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Let the battles begin

...a look at depth off-season moves for the Canucks and Comets

by Cory Hergott @CoryHergott / Freelance writer

It has been a busy offseason for the Vancouver Canucks and their AHL affiliate in Utica. With training camp quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to get you caught up to speed.

The Canucks and Comets have taken measures to ensure that they have sufficient depth on hand to withstand the inevitable injuries that come with playing professional hockey.

Vancouver

Vancouver has added depth up front with forwards Justin Bailey, Tyler Graovac, and Francis Perron. They have also shored up the backend with the likes of Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, and Mitch Eliot. Newcomer Zane McIntyre will help provide stability in goal as well, joining rookies Michael DiPietro and Jake Kielly in the battle for the crease with veteran Richard Bachman.

Let's take a quick look at the new group provided by the parent club.

Justin Bailey: RW - Signed to a one-year, two-way deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: OFFICIAL: #Canucks sign forward Justin Bailey to a one-year, two-way contract. https://t.co/N3kX4d3ig6

The 24-year-old native of Buffalo New York was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft, 52nd overall by his hometown Sabres. Since then, he has played in 63 NHL games split between the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers. During his time in the NHL, he has picked up five goals and four assists to give himself nine points to go along with eight penalty minutes.

At the AHL level, Bailey has split 213 games between the Rochester Americans and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In those 213 games, Bailey has managed to pick up 68 goals and 56 assists, giving him 124 points to go along with 109 penalty minutes.

At 6'4" and tipping the scales at 214lbs Bailey brings size and speed to the table, along with a history of scoring at just over a point/game pace at the AHL level. He will provide the Comets with those attributes while providing the Canucks with a capable winger for call-up duty when needed.

Tyler Graovac: C - Signed to a one-year, two-way deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: OFFICIAL: #Canucks sign centre Tyler Graovac to a two-way contract. https://t.co/5nkGVEZtKL

Continuing along with the theme of more size, the Canucks also brought the 6'5", 207lbs Tyler Graovac in to help set up the centre ice position in Utica. The 26-year-old native of Brampton Ontario was drafted 191st overall by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL draft.

Graovac brings 320 games of AHL experience to the table and is coming off of a career-year with 24 goals and 26 assists, giving him 50 points to go along with 37 penalty minutes in 65 games for the Stockton Heat.

The big pivot has put up 85 goals and 96 assists, to give himself 181 points in his AHL career split between the Iowa Wild, Hershey Bears, and Stockton Heat. He has also picked up seven goals and two helpers over 62 NHL games split between the Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals.

Francis Perron: LW - Acquired from San Jose along with a 7th round pick in the 2019 NHL draft for Tom Pyatt and a 6th round pick in the 2019 draft. Perron has since been re-signed to a one-year, two-way deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks sign Francis Perron to a one-year, two-way contract. https://t.co/BtNs6YWSrJ

Perron will be entering his fourth season of professional hockey after splitting his first three between the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks organizations. The 23-year-old product of Laval Quebec was drafted by Ottawa in the seventh round of the 2014 draft and spent two seasons with their AHL affiliate before becoming part of the Erik Karlsson trade last offseason.

The move to San Jose appeared to be a good one for the young winger as he put up career numbers with the AHL Barracuda, posting 18 goals, 29 assists, and 47 points to go along with his 26 penalty minutes. In 175 career AHL games, Perron has posted 28 goals, 60 assists, and 88 points along with 66 penalty minutes.

Perron brings some playmaking ability from the wing and has shown the knack for scoring goals as well.

Reid Boucher: LW/RW - Re-Signed to a one-year, two-way deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: Boucher is back! https://t.co/pZFeJPqFEO

The 25-year-old Boucher was re-signed to another one-year deal by the Canucks after posting a career-high 62 points on the back of his 31 goals and 31 assists in 56 Comets games last season. Those 31 goals broke the Comets single-season record of 25 that Boucher set the previous season and his 62 points tied the single-season high set by Pascal Pelletier in the Comets inaugural season in 2013/14.

Reid has become a leader in Utica and provides the club with a legitimate scoring threat whenever he is on the ice. Boucher also provides Vancouver with some handy scoring depth.

Moving on to the backend, Vancouver signed a trio of defenders last season who will likely be seeing action with the Comets this year. Brogan Rafferty and Josh Teves both saw some time with the Canucks last season after completing their NCAA careers, while Mitch Eliot will join the team out of the OHL.

