rush, but they were more reserved in their approach. The 2019-20 Comets would have four of the five skaters joining the rush and crashing below the circles for chances. The 2020-21 Comets were not nearly as aggressive, whether through lack of confidence among their defencemen or through a change in coaching philosophy. Whichever it was, it resulted in some dominant play at 5v5 for the Comets this past season.

Through their first nine games played, the Comets controlled 5v5 play in all but one game. Before their shutdown due to a COVID outbreak, they were handily winning the 5v5 shot-control game.

Against the Rochester Americans, the Comets were rocking a 5v5 shot-attempt differential of +85 with a 70% points-earned percentage in five games.

After their shutdown, the Comets struggled to control play at 5v5 with the same consistency that they had to start their season.

Despite all the hardships faced, the Comets performed quite admirably, finishing their season with a cumulative 5v5 shot-attempt differential of +127. By season’s end, the Comets ended up outshot at 5v5 only seven times out of 28 games.

2020-21 Utica Comets: 5v5 Differentials, pre and post-hiatus

The Comets controlled play at 5v5 best versus the Syracuse Crunch but struggled quite heavily against the Binghamton Devils. A Devils team that finished dead last in the AHL, with a 7W-20L-5OTL-2SOL record

2020-21 Utica Comets CF% versus divisional opponents

All told, the Comets 5v5 play this past season was a complete inverse of their 2019-20 campaign.

The 2019-20 team finished their season with the third-highest goals scored in the league and a cumulative 5v5 shot-attempt differential of -278.

2019-20 Utica Comets Cumulative 5v5 Shot Attempt Differential

The Comets, impressively, managed to reverse their 5v5 shot-control performance. However, the opposite was also true of the Comets 5v5 goal production. See the above ‘context sections’ for why the Comets’ goalscoring may have dipped ((a.k.a the AHL talent-pool watering down effect (a.k.a. the everybody who could score left effect)).

Utica Comets Goal Production Change from 2019-20 to 2020-21

For 5v5 goalscoring, the Comets dominated the Rochester Americans but struggled against the Syracuse Crunch. Even though the Comets consistently controlled attempts at 5v5, the goalscoring heavily favoured Syracuse this past season.

2020-21 Utica Comets Goal Production versus Division Opponents

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The Powerplay

The Comets ran several varieties of first-powerplay units this past season, ranging from a standard 1-3-1, a 1-2-2, and an all-forward 1-3-1 setup.

2020-21 Utica Comets First Unit Powerplay Varieties

The Comets’ second-unit powerplay was more or less a 1-3-1 setup throughout the majority of the season. Practically every forward got a look on the second unit, no matter how brief.

2020-21 Utica Comets Second Powerplay Unit Varieties

The Comets powerplay finished tenth-best in the AHL with 24 goals scored on 124 opportunities while allowing four goals shorthanded.

  • The Comets broke their two-season streak as the worst team for giving up shorthanded goals.
    • In 2018-19 the Comets allowed 19 shorthanded goals
    • In 2019-20 the Comets allowed 15 shorthanded goals
2020-21 Utica Comets: Powerplay Goals and Opportunities

Like Ralph Wiggum getting dumped on national TV, you can pinpoint on the above chart the exact moment where the Comets no longer had Jonah Gadjovich on their powerplay.

It was here, for the record.

In their final nine games, all without Jonah Gadjovich, the Comets’ powerplay ran at 7.4% (not a typo), scoring only two powerplay goals across 27 attempts.

  • ONE of those 27 attempts was a five-minute powerplay in which the Comets recorded a single shot on goal.

Yeah, the final stretch was not a good time for the Comets’ powerplay units.

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The Penalty Kill

The Comets penalty kill was middle of the pack, ranking 15th in the league at suppressing powerplay goals. They opted for a 2-1-1 setup that involved their high-forward applying pressure against the puck handler. Players such as Tanner Kaspick, Will Lockwood, and Lukas Jasek thrived in this position thanks to their high work rate and foot speed.

2020-21 Utica Comets Penalty Killing Setup

Interestingly, the Comets penalty kill performed way better after their COVID hiatus than before.

2020-21 Utica Comets Penalty Killing

During the final ten games, the Comets found themselves shorthanded twenty-seven times, allowing only two powerplay goals while earning one shorthanded goal themselves. During the toughest stretch of the season, the Comets killed 92.59% of powerplay opportunities faced.

2020-21 Utica Comets Special Team Pre-Hiatus and Post-Hiatus Split

The Comets most effective D-pairing on the penalty kill ended up being Mitch Eliot and Josh Teves, who combined for ten individual blocked shots while being present on-ice for only three powerplay goals-against.

2020-21 Utica Comets Penalty-Killers by On-Ice Save Percentage

I tip my cap to Eliot and Teves for overcoming rough 2019-20 campaigns to redefine themselves as effective penalty-killing defencemen.

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Summary

The 2019-20 Utica Comets carried a roster loaded at the forward position. Their group had four lines carrying speed, flash, goalscoring, distribution, and creativity in spades. Their defensive group consisted of Brogan Rafferty playing like a power forward, while players like Ashton Sautner, Olli Juolevi, and Guillaume Brisebois plied their trade as effective two-way contributors. Their run-and-gun style resulted in the longest win-streak to start a season in franchise history, a franchise record for goals scored per game, yet, some atrocious 5v5 shot-control metrics.

The 2020-21 Comets roster did not carry that same depth at its forward position, and its defensive group was not nearly as well-rounded. The Comets forward group was heavy overall on puck distributors and playmakers while severely lacking in finishers. Jonah Gadjovich led the team in goalscoring, tallying more goals than the next two leading goalscorers combined.

2020-21 Utica Comets Goalscoring Leaderboard

I extend my congratulations to the coaching staff for navigating such an incredibly difficult season while employing a radically different playstyle that played to their young groups’ strengths.

The team emphasized control, preferring controlled entries and short passes through the neutral zone instead of the hail-mary rink wide feeds of the 2019-20-era. They didn’t ban long-ice passes for breakaway opportunities, but the Comets approach to puck management in 2020-21 was completely different. Inside the offensive zone with possession, the Comets leaned heavily on their speed to cycle the puck and dominate with shot volume.

Defenceman adventuring became a thing of the past. Gone were the four-man collapses to the crease. Gone were d-men pinches to the slot for one-timer attempts. Gone was the abdication of two-way responsibility.

