The Utica Comets have experienced significant upheaval since Vancouver Canucks fans last saw them take the ice.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the Comets’ key pieces departed for the Canucks’ taxi squad, while others have been reassigned to the AHL’s Canadian Division with the Manitoba Moose to remove another logistical hurdle should the Canucks have to reach further down their depth chart.
Additionally, with some AHL franchises forfeiting their season, the Springfield Thunderbirds, the St. Louis Blues’ affiliate, have amalgamated with the Comets for the 2020-21 season.
So, if you hadn’t realized already, the Utica Comets look very different this year.
Nonetheless, there is still a contingent of young Canucks looking to take the next step with the Comets squad this year.
Lind’s dominant start
The name at the top of that list is Kole Lind.
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While the 2017 second-round pick saw limited chances at the Canucks’ 2020-21 training camp, he’s currently slotted in as the Comets’ number-one centre, between Sven Baertschi and Springfield’s Sam Anas.
During Comets camp, Lind touched on what he worked to improve over the summer, primarily speaking to his quickness on the ice.
"“I think a lot of it was still my skating, obviously, I felt a lot better on the ice, but still just being quicker, you can’t be quick enough […] not even just straight up and down the ice quick, in the corners, being able to protect the puck and be hard on the puck and possess the puck more is something that I really worked on this summer.”"
So far, Lind’s presence has been hard to ignore. The Saskatchewan native scored two goals and added two assists in the Comets’ 7-5 pre-season win over the Crunch this weekend.
Lind’s point total included two points on the powerplay; one goal and one assist, as well as this highlight-reel goal.
On this play, Lind makes a dominant solo effort. He wheels out of his own zone, executes a quick move to his backhand at the top of the circle, transitioning into a power move around the defender, and popping in a nice backhand shot top corner.
For a player whose skating abilities have faced criticism in the past, Lind looks to have made considerable improvements to his edgework and acceleration.
As the third-year pro looks ready to assume a pivotal role with Utica, his improved strength and speed will assuredly help him improve upon an excellent sophomore campaign.
After the game, Lind was quite humble of his performance, citing the exhibition contest as an opportunity to shake off the rust from the extended offseason.
"“Felt good out there,” […] everyone was a little rusty […] overall that’s the kind of game you want to have offensively […] a lot of us needed [this scrimmage] for sure. Even a couple more would have helped.”"
Last season, Lind made leaps and bounds in his development, scoring 44 points in 61 games while refining his two-way profile.
Now, with the potential of an extended view at centre, Lind has the fortuity to grow further in his third professional season. In an interview with Comets expert Cory Hergott, Comets GM Ryan Johnson commented on Lind’s performance at centre through pre-season.
"“Versatility never hurts […] he took a lot of draws on the power play on the right side [last season] and he found a home there, he found some success.[…] We had it planned for him during parts of last season and […] I don’t know if we are trying to peg him in that role permanently, but we want to give him an opportunity to have the play run through him and have the puck on his stick as much as possible.Kole was a very good complementary player last year. This year we are challenging him to be ‘the guy.’"
Johnson continues to discuss Lind’s development as a player, particularly on the defensive side of play.
"“I think Kole having success in the middle helps him understand the defensive side of the game. When you have to play down low and you have to play a 200-foot game it forces you to move your feet more.With Kole, the constant priority for his development is to have the puck on his stick. When he has the puck on his stick, good things happen.We don’t want him to rely on others getting the puck to him, we want him to work to get the puck himself because we want the puck on his stick as much as possible. This gives him an opportunity to create while being responsible.”"
Despite the small sample size, Lind seems to be adjusting to a heavier defensive load quite well. By looking at his progression from last season, a move to centre may be more logical than previously thought.
Looking at the Comets’ roster, Lind seems like the player to watch from the Canucks’ side of things; however, there are several other prospects to follow this year.
Several Canucks youngsters will skate with the Comets this season, including forwards Jonah Gadjovich and Lukas Jasek, rookies Carson Focht, Will Lockwood, and Jett Woo, as well as goaltender Jake Kielly.
Lind and company kick off the Comets’ 2020-21 campaign on February 5th with a back-to-back on the road against the Rochester Americans and the Syracuse Crunch.
With that said, be sure to keep an eye on the farm, because there is undoubtedly some talent brewing in Utica.
So Canucks fans, what do you think of Lind and this year’s Comets squad? Let us know in the comments!