2013 Comets Training Camp Preview
- Updated: September 25, 2013
Written by Zachary Dooley
“It’s Back!” is a term that has been thrown around a lot by the community, on Twitter and by the Comets organization to describe the return of the American Hockey League, and the Comets, to the Mohawk Valley. It is a term that we have all felt, embraced and rallied behind, yet we haven’t been able to physically see it. That ends today. Today, “It’s Back!” takes on a new meaning as the Comets Training Camp starts up at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. A mixture of Canucks prospects, Comets signees and training camp invitees gather in Utica as the Comets open up their inaugural training camp in preparation for the 2013-14 season. The Utica Comets training camp roster consists of 34 players, including three goaltenders, 11 defensemen and 20 forwards. The potential Comets players span four nationalities, with game experience in seven countries and have combined to play in over 1,900 AHL games. With the roster that will be attending Comets training camp this season there’s a lot to be excited about this season in Utica.
The prospective Comets have shown promise on NHL ice, excellence in the AHL and dominance in various leagues around North America. Three players who will bring not only experience but also scoring ability to Utica are Pascal Pelletier, Benn Ferreiro and Colin Stuart.
Pelletier is a veteran of 387 AHL games and has amassed 283 points during his stay in the league. The 5-foot-11 center is a crafty scorer, who has produced at every level. The center’s finest season came in 2007-08, where he recorded 75 points (37-38-75) in 73 games with the Providence Bruins, which placed him fourth in the AHL in goals and ninth in overall points. Pelletier has also had success on the international stage, where he recorded gold and silver medals with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
Ferreiro, a National Hockey League veteran of 96 games, comes to Utica off of a split campaign between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Connecticut, where he netted 30 points in 47 games. The Essex, MA native has 133 career points in the AHL and plays with a snarl to his game that allows him to be successful anywhere in the lineup. Ferreiro’s finest AHL season came back in 2009-10 in Worcester, where he scored 50 points in 58 games, and his .86 points per game average was second on the team, behind only current San Jose Sharks superstar Logan Couture.
Stuart is another veteran to watch on this year’s team. The 6-foot-2 forward was the Atlanta Thrashers fifth round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and he brings a proven offensive ability to the team. The Rochester, MN native has 474 AHL games to his name, which is the third most played in league history by an American left winger. Stuart has amassed 204 points in his AHL career and has hit double digits in goals five times over his AHL career. This trio is expected to be at the forefront of the Comets offense this season and is in strong positions to earn first and second line roles out of training camp.
Depth scoring is a huge asset for any successful team and the Comets have the players to capitalize on it. Darren Archibald enjoyed a breakout season in Chicago in 2012-13, as he scored 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points, all career highs for the winger. The 6’3” forward brings a hard-hitting style to the ice, and a nose for the net.
Ludwig Blomstrand, the Swedish left winger, comes to the Comets Training Camp fresh off of an impressive appearance with the Canucks Young Stars team. In Penticton during the Young Stars Classic, he finished with three points in four games. Blomstrand spent some time in the AHL last season, appearing in eight games for the Chicago Wolves, while recording a goal and an assist. Blomstrand brings a hard working, blue-collar approach to the Comets roster.
Brandon DeFazio comes from a similar mold as Archibald, as he combines physicality with a scoring touch. The Etobicoke, ONT native is one of just seven AHL players to have recorded 10 or more goals and 100 or more penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons. DeFazio tied a career high with 11 goals this past season, and recorded career highs with 14 assists, 25 points and 139 PIM’s. The Canucks and Comets are hoping that the 25 year old continues on his upward trend this upcoming season.
Two players to look out for are center Alexandre Mallet, and right wing, Alexandre Grenier. Both players come into their second professional seasons with high breakout potential. Mallet, a second round draft pick of the Canucks in the 2012 NHL Draft, hit his stride towards the end of last season with Kalamazoo of the ECHL. The forward posted 17 points over his final 21 games and looks primed to translate his offense to the AHL game.
Grenier, a former third round pick of Vancouver in the 2011 NHL Draft, began last season in Austria, where he posted 13 points in 25 games. Like Mallet, Grenier finished his season with a bang in the ECHL, scoring 18 points over his final 16 games, including five multi-point games over that span. Both forwards come in at just 21 years of age, with all signs pointing to a breakthrough at the AHL level.
Alex Friesen is another Canucks prospect looking for a big training camp, continuing into the season. The 5-foot-10 center had three point-per-game seasons in while in juniors, but was used predominantly in a checking role last season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, recording just five points over 42 games. The Ontario native should thrive in an aggressive, hard-working role and will look to expand on his point totals as well, molding into a two-way forward.
