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Summer Showcase wrapup, Sochi Hockey Open and depth in Utica next season

August 4, 2019, 2:34 PM ET [221 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The World Junior Summer Showcase wrapped up on Saturday with Toni Utunen's Team Finland on the wrong end of a 6-3 loss to the Swedes and Carson Focht's Team Canada dropping a 5-3 decision to Team USA.

Final stats for the Canucks prospects:

Toni Utunen: five games played, with two goals and an assist on three total shots. That's a 66.7 shooting percentage! Utunen took one penalty and finished as a plus-two.

Carson Focht: three games played, with a goal and an assist on 10 shots. No penalties for Focht, who finished with an even plus-minus.

Focht was one of Canada's busier forwards during the week, playing in a top-six role with penalty-killing duties during all three of his games.

Jett Woo: one game played, with one assist and one shot. Woo finished as a minus-one.

Woo's only game was Canada's 8-3 blowout at the hands of the Finns on Wednesday. I'm pretty sure I saw him on the original roster for Friday's game against Sweden, but draft-eligible Justin Barron ended up wearing Woo's No. 8.

I wonder if Woo's lack of game action was due to him not being 100 percent ready after his offseason knee surgery? It was described as a minor procedure, and he was on the ice a month ago at the Canucks' development camp—although skating on his own. Perhaps his recovery has hindered his offseason training?

As things stand now, TSN's Craig Button is not projecting that Woo or Focht will make Canada's final World Junior roster, but a lot can change between now and Christmastime.

Don't forget, Tyler Madden didn't even attend the 2018 Summer Showcase, but ended up being an impact player for Team USA last year.

Woo's now being pushed from behind on the right side by Barron, who will play his third season with the Halifax Mooseheads this fall. But Button has also pencilled in Noah Dobson to play for Team Canada, even though he'll get every chance to stick in the NHL with the New York Islanders this fall.

If Dobson isn't released for the tournament, that'll open up another roster spot. The other RHD who Button considers a lock is Jacob Bernard-Docker, who was taken 11 picks ahead of Woo by the Ottawa Senators in the 2018 draft and will be playing his sophomore season for the University of North Dakota this fall.

At centre, Button's locks to make the team are Joe Veleno, Barrett Hayton, Ty Dellandrea and injured Dylan Cozens. Hayton's another player who will get a real chance to stick in the NHL this season, with the Arizona Coyotes. No mention of Alex Newhook—also a centre—who was terrific at the U18 tournament in Sweden in April but was quiet this week in Plymouth. Also no mention of injured Peyton Krebs. I wonder if Button is thinking that his Achilles injury will still be impacting him at Christmastime?

Focht certainly doesn't have the same pedigree as many of the other players in the mix for Team Canada, but Dale Hunter seemed to trust him to do some heavy lifting this week—and being one of the older players might also give him an advantage when the time comes for the final roster selection.

At this point, I'd say both Focht and Woo will need to keep working during their WHL seasons with the Calgary Hitmen in order to stay on Hockey Canada's radar.

But don't despair. Toni Utunen will almost certainly be playing a significant role for Finland, Nils Hoglander should be back in the mix with goal-starved Sweden and Vasily Podkolzin should be back for Round 2 with Team Russia.

Both Podkolzin and 2018 sixth-rounder Artyom Manukyan are on the roster for the "Russian Olympic Team" that is taking part in the Sochi Hockey open this weekend. Manukyan won't be eligible for World Juniors, though—he turned 21 in June.

Manukyan will play his second season with Avangard Omsk this year, once again under head coach Bob Hartley. Still listed at 5'7" and 139 pounds, he had three goals and 15 points in 62 KHL games last season.

Other familiar names on the Omsk roster this year include former NHL defensemen Cody Franson, Alexei Emelin and Slava Voynov, forward Sven Andrighetto, and one-time Canucks prospect Sergei Shirokov.

Unrelated—if you want to hear some stories from a North American player who had a great attitude about the three years he spent in the KHL to finish off his hockey career—including a year in Omsk last season—I highly recommend the Spittin' Chiclets interview with newly retired Max Talbot from a couple of weeks ago. It's easy to understand why he had a reputation as such a well-regarded teammate.

Still on the topic of prospects, how about a check-in on Utica to wrap things up today?

“It is just a different feeling,” Comets' president Robert Esche told Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch about the vibe going into the season, with so many new signings by the Canucks for both their NHL and AHL teams.

“I think the commitment level (is different). Everything in sports is always a top-down push. I just feel that Vancouver has done a terrific job of filling the roster and filling our roster.

“You don’t develop anybody without winning. You can throw kids on the ice all you want every game, but a winning culture duplicates itself at the next level. Vancouver realizes that.”

The Comets should have a strong anchor pairing in net this season. Last year, top goalies Thatcher Demko and Richard Bachman both missed significant time with injury, then Demko got called up to the Canucks. This season, Mikey DiPietro will start his pro career alongside minor-league vet Zane McIntyre. Bachman, now 32, is also under contract for another year, and Clarkson University alumnus Jake Kielly was signed as a free agent last spring.

On defense, a healthy Olli Juolevi will help. He had a good start to his season last year with 13 points in 18 games before he was injured. Free-agent signings Josh Teves, Brogan Rafferty and Mitch Eliot will all add additional depth on the blue line, and Guillaume Brisebois, Ashton Sautner and Jalen Chatfield will each have another year of experience under their belts. Evan McEneny was not re-signed.

Up front, the Comets have lost key forwards Tanner Kero and Brendan Gaunce, but sniper Reid Boucher will be back for another year, and should get help from new signings Justin Bailey, Tyler Graovac and Francis Perron. The best of the Canucks' forward prospects last year was Lukas Jasek, who had nine goals and 29 points in 63 games. If everybody's healthy to start the season, waiver-exempt Adam Gaudette could also start the season in Utica as players like Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Zack MacEwen look to take the next step in their development.

I have fussed about the Canucks having too many players in their system going into next season, especially up front. The counterargument that has been made to me is that we're just not used to seeing a reasonable amount of top-to-bottom depth in the organization, especially with most of the Canucks' top prospects coming to them from development paths other than through the AHL.

We'll see, next season, if the improved depth does help produce a Winning Culture for the Comets—a team that has been out of the first round of the playoffs only once in its six-year history.
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