The Comets were deadly in the neutral zone. Players like Nolan Stevens and Carson Focht made themselves incredibly valuable to the Comets with their ability to direct passes to the Comets’ strong side, allowing for multiple odd-man rush-chances per game off of takeaways or stolen passes.

Although no prospects’ point totals jumped off the page this past season, their underlying shot-control metrics, skating, and work rates were highly encouraging.

Let’s get into some of those players and prospects as we look ahead to the 2021-22 season!

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Player Reviews

Forwards

Defencemen

Goalies

Forwards

Sven Bärtschi

Sven Bärtschi Production Chart

Goodbye, sweet Swiss prince.

Yes, I know, a tiny violin is playing for the athlete paid millions to play a game.

You can’t deny that Bärtschi was done dirty by the Canucks organization. If you haven’t had the chance yet, check out Sven’s appearance on Donnie & Dhali. Bärtschi spoke candidly about managing the mental effects of feeling abandoned by the organization and putting on a brave face to be a leader for the new wave of prospects.

Bärtschi was playing near a point-per-game pace for most of the season, primarily against top competition on a line with Sam Anas, Kole Lind, or Lukas Jasek.

Sven Bärtschi (47SB) 5v5 on-ice event share

Bäe experienced a run of injuries after the COVID hiatus, and his production completely dried up during that stretch. Over his final nine games as a member of the Canucks, Bärtschi scored only one goal at 5v5.

Sven Bärtschi 2020-21 Player Card

Bärtschi struggled for the second straight year at controlling shot attempts at 5v5. Bäe’s line did well at establishing cycles in the offensive zone, but generating shots or shot attempts was a tedious process. As such, his shot-control metrics were uninspiring.

Of the thirty players who skated for the Comets in 2020-21, Bärtschi finished second with the worst goal differential at 5v5.

  • Only eight skaters finished with a positive 5v5 goal differential.
Sven Bärtschi On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Note that the above chart is a standard z-score chart that isolates a player’s on-ice impact per-60 minutes of 5v5 ice-time and how it deviates from the team’s average rates per-60 minutes of TOI at 5v5.

For example, Bärtschi’s full season (games 1 thru 28) CORSI against per-60 minutes of 5v5 ice-time (CA/60) was negative-0.9. The Comets average CA/60 was 48.28, with a standard deviation of 4.69. Thus, the Comets were averaging 4.22 more shot-attempts against per-60 minutes of ice-time with Bärtschi on-ice at 5v5.

2020-21 Utica Comets 5v5 Average Rates and Deviation by Game Splits

The obvious caveat here being that these charts do not factor things such as linemate quality, quality-of-competition, or goaltending quality with that evaluated player on-ice. They’re purely a way of boiling down a players on-ice metrics. A z-score above zero is always good, it means regardless of other factors, the team is doing well at 5v5 with you on the ice in that specific category. A z-score below zero usually means bad, though the asterisk of quality-of-competition gives reason for pause.

  • GF/60 – goals-scored while on-ice at 5v5
  • CF/60 – shot attempts for Utica while on-ice at 5v5
  • GA/60 – goals-scored-against while on-ice at 5v5
  • CA/60 – shot attempts against Utica while on-ice at 5v5

TL;DR: Above zero = good and below zero = less than good

Bärtschi’s per-60 rates in shot control, goal-production, shot-suppression, and goal prevention deviated below average. Bärtschi nearly went dead even for shot attempts for and against at 5v5 (282 for/281 against), but his goals-for ratio was abysmal. Through 24 games played at 5v5, Bärtschi ended up on-ice for only eleven goals-for and a brutal nineteen goalsagainst.

Only one player was on-ice for more goals against at 5v5, and that was St. Louis defenseman Josh Wesley, who was on-ice for twenty-one goals-against.

Despite the lack of significant 5v5 goal generation, Bärtschi did finish the season leading the team with the most shots on goal, the most individual shot attempts, and the third-most primary shot-assists. So the lack of goal production per-60 wasn’t for lack of trying. Bäertschi did put in the work at both ends of the rink. It was just one of those seasons where Bärtschi was gripping his stick a bit too hard.

The Comets finished with the eighth-lowest shooting percentage in the AHL. As stated before, the Comets’ lack of finishers in the lineup meant many passing plays leading to nothing. The Comets tended to make the extra pass instead of simply taking the shot.

Again, it wasn’t for lack of trying; Confidence and shooting luck simply was not on the Comets side.

2020-21 AHL Shooting Percentages

The powerplay was another story; to the surprise of no one, the Comets powerplay was at its best with Bärtschi on the ice. Bäe finished with the second-most primary shot-assists on the powerplay and the highest individual shot-attempts.

I won’t load too many clips seeing as how Bäertschi has finished playing out his current deal. Plus, Canucks fans know what he’s capable of by now.

As NHL teams face a salary cap that may not budge for another five years, Bärtschi could become a valuable commodity on a league-minimum contract. Concern has to go towards his on-ice impact this past year at the AHL level and whether it was because of declining play or through the circumstance of being relegated to an AHL club that severely lacked firepower.

Fingers crossed he gets a second chance! I believe that he can still be an effective NHL contributor.

For one last time, here’s his final goal as a member of the Canucks organization.

 

Quick return to the player review table

Kole Lind

Kole Lind 2020-21 Production Chart

Kole Lind lived up to many of the expectations placed on him in this final year of his ELC. After a remarkable sophomore season in the AHL, Lind further cemented himself as a player to watch after turning heads as a late invitee to the Canucks playoff-bubble camp. Although he didn’t crack the playoff-bubble ‘black aces’ squad, his impressive performance on short notice caught the attention of Canuck fans everywhere.

Lind failed to build off his impressive playoff-bubble camp, he performed adequately, but it was forwards like Will Lockwood, Marc Michaelis, and Sven Bärtschi who caught most people’s eyes during the Canucks 2020-21 training camp. Realistically, Lind was a longshot for the starting roster, but he did have an outside chance of making the Taxi-Squad.

The Canucks, finalized their rosters and chose Justin Bailey and Marc Michaelis as their Taxi-Squad forwards. The organization then realized how few centers they had at their disposal on the farm. At which point, the organization decided to move Lind to center full-time.

  • Lind did play a few games at center during the 2019-20 season when the Comets experienced a run of injuries and lacked bodies. Lind performed quite admirably.
Kole Lind (13KL) On-Ice Event Share

Lind shared the majority of his 5v5 ice time with Sven Bärtschi and Sam Anas. The three players moved the puck well, established Harlem Globetrotter-Esque cycles inside the offensive zone, and displayed flash every shift. Unfortunately, none of them shot the puck, so a lot of their 5v5 zone time resulted in zero production. However, their flash and cycling did work exceptionally well on the man-advantage, with Lind picking up three powerplay goals in his first three games.

