April 17, 2018,Vancouver,BC- The season may be over for the Canucks, but the excitement is only beginning. The Canucks NHL silly season will be headlined by the $25 million of salary cap space available but that is far from the only story-line to be followed.
The busy off season is kicked off by many promising Canucks prospects joining the AHL’s Utica Comets for their playoff run. The team is littered with young talent and skill, with most of the Canucks overseas prospects joining an already promising group of players. Goaltender Thatcher Demko is joined by forwards, Nikolay Goldobin, Jonathen Dahlen, Kole Lind, and defenseman Ashton Sautner. With all of these new faces, the attention is higher than ever for the northern New York team.
Thatcher Demko, Nikolay Goldobin, and Ashton Sautner have all spent time in the NHL this season with the Canucks, and none have looked too out of place.
Demko was called up on an emergency basis late in the season due to Anders Nillson coming down with an illness, leaving the Canucks with only one goaltender in Vancouver. On March 31st The 22 year old made his NHL debut for Vancouver against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and surprised many by keeping the game close and not looking out of place until the closing minutes when the Canucks fell apart and surrendered three goals to force overtime. Demko made 25 saves on 29 shots in the Canucks 5-4 win, although he did get lucky a few times with the three shots hitting the post “I had a few posts tonight,” he said. “I think they’re bigger up here than they are in the AHL.” despite looking solid with the big boys he had to return to Utica after Nillson was deemed healthy.
It was a great moment personally for Demko, and it gave Canucks fans glimpse of what is to come in the goal crease in the future. For Utica, Demko posted a .922 save percentage and set the franchise record in wins with 25 in 26 games.
If he continues to play so well, the possibility and probability of him being the primary NHL backup behind Markstrom only increases
The return from the Janik Hansen trade; Nikolay Goldobin has shown sparks of promise for the Canucks. Although 14 points in 38 games is nothing magnificent, the Canuck’s only Russian came into his own in the final stretch of games in the season including a two goal performance against the Pacific division champion Vegas Golden Knights. Pairing with fellow youngsters Jake Virtanen and Brendan Leipsic; Goldobin became an offensive threat for the Canucks and began to look like the top six forward management wants to him to develop into.
Both Demko and Goldobin have returned to the Comets for their playoff run, and will certainly be a welcome presence in an already strong Utica team.
After tearing up the WHL and leading Kelowna to the Quarter Finals, Lind joins the Utica Comets for his first spell as a professional. He registered 85 points (35 goals, 50 assists) in 51 games in his third full season with the Rockets. With such astonishing numbers, the 19 year-old from Shaunavon, Sask. earned a three year entry-level deal with the Canucks and was immediately assigned to Utica to kick start his professional career.
“We’ve been impressed not only with his high-end offensive skill but also in the way he battles, sees the ice and makes plays in the defensive end.” Canucks GM Jim Benning said of the 33rd overall pick who now looks like a late draft steal.
Lind took a couple games to settle into the professional atmosphere, but has seemed to find his stride, notching his first AHL point with a secondary assist in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Belleville Senators. He has been getting quite a bit of ice time, and has been on the power play as the Utica coaching staff try to build up his confidence ahead of the playoffs.
Although these games are his first as a professional, Lind could be in the running for an NHL roster spot as soon as next year for the youthful Canucks.
Coming from the Allsvenskan (Sweden 2nd division), Dahlen is one of the Canucks young Swedes. The Canucks acquired Dahlen from Ottawa last season in return for veteran forward Alex Burrows as the Senators went all in for their cup run. Dahlen led his hometown team Timra IK to a miraculous promotion playoff comeback after being 3-1 down in the series, earning the Swedish side a promotion to the SHL. After finishing that series, he was re-assigned to Utica to begin his North American career.
As much as Canucks fans want to see Dahlen succeed immediately, the transition to the North American game could take some time. The forward has been known to play a very direct game, using the middle of the ice to dictate most of his play. With less space on the ice, Dahlen will have to figure out ways to adjust his style to find success in the AHL and eventually NHL.
He seems to have adjusted quickly to the changes, and got his first goal in just his second game with the Comets. After two games this week, Dahlen finished with a goal and an assist. Although both these points came against the last place Binghampton Devils (New Jersey Affiliate) his quick adjustment and hard work has been impressive.
Dahlen will likely bounce between Vancouver and Utica next season, but depending on how training camp goes and what strides he makes in the summer the 2016 42nd overall pick could improve his NHL chances.
The most exciting defenseman in the Canucks prospect system behind 2016 first round pick Olli Juolevi, Sautner has enjoyed a largely successful season with the Comets. In 61 games he has three goals and ten assists to go along with his stable defensive qualities.
The left handed defenseman earned himself a late season NHL call-up where he quickly launched himself up the prospect rankings. In his short five game spell with the Canucks, Sautner got two assists and had his first career goal called back for offside against the Vegas Golden Knights.
With the Canucks low on defensive prospects, and the NHL team struggling to keep the puck out of the net; Sautner’s level headed play was a welcome surprise for fans and management. He even forced the unsettled Ben Hutton out of the lineup for three games, in which was both a statement on his play and the ongoing feud between head coach Travis Green or Hutton.
Before his call up, Sautner was signed to a two year contract extension signalling the Canucks commitment to one of their few promising defenseman
As Hutton’s time in Vancouver seems to be winding down and Derick Pouliot enters negotiations for next season; Sautner could find himself right in the top six defenseman mix for the Canucks next year.
Other Canucks prospects continue in their playoff pursuits as well with Jonah Gadjovich and Brett McKenzie currently in the OHL playoffs with the Owen Sound, while his former teammate Petrus Palmu finishes off the season with TPS Turku in Finland. The Canucks most exciting prospect Elias Petterson is in the SHL Final with the Vaxjo Lakers and will look to cap off his record setting season with a league championship.
The Comets open up their playoffs away to the Toronto Marlies who finished the season as the leagues number one seed. The Maple Leaf Afilliates are not short on prospects either, and could be complimented with Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott If the Maple leafs are eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Comets will be without leading scorer Reid Boucher who continues to be sidelined with a broken hand. If Toronto get their players back, this series could look like a throw away for the Comets despite all the help from prospects.