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Previewing draft rankings and U18 tournament, plus Benning visits Utica

April 14, 2019, 2:42 PM ET [576 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Prospect talk is once again dominating the early part of the Vancouver Canucks' offseason. We'll get another valuable tool for assessing the top candidates in this year's draft on Monday, when NHL Central Scouting releases its final draft rankings.

The consensus seems to be pretty strong that Jack Hughes is still seen as the top prospect available, with Finland's Kaapo Kakko second. But Central Scouting won't settle that debate: Jack will top the list of North American skaters, while Kappo will sit atop the European skater list.

Click here for a refresher on the midterm rankings from January.

The top of that North American list is overflowing with kids from the U.S. National Team Development Program, many of whom have been playing together for the last two years. Most of that group will be together at the 2019 World U18 tournament, which kicks off on Thursday in the Sedins' home town of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.

Click here for the full U.S. roster and here for the Canadian roster. Traditionally, Canadian teams aren't as stacked as the American ones at this tournament, because some of the top kids are still in the CHL playoffs. But the Canadian team will be captained by Peyton Krebs of the Kootenay Ice, who was ranked eighth among North American skaters on the Central Scouting midterm rankings. His assistants are centre Dylan Cozens from Lethbridge (third) and winger Nathan Legare, who was ranked 64th at midterm but had a breakout year with 45-42-87 for Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL, finishing eighth in league scoring.

TSN will be broadcasting games from the tournament, starting with USA vs. Slovakia at 6:30 a.m. PT on Thursday, followed by Canada vs. Finland at 10:30. As the tournament unfolds, I'll start digging into the Canucks' options for the 10th pick.

Meanwhile, in Utica, the Comets wrap up their season on Sunday at home against the Syracuse Crunch. Earlier this weekend, they exploded for an 8-1 home win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday before dropping at 4-1 decision on the road in Hershey on Saturday.

Saturday's game marked the AHL debut of goaltender Ty Reichenbach, a 25-year-old who has bounced around the lower-level pro leagues for the past couple of years after finishing college. He was signed to a PTO by the Comets on April 9 after spending most of the season with the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL. On Saturday, he became the seventh netminder to play for the Comets this season.

The full list, in order of minutes played for Utica:

Ivan Kulbakov: 25 GP, 10-9-6, 3.50 GAA, .893 save percentage
Michael Leighton: 19 GP, 8-9-1, 2.70 GAA, .901 save percentage
Thatcher Demko: 16 GP, 8-5-1, 2.58 GAA, .911 save percentage
Richard Bachman: 9 GP, 5-4-0, 3.76 GAA, .884 save percentage
Marek Mazanec: 9 GP, 2-5-0, 3.02 GAA, .878 save percentage
Connor LaCouvee: 3 GP, 0-1-1, 2.87 GAA, .877 save percentage
Ty Reichenbach: 1 GP, 0-1-0, 3.05 GAA, .880 save percentage

Mirroring their parent club, the Comest were ravaged by injuries this season. In addition to the seven goalies, they finished out the year with 28 forwards and 19 different defensemen suiting up for at least one game.

Thirty-six year old Jaime Sifers led all blueliners in durability, with 69 games played, and Evan McEneny was second with 58. A career minor-leaguer who had a 37-game NHL cup of coffee with the Leafs and the Wild during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, Sifers will hang up his skates after today's game, wrapping up two seasons with the Comets.

During his visit to Utica this weekend, Jim Benning gave a vote of confidence to the organization, which has come under fire in some circles for failing to develop playes as effectively as perhaps it could, especially this season. Trent Cull is expected to return for his third year as the Comets' coach next year.

Benning also mentioned that Guillaume Brisebois is underdoing surgery for the injury that he suffered against the Calgary Flames on March 23. There isn't much further information: the player page at The Hockey News has it listed as a hip injury. Severe? Dunno.

One other interesting note from Friday's game:

Excuses aside, it's interesting to hear that the Calgary Flames have placed a strong focus on player development in their organization. These quotes are from an interview by Darren Haynes in The Athletic with Calgary Flames assistant coach Ryan Huska, who was promoted to the big club this year after spending the last four years behind the bench with the AHL's Adirondack Flames/Stockton Heat—and making the playoffs just once in those four years.

Even with that philosophy, not everybody hits. See Hunter Shinkaruk, for example. But there's no denying that the Flames have gotten key contributions this year from players who had spent a year or more in the minors: forwards Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway and Andrew Mangiapane, defensemen Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson—even goalie David Rittich.

To hear more from Benning, have a listen to this week's "31 Thoughts" podcast. It may be the best interview he's done in his five seasons with the Canucks.

Jim's segment starts just after the 55-minute mark. Among other things, he talks about Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, the Comets and the Canucks' offseason plans.
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