VANCOUVER, B.C. - With just eight days remaining until the season opener, the abbreviated NHL training camps don't afford young prospects with much of an opportunity to prove they belong on the big club's roster.
At the onset of training camp, 18 players* who appeared in a Utica Comets uniform at some point last season are participating with the Canucks this preseason, many of whom are looking to earn roster spots full-time.
"We're not going to have a lot of time to make decisions," said Canucks head coach Travis Green. "Every young player is a little bit different. Some guys come in and feel comfortable right away and some need some time, need some seasoning to feel comfortable in their surroundings on the ice. It's going to affect them today and we've got to decide if it's going to affect them in the regular season."
One player expected to make the jump is Zack MacEwen. After a solid sophomore campaign as a professional, MacEwen began his third season last year with the Comets before ultimately being moved up to the Canucks roster and considered a full-time NHL player by Vancouver General Manager Jim Benning.
He ended up playing in 17 regular season games and six playoff games in the Edmonton bubble for the Canucks and appears to be continuing the projected trend to make the Vancouver roster out of camp.
"I think [MacEwen] is a guy that last year was close to being a full time NHLer and I know he worked really hard during the summer," said Green. "He's a hard worker, he's committed to his conditioning. All the tests that we run, he's definitely made some big improvements, which goes a long way to becoming a better hockey player. [He's] a big guy that can skate, shoot, and he's got a pretty good mind for the game."
After spending a few seasons with the Canucks full-time, left winger Sven Baertschi was sent to play most of the season in Utica last year due to a log jam on the big club's roster. He maintained a positive attitude throughout the process, acting as a leader for the young players, and made his case to return to the NHL with solid play in the form of 46 points (13g, 33a) in 43 games played.
Baerstchi did suit up in six games with Vancouver last season where he had two assists, but opted out of potentially joining the Canucks to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs amid the pandemic.
On the defensive side, there are many options from last year's Comets for the Canucks brass to decide when filling out the blue line for their club this season.
Brogan Rafferty burst onto the scene in his first year as a pro, earning an AHL All-Star selection and a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team with 45 points (7g, 38a) in 57 games. He lead all rookie defenseman in scoring around the league and was third overall among defenseman, though did not appear in an NHL game during call-ups with the Canucks.
Ashton Sautner played in just one game with the Canucks last year, but was a semi-regular call-up to the big club. He was also one of the Comets more stout defenseman in their own end and is entering his sixth season as a pro.
Jalen Chatfield had himself a solid season, earning himself multiple call-ups with the big club, but also didn't suit up for an NHL game. He was much improved last season becoming a go-to guy for Utica on the blue line and has impressed the Canucks staff to this point.
"Chatfield has obviously been a pro for four years, it is probably unlucky he didn't get into a game last year," said Green. "He's a good skater, he's aggressive in how he defends. We'll see how that plays out in scrimmages."
Guillaume Brisebois is also another name to keep an eye on after re-signing with the Canucks this past offseason. He earned multiple call-ups last season and is a quiet, yet sturdy presence on the back end. He had 15 points (4g, 11a) in 48 games for Utica.
A big question mark is Olli Juolevi. He had been highly-touted as the potential next anchor, or at least a solid top pair defenseman for the future of the Canucks blue line. The 22-year-old has had some bad luck with injuries during his first two professional seasons with the Comets and has yet to make his NHL debut.
When playing more consistently last season, he contributed closer to expectations with 25 points (2g, 23a) in 45 games, and seeing time both on the power play and penalty kill.
"Last year I played a lot of PK and that was something I haven't played in a little while and I showed I can play that also at a high level," Juolevi said. "I think it's going to help me here. I really think I can be helpful on the PK for this team also. We had a really good team [in Utica] last year and so it was really fun."
The Canucks will hold a night scrimmage on Wednesday in order to simulate a gameday experience. They will begin the regular season on Jan. 13 against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Comets, meanwhile, await a finalized schedule. The AHL season is set to begin on Feb. 5.
The following players in Canucks training camp appeared with the Comets last season:
Micheal Ferland (one-game conditioning assignment)
Antoine Roussel (two-game conditioning assignment)
*The number of Comets players appearing with the Canucks was incorrectly stated in video