Outside of Lind’s one 5v5 goal, that loaded first line of Lind, Bärtschi, and Anas never got their 5v5 production going. Eventually, the coaching staff began rotating players like Lukas Jasek and Jonah Gadjovich onto the first line to try and spark 5v5 production, but it never happened.

Lind’s brief time in Utica concluded with him being on-ice for only four goals-for at 5v5 (six goals-against). However, he did pick up points on three of the four.

Kole Lind 2020-21 Player Card

Lind finished his season with an on-ice shot attempt differential of plus-9, with a shot attempt control (Corsi-for) percentage of 52.1%. Lind’s relative Corsi-for percentage was negative-0.69%, as the Comets controlled shot attempts slightly better without Lind on the ice than with him on-ice at 5v5.

Lind led the team in only one category (powerplay goals) but his production relative to previous seasons was not out of place. Only, his assists-per-game took a hit, and even then, not by much.

Kole Lind 5v5 Production (per game) season over season

Quick thoughts on Lind’s play this past season:

Overall, Lind transitioned well to the center position due largely to his established skills as both a playmaker and creative shooter. I believe that Lind’s 5v5 production would have eventually begun to reflect his playing ability.

It was mildly disappointing not to see Lind’s trademark instigator game, either.

Lind was a notorious shit-disturber during his 2019-20 campaign, so much so that I felt his instigator game is what separated him from the pack in the Canucks forward prospect system. During his brief time in the NHL, we didn’t see that side of his game either, as he mostly played safe hockey to avoid mistakes and keep in the coaching staff’s good graces.

Kole Lind On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

In theory, a line featuring three proven AHL producers in Anas, Bärtschi, and Lind ought to have generated much better on-ice results at 5v5. Unfortunately, new linemates, tougher competition, and Lind’s adjustment to playing center all came during a stretch of hockey that saw Utica have last-change only twice. Being the away team in six of Lind’s eight games obviously wasn’t the reason why his line’s 5v5 play sucked, but it certainly didn’t help.

Comets First-Line Chemistry

In a league as watered down as the AHL was this past season, I’m not sure a first line as loaded as the Comets should be rocking a negative goal-differential or a sub-par 43.14 CF% at 5v5.

Like Bärtschi before him, Lind’s powerplay impact was one of the best on the team. Lind was on-ice for seven powerplay goals during his brief time with the Comets, as well as two shorthanded goals-against.

As Canucks fans know all too well, the NHL club’s second-unit powerplay was a dumpster fire this past season. Perhaps, Lind could carve a niche role as a developing bottom-six forward with offensive upside that includes looks on the second unit, a la Adam Gaudette.

His first step needs work, but his offensive tools and the instigator side of his game could make him an interesting addition to the Canucks bottom-six. It all depends on how the expansion draft shakes out and, more importantly, whether the Canucks feel they have something in Lind worth protecting.

Throughout his career, Lind has always struggled with the first-year adjustment to a new league. Time and time again, he’s always bounced back from those growing pains to dominate in his sophomore effort.

I’d be curious to see what he takes away from his seven-game run with the Canucks, and see what he decides to work on this offseason. When I spoke with Daniel Wagner of Pass it to Bulis, I mentioned how crucial it was for Lind to work on his first few strides. Finding a way to improve his first few steps and agility would go a long way to carving a role as an NHL forward.

I don’t think the Canucks can place too much emphasis on those seven NHL games Lind played. The team was playing the most mean-nothing games in the history of ‘mean-nothing hockey.’ Lind didn’t stand out in any way during his time as a top-six forward, but no Canuck stood out during that final stretch. It would be unfair to cast any judgement on his NHL-upside off of that kind of sample size.

At the very least, the Canucks should try to see what he brings to the table next season. Even if they believe the NHL isn’t in Lind’s future, they should try to protect him and find a way to move him for anything instead of losing him for nothing during this upcoming expansion draft.

Quick return to the player review table

Lukas Jasek

Lukas Jasek 2020-21 Production Chart

Note to self: don’t procrastinate your ‘Season Recap and Player Review’ too long, because eventually, you get to a point where players start to move on from the organization as Lukas Jasek did!

  1. Good for him on chasing that green
  2. Shame the Canucks didn’t see anything in him

Since signing his ELC to come stateside, Jasek has been one of the Canucks most unappreciated and undervalued prospects in the system.

Much was made of Dahlen, Palmu, Juolevi, Gadjovich, and Lind’s struggles during their rookie campaigns. Yet, zero noise was made of Jasek casually dropping twenty-nine points in his rookie season.

Through his years as a Canucks property, Jasek has displayed all of the tools that the Canucks covet: offence, IQ, defensive awareness, passing, “willingness to battle in the hard areas,” and skating.

During 2018-19, Jasek started as a winger with an impeccable ability to win board battles despite his slender frame. His twenty-one points at 5v5 placed him fourth among all Comets skaters.

2018-19 Utica Comets: 5v5 Production

Jasek’s 15 assists at 5v5 were second on the team, only finishing behind first-line center Tanner Kero. A noteworthy stat for a 21-year-old rookie who never had a solidified line all season. Jasek spent five games as a center, with four completely different line combos, nine combos in 23 games as a left-winger, and 20 line combos in 35 games as a right-winger. He missed eight games as a healthy scratch, which was baffling at the time, and even worse in hindsight. The kid had been money for the Utica Comets at 5v5 up and down the lineup.

After 2018-19, the Comets coaching staff recognized Jasek’s stellar defensive awareness and playmaking and pivoted him to center for most of the 2019-20 season. Jasek was one of the few Canucks AHL forward prospects to cement himself as a jack-of-all-trades player, contributing to the Comets’ penalty-kill and powerplay. Despite posting the team-leading worst cumulative shot attempt differential at 5v5, Jasek ended his 2019-20 campaign with the fourth-best goal-differential at 5v5!

2019-20 Utica Comets: 5v5 On-Ice Goal Differential

Despite the brutal shot attempt differential, Jasek finished the season with the best on-ice save percentage of all skaters. With Jasek, the Comets save percentage was 1.93% better with him on the ice at 5v5 than without! The Comets had a better on-ice save percentage with him on the ice while shorthanded as well!

2019-20 Utica Comet: On-Ice Save Percentages

This past season, Jasek shared ice-time at 5v5 with every single Comets forward.

