We’re right on the verge of the real roster cuts. The ones that hurt. There are players that Canucks fans desperately want to see on the team that simply won’t make the roster, but are victims of asset management or just not ready.
For some fans, perhaps those cuts started on Friday, as the Canucks announced that two of their top prospects, Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich, have been sent down to the AHL. Joining them are fellow Canucks prospects Guillaume Brisebois, Lukas Jasek, and Zack MacEwen, along with Tanner Kero, Richard Bachman, and Ivan Kulbakov.
As always, PITB is here to breakdown why these players have been cut from the roster and what lies ahead for them this season.
Heading into training camp, in the right light, if you squinted hard enough, you might have seen a path for Kole Lind or Jonah Gadjovich to make the Canucks roster. Realistically, however, they were always going to start their first professional season in the AHL.
Lind is eligible to return to Junior for his over-age year, but there’s little more he can accomplish in the WHL. He was dominant with the Kelowna Rockets last season, racking up 39 goals and 95 points in just 58 games, good for the sixth-best points-per-game in the league. He followed that up with 8 points in 4 playoff games.
He was partly fueled by a late cut from Team Canada’s World Junior roster, in what was his final year of eligibility for the under-20 tournament. After a relatively slow start to the season while battling mono, he erupted after the World Junior snub, racking up points in the back half of the season.
Despite such a strong Junior season, Lind would have needed an incredible training camp and preseason to earn a spot. He was given opportunities to stand out, playing on a line with Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen at the Young Stars tournament. He wasn’t bad, by any means, but he definitely looked like he needed some time in the AHL.
On Wednesday night, we got a glimpse at what could be one of Utica’s top lines to start the season, as Lind skated with Brendan Gaunce and Reid Boucher. That trio looked dangerous and it should be a good opportunity for Lind to get some attention in the AHL. Lind talked about making an impression on not only the Canucks, but also Trent Cull, head coach of the Comets.
“I think it factors in quite a bit,” he said. ”Obviously we’re going to be facing a lot of the AHL guys, or their younger guys, so I think I want to go out there, show confidence, believe in myself to play my game and be a guy that can be leaned on.”
Drafted in the same round and year as Lind, Gadjovich has stumbled a bit more since then. After 46 goals in 60 games in his draft year, Gadjovich had just 25 goals in 42 games last season. He still put up more than a point per game, so his numbers certainly weren’t terrible, but it was still a bit disappointing.
On the other hand, Gadjovich was playing through a series of minor injuries throughout the year that help explain his struggles. He’s still an excellent prospect with a chance of becoming a true power forward at the NHL level. He’s got size, strength, and great finish, both around the net and from further out with his wrist shot.
Skating is the biggest area of improvement for Gadjovich as he heads down to the AHL. He has good lateral mobility and tends to be good once possession is established in the offensive zone, but in order to create time and space in transition, he’ll need to improve his acceleration and speed.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gadjovich spend the full season in the AHL, working his way up from the bottom-six to the top-six.
The Canucks are very high on Brisebois, which might ultimately be to his detriment. He’s constantly listed among their key prospects on defence, when it seems like his ceiling is as a third-pairing defender and has a lot of work to do to reach that ceiling.
Brisebois had a decent first professional season in the AHL, playing in all situations for the Utica Comets. At 21, there’s still room for growth and development, and there are things to like about his game.
Since Brisebois is unlikely to rack up points at the NHL level, he’ll need to prove himself as a defender who can move the puck up effectively in transition. In general, Brisebois plays sound positional defence in his own zone and has the reach and skating to close gaps and force plays to the outside.
The concerns I have with Brisebois are with his defensive reads off the rush and his decision-making with the puck. If Brisebois can start to think the game more quickly, he could carve out a place for himself in the NHL, because he has a lot of the physical tools to be an effective defensive defenceman.
For now, he’ll start the season in the AHL and likely play a significant role in his second season. A call-up to the NHL if injuries strike wouldn’t be surprising.
There’s a dynamic quality to Jasek’s game that occasionally makes him jump out from his peers, but it just wasn’t there consistently enough in training camp or preseason. Really, it’s nice to see him at all.
In the three years since he was drafted, Jasek has been a man of mystery, bouncing around Czech leagues like a pinball. It was hard to get a read on him as he never seemed to stay long enough in one place to establish himself.
Finally, however, he came over to North America at the end of last season and played 6 regular season games and one playoff game with the Utica Comets before he got injured. In those 7 games, he had 7 points, which was definitely enough to get some attention.
He couldn’t keep it rolling with the Canucks this past week, however, as he seemed tentative at times. At 21, Jasek will be playing his first full season in North America and a spell in the AHL should be just what he needs to find his confidence. With his speed and decent puck skills, you might expect him to be a top-six forward type of guy, but he really projects as a speedy, third-line player. Think more Jannik Hansen than Mason Raymond.
At the very least, Jasek has gone from not being a consideration at all as a Canucks prospect to being in the conversation.
Not much was expected out of Zack MacEwen last season. Signed out of the QMJHL in his over-age season, MacEwen seemed like AHL depth at best, with little to suggest that he had much upside.
He surprised everyone, to the point that The Athletic now ranks him as the 10th best prospect in the Canucks’ system.
It’s not just that he put up 33 points in 66 games as an AHL rookie, though that’s solid production. It’s the way he did it. He doesn’t play a complicated game, but plays to his strengths: size, grit, and enough skill to work with pretty much any linemates you give him.
Essentially, MacEwen is a useful complementary player, capable of creating space for skilled linemates and retrieving the puck on the forecheck, as well as banging and crashing around the net to put in loose pucks. He’s got surprisingly soft hands for his size and is strong on the puck, making him difficult to contend with on the cycle. All those attributes also make him an effective netfront presence on the power play.
MacEwen could fit into a lot of different lines at the NHL level if he develops well in his second AHL season. He’s definitely someone to watch.
Tanner Kero and Richard Bachman
Both Kero and Bachman are players that could see spot duty in the NHL this season. Bachman is fourth on the depth chart in net, so will only don a Canucks jersey if the Canucks face some serious injury trouble.
Kero, on the other hand, is more likely to get called up, simply because the Canucks lack depth at centre. Assuming Adam Gaudette gets sent down to the AHL, he and Kero will essentially be the only two centres in Utica with NHL contracts. A couple injuries at centre for the Canucks could see Kero get a quick call up.
As a depth option, Kero’s not bad. He has 72 games of NHL experience with the Blackhawks and 22 points in that time. In Chicago, Kero played in a bottom-six role, including a pinch of time on the penalty kill. In the AHL, Kero is a top-six forward, with great vision and playmaking ability and a decent shot.
Kero didn’t get a chance to prove himself in the preseason and isn’t really a prospect anymore at 26, but he could still be a decent depth option as the season progresses.
The lone player cut from the Canucks on Friday without a Canucks contract, Ivan Kulbakov will report to the Utica Comets. The Comets signed the 22-year-old Belarusian goaltender in July and he will most likely start the season in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.