Kellan Tochkin comes to the AHL following a strong campaign in the CHL with 44 point in 56 games with the Missouri Mavericks. Tochkin exploded in the playoffs with 17 points in 12 games and had a breakaway goal in the Comets’ preseason opener. The 5’9” winger will look to use training camp as an opportunity to display his offensive ability and earn a roster spot.
Steven Anthony, the 6’2” center from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has two ECHL seasons under his belt after being taken in the seventh round by the Canucks in 2009 NHL Draft. Anthony has 31 career ECHL points and has playmaking potential that could lead to more points this season.
A summer signee of the Utica Comets, David Pacan played nine AHL games with the San Antonio Rampage last year, where he recorded two assists. The big 6-foot-3 winger spent the remainder of his 2012-13 season with Cincinnati of the ECHL, where he had 52 points in 57 games and was tied for second in playoff scoring with nine goals. Pacan combines a big frame with good on-puck ability, and could contribute heavily this season in multiple places throughout the lineup.
An interesting training camp invitee is Wes Myron, a 6-foot-2 winger from British Columbia. Myron was a sixth round pick of the Canucks in the 2012 NHL Draft, and began last season with Boston University before he made the transition to professional hockey midway through the year at just 20 years of age. Last year, Myron had nine points in 17 games with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, and similar to Mallet and Grenier, will use training camp and preseason games to impress Utica Comets coaches.
While scoring is one important facet to the Comets offensive lineup, a forward unit is made up of many different tools and skillsets, which is how one Comet hopeful will look to make his mark. Kellan Lain is the definition of a bruiser, and comes to Utica looking to begin his first full professional campaign in the AHL. Standing at an imposing 6’6”, the center uses his size to his advantage as he led the CCHA with 111 penalty minutes a season ago, which was good for a tie for fourth in the nation. Lain’s size alone led to huge hit after huge hit at the collegiate level, something he hopes to translate to the professional game.
A hungry group of breakthrough hopefuls also don the Comets training camp roster, each bringing degrees of AHL success and experience to Utica. After spending the majority of four seasons in the AHL, John Armstrong found himself with Kalamazoo last year, where he finished with 44 points in 48 games. Standing at 6-foot-2, Armstrong has the size to play a physical role and has shown offensive flair at the AHL level in the past, with two 20 points seasons to his name.
Daultan Leveille, a first round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2008 NHL Draft, he split last season between the AHL and ECHL, racking up a total of 12 points (6-6-12). Leveille brings blazing speed and solid puck-handling ability. The Michigan State product is filled with potential, as evident with being drafted in the first round, and could be one to watch for during training camp.
Yanni Gourde brings an elite scoring pedigree from the QMJHL and a solid debut season in professional hockey to boot. After an astounding 124 point campaign (37-87-124) in his final junior season with the Victoriaville Tigers, Gourde put up 14 points (8-6-14) in 54 games with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks last season. In addition to his 10 points in just eight ECHL games with the San Francisco Bulls, Gourde is an offensive weapon to take note of.
Kurtis Bartliff took the path seemingly less traveled, as he played a full four years at nearby Colgate College in Hamilton, NY. The Clinton, Ontario native scored 65 points (23-42-65) over his career, including a tied for team high 21 assists in his sophomore season.
Mitch Elliot and Jesse Mychan are two forwards fighting for a spot on the inaugural Comets roster. Literally, fighting. The duo teamed up for six of the seven fights against the Abbotsford Heat in the Comets’ preseason opener, with three scraps apiece. Elliot racked up 396 penalty minutes over the last four seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, while chipping in with 26 points (10-16-26). Mychan was one of just seven WHL players last season with 40 points and 110 penalty minutes, showing he can chip in with his hands, gloves both on and off. Both young grinders are players that will make an impact this preseason as both players attempt to earn roster slots.
The Utica Comets defensive unit consists of eleven hopefuls, eight of whom saw time in the AHL last season. Despite being young in age, the blueliners bring a lot of professional experience.
Leading the way are Alex Biega and Patrick Mullen, who have proven to be top-notch two-way defensemen in the AHL over the past few seasons. Biega, who scored the first preseason goal in Comets history, comes to Utica after three seasons in the Sabres’ organization. Biega increased his point total in each of his three professional seasons, finishing 2012-13 with a career high tie in goals with five, and top marks in assists with 20 and points with 25. A graduate of Harvard University, Biega was a two-time All-ECAC third team selection, as well as a first team All-Ivy League selection in 2008-09.
Mullen is coming off of a season where he played just two games in Chicago due to shoulder surgery. The Boston, MA native had a career year in 2011-12, however, leading all Manchester Monarchs defensemen with 41 points (13-28-41), good for a tie for sixth amongst all Eastern Conference defensemen in scoring. His 13 goals were good for a tie for fourth best in the entire AHL for defensemen. Look for Mullen and Biega to use their experience to be leaders on the Comets’ blueline this season as both players enter their fourth full seasons of AHL play.