Lukas Jasek (9LJ) On-Ice Event Share

Jasek finished his final year in Utica with the most points, most 5v5 points, and most primary shot-assists while recording the third-most shots on goal.

Lukas Jasek 2020-21 Player Card

Jasek played in every situation possible for Utica, and as his production chart proves, he always found ways to produce.

Quick thoughts on Jasek’s play this past season:

Jasek’s on-ice impacts took some sharp turns pre-hiatus and post-hiatus. Jasek controlled play extremely well during the nine pre-hiatus games, but his line (like most of the Comets lines) struggled to score at 5v5. After the Comets COVID hiatus, Jasek’s 5v5 production exploded at the expense of shot attempt control.

Lukas Jasek On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Overall, Jasek was as reliable as ever as an all-situations swiss-army-knife.

As the Canucks look towards the 2021-22 season, the team can’t afford to miss out on retaining cheap and useful organizational depth. Especially with so few prospects joining their AHL ranks next year in Abbotsford.

2021-22 Canucks “wiggle room.”

Canucks have always placed a premium on players who can kill penalties. Surely they had time and space for a player like Jasek in the event of injuries? Work ethic, skating, forechecking, disruption, special teams, and playmaking at a sub-900k cap-hit seems worth it to me.

The Jasek loss doesn’t hurt the NHL club in the grand scheme of things, but organizational depth is key. Especially when looking ahead towards a potential five-year-long salary cap frozen at $81.5million. The Canucks could’ve used a fringe-NHL, center/wing-pivot, who can play 5v5, hop onto the 2nd unit powerplay, and kill penalties in a pinch.

After all, wasn’t that the entire point of bringing the AHL team to BC? To be able to recall organizational depth at a moment’s notice? The Canucks still have the entire summer to pad out their organizational depth, but it feels like that depth might be more costly than had they simply retained Jasek. Plus, Jasek earning a call-up after several years cooking in the minors would represent another feather in Benning’s cap as the “scouting guru GM.”

It would have also been a much-needed “win” for the Canucks AHL development record.

Quick return to the player review table

The AHL Development Thing

Alright, quick segue before continuing with player evaluations.

The AHL development thing is something that I bring up frequently. The Vancouver Canucks track record of developing NHLers via the AHL has been remarkably poor this past decade. It is an issue that predates the Benning regime and has only become marginally better in the last seven years.

Below is the list of players who’ve joined Utica/Chicago/Manitoba since 2010-11 and turned into credible full-time NHL players.

Criteria:

  • Zero previous AHL or NHL experience
  • Played significant time in the AHL (50+ GP), developing
    • The Stecher’s, Horvat’s, Gaudette’s, and Rathbone’s of the Canucks regime do not count as feathers in the cap of AHL development. Sure they spent brief amounts of time with the AHL team, but they were head and shoulders above their peers and clear NHL’ers from the get-go.
  • Provided NHL GP for the Canucks (Kevin Connauton/Brad Hunt excluded for this reason)
  • Currently in the NHL or a combination of AHL/NHL
    • The list excludes the following players who did provide returns for the Canucks in games-played or trade assets before they ended their pro careers.
      • Eddie Lack, who was flipped for two picks: one that became Guillaume Brisebois and another that became Brett McKenzie
      • Evan Oberg, who was flipped alongside a 2013 3rd round pick in exchange for Chris Higgins
      • Aaron Volpatti, who was lost on waivers to Washington
      • Cody Hodgson, who was traded for Zack Kassian, who was then flipped alongside a 5th round pick for Brandon Prust
Canucks Players Developed via the AHL

All of the players currently retired or playing overseas have one thing in common. They barely cracked more than 100 NHL games played after leaving the Canucks AHL system. One exception is Jordan Schroeder, who made it to 109 NHL games before moving onto the KHL.

That means the Canucks AHL system has produced a number-one goalie, two depth defencemen, and a 13th forward who lost the trust of his coach this past season in ten years. Now, Michael DiPietro could become a solid 1B, Will Lockwood might be useful bottom-six depth as soon as next season, and Carson Focht might be useful depth in two years from now.

Hopefully, the significant number of call-ups from this past season is a positive sign of things to come for the Canucks feeder system. An AHL team that routinely provides one bottom-six forward, a sixth-defenseman or more per season, would go a long way to solving the Canucks cap space issues. Tampa Bay and Toronto have consistently found ways to polish late-round picks into credible NHL pieces. The Canucks replicating the Tampa/Toronto depth-replenishment model through their scouting, drafting, and AHL development process would additionally do wonders to rebuilding consumer confidence in the organization.

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Jonah Gadjovich

Jonah Gadjovich 2020-21 Production Chart

Jonah did the scoring for Utica. No joke, like all of their goalscoring.

2020-21 Utica Comets Goalscoring Leaderboard

Gadjovich led the Comets in many individual categories, including goals, 5v5 points-per-game, 5v5 goals-per-game, and powerplay goals.

Jonah Gadjovich 2020-21 Player Card

Gadjovich unsurprisingly had a sky-high shooting percentage. He had a sky-high shooting percentage last season as well. Only in his rookie campaign did Gadjovich have a somewhat normal shooting percentage.

Jonah Gadjovich Career Shooting Percentage

Gadj spent most of his season in the middle-six with Jasek, Focht, or John Stevens as his center. The combination of Will Lockwood and John Stevens proved to be the most dominant line combination featuring Gadjovich. He controlled shot attempts at 5v5 alongside every Comets player except Kole Lind, Guillaume Brisebois, and Curtis McKenzie.

Jonah Gadjovich (21JG) On-Ice Event Share

As such, Gadjovich’s on-ice impact rates per-60 were stellar this season. The Comets controlled shot attempts 7.84% better with Gadjovich on the ice than without at 5v5. He picked up points on twelve of the fifteen goals scored with him on-ice at 5v5. He finished with a team-leading 5v5 goal differential of plus-seven!

Jonah Gadjovich On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Average

Going from a 2019-20 season where Gadjovich had the fourth-worst goal differential at 5v5 to becoming the team leader in 5v5 goalscoring one year later is quite the feat!

Quick thoughts on Gadjovich’s play this past season:

  • I didn’t think his skating looked that out of place in his few shifts with the Canucks.
  • During the AHL season, his skating could be a bit clunky, but he was always hustling on every shift. His skating at times even looked above-average!

