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Utica Comets GM MacKinnon: There’s excitement with prospects

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
email / twitter
Posted 2/22/23

The Utica Comets have had an eventful regular-season with about a third of it left to play.

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Utica Comets GM MacKinnon: There’s excitement with prospects


The Utica Comets have had an eventful regular-season with about a third of it left to play.

Through it, there have been some bright spots with the American Hockey League team as the prospects for the New Jersey Devils continue to develop their skills while trying to help the Comets get back to the postseason following a disappointing exit last spring.

Forwards Graeme Clarke (the lone Comets player to eclipse more than 30 points entering Wednesday) and Nolan Foote (career-best 16 goals) as well as defenseman and 2022 No. 2 overall pick Simon Nemec are among the players to have key roles with Utica.

The Daily Sentinel recently talked to Comets General Manager/New Jersey Assistant General Manager Dan MacKinnon about some of the progress and the team:

What’s your assessment of Graeme Clarke this season?

MacKinnon: “I think it has been a great year for Clarkey. Because (the Comets) were going to be missing some scoring, we challenged him to take a step. And he has. He’s been our top scoring winger. It has been great to see. You can see the confidence in his game. He’s more assertive when he has the puck. He’s moving his feet better. He’s always been a shot threat, but he’s also a threat to make a pass and create. That’s harder to defend when you’re like that dual shot-pass threat like the top wingers are in the offensive zone. It is tracking well for Graeme. He’s one of those guys that if and when his opportunity comes with the big team, he’s probably going to be put in a position to play to his identity that has an offensive element to it and not parked on the fourth line and be told to shut the other team down. You have to put these guys in positions to succeed. I think he’s still continuing to produce and be dynamic (with Utica), that will bear well for his future.”

Šimon Nemec has shown poise and is doing things well that don’t show up in a box score in his first pro season in North America. He’s been a solid player.

MacKinnon: “I think people take for granted you’re watching an 18-year-old kid (Nemec turned 19 on Feb. 15) play in probably the second-most difficult league in the world at a very difficult position like defense. He doesn’t get enough credit for all the little things he does well. We’re super excited about him as a prospect and his future. There’s no need to rush him because he’s getting great experience playing a ton and learning the North American game.”

Who is one player who has stood out to you that should be talked about more?

MacKinnon: “We’ve been happy with Nolan Foote from a maturity standpoint in his game and a commitment to playing a style of game that will keep in the NHL one day full-time. He’s embraced being a heavier presence on the wing. He’s been in traffic more. He’s been a little more physical, causing turnovers. All that great stuff that can translate to a middle-6 or bottom-6 role on the wing in the NHL rather then trying to define your game as just a straight shooter. … I just think Nolan has adapted to the feedback and advice that coaches have given him and done it on a pretty consistent basis.”

How has Kevin Dineen and the coaching staff done this year?

MacKinnon: “I think they’ve done a great job. … The thing I really appreciate about Kevin and it goes back to a quote that I’ll never forget from (former coach) Claude Noël. He said, ‘the thing about being a head coach in the (AHL) is you have to teach, but you also have to drive.’ He meant the competitive level. Because it is hard. It is a grind. Guys aren’t always where they want to be, either the guys coming up or the older guys are on the backside of their career. The good head coaches at that level usually drive the competitive flow and (Kevin is) great at that. There’s no days off in terms of commitment down there.”


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