One of the many critiques of the Canucks’ work in free agency has been that it removes the possibility of prospects on the bubble making the club. This is certainly true, however, injuries (as Canucks fans surely know) occur, meaning some players on the Utica Comets will get the chance to prove themselves. Here are four darkhorse candidates to make the team out of camp, and if not, that will be among the leading contenders to make themselves known throughout the season.
Called up at the end of the 2017-18 campaign due to a plethora of defensive injuries, Ashton Sautner did not look out of place. Sautner played a steady defensive style, and demonstrated enough mobility to handle himself at the NHL level, even managing two assists in the five games he played in. Indeed, his play was impressive enough that, with a strong pre-season, it’s conceivable that Sautner could play himself into the conversation as a 7th/8th defenceman for the team. Working against the 24-year-old however, is the lack of space on defence, particularly on the left side. In order for Sautner to get a shot, some space would need to be created via trade. However, if for whatever reason some moves do come to pass, it’s not unreasonable to assume he could make a push.
One of the more underrated stories from the most recent Comets season was perhaps the emergence of undrafted forward Zack MacEwen. MacEwen, signed as a free agent towards the end of the 2016-17 season, was considered by few as being in the Canucks’ future plans. In fact, his signing was critiqued by many, with observers seeing his upside as limited, and his addition merely taking a roster spot away from the team. However, MacEwen surprised many, scoring a solid ten goals and 33 points in 66 games, while demonstrating a physical edge. While the logjam up front makes it unlikely for MacEwen to see regular icetime, his offensive upside and physical pedigree could make him an attractive option on the fourth line should he impress in training camp.
Developing from fringe depth signing to legitimate prospect, Evan McEneny is in good standing with the Canucks organization. Depite an injury that limited him to just 11 AHL games last season, McEneny still has a reasonable chance to see NHL time next season. Like his peers, the crowded roster situation makes it hard to see a spot for him off the bat, however, he may just be at the top of the call-up list. His well-rounded skillset appears NHL ready, playing with a combination of stability and mobility that makes him look comfortable amongst higher-end talent. This was certainly evident in his one game stint with the Canucks in 2016-17. While not a game-breaker, McEneny will be on the radar as a defender looking to make a push for the NHL.
Carcone, who has caught attention with his speed and tenacity, is an intriguing name for many following the organization. Demonstrating excellent speed and tenacity, he brings a level of pace that some feel is lacking in the Canucks’ bottom-six. While his offence is limited, it’s not non-existent, with 15 goals and 27 points in 68 contests with Utica last year. It’s not unreasonable to think that Carcone could earn a call-up at some point this season, as he seems to be gaining prominence in these sort of discussions, and his skating could be a welcome contrast to the likes of Brendan Gaunce, who don’t push the game forward in a particularly noticable way.