Brogan Rafferty: RD - Signed to a two-year deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks sign defenceman Brogan Rafferty (@brogan_rafferty). The 23-year-old appeared in 38 games for Quinnipiac University this season, collecting 24 points. https://t.co/Gl5NQePQEo

Rafferty is a 24-year-old product of West Dundee Illinois who stands 6'2" and weighs in at 192lbs. The right-shot defender just wrapped up a three-year NCAA career with Quinnipiac where he was able to produce 10 goals and 55 assists over his 116 games with the club.

Brogan got into two games with Vancouver at the end of last season, going pointless but gaining valuable experience in his brief stint.

Rafferty brings a fairly well-rounded game to the table and should be able to provide some offence from the Comets blueline. The defender skates well and will add to the improved mobility on the Utica backend.

The rookie blueliner could join Jalen Chatfield, Dylan Blujus, and Mitch Eliot on the right side of the Comets defence for the 2019/20 season.

Josh Teves: LD - Signed to a two-year deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks sign defenceman Josh Teves to a one-year, entry-level contract. https://t.co/mwdLcDeDmD

Like Rafferty, Teves is 24-years-old and joins the team after finishing up his NCAA career. Teves, for his part, spent four seasons with Princeton, scoring 16 goals and adding 69 assists in his 126 games with the team. The left-shot defender checks in at 6'0" and 170lbs.

The native of Calgary Alberta got into one game at the end of last season with Vancouver, going pointless but grabbing two minutes in penalties along the way. He could be joining the likes of Olli Juolevi, Ashton Sautner, and Guillaume Brisebois on the left side of Utica's defence this season.

Last season, Teves put up three goals and 17 assists in 30 games after putting up 33 points in 31 games the year before. He could help provide some much-needed offence to the Utica defence.

Teves brings an element of speed to the Comets backend and makes a nice breakout pass as well.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks welcome back Josh Teves, Brogan Rafferty & Reid Boucher.Teves - 2������ year, 2������ wayRafferty - 2������ year, 2������ wayBoucher - 1������ year, 2������ wayhttps://t.co/L5M0tsYI7S

Mitch Eliot: RD - Signed to a three-year entry-level deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks sign @StingHockey defenceman Mitch Eliot (@mitch_eliot44) to a three-year entry level contract. https://t.co/OMqx8ltU92

At 21-years-old, Eliot is younger than Rafferty and Teves and after a 61 game stint with Michigan State in the NCAA, he moved over to the OHL and suited up with the Sarnia Sting.

Last year, the 6'0", 190lbs right-shot defender had a breakout season as an overage player for Sarnia, posting 17 goals and 38 assists on his way to 55 points in 66 games. The Orange County California native brings a hard, physical game with skating as one of his strengths. Like Rafferty and Teves, he should help improve the mobility on the Comets blueline.

Patience will be key with the three rookie defenders as the coaching staff gets them up to speed at the pro level.

Lastly, on the Vancouver side of things, the parent club has added three goaltenders who were not with the Comets last season in Zane McIntyre, Michael DiPietro, and Jake Kielly.

Zane McIntyre: G - Signed to a one-year-two-way deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: OFFICIAL: #Canucks sign goaltender Zane McIntyre to a two-way contract. https://t.co/MHLd7O6YkC

McIntyre, 27, joins the organization after spending his first four seasons as a pro in the Boston Bruins system. The 6'2", 205lbs netminder hails from Grand Forks North Dakota and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in the 2014-15 season for the University of North Dakota. He was an AHL All-Star as recently as the 2016/17 season and led the AHL with seven shutouts in 2017/18 while with the Providence Bruins.

McIntyre has shown the ability to play a good amount of games as he has started 93 over his past two seasons while starting in 31 games in each of his first two seasons. He also has eight games of experience at the NHL level, going 0-4-1 with a 3.97 goals-against-average and 0.858% save percentage for Boston in the 2016/17 season.

The netminder went 25-21-2 last year for Providence while posting a goals-against-average of 2.59 and a 0.898% save percentage along with two shutouts.

Michael DiPietro: G - Drafted in the third round, 64th overall in the 2017 draft by Vancouver.

The 20-year-old rookie will be getting his first taste of AHL action this year, but the young netminder already has an NHL game under his belt with Vancouver. DiPietro hails from Windsor Ontario and has spent his junior career in the OHL.

