Vancouver Canucks: The balancing act of prospect development

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Trent Cull of the Utica Comets argues a call against the Toronto Marlies during AHL game action on October 14, 2018 at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Trent Cull of the Utica Comets argues a call against the Toronto Marlies during AHL game action on October 14, 2018 at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

Things in Utica are not making Vancouver Canucks fans happy. A numbers game has forced head coach Trent Cull to rotate scratches for prospects. The anger is understandable, but there may something fans are not considering.

Over the weekend, we saw a pair of interesting perspectives around what is happening with Vancouver Canucks prospects. A quick summary of the situation in Utica is that several Canucks prospects are healthy scratches while we see AHL veterans play.

From that description alone, Canucks fans may want to sound the alarm. And without any context, I would not blame any of you for being upset. Before we get to my opinion, let’s look at what Rob Williams from the Daily Hive and Cory Hergott from Canucks Army each had to say.

Rob Williams aka “Rob the Hockey Guy”

You can take a look at what Williams says here. The Hockey Guy talks about the different group of prospects available compared to what the organization had prior. And he is correct. Most Canucks fans are a lot more familiar with the names we have in development today. I think that is partly to do with hockey fans being more informed than ever, but the quality of the prospect pool is much better, benefiting from selections made earlier in each round.

So, Williams mentions that exciting prospects such as Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Jonathan Dahlèn have been healthy scratches this season. The discussion leads to the purpose of the AHL team, especially a team owned by the Vancouver Canucks. Winning is being made a priority over the best possible development for prospects.

Williams also notes that not all prospects have received the short end of the stick. Adam Gaudette and Olli Juolevi have not had this issue. He concludes by acknowledging that not all prospects make it, but it does not make sense to impede prospect development for minor league wins.

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Cory Hergott aka “Comets Cory”

Here is Hergott’s article that went up almost the exact same time. He had a different perspective on the situation. Comets Cory does a great job putting the lineup into contexts. The quick and dirty details are as follows.

Utica has 17 forwards on the roster, so several of them have to sit. The team has a high number of wingers and except for Gaudette and Juolevi, the remaining notable prospects play on the wing. Since the Comets are thin at centre, especially with the recent call up of Gaudette, Trent Cull doesn’t have many options down the middle.

When Brendan Gaunce is healthy, Cull has a centre he can rely on. Cory notes that Lukas Jasek is practicing a little at centre, which is his way into the lineup. He argues that its a numbers game and Cull does a good job rotating scratches in a fair way. Reid Boucher, Darren Archibald and captain Carter Bancks will not be scratched. Canucks fans will have to accept that.

Zack MacEwen and Tanner MacMaster have played incredibly well and also do not deserve to be pushed off the wing. Although, the two can play some centre even though their best work is on the wing.

A big point that is hammered home is that some prospects have not earned Trent Cull’s trust. You can’t blame the coaches for trying to balance their lineup with so many forwards. Additionally, you can’t fault management for having too many players since injuries tore this team apart for the last couple of seasons. When the injuries stack up in Vancouver and Utica, the extra players will be valuable for icing a competitive team. At the end, Cory preaches patience.

What I think of about all this

Look, I get where concerned Canucks fans are coming from. This was an issue we had with the Chicago Wolves, which is why the Canucks have ownership over their farm team. However, Cory makes an excellent point that there are a finite number of spots and we have more prospects of one position type to fill the lineup.

Cory did not mention that Dahlèn has played a little at centre, but in my opinion, he is more suited to the wing, especially with his slower skating. It worked for Brendan Gaunce early in his pro career and I think the he would also benefit on the wing for now.

And don’t get me wrong, I am fully on board with the players need to play to develop. But there are a couple of facts that Canucks fans should come to grips with. First, Cory mentions that Cull scratches his veterans too. The return of Alex Biega pushes the team past the veteran rule, so not every veteran can play. Cory also does a good job detailing why certain vets have to stay in.

Secondly, you may have to realize that our prospects are not as good as you think. Look at their stints at the end of last season. Kole Lind in particular struggled with the transition between the WHL and AHL. But what should have been a sobering reality check was what we saw during training camp. Not a single prospect outside of Elias Pettersson proved that they were NHL-ready. Most were far behind the play and often looked overwhelmed.

What to do, what do do?

So, what’s the solution? How can we make sure that all prospects play often to benefit their development? Here’s my idea. You send Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, and one of Lukas Jasek or Petrus Palmu to the ECHL. Any of them can be called up at any time, and if they are truly ready for the AHL (despite what their point totals show), they should have no problem excelling in one pro level below.

From what I have watched and read, not every prospect is ready. In the case of Lind and Gadjovich, they are 20 years old, not 24 and on the brink of becoming busts. It’s not a bad thing to play a whole string of games in the ECHL and come back to Utica. You might think they aren’t getting an opportunity, but Cull is being as fair as he can be.

We can balance winning and developing in Utica and one does not have to come at the expense of the other. Good coaches understand that. Bad coaches just default to padding wins on the resume. I think Cull is a good and adaptable coach. These prospects that I have on the outside will get their opportunity, but I agree with Cory. Please be patient. And calm down.

Utica fans care just as much about our prospects as we do. They want to see them succeed. But they also don’t want to see a mediocre player being force-fed minutes when it’s not working. It’s October. I wouldn’t hit the panic button unless we see prospects sitting 10-15 games in a row. If we get to that point, then your anger is more than justified.

Next. Should we buy another hot Canucks start?. dark

For now, sit back. I don’t normally come to the defence of the organization, but pick your battles. This is not one of those hills to die on and it better not be used as an excuse if a prospect fails. Good players will force opportunities to come to them. We are seeing that with Nikolay Goldobin now, who is taking on a bigger role despite Travis Green having little trust in the forward at the beginning. If there is something special, these prospects will show it with time.