Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, there is notable intrigue surrounding the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, and with good reason. The roster is stocked with a number of high-profile young skaters that could make this a season worth watching in Utica. Indeed, it’s possible that if the Canucks’ season goes off the rails, the Comets may be the more interesting team of the two. Here are five standouts that may be worth keeping an eye on this season.
Nikolay Goldobin was acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Jannik Hansen, and made a splash quickly. The 22-year-old Russian demonstrated skill, speed, and flash in subsequent games, despite a game that wasn’t necessarily well-rounded. This past pre-season, Goldobin scored a handful of goals, but wasn’t especially impactful in the process. He was sent down to Utica, where he allegedly wasn’t pleased upon arrival, but will undoubtedly play a major offensive role with the club. Towards the end of the Comets’ 2016-17 campaign, Goldobin contributed an impressive four goals in three games, and it’s not unreasonable to think he could proceed to put up point-per-game numbers this season. He’ll undoubtedly be near the top of the Canucks’ call-up list, and is likely the most exciting player on the entire Comets roster.
Anton Rodin, a 2009 2nd round pick and former SHL MVP, was projected to make the Canucks last season, but suffered a knee injury that led to him skating in just two games (while sitting on the bench for the entirety of another). Rodin put up decent point and goal totals in the pre-season, but like Goldobin, failed to look particularly dangerous with regularity. Rodin will now have the chance to complete a full schedule in North America. Should he show prowess at the AHL level, Rodin will undoubtedly get a chance back with the Canucks, and prove that they made the right choice in bringing him back from Sweden.
One of the most polarizing of all Canucks prospects, this may be a make-or-break season for the youngest Subban brother. Subban, a 4th round pick in 2013, failed to show improvement in his all-round game in the pre-season, and should that trend continue in Utica, he’ll be in tough to ever get a chance on the Canucks roster. 2017-18 needs to be a year of growth for the 22-year-old, and if he fails to do so under head coach Trent Cull, it seems unlikely that the Canucks will bring him back upon the expiration of his Entry Level Contract this summer.
In what was a largely overlooked move, the Canucks signed undrafted defenceman Jalen Chatfield from the Windsor Spitfires. This pre-season, however, he put himself on a lot of people’s radars. Chatfield was among the Canucks, and league’s, top pre-season scorers, and doing so in demonstrating exceptional mobility as well as defensive poise. His skillset is one that is lacking from the Canucks, in that he can defend against tough opposition while sparking the transition game simultaneously. Should this be a trend that continues with the Utica Comets, expect the 21-year-old to rise up prospect rankings, and possibly get a look with the big club this season.
Philip Holm was signed out of Sweden last Spring, and few knew what to expect out of him. Those who were familiar with the 25-year-old touted him as a defensive-minded blue liner with poise and stability. After his performance in the pre-season however, that may be hard to believe. Holm demonstrated strong puck moving ability, and an offensive skillset that may favor a power play setting. His skating and offensive instincts may have come as a pleasant surprise, but his defensive game was quite the opposite. He often looked out of position and lacking in defensive awareness. However, this can be forgiven, as it was first experience on the smaller North American ice. Should he adapt quickly in Utica, Holm could be a defenceman worth watching, and it’s conceivabe that he could develop into an NHL level talent.