The Canucks called up Gadjovich on May 1st, where he then flew to Winnipeg to quarantine. He didn’t suit up for a game until May 16th. Two weeks from call-up to NHL debut is a tough task. Will Lockwood, by comparison, was recalled on the ninth and made his NHL debut ten days later. He was fine. Hopefully, the Canucks brass don’t write Gadjovich off because of that one giveaway. It wasn’t great, but the Canucks weren’t great either, so it wasn’t that out of place.

Regardless, this past season was huge for Gadjovich, who put in a tremendous campaign to re-insert himself into the Canucks prospect discourse.

Gadjovich has one more year left on his ELC (hooray for contract slides!) and will have to prove that this past season wasn’t an outlier but a positive sign of things to come.

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Carson Focht

Carson Focht 2020-21 Production Chart

Speaking of “re-inserting yourself into the prospect discourse,” Carson Focht made himself known to Canucks fans after an impressive pro-debut with the Utica Comets this past season. Two months after failing to land on CanucksArmy’s top-16 list of top prospects to watch, Focht signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks right before the 2020-21 training camp.

It wasn’t Focht’s first experience at a Canucks training camp. Focht impressed the Canucks brass during their 2019-20 pre-season camp. At that time, Benning stated that they hoped to sign Focht “pretty soon.”

During his Comets debut, Focht was an assertive middle-six center, utilizing his shot, work ethic, and very active stick on the forecheck to be an effective two-way player.

Focht tied with Sam Anas with the third-most shot attempts across all situations and tied Mitch Reinke with the second-highest powerplay-assist total. Eight of Focht’s twelve points came via the powerplay. On the defensive side, the Comets save percentage was 2.32% better with Focht on the ice than without at 5v5. Although brief, Focht established himself as a relatively effective penalty killer for Utica early in the season. He didn’t stick as a PK mainstay, but he will likely earn a full-time PK role next season in Abbotsford.

Carson Focht 2020-21 Player Card

Focht shared most of his estimated 5v5 ice time with Curtis McKenzie and Nolan Stevens. Unfortunately, they didn’t produce at all together at 5v5.

Carson Focht (19CF) On-Ice Event Share

Focht finished his season with a lacklustre three points at 5v5. McKenzie assists on two of those points, but Stevens wasn’t on the ice for any of them. As such, Focht’s 5v5 goals-for rates were rather underwhelming. His shot attempt control rates against middle-six competition made up for the lack of scoring, however, and are a positive sign of what his game could develop into if he takes another step.

Carson Focht On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Focht was given a lot of rope on the Comets powerplay, where he saw most of his offence. Though, the bulk of his powerplay points came off of secondary assists. Regardless, he recorded the fourth-most primary shot-assists while mostly deployed on the second unit, where he utilized time and space very well to get off his shot.

Quick thoughts on Focht’s play this past season:

Focht has a lot of traits that make him a decent two-way center prospect. If he can add some size and strength to his frame and beef up his first step, he could be a force in the AHL. The kid possesses offensive IQ and the hands to boot. He just needs some more speed, power, and agility to punch up his lethality. The Canucks would also be smart to add penalty killing to Focht’s full-time workload next season.

With Lukas Jasek off to greener pastures, Focht stands to default as the organization’s next best “swiss army knife” center prospect. Which, as John Tortorella once said, “is good for him, but not good for us.”

It’s impossible to ignore how shallow the Canucks center depth is. CanucksArmy’s in-house mustard-on-watermelon fan, Chris Faber, is high on the potential of Dmitry Zlodeyev, but he won’t factor into the Canucks center plans until at least 2022-23. Until then, the organization stands to have just one center prospect on an entry-level contract to start year eight of the Benning regime. One.

Vancouver Canucks Center Depth Chart as of 6/24/2021

Yikes.

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Vincent Arseneau

Vincent Arseneau 2020-21 Production Chart

Vincent Arseneau joined the Comets on a PTO back in 2017. He won over the crowd with his physicality, goalscoring, work ethic, and willingness to scrap. He won over the Canucks organization for those same reasons.

2020-21 saw more of the same from Arseneau: Comically aggressive on-ice behaviour, clutch goalscoring, low minutes, and ruthless hitting. He was everything you’d expect and want out of your 29-year-old fourth-line AHL grinder.

Arseneau carried solid on-ice rates at 5v5, playing mostly against fourth-line competition.

Vincent Arseneau On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Arseneau’s 2020-21 production did not stick out as anything special, but it tracks quite well with his Comets points production history.

Vincent Arseneau Points-Per-Game (3-year sample)

Quick thoughts on Arseneau’s play this past season:

Arseneau will easily become a fan-favourite in Abbotsford due to his playstyle.

Worth an AHL contract? Absolutely.

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Will Lockwood

Will Lockwood 2020-21 Production Chart

There’s not much more I can add to my earlier review of Will Lockwood’s season.

  • Some of Lockwood’s on-ice relative metrics did change slightly thanks to the four games played by the Comets in his absence.

Through the first half of the season, Lockwood controlled shot attempts at 5v5 incredibly well but struggled to produce. Lockwood spent most of his ice-time at 5v5 or on the penalty kill, where he performed quite well!

Lockwood’s offensive production did a complete 180 just past the halfway mark of the Comets season after scoring his first goal.

After this, everything began to click for Lockwood. He exuded confidence with the puck, utilizing his speed effectively on every shift to make dangerous scoring chances look easy.

Before the Comets COVID-shutdown, Lockwood rocked a plus-48 shot attempt differential at 5v5 with the second-best goal-differential at 5v5. Despite the lack of production, Lockwood’s control of play at 5v5 against middle-six competition put him in the upper-echelon of Comets players for play-control. In the back half of the season, the shot and scoring differentials shortened, but the 5v5 production rallied to make up the difference.

Will Lockwood On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

The Canucks would love for Lockwood to earn a place in the bottom-six out of training camp. Lockwood’s speed makes him a difference-maker at 5v5 and while shorthanded. The Canucks could absolutely use someone with his hustle on the forecheck in their bottom-six. Especially at a cap hit of only $842,500!

Much was made about Lockwood’s physicality and his susceptibility to injury, but I felt his physicality game was fairly reserved and tempered while in Utica. He certainly finished all of his checks, won his battles and threw hits when he needed to. However, he wasn’t playing with the kind of reckless abandon that he had played with earlier in his career.

Quick thoughts on Lockwood’s play this past season:

Lockwood coming out of left-field to provide quality bottom-six minutes for Vancouver would be a huge victory for the organization.

