Opening night is just five days away, but the Canucks need to have their roster finalized a little bit sooner than that. The deadline for submitting a cap-compliant 23-man roster is Tuesday, October 2nd, at 2:00 PM Pacific Standard Time.
The Canucks could be pretty busy that day maneuvering players around. In order to make best use of the Long-Term Injured Reserve list, they want to have any players going on the LTIR to be on the roster on Tuesday. That could mean papering down a player or two, which means assigning them to the AHL on paper, but never actually sending them to the Utica Comets. Once a player or players are added to the LTIR, the papered-down players can be added back onto the NHL roster.
We now know four players that won’t be on that opening night roster. On Friday, after their final game of the preseason, the Canucks cut Zack MacEwen, Jalen Chatfield, Tyler Graovac, and Richard Bachman. MacEwen and Chatfield were assigned directly to the Comets, while Graovac and Bachman were placed on waivers. Assuming neither is claimed, they will also report to the Comets.
As always, PITB is here to break down every single Canucks cut. These four cuts aren’t hard to parse, but it does set the stage for a couple more interesting cuts to come. Let’s get into that after addressing the four players that were sent down on Friday.
Of the four cuts, Zack MacEwen had the best chance heading into training camp of making the roster. The Canucks are big believers in MacEwen and his development at the AHL level and it’s understandable why. He has the size and physical edge to play on a checking or energy line, but also has the hands and shot to play further up the lineup or at least provide some unexpected offence from a depth role.
Unfortunately, MacEwen didn’t make the impact anyone had hoped to see in the preseason. He was invisible early on and too often took indirect paths to the puck. That’s an adjustment he needs to make to play in the NHL: you can get away with slow turns in the AHL, but the NHL requires direct lines, with hard stops and starts.
He improved in the last two preseason games, making his presence felt physically on Wednesday against the Senators with a couple big hits and a fight, and scoring a goal on Thursday against the Coyotes, but MacEwen had to be far more noticeable in the preseason for the Canucks to justify keeping him on the roster.
Because MacEwen is exempt from waivers, it was far easier to send him down to the AHL and avoid the risk of losing another player. That’s not to say that MacEwen won’t play for the Canucks this season — he’s a good bet to be an early call up if the Canucks need a forward — it’s just that he didn’t make the decision difficult enough for the team in the preseason.
It was interesting to see Jalen Chatfield stay up for the entire preseason, as I suspect Brogan Rafferty is higher on the depth chart than Chatfield on the right side of the defence. Perhaps that suspicion is incorrect. Chatfield does have some projectable tools, like his skating and physical edge, and he’s played a big role for Utica as a defensive defenceman over the past two seasons.
What’s odd about Chatfield is that he jumps up in the rush like a more offensive-minded defenceman and can be overly aggressive pushing up the ice, but doesn’t produce any points to speak of. He had no goals and six assists in 34 games last season and just seven points the year before.
In the preseason, he and Guillaume Brisebois were a mixed bag: perfectly fine one shift, then chasing the play all over the ice the next shift. If he can rein his game in defensively, Chatfield could have NHL upside. I like the way he handles the puck in the defensive zone and he is a good skater, he just needs to take a step in the way he processes the game mentally.
Tyler Graovac was a pleasant surprise in the preseason. The 6’5” centre was signed by the Canucks in free agency after spending all of last season in the AHL with the Stockton Heat. Graovac might have looked like just another big body, but he can skate and handle the puck very well.
He scored a beauty of a goal against the Los Angeles Kings by faking a big slap shot, then sneakily sliding the puck five-hole along the ice.
He also had a brutal defensive miscue in that game, where he allowed his check to skate right by him to the net to tip in a goal. That’s been the issue for Graovac in the NHL: he’s just not good enough defensively for coaches to trust him.
Given the Canucks lack of depth at centre, Graovac could see some time with the Canucks this season and it will be interesting to see how he and the Comets coaching staff address the defensive side of his game. At 26, Graovac isn’t really a prospect anymore, but you can bet he wants to get back to the NHL after getting a taste with the Minnesota Wild earlier in his career.
Finally, there’s Richard Bachman, the veteran journeyman goaltender that was always going to get sent down. There’s no mystery here: Bachman was never going to win a job away from Jacob Markstrom or Thatcher Demko.
The question for the 32-year-old goaltender is if he can get back to his old self in the AHL. Last year, Bachman struggled early on before an injury ended his season. Now he needs to prove that he can be a reliable starter again at the AHL level.
He’ll be competing for starts with Zane McIntyre and, possible, Michael DiPietro. The Canucks likely want to give DiPietro, their top goaltending prospect now that Demko has graduated, as many starts as possible. That could be in the ECHL, but if Bachman falters, DiPietro could be called upon to split starts with McIntyre in the AHL.
On the other hand, if Bachman returns to form, he could even see NHL action this season. If Markstrom or Demko get hurt, it’ll be between McIntyre and Bachman to get the first call-up, as they’ll likely want to bring DiPietro along slowly.
In the preseason, Bachman had one exceptional game https://www.vancourier.com/pass-it-to-bulis/i-watched-this-preseason-game-virtanen-scores-two-while-bachman-saves-the-day-1.23948208 and one terrible game, https://www.vancourier.com/pass-it-to-bulis/i-watched-this-preseason-game-goals-galore-between-canucks-and-kings-in-salt-lake-city-1.23953819 but it’s tough to judge goaltenders in the free-form, loose action of the preseason. We’ll see how he performs in the regular season.
So, where do the Canucks stand with just a few more days to pare their roster down to 23? The Canucks have 28 players on their roster, including Antoine Roussel, who will go on the LTIR.
That means they need to cut four more players to get down to 23. Or do they? Brock Boeser and Oscar Fantenberg both went into the concussion protocol after the Canucks’ Monday game against the Ottawa Senators and there has been no word on whether either player will be ready for the start of the season. If neither returns, the Canucks will only have to make two cuts.
Who’s left? Let’s take a look at the forwards.
Think of the thick line as a guideline. If any of the players outside the box make the roster, that means a player inside the box has to go. If the Canucks want Tim Schaller and/or Tyler Motte on the roster, that means Nikolay Goldobin and/or Loui Eriksson, for example, would have to be put on waivers.
The same is true for Gaudette to make the lineup. Those highlighted in gold are waiver exempt, so it would be very easy for the Canucks to send Gaudette down just for asset management purposes.
The defence is a little easier to suss out.
Brisebois is likely still around simply because the Canucks don’t know if Fantenberg will return in time. If Fantenberg is ready to start the season, Brisebois will likely be sent down. If not, Brisebois will take his spot in the press box instead of another left side option like Olli Juolevi, Josh Teves, or Ashton Sautner.
The goaltender, meanwhile, is set. The only two remaining are Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.
That’s where the Canucks sit heading into the weekend. Who would you send down? Who would you keep?