Canucks Prospect Report: Juolevi playing with confidence post-surgery

NHL insider Corey Hirsch discusses his take on the Vancouver Canucks rookie tourney, who's standing out, who's flying under the radar, and who might not be quite ready for the NHL.

The Vancouver Canucks’ good October has been eclipsed by the Utica Comets’ fabulous month. Of course, the Canucks are a bit of a surprise. The Comets are not.

With a home game Wednesday against the Binghamton Devils, the Canucks’ American Hockey League farm team is off to 7-0-0 start. They are first in the league in scoring, second in goals-against, and a 2-1 shootout road win Saturday against the Hershey Bears ended a four-game run in which the Comets outscored their opposition 26-6 and never won by fewer than four goals.

When NHL players Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin cleared waivers at the end of September after losing their spots on the Canucks, it was clear that Utica would have a pretty good team. Fortunately for the Canucks, the Comets include several good prospects, too.

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Olli Juolevi

Age: 21

Drafted: Fifth overall in 2016

Team: Utica Comets, AHL

GP: 7 | G: 0 | A: 4 | Pts: 4

The fifth pick of the 2016 entry draft, Juolevi has had an impressive start after missing most of last season with a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery in December and prevented him from fully competing at the Canucks’ training camp.

His knee is holding up fine, and Juolevi’s all-around game has him looking again like a blue-chip prospect even if his draft position, one spot ahead of Calgary Flame Matthew Tkachuk, will always be a knock against him.

The Finnish defenceman is first out on the power play and penalty kill and is far more engaged physically than at the start of last season. He’s also brimming with confidence.

Mike DiPietro, G

Age: 20

Drafted: 64th overall in 2017

Team: Utica Comets, AHL

GP: 3 | W: 3 | GAA: 1.62 | SV%: .940

The Canucks’ goalie of the future, Thatcher Demko, is just starting to build his NHL career in Vancouver. A third-round 2017 draft pick, DiPietro is the organization’s next good netminding prospect.

At six-feet tall, DiPietro has made it to this point on aggressive athleticism. Goaltending coach Curtis Sanford is trying to refine his technique and reconstruct some fundamentals, which includes DiPietro keeping his torso more upright to maximize his smallish frame.

A first-year pro, DiPietro looks ready for the AHL — as his spectacular early numbers indicate.

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Kole Lind

Age: 20

Drafted: 33rd overall in 2017

Team: Utica Comets, AHL

GP: 7 | G: 2 | A: 6 | Pts: 8

In just seven games this season, the 33rd pick of 2017 draft has amassed nearly half of the offence Lind managed in 51 games last year during his difficult rookie campaign in professional hockey.

The Canucks have worked with the power forward to improve his foot speed, and Lind looks like a different player than a year ago. He’s getting to more pucks and winning more battles. And the six-foot-one winger is playing the bumper spot on the Comets’ top power-play unit, so he’s starting to get back the offensive swagger he had in junior hockey.

Zack MacEwen

Age: 23

Drafted: Undrafted, signed by Canucks in 2017

Team: Utica Comets

GP: 7 | G: 2 | A: 4 | Pts: 6

With all their new NHL players, the Canucks were a much tougher lineup to crack this September than a year earlier. But MacEwen didn’t come close to making the team despite being given a chance to do so, and is now starting a third season in the AHL.

Offensively, the physical six-foot-four forward is taking his game to another level, jamming the net on the Comets’ dangerous power play. Undrafted out of junior hockey in Quebec and signed by the Canucks as a raw free agent, MacEwen has been built from the ground up as a pro in Vancouver’s system.

There’s a lot to like about his size, willingness to engage physically, and his drive for self-improvement.

Nikolay Goldobin

Age: 24

Drafted: 27th overall in 2014

Team: Utica Comets

GP: 6 | G: 1 | A: 9 | Pts: 10

OK, we know Goldobin must be regarded more as suspect than prospect, back in the AHL after playing 122 NHL games for the Canucks over the last two and a half seasons. Like teammate Reid Boucher, Goldobin may simply be a tweener — too good for the minors, not good enough for the NHL.

But it’s admirable how he (and Sven Baertschi, 26) has dealt with the disappointment of demotion and embraced the chance to prove the Canucks wrong by lighting up the AHL. And at age 23, it’s possible the playmaking Russian may yet get better and earn another NHL opportunity.

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