With the skills Lockwood put on display in the AHL and in his brief NHL time, I think he’s a solid sleeper-pick to make the Canucks bottom-six next season.

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John Stevens

John Stevens 2020-21 Production Chart

The son of NHL assistant coach John Stevens, Stevens Junior first popped up on the Canucks radar as a development camp invitee back in 2015. Stevens joined fellow Northeastern University reps, goaltender Clay Witt and former Vancouver Canuck, Adam Gaudette, during that camp.

After his final two seasons at Northeastern, the New York Islanders signed Stevens to a two-year ELC. After two less-than-impressive seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Stevens re-signed with the Islanders on an AHL contract. After struggling to play up in the Sound Tigers lineup, Stevens re-joined the Canucks organization via a trade for ECHL depth piece Dylan Sadowy.

Back under the Canucks watchful eyes, Stevens became an adept bottom-six contributor and penalty-killer.

This season, Stevens saw a massive promotion from bottom-six center to top-six center. Alternating time as the center for Sven Bärtschi and Sam Anas, and as the center for Jonah Gadjovich and a rotating cast of other wingers. Using on-ice events as a proxy for ice-time, I estimate Stevens to have shared 53% of his ice-time at 5v5 with Sam Anas (7SA). Not a bad promotion for the 27-year-old!

John Stevens (16JS) On-Ice Event Share

Stevens isn’t the fastest, but he is defensively responsible, offering a good pass, good positioning around the net, and a quality shot.

Utilized almost exclusively at 5v5, Stevens posted decent on-ice metrics. His individual production, including shot attempts and primary shot assists, was fairly underwhelming given his linemate quality.

John Stevens On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

As a top-six center, ten points is a woefully underwhelming total—especially given who Stevens was playing with for most of the season in the top-six.

John Stevens On-Ice Stats @ 5v5 as 1st Line Center

It was fun seeing John playing alongside his younger brother, Nolan, on the Comets penalty kill.

It was also great seeing John setting up Nolan for goals!

 

I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing John signed to another AHL contract with the Abbotsford team.

However, he would have to be signed to provide value as a bottom-six center. If you’re signing Stevens to be a top-six center, then you’ve probably erred somewhere in your process.

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Ethan Keppen

Ethan Keppen 2020-21 Production Chart

The Canucks opted to move on from Keppen, but it’s still worth evaluating his brief appearance in Utica!

Keppen had some shine on him after getting drafted in the fourth round out of the OHL. He even blogged the Canucks draftee development camp in June! Only three months after being drafted, Keppen was the only 2019 draftee to lace up for one of the Canucks preseason games.

  • We must never forget that the above Canucks AHL roster beat Calgary’s regular NHL lineup while at home!

Granted, it was preseason, but Keppen held a positive control of expected goals, a positive share of shot control, and a positive goals-for percentage. He was completely fine! Afterwards, the Canucks cut him from camp, and he returned to the Firebirds for his Draft+1 OHL season.

Vancouver Canucks 2019-20 Preseason: CF (Corsi For) Percentage Leaders

Keppen’s Draft+1 season with the Flint Firebirds didn’t exactly impress. Through 44 games played, Keppen recorded just 29 points. His last game with the Firebirds came on February 2nd, 2020, where he put up one assist in a 5-3 victory over the Kitchener Rangers.

Keppen would not play another game for 439 days. After signing an amateur tryout with the Utica Comets, Keppen made his pro-debut against the AHL’s fourth-best team in the league, the Providence Bruins.

It did not go well.

Keppen played on a line with centerman Tanner Kaspick, an effective penalty-killing fourth-line grinder, and Robby Jackson, a St. Louis player who had been a healthy scratch for the previous three games.

  • Jackson’s game against Providence would be his last before becoming a healthy scratch for the next six games before returning to the ECHL.

The line was deployed quite a bit and got crushed at 5v5 by the Bruins’ third-line of Jaku Lauko, Jonna Koppanen, and Robert Lantosi. They created zero goals and were on-ice for three goals against at 5v5.

Utica Comets 4th Line in Game 14 @ Providence

Against the fourth line, Keppen posted unflattering 5v5 control rates per-60. Keppen finished his tenure on-ice for two goals-for at 5v5 and six goals-against. Unsurprisingly, he finished at the bottom for all on-ice metrics. It was a rough pro-debut.

Ethan Keppen On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Average

Using events as a proxy for ice-time, I measured Keppen registering close to 15 minutes of TOI in his pro-debut. However, in the six games following, his average estimated ice time decreased to roughly nine minutes per game. I understand not wanting to blow a rookie’s confidence by cutting his ice time during his debut. But giving nearly 15 minutes of ice time to a line that was clearly in over its head didn’t work either.

Keppen recorded his first point as a professional on April 21st with a secondary assist off a nice takeaway in the neutral zone. Keppen played the puck up ice for Shawn Cameron, who then set up Tanner Kaspick for the Comets opening goal against the Binghamton Devils.

Truthfully, Keppen’s pro-debut did not inspire confidence. He’s a big body who showed off some decent wheels and a solid compete-level. Unfortunately, he looked lethargic, with nothing about his game indicating that he could fare better against normalized AHL competition. He might surprise if it was indeed the injuries and time off that dictated his performance.

As written during Lukas Jasek’s review, organizational depth heading into 2021-22 is incredibly important. Unlike Jasek, however, Keppen simply did not do enough to impress the Canucks that he was worth a longer look. Instead, he will re-enter this year’s entry draft.

He might be worth a seventh-round pick to a team betting on the 439-day layoff being the cause of Keppen’s struggles. At 6’2″ 209 lbs with decent speed and physicality, he could prove valuable if 2020-21 was indeed an outlier rather than an indicator of his potential.

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Defencemen

Josh Teves

Josh Teves 2020-21 Production Chart

Josh Teves cost the Aquilini family an estimated $1,029,772 to play one NHL game, 52 AHL games, and four ECHL games for the Canucks organization. Teves’ agent probably earned himself a very nice gift basket for the work he put in to get that contract deal completed.

During his first season in Utica, Teves did not ever earn the trust of the coaching staff. His reckless adventuring playstyle, combined with a lack of production, poor displays of hockey IQ, poor gap control, and a lack of on-ice defensive results, made him a frequent healthy scratch. All told, Teves spent 28 of the Comets 61 games in 2019-20 as a healthy scratch while missing four games to play in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.

Teves finished his rookie 2019-20 campaign with two points in 29 games played, 17 shots on goal, 48 attempts, and bottom-shelf on-ice shot control metrics at 5v5.