DiPietro put up stellar numbers with the Windsor Spitfires and Ottawa 67's over his junior career, picking up a Memorial Cup in the 2016/17 season with Windsor and earning the Mem Cup's Most Outstanding Goalie award for his efforts. He's been an OHL All-Star and an OHL Goaltender of the Year as well. It's time to see what he can do at the pro level.

The 6'0", 201lbs netminder played 21 games for Windsor last year, going 11-8-1 while posting a goals-against-average of 2.32 and a 0.920% save percentage. After his trade to Ottawa, he went 12-4-0 in 17 starts while putting up a 2.51 GAA and a save percentage of 0.897%.

Jake Kielly: G - Signed to a two-year deal by Vancouver.

Tweet from @Canucks: #Canucks sign goaltender Jake Kielly (@J_Kielly1). The 22-year-old started 39 games for Clarkson University Golden Knights this season, going 26-11-2. His win total ranked second in the nation. https://t.co/xuYXNZDzDs

At 22-years-old, Kielly bridges the age gap between McIntyre and DiPietro. The Eden Prairie Minnesota native stands 6'2" and tips the scales at 201lbs.

Jake is a proven winner with a USHL Clark Cup championship and an ECAC championship from last season in the NCAA to his credit as well. He spent three seasons with Clarkson University and wore an "A" on his sweater for the team last year.

Kielly's numbers in the NCAA were remarkably consistent as he posted back-to-back seasons with a sparkling 0.929% save percentage. Last year he managed a goals-against-average of 1.91 in his 39 games after going 26-11-2 with Clarkson. In his three years of NCAA hockey, Kielly posted a total of 16 shutouts, averaging roughly one for every seven games that he played.

Utica

The Comets also signed some players this offseason. The team has inked four new faces while bringing back three others who were on AHL deals with the team last year. They have also rewarded four more who came in on tryout deals last year with AHL contracts for the upcoming season. Captain Carter Bancks and fellow veteran Wacey Hamilton each have one year remaining on their AHL pacts with Utica as well.

That brings us to a total of 13 players who are currently signed to AHL deals by Utica after the club had 15 last year. Let's look at this year's new faces first.

New Faces

Carter Camper: C - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Tweet from @UticaComets: The camper has arrived just in time for Fourth of July weekend!! The Comets have signed @carter_camper to an AHL deal!More: https://t.co/0pEOpH8F6p pic.twitter.com/g1eJtk2WBm

Camper brings 510 games of AHL experience to the table and he hasn't been shy about putting up points in the league with a career 0.75 points/game average at the AHL level.

The 31-year-old native of Rocky River Ohio doesn't bring much in the way of size, standing 5'9" and weighing in at 176lbs, but that clearly hasn't prevented him from putting up points. With 276 AHL assists over his career, Camper has proven to be a playmaker and should be able to help the young players in Utica improve on their point totals from last year.

The veteran has made his way around the AHL, suiting up for eight different squads during his career but he has been able to produce points in every stop. Last year, with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the pivot put up 17 goals and 33 assists, giving him 50 points along with 24 penalty minutes in 67 contests.

Camper is a good bet to start the year in Utica.

Tanner Sorenson: C - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Tweet from @UticaComets: Get to know one of the newest members of the Comets, Tanner Sorenson!Read: https://t.co/pxvlnQrktF pic.twitter.com/X5Jdu4DPnG

Sorenson, 26, hails from Anchorage Alaska and is no stranger to the Canucks ECHL affiliate in Kalamazoo. The 5'9", 179lbs pivot has played the bulk of three seasons in Kalamazoo with brief pitstops overseas as well.

After two seasons in Kalamazoo where he played in 131 games and put up 72 points, Sorenson headed overseas to try his luck in the VHL with Torpedo Ust-Kamengorsk where he put up 17 goals, 14 assists, and 31 points in 45 games. Sorenson started the following season with EHC Winterthur of the NLB, putting up five points in eight games before returning to Kalamazoo to finish off his season with 64 points in 55 games with the Wings. He also brings a bit of edge for a man of his physical stature.

Sorenson will provide the Comets with some depth down the middle for when the injuries hit.

Dylan Sadowy: LW/RW - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Tweet from @UticaComets: The Comets have signed forward Dylan Sadowy to an AHL contract.More: https://t.co/5yBiQOBKZY pic.twitter.com/HisApOBVh6

The Comets have also signed depth winger Dylan Sadowy to a one-year deal. The 23-year-old product of Brampton Ontario stands 6'1" and weighs in at 205lbs. Sadoway was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks before being dealt to the Detroit Red Wings in 2016 for another third-round pick.

