The start of the NHL regular season is just a little over a week away. Prior to the start of the season on October 3rd, teams need to have their 23-man rosters finalized, which means a deadline of 2:00 PM Pacific on October 2nd.
The Canucks are inching closer to 23 players. According to Ben Kuzma and Rick Dhaliwal, the Canucks cut four more players on Sunday, though the team has yet to make it official. The four players heading to Utica to join the Comets are Jonathan Dahlen, Petrus Palmu, Jalen Chatfield, and Reid Boucher.
By my count, that brings the Canucks to 18 forwards, 10 defencemen (plus an injured Evan McEneny), and three goaltenders. That leaves eight more cuts to go, unless Antoine Roussel and/or Loui Eriksson are not recovered from their injuries by the start of the regular season.
We can get into the players on the bubble that may or may not make the team later on. For now, let’s look at the four players cut on Sunday and see why they got cut and what the future holds for them.
It’s both disappointing and entirely unsurprising to see Jonathan Dahlen get cut from the Canucks. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the realities of the Canucks’ current roster meant that there just wasn’t a spot available for Dahlen.
Perhaps Dahlen could have changed that with a preseason that mirrored his outstanding performance in the Young Stars prospect tournament. Unfortunately, Dahlen just didn’t stand out enough in his two preseason appearances. He showed an ability to get in behind the defence with well-timed cuts across the blue line, but also showed some uncertainty with the puck as the pace picked up and time and space became harder to find.
That’s perfectly okay: Dahlen is just 20 and is about to embark on his first season in North America. A full season of top-six minutes in the AHL would likely help his development significantly, but he’s also a strong candidate to get called up mid-season if the Canucks have injury troubles at forward.
Dahlen is still the reigning Allsvenskan MVP and has the skill, skating, and hockey sense to be a top-six forward for the Canucks. He’ll just need a little time to get there.
Palmu was a longer shot than Dahlen to make the Canucks out of camp, but he impressed at Young Stars and in the preseason with a game that looks NHL-ready.
In his two preseason games, Palmu had six shots on goal over about 27 minutes of ice time. He impressed with his willingness to battle along the boards and frequently come out with the puck despite his smaller stature. He’s clearly got the strength and low centre of gravity to protect the puck at the NHL level.
His teammates were impressed. Erik Gudbranson was quick to praise Palmu for his battle level.
“Oh yeah, he’s one of those guys that I really liked out on the ice today,” said Gudbranson after Wednesday’s preseason game against the Flames. “Not shy, that’s for sure. He gets in there. I think he’s got a good career ahead of him. He’s got a great attitude around the room...he’s got a smile on his face, works hard, does the right things.”
Like Dahlen, however, there’s just no room on the roster for Palmu right now. He’ll get an opportunity in Utica to play significant minutes and could battle with Dahlen to be the first top-six winger called up this season.
Chatfield was the breakout star of the 2017 preseason, shocking everyone with 2 goals and 5 points in 2 games.
The points were somewhat misleading, as offence isn’t really Chatfield’s game. That showed in Utica, where he put up just seven points in 60 games. Instead, Chatfield is more along the lines of a Chris Tanev-type of defensive defenceman: smooth-skating, shot-blocking, and puck-moving.
Chatfield played a shutdown role in Utica, along with the penalty kill, and could have an NHL future on a third pairing at some point in the future. The issue with Chatfield is that he’s unlikely to add any offensive dimension to his game, making defence his sole calling card. That means he needs to be outstanding defensively to move the needle.
Chatfield played decently in the preseason — he was mostly unnoticeable, which is what you hope for from a defensive defenceman — but there were moments of uncertainty or questionable defensive reads. Combine that with a logjam on defence and Chatfield never really stood a chance of making the team out of camp.
In his second professional season, however, Chatfield could get a call-up, particularly if the Canucks’ usual luck with injuries prevails.
Technically, Reid Boucher hasn’t been cut yet, as he is waiver-eligible and has yet to be put on waivers. He’s likely to hit the waiver wire on Monday, then get assigned to Utica on Tuesday, unless he’s claimed. A claim seems unlikely, however, as he simply hasn’t done enough in the NHL to justify one.
It was a different story two seasons ago when the Canucks claimed Boucher off waivers themselves. In fact, Boucher was claimed off waivers three times that season.
At the time, Boucher showed flashes of top-six potential. He scored 8 goals and 19 points in 39 games the previous season with the New Jersey Devils, and was a point-per-game player in the AHL. Since then, however, Boucher hasn’t been able to break out.
The issue is that Boucher is largely one-dimensional. It’s a fantastic dimension, as Boucher has an excellent shot, with a wickedly quick release. The puck seems to explode off his stick in an instant with both velocity and accuracy.
The trouble is that you have to be able to create opportunities to use that shot, and Boucher just hasn’t been able to do so with any consistency at the NHL level. And, without putting up points, Boucher gives up too much defensively to earn any confidence from his coach.
Boucher could get another shot in a call up this season, but at 25, he basically is who he is. You can’t expect much more out of him than what he’s already showed. Perhaps a team willing to use him as a pure power play specialist — minimal minutes on the fourth line and prime power play time in a shooting role — could find a way to take advantage of that fantastic shot, but what NHL team is going to give that opportunity to a 25-year-old with a career-high of 8 goals in a season?
In Utica, Boucher should be on the top line, and can be expected to put up 20+ goals and a point-per-game pace.