A trio of more defensive minded players, Peter Andersson, Adam Polasek and Yann Sauve, should prove to be nice compliments to the offensive skillsets of Biega and Mullen. Andersson spent last season with the Chicago Wolves, and performed admirably in 42 games, recording seven points. A big defenseman at 6-foot-3 with solid positioning and puck moving skills, Andersson is already a steady two-way blueliner at the AHL level, who will contribute at even strength and potentially on both special teams units this season.
Polasek, a native of the Czech Republic, enters training camp with 70 games of AHL experience. Another 6’3” defenseman, Polasek takes the stay at home approach on the ice, resulting in solid play in his own zone. Sauve is the bruiser of the group, bringing a very physical and hard-nosed skillset to the Comets. Sauve’s prowess in his own zone has led to seeing extended action in the AHL over three seasons, as well as five games with the Canucks in 2011. The Montreal native was a big part of the penalty kill unit during his time in Chicago, which is something that could continue in Utica.
Henrik Tommernes comes across the pond after playing five seasons professionally in Sweden, with his time mostly spent with Frolunda of the Sweden’s top professional league. A mobile defenseman, Tommernes was formerly drafted in the seventh round by the Canucks in the 2011 NHL Draft. Keep an eye on the Swede’s powerplay time, as he was a big part of the powerplay unit with Frolunda.
Sacha Guimond is another puck moving defenseman in the fray in Utica. The reigning ECHL defenseman of the year saw time with four teams last season, two in both the ECHL and AHL. The Comets’ first ever signee, Guimond had 49 ECHL points (12-37-49) a season ago, good for third in the league. Guimond’s offensive ability is the forefront of his game and he should help the Comets’ powerplay when he is in the lineup.
Jeremie Blain is just 21 years of age and brings a great deal of offensive upside to the Utica blueline. Blain was a constant contributor on the powerplay in major junior hockey, as well as in the ECHL, where five of his seven goals a season ago came with the man advantage. Blain has the size and skills to be a Top 4 defenseman at the AHL level, and it seems like more of a matter of when rather than if. Experience is lacking at the moment for the Canadian, but this season’s training camp will be a big opportunity to earn an every night role in Utica.
Louis Liotti, a New York State product, returns to North American hockey following a one-year stay in Denmark. The Northeastern University graduate is entering his fifth season of professional hockey and has 14 career AHL games under his belt, most recently with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2010-11 and brings another stay at home game to the Comets roster. Brad Walch is getting his first taste of AHL hockey after missing all of last season with an injury. The Saginaw, MI native has two games of professional hockey under his belt, with the Missouri Mavericks in the 2012 CHL Playoffs. Walch played four years of junior hockey in his hometown with the Saginaw Spirit, where he was named the team’s best defenseman in 2011-12. Both young defenseman add depth to the Comets blueline corps.
The Comets Training Camp goaltending trio could turn out to be the strongest area of the team, with three quality young netminders who will all vie for playing time between the pipes at The AUD this season. With no goalie over the age of 23, youth is a theme in net, but each goalie is very accomplished even at such young ages.
Joacim Eriksson is the early season favorite to start, coming off of a remarkable season and playoff run in the Elitserien in Sweden. Eriksson backstopped Skelleftea AIK to the league championship with a 21-9 regular season record, followed by a staggering .951 save percentage and a 1.06 goals against average (GAA) in the playoffs. A butterfly goaltender, Eriksson also stood out at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton just two weeks ago, where he recorded a 2-1 record with the Canucks. If Eriksson is able to make the transition to North American hockey as seamlessly as many Swedish netminders before him have, then he could be mentioned amongst the league’s best goaltenders by season’s end.
Utica has the luxury of having another up and coming goaltending prospect pushing for starts in Joe Cannata. After beginning last season in the ECHL, Cannata got the call to Chicago after the NHL Lockout ended, and thrived, posting a .912 save percentage and a 2.65 GAA. Cannata will compete for playing time with Eriksson during training camp in what could be one of the top battles to watch throughout the next two weeks.
If having two wasn’t enough, adding Mathieu Corbeil into the equation, Corbeil was signed this summer by the Comets, completing the trio. Corbeil had a good year in the CHL last year with the Missouri Mavericks, going 10-9-1 with a .915 save percentage and a GAA of 2.69. His performances earned him an opportunity to compete for playing time at the AHL level and a strong training camp will have him right in the mix with Eriksson and Cannata. Standing at 6-foot-6, Corbeil is imposing between the pipes and his addition to the goaltending group improves upon an already deep position.