Josh Teves 2019-20 Player Card

The 2020-21 season was remarkably different for Teves; adventuring was nearly non-existent, 5v5 production stepped up, his playstyle was much safer, and his on-ice play control results were much better for it. Granted, they still weren’t great, but relative to his 2019-20 campaign, he looked like a different player altogether.

Teves finished with the fourth-most shot attempts at 5v5, an on-ice shot attempt differential of plus-20 at 5v5, and the third-most blocks while shorthanded. The Comets possessed an on-ice save percentage that was 3.17% better with Teves on the ice than without while shorthanded.

Josh Teves 2020-21 Player Card

Teves found himself in a niche role as a third pairing penalty-killing shutdown specialist alongside his most frequent d-partner, Mitch Eliot. The two were inseparable. Using shot attempt events as a proxy for ice-time, I estimated that Teves spent 67% of his 5v5 ice-time on a pairing with Eliot.

Josh Teves (4JT) On-Ice Event Share at 5v5

At 5v5, the dynamic duo of Teves/Eliot controlled shot attempts very well but struggled to prevent goals-against.

2020-21 Teves/Eliot Pairing 5v5 Impact

Before the Comets COVID-hiatus, Teves was healthy-scratched for three straight games before returning with two points at 5v5. During that initial stretch, he was on-ice for five goals-for and only three against at 5v5. It was a decent start for a player who struggled mightily to find his form during his rookie campaign.

Josh Teves On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

After the COVID-hiatus, Teves’ ice-time began to increase, though his pre-hiatus offence flatlined. He was on-ice for only two more additional goals-for at 5v5 while on-ice for an additional six goals-against. On the whole, Teves was fine at 5v5 but was above-average as a penalty killer.

Quick thoughts on Teves play this past season:

Teves signed a fantastic two-year deal with the Canucks after signing out of the NCAA in 2019. He earned $125k to split time between the AHL and the ECHL in his rookie season, then made a cool $700k to play third-pairing minutes in his sophomore follow-up. No NHL team is signing Teves’ to a $700k+ minors salary to play prescribed third-pairing minutes in the AHL. Teves will have to take a massive pay cut to continue with the Canucks, if they were even interested in bringing him back.

With AHL competition expected to be back to normal next season, and given the likelihood of requiring a massive pay decrease, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Teves cut bait and ply his trade in the Euro leagues for the remainder of his career.

He was fine. But the Canucks shouldn’t trip over themselves trying to negotiate an extension.

They’ve got bigger fish to try this offseason.

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Mitch Eliot

Mitch Eliot 2020-21 Production Chart

The other half of the Teves/Eliot dynamic duo. Unlike his partner, Eliot only found himself healthy-scratched twice throughout the Comets 28-game season.

An offensive-defenseman, Eliot recorded four points, all at 5v5, the fifth-most shots on goal, the second-most shot attempts at 5v5, with an on-ice shot attempt differential of plus-76 at 5v5.

Mitch Eliot 2020-21 Player Card

Eliot was his usual self as a volume shooter of heavy slapshots off the blueline. Though he did not find the back of the net this season, Eliot managed to record the second-most shots on goal among all defensemen in his prescribed third-pairing minutes. Only St. Louis Blues prospect Tyler Tucker recorded more shots on goal, with 52 total in 27 games.

Eliot notoriously recorded the highest minor penalties on the team. Not exactly ideal for a player being spoonfed offensive zone time as a penalty-killing specialist.

Mitch Eliot, the penalty taker

At 5v5, Eliot was seemingly always in the offensive zone controlling the blue line and hammering away with shot attempts. He was not a distributor; of all Comets defensemen, Eliot recorded the second-lowest primary shot-assists on Comets shots on goal.

2020-21 Utica Comets Defenseman Shot-Assist Rates

I admire Eliot’s commitment to the long bomb from the point. It didn’t work, but I respect the hustle!

Thanks to his individual offensive efforts, Eliot’s per-60 rates look pretty impressive. But, given his shot volume, the lack of production and low presence for on-ice goals-for at 5v5 leaves a lot to be desired. He was fine defensively against his on-ice competition.

Mitch Eliot On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Quick thoughts on Eliot’s play this past season:

Eliot has some unique skills as part of his toolkit, a solid work ethic, good defensive reads, surprisingly adept at penalty-killing while possessing a howitzer of a shot. If the Canucks threw Eliot in the ‘Reid Boucher’ spot for one-timers on the second unit, then they could surely get more out of him. I would say Eliot is worth another look with an extension on his qualifying offer for that reason alone. It would still be an AAV less than $900K buried in the minors.

During Eliot’s rookie campaign, he recorded higher points per game against much tougher AHL competition. So, I’d say the Canucks should take the chance that they can mine a similar season out of him next year. Now with the added contribution of being a proven effective penalty killer.

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Jett Woo

Jett Woo 2020-21 Production Chart

Jett Woo’s AHL debut was arguably the most compelling reason to watch the AHL this season. A defensively conscious offensive defenceman, Woo is one of the Canucks two right-shot draft picks currently in the pipeline. The other being 2020 7th rounder Viktor Persson, who makes his WHL debut with the Kamloops Blazers next season.

Understandably, Canucks fans were excited about the prospect of Jett Woo taking the next step in his development by testing himself in this watered-down AHL North Division.

Woo established himself early as a responsible second-pair utility defenceman with crisp skating, physicality, efficient decision-making and a high work rate around the net. Woo engaged in brutal wars of attrition around the d-zone, making his opponents work incredibly hard for their looks on every shift.

Woo was no slouch offensively either! Woo showed he wasn’t afraid of hopping up to join the rush for zone entries or for scoring chances of his own throughout the season. Woo’s third goal of the season was owed entirely to his speed and willingness to enter the zone.

Woo spent much of his season sharing ice-time at 5v5 and dominating with Jack Rathbone. Between his time with Rathbone, Woo was spending time at 5v5 with every defenceman who played for Utica as Mr. Reliable.

2020-21 Jett Woo (22JW) On-Ice Event Share

At times, the Comets required Woo to play on the left side, but he never looked all that confident on his off-side, so the experiment did not last. Woo acted as a shepherd to fellow debuting rookie Nathan Staios for the season’s final six games.

Woo didn’t leap off the page production-wise, but his on-ice impact was very impressive, more on that later. Though Woo did not lead in any individual categories, he did manage to lead all Comets with the highest on-ice goals-for presence at 5v5. Woo was on-ice for 20 of the Comets 51 5v5 goals-for. His on-ice 5v5 goal-differential of plus-6 tied with Jack Rathbone for second-best on the team.

