With the NHL’s return to play initiative officially getting underway, the Vancouver Canucks have plucked nine familiar faces to be available options when they open their best-of-five series against the Minnesota Wild in August.
With jaw-dropping size and speed, it took no time for Justin Bailey to quickly become a fan favorite in Utica this year. And when the fifth-year forward found his stride, he was a force to be reckoned with. The Buffalo native erupted this year for career highs in goals (28) and points (47), while tying a franchise record with 11 power play goals during the shortened season.
Bailey’s most notable stretch was a span of three hat tricks in four games from January 10-17, in which the entire AHL took notice of his dominance. His 12-goal form in the month of January earned him a call-up to Vancouver, where he appeared in two games.
As steady as they come on the backend, Guillaume Brisebois continued to showcase a calm demeanor, excellent positioning, and a well thought out approach to his game during the ’19-’20 season. The third-year pro skated in 49 games with the Comets, earning a career-high four goals and notching 15 total points while skating to a team-best +21 rating
His reliable performance all season long allowed the 22 year old to earn the team’s Defenseman of the Year award and multiple call-ups to the NHL, but he didn’t appear in any games.
Similar to Brisebois, it isn’t Jalen Chatfield’s offensive presence that sets him apart from the pack. The smooth-skating, always-in-position defenseman had another season to be proud of in Utica, skating in 48 games and earning a +12 rating, good enough for second best on the team. All year long he continued to cement himself as one of the team’s top penalty killers and most trusted lockdown defensemen.
Chatfield was up and down from Vancouver all season long as a repeated call-up, but the native of Ypsilanti, Mich., didn’t see any game action at the NHL level.
Becoming the go-to guy for the Comets in January, DiPietro seized the opportunity as the team’s number-one netminder and stood out as one of the league’s top young goalies. All season long he was on top of his game, showcasing an incredible work ethic and composure in all situations. When the season ended, the 21-year-old stopper registered a record of 21-11-2, with a GAA of 2.79 and a save percentage of .908%.
The Windsor, Ont., native led all AHL rookie goalies with 21 wins on the season, and earned the team awards for Player with the Most Heart and as the Class Guy selected by the staff.
Signing with Vancouver as a free agent following a 50-point season in Stockton the year before, Tyler Graovac was brought in to be a puck-moving centerman who exceled in both powerplay and penalty kill scenarios. After skating in a handful of games with the Comets, Graovac was summoned to Vancouver to fill a void in the middle of the ice in November. He skated in eight games and scored twice with Vancouver, but the seventh-year pro suffered a lower-body injury while with the Canucks and didn’t return to game action until the end of February.
In total, the sure-handed Graovac appeared in 11 games with Utica and tallied two goals and an assist.
After injuries limited to Olli Juolevi to just 18 games last year, the Finnish defenseman was able to stay mostly healthy during the 2019-20 campaign and skate in 45 contests with the Comets. Selected with the fifth pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Juolevi showed off on many occasions why he remains such a highly-touted prospect in the Canucks system this year. Picking up two goals and 23 assists on the year, Juolevi was the quarterback of the team’s second powerplay unit and logged tons of ice time in his official rookie season in North America.
Perhaps where Juolevi excelled the most was on the penalty kill, where he was often times the team’s best shot blocker, and his ability to sniff out passing lanes was second to none.
After a widely-publicized rookie season brought on struggles for the young forward, Kole Lind stepped up in a big way during the 2019-20 campaign. Earning a spot in the team’s top-six forwards, Lind exploded for 14 goals and 30 assists during his second season in Utica. The native of Shaunavon, SK, impressed all season long with his calm demeanor on the team’s power play, and his incisive passing set up many goals and opportunities for the Comets.
Self-identifying as a scrappy player who’s not afraid to dust it up and make enemies on the opposing team, Lind finished second on the team with 64 penalty minutes and found a great balance between the scrap and skill that he values as an effective forward.
Dazzling with his effortless displays of skill all season long, Brogan Rafferty shot up the board as one of the Canucks’ top prospects after a rookie season that was impossible to ignore around the leagues. Rafferty electrified the Comets with seven goals and set a team record for most points by a defenseman with 45 on the year. The most impressive of all stretches for the product of Quinnipiac University was the month of December, where he tallied 3 goals and 13 assists for 16 points and AHL Rookie of the Month honors.
In total, Rafferty had 11 multi-point nights, including a four-point outing on January 15 against Hartford. He was voted to represent Utica at the AHL All-Star Classic in Ontario, Calif. and was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team and Second All-Star Team.
Perhaps the most rugged member of the Comets defense continued to be Ashton Sautner who, in his fifth year with the organization, continued to use his size and strength to his advantage. The native of Flaxcomb, SK, was one of the team’s assistant captains this year and was the leader on the blue line while skating to the tune of one goal, 11 assists, and 12 total points over 51 games.
Sautner is often identified by his endless motor and absolute willingness to sacrifice his body in order to block shots or clear dangerous areas of the defensive zone. The 26 year old was called up on a few occasions this year and skated in one game with the Canucks.
Only time will tell if any of these Comets will see game action in Vancouver’s series against the Wild, but one can rest assured that if the opportunity comes, there is no doubt that the team’s young guns will be ready to answer the bell.