The winger has spent the bulk of his time in the ECHL, playing 88 games and putting up 79 points with the Toledo Walleye. Last year he was able to put up 46 points in 43 games for the club. At the AHL level, he has picked up five goals and two helpers in 65 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Sadoway will be another depth option for Trent Cull and his staff when the injuries and call-ups hit the Comets roster.

Zach Frye: LD - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica. 

Tweet from @UticaComets: The Comets have signed @Fryzie21 to an AHL contract.More: https://t.co/ViAW4dWtdk pic.twitter.com/hQDwkt4MEK

The Comets have also added left-shot defender Zach Frye to the fold for the 2019/20 season. The 25-year-old native of Spokane Washington stands 6'1" and tips the scales at 201lbs. Frye spent four seasons with the University of Alaska in the NCAA before turning pro with the San Jose Barracuda in the 2017/18 season.

In his final two seasons of NCAA hockey, the rearguard wore an "A" on his jersey and increased his points totals in each year. Frye was able to produce at just over half a point/game in his 136 NCAA games with 77 points to his credit. He also didn't shy away from the rough stuff as evidenced by his 188 minutes spent in the penalty box.

Since turning pro, Frye has played 25 games in the ECHL, putting up 16 points with the Orlando Solar Bears last year, along with 58penaltyy minutes. He also has four points in 16 games at the AHL level with the Barracuda to go along with 25 penalty minutes.

Frye will provide defensive depth for the Comets this year.

Returning On AHL Deals

Vincent Arseneau: LW/RW - Re-Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Arseneau first joined the Comets on a tryout deal in the 2017/18 season and spent 20 games with the team, putting up one goal and one assist to go along with his 49 minutes in penalties. That performance earned him an AHL deal with the team last year that saw him put up a career-high nine goals and 11 points in his 38 games. He also added another 49 minutes in penalties.

The 27-year-old product of Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine Quebec stands 6'2" and weighs in at a solid 230lbs. He brings a heavy, physical game and provides a safe working environment for the team's young prospects.

Arseneau is back for another year with the Comets and should provide more of the same.

Dylan Blujus: RD - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Like Arseneau, Blujus first came to the Comets on a tryout deal before earning an AHL pact with the club. The 6'3", 203lbs product of Buffalo New York is 25-years-old. Blujus was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2012 draft and spent parts of three seasons with their farm team in Syracuse.

In his 239 AHL games, Blujus has put up 16 goals and 57 assists to give himself 73 points for his efforts. He has picked up 24 of those points in his 88 games with Utica over the past two seasons to go along with 65 penalty minutes.

Blujus provides the Comets with a steady, shot-blocking defenceman who can handle some penalty killing duty when called upon.

Stefan LeBlanc: LD - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

LeBlanc was acquired last season by the Comets in a mid-season trade with the Toronto Marlies that saw forward Tanner MacMaster head the other way. The 23-year-old Oakville Ontario native stands 6'1", and weighs in at 185lbs.

LeBlanc was a point producer in the OHL, putting up 120 points in 258 games split between the Sudbury Wolves and Mississauga Steelheads where he had an "A" stitched to his sweater for his final three seasons. He turned pro with the Laval Rocket, collecting 10 points in his 56 game rookie campaign. Last year, he split his time between the Toronto Marlies and Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL before joining the Comets.

The defender was able to produce 15 points in 26 games for the Growlers while adding another seven points in 17 games for Toronto. After joining Utica, LeBlanc tallied six assists in 25 games while proving to be a capable penalty killer.

From PTO to AHL Deal

The Comets have used their fair share of players on tryout deals in recent years and as mentioned above, some of those players have parlayed those PTOs into AHL contracts. The following players did enough in their auditions last year to earn an AHL deal with Utica this season.

Seamus Malone: F - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Malone, 23, was signed to a PTO, (Professional Tryout Offer) by Utica near the end of last season. The 5'10", 181lbs product of Naperville Illinois got into six games with the Comets last year before suffering a broken arm to end his campaign. In those six games, however, the versatile forward managed to pot three goals and added another in a shootout.

Before joining Utica, Malone spent four seasons plying his trade in the NCAA with the University of Wisconsin, wearing an "A" in his final two years. Malone plays a skill game, but also brings a feisty brand of hockey to the table. He put up 104 points over his 143 game NCAA career and also added 117 penalty minutes. The rookie can line up at all three forward positions and will be pushing for a spot in Utica this season.