Jett Woo 2020-21 Player Card

The only individual category Woo led in was giveaways, where he tied with Lukas Jasek for the team lead with 17 total giveaways. Woo was constantly looking for neutral zone passes, which often led to giveaways. Teams like the Syracuse Crunch, who love to attack with speed through the NZ, made mince-meat out of the Comets’ errant neutral zone passes. Not great, but whatever, it’s the AHL. Giveaways happen practically every 10 seconds in this league.

Woo’s on-ice impact was stellar all season. Given the variety of d-partners he had through 28 games, it’s impressive the kind of impact at 5v5 he had as a rookie, a rookie who also spent a good chunk of change on the teams’ penalty kill. His on-ice shot attempt differential at 5v5 was fourth-highest on the team, and relative to his estimated 5v5 ice-time, his on-ice impact was one of the best among Comets skaters.

2020-21 Jett Woo On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

Quick thoughts on Woo’s play this past season:

As Kevin Bieksa once said about a young Chris Tanev, “He could have played the game with a cigarette in his mouth; he’s so calm and cool out there.”

Woo still has a ton of room to grow. He needs to continue to add agility around the net, strength, and power on his shot.

Like Carson Focht, Woo’s real test will begin next season when AHL competition returns to normal. Woo performed incredibly well in this bizarre abbreviated season against watered-down competition. Next year, it’ll be a much greater test when the players of NHL taxi squads return to where they belong, the AHL.

Anyone pencilling Woo into the Canucks 2021-22 lineup needs to give their head a shake. Woo is in no rush to get into game action. If his production explodes in Abbotsford and he asserts himself as a no-brainer NHL player, then sure. Otherwise, Woo loses nothing in his development by spending a full season marinating against normalized AHL competition. Next season will be the second year of Woo’s three-year ELC; still plenty of time to grow within the organization.

Canucks fans will be watching his career with great interest!

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Jack Rathbone

Jack Rathbone 2020-21 Production Chart

Jack Rathbone established himself as a clear-cut NHL defenceman.

2020-21 Jack Rathbone On-Ice Rates Per-60 Relative to Team Averages

In eight games, Rathbone finished as the Comets’ seventh-best producer at 5v5. Rathbone recorded 39 individual shot attempts at 5v5 alone, 63 total.

2020-21 Jack Rathbone Player Card

I think most Canucks fans know what to expect from Rathbone at the NHL level by now. Rathbone finished his debut season with as many NHL points as Olli Juolevi in 15 fewer games. Rathbone tied Tyler Motte with the tenth-best points-per-game rate among all Canucks skaters, ninth if you don’t count Brogan Rafferty’s single assist in his only game played this past season.

Quick thoughts on Rathbone’s play this past season:

If Rathbone is not spending the majority of 2021-22 as a member of the Canucks d-core, then something has gone very, very, very wrong.

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Guillaume Brisebois

2020-21 Guillaume Brisebois Production Chart

*Comically long inhale*

BREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZEEEEEEEEE

*exhale and second comically-long inhale*

BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Brisebois allegedly played five games for the Comets this past season. He didn’t meet the threshold required to factor in on-ice impact charts. Brisebois held an on-ice shot attempt differential at 5v5 of negative-one, contributing to both the penalty kill and the powerplay. In five games, Brisebois was on-ice for one goal-for and three goals-against at 5v5. Brisebois spent an estimated 77.6% of his 5v5 ice-time with Jett Woo.

The Canucks head into 2021-22 deep on their left side of the ice. Brisebois (if tendered a qualifying offer) would serve as organizational depth in the event of injuries. He’s established himself as a capable AHL defender. However, he’s struggled to separate himself into being worthy of NHL game consideration.

Canucks need to round out their Abbotsford AHL squad and could use Brisebois for his utility as an all-situations veteran defenceman on their first pair.

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Goalies

Jake Kielly

2020-21 Jake Kielly Starter Stats

Kielly wasn’t great. He finished his season with the lowest save percentage, the highest goals-against-average, and the second-highest goals-allowed.

Against watered-down AHL competition, 2020-21 was a pretty rough season for Kielly.

There were numerous times where Kielly would push off heavy to one side and put himself into incredibly unfavourable positions. He could make some clutch saves here and there, but it was tough to watch him constantly put himself out of position, requiring that extra half-second to reset.

Maybe worth signing to an AHL deal as ECHL goalie depth.

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Michael DiPietro

2020-21 Michael DiPietro Starter Stats

What a waste of a year for DiPietro.

What more can be said.

He should have played so much more than he did this season.

Of course, the kid is a consummate professional and didn’t let the lack of game-action stop him from providing highlight reels saves during his brief four-game look.

DiPietro should be in for a busy workload next season as the number one starter for Abbotsford. The proximity to Vancouver should see DiPiero earning several looks with the NHL club.

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Conclusion

The Utica Comets overcame a brutal season and saw several prospects earn looks with the NHL club. Between the Comets’ success, hiring the Sedins to executive positions, and signing Vinny Arseneau to Abbotsford, I’d say the Canucks are on their way to rebuilding consumer confidence in the organization.

2020-21 hopefully marked the beginning of the Canucks reaping the fruits of their AHL development labour.

In his year-end availability, Jim Benning cited his disappointment in several young players not taking the next step forward.

Source: Daniel Wagner, Pass it to Bulis @ vancouverisawesome.com

At that same time, several Canucks prospects took their next steps forward, acquitting themselves well to the NHL during their call-up opportunities.

  • Kole Lind had a long look in the top-six where he held his own
  • Jack Rathbone showed he was a potential top-four calibre offensive-defenseman
  • Will Lockwood’s speed and tenacity stood out enough to be name-dropped by Benning several times during post-season interviews
  • Jonah Gadjovich scored so much that he left the Canucks no choice but to give him a look, and he looked fine!

Can more than one of those skaters earn a spot out of training camp? Can the AHL club build on last season’s successes and develop more depth pieces? With the Canucks looking to overhaul their defence and their bottom-six, multiple jobs will be up for grabs at this upcoming 2021-22 training camp!

I can’t wait to see what happens!

Thanks

Thanks to everyone for checking out this gargantuan evaluation and recap. Your readership is very much appreciated!

Me, after finishing this review:

My appreciation of you, the reader, for making it this far:

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7 thoughts on “2020-21 Utica Comets: Season Deep-Dive and Player Reviews

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