Before heading to Edmonton to face the Oilers on Thursday, the Canucks made a few more cuts, getting their preseason roster down to 43 players. That means there are still 20 players that will need to be cut to get down to a 23-man roster before the start of the regular season, though that includes Antoine Roussel, who will start the season on the Injured Reserve list.
The first round of cuts were the easy and obvious ones. The bulk of the cuts were to players on AHL deals with the Utica Comets, who didn’t even have contracts with the Canucks. Four of the players cut were the only four players with junior teams in the CHL, and were sent down to prepare for their seasons which start this week. The other two sent to Utica, Jake Kielly and Mitch Eliot, are on the bottom of the Canucks’ depth chart in net and on defence.
This second round of cuts is a smaller group that includes another player solely on an AHL deal, Vincent Arseneau, but also two legitimate Canucks prospects, Michael DiPietro and Jonah Gadjovich. While we have yet to get into the cuts of ready-for-the-NHL talent, these are still cuts that demand an explanation and PITB is here to answer that demand.
Let’s start with Vincent Arseneau, or “Big Vinny” as he has been dubbed by Utica Comets writer Cory Hergott. That’s significantly better than “Big Arse.”
Arseneau is a 27-year-old journeyman on an AHL contract with the Comets. He’s spent the bulk of his professional career in the ECHL, where he has 101 points in 147 games, but managed to stick with the Comets in the AHL last season. He tallied 9 goals and 11 points in 38 games in a depth role, while also finishing second on the team in fights with five, despite playing 15 fewer games than Brendan Woods, who led the team with seven fights.
That should tell you a little bit about who Arseneau is: a big, hard-working, fourth-line winger. He’s willing to play the body and drop the gloves, but also managed to score a decent number of goals. He’s extremely unlikely to ever play in the NHL, but he’s carved out a niche for himself in professional hockey.
While Arseneau is entering his seventh season of professional hockey, Michael DiPietro is entering his first. Like Arseneau, DiPietro is likely to end up in the ECHL, though that’s less an indictment of his NHL potential than it would be for a non-goaltender.
There are only so many goaltending jobs available in an organization and the Canucks will want DiPietro getting as many starts as possible. It’s just likely that those starts will have to be in the ECHL, which is where many NHL goaltenders started their professional careers. Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, and Jaroslav Halak are a few examples of current goaltenders that spent time in the ECHL.
It’s not a guarantee that DiPietro starts in the ECHL, but you just need to count how many goaltenders are in the Canucks’ system to see that it’s likely. The Canucks have a lot of goaltenders right now: Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko will start in the NHL, leaving DiPietro to battle with free agent signing Zane McIntyre, veteran Richard Bachman, and fellow prospect Jake Kielly to start with the Comets. Unless the Comets carry three goaltenders, it’s easy to see them keeping the more experienced McIntyre and Bachman in the AHL and sending DiPietro and Kielly to the Kalamazoo Wings.
We’ll have to wait and see. DiPietro got one start in the preseason, playing two periods before McIntyre replaced him for the third in a planned goalie change. He played well, even if he looked a little out-of-control at times. This will be a key season for his development, so getting him in Utica earlier to prepare seems like a good idea.
Finally, there’s Jonah Gadjovich, who is coming off a tough rookie season in the AHL. The 20-year-old winger struggled to adapt in his first professional year — “Everyone is my size or bigger,” he lamented — and managed just 10 points in 43 games in a season full of injuries and healthy scratches.
The key for Gadjovich is seeing how he bounces back from that disappointment and learns from the experience. Now, knowing what to expect and where he needs to improve, did he do enough in the off-season to take a step forward and reestablish himself as a legitimate NHL prospect.
“I want to play for the Vancouver Canucks and if that means that I have to be in Utica for a year or two or three, then that's what I'm going to do,” he told me during prospect camp. “I'm going to grind it out, I'm going to put in the extra time and work, and I'm going to do whatever it takes, because I want to play here at the end of the day.”
While other prospect forwards are staying with the team for a little while longer, Gadjovich is the first to be cut. Part of that is getting him to Utica to prepare for the season to come, but he also didn’t stand out much in training camp and was kept very quiet in his one preseason game. It’s interesting that Gadjovich was cut before the likes of Justin Bailey and Tyler Graovac, who will likely spend the entire season in Utica, but it would be a mistake to read too much into that.
Gadjovich still has plenty of potential, but he needs to show this season that he can adapt his game now that he can’t simply overpower his opponents as he did in junior.