Dyson Stevenson: F - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Stevenson brings a different style of hockey to the table as the 26-year-old makes no bones about enjoying the rough stuff. The native of Shaunavon Saskatchewan is listed at 6"0" and 185lbs. Like Malone, Stevenson can line up at any position up front.

Stevenson has spent the bulk of his pro career playing in the ECHL, lining up for four different clubs and putting up 130 points and 639 penalty minutes in 279 games. He has played in nine AHL games, split between the Portland Pirates, Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Utica Comets. Last year, in his three-game stint in Utica, Stevenson didn't pick up any points but made his presence felt in a spirited tilt with Shawn O'Donnell.

The forward will provide the Comets with versatile depth up front.

Matt Petgrave: LD/F - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Petgrave, 27, hails from Toronto Ontario and is listed at 6'1" and 201lbs. He turned pro with the ECHL's Brampton Beast in the 2016/17 season after completing a four-year run with the University of New Brunswick. Petgrave has since played for the Laval Rocket, Belleville Senators, Syracuse Crunch, and the Comets on PTOs before earning his first AHL deal this offseason.

In 99 ECHL games with Brampton, Petgrave has registered 17 goals and 65 points. In his 27 AHL contests, he has picked up two points, both in his 12 games with Utica last season.

Petgrave can play both forward and defence, but I would expect that he will spend the majority of his time on the backend. He will provide the Comets with depth when needed.

Aaron Thow: LD - Signed to a one-year AHL deal by Utica.

Thow, like Petgrave, joined Utica in the late going last year and got into a handful of games with the club. The 24-year-old native of East York Ontario stands 6'1" and weighs 194lbs.

Thow joined Utica after finishing his four-year NCAA career with Clarkson University where he played with Jake Kielly. In his 144 NCAA games, Thow put up 52 points while amassing 93 penalty minutes. In six games with Utica, he picked up one assist and four peanlty minutes.

The rearguard will provide Utica with some injury/call-up depth as the season goes on.

As we can see, the organization has had a productive summer of making additions to help Utica get through another AHL season where injuries and call-ups are part of the business and need to be planned for.

All of the players listed above will be added to the carryovers from last year, making for a competitive environment as the season gets underway.

A Quick Look At The Returnees

  • Zack MacEwen: RW. 23-years-old, 6'4", 215lbs. Last year: 69 games, 22 goals, 30 assists, 52 points, 75 penalty minutes. Finished third in team scoring.
  • Lukas Jasek: RW. 22-years-old, 5'11", 165lbs. Last year: 63 games, nine goals, 20 assists, 29 points, 24 penalty minutes. Finished seventh in team scoring.
  • Kole Lind: RW. 20-years-old, 6'1", 179lbs. Last year: 51 games, five goals, 12 assists,17 points, 29 penalty minutes.
  • Carter Bancks: LW/RW. 30-years-old, 5'11", 181lbs. Last year: 69 games, four goals, 11 assists, 15 points, 47 penalty minutes.
  • Olli Juolevi: LD. 21-years-old, 6'2", 183lbs. Last year: 18 games, one goal, 12 assists, 13 points, two penalty minutes.
  • Adam Gaudette: C. 22-years-old, 6'1", 170lbs. Last year: 14 games, five goals, six assists, 11 points, 12 penalty minutes.
  • Guillaume Brisebois: LD. 22-years-old, 6'2", 174lbs. Last year: 49 games, three goals, eight assists, 11 points, 22 penalty minutes.
  • Wacey Hamilton: F. 28-years-old, 5'11", 187lbs. Last year: 23 games, one goal, 10 assists, 11 points, 33 penalty minutes.
  • Jonah Gadjovich: LW/RW. 20-years-old, 6'2", 209lbs. Last year: 43 games, four goals, six assists, 10 points, 32 penalty minutes.
  • Jalen Chatfield: RD. 23-years-old, 6'1", 187lbs. Last year: 34 games, zero goals, six assists, six points, 15 penalty minutes.
  • Richard Bachman: G. 32-years-old, 5'10", 183lbs. Last season: nine games, five wins, four losses. 3.76 GAA, 0.884% save percentage.

After the smoke clears from training camp, I will be back to bring you a season preview of what the Utica Comets roster will look like for the upcoming season. Stay tuned.

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