Daily Sentinel staff picks: Utica Comets’ MVP? Rookie of the Year?
This has been one of the Utica Comets’ most successful regular-season campaigns in the team’s nine seasons.
In the team’s first season as the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the blend of veterans and prospects – along with coach Kevin Dineen, associate coach Sergei Brylin and assistant Ryan Parent – has helped reach the organization’s goal of a competitive culture and playing meaningful games en route to claiming the regular-season North Division title. There’s hope the season will be extended with a deep postseason run.
Whatever happens next, the Comets’ regular-season has featured records – does that much-talked about 13-0 record to open the season ring a bell? And, the team has had one of the leading offenses throughout, which hasn’t necessarily been the case in other seasons – and breakout seasons for many of the players on the roster.
There have been plenty of highlights – goals, saves and kerfuffles – as the team has navigated through a season that has had ups and downs..
Here’s a look at a few players who are deserving of awards, according to the Sentinel staff:
Ben: I think this may be one of the toughest Comets teams to determine one MVP. Could you have, like, co-co-co MVPs? There are so many guys that could be picked.
It is Chase De Leo who stands out to me.
I think he’s been one of the most consistent players and he’s been fun to watch. He’s also part of the leadership group, which I don’t think can be overlooked. Entering Friday, he had missed 19 games this season for various reasons and while the team has a winning record without him, I feel like he was missed in those games.
He’s gone over the 50-point mark for the second time in his seven pro seasons.
Add all of it up and you’ve got my pick: De Leo.
Steve: A.J. Greer has been a spark plug for the Comets this season, and ranks among the team leaders is virtually every category.
Greer, in 51 games, has piled up 22 goals (third on the team) and 28 assists (fourth on the team). That totals up to 50 points, tied for third on the Comets. He’s tied for third on the team with five power-play goals and he has four of the team’s 12 shorthanded goals.
And his scoring contributions can come in bunches. He’s put up 12 mulit-point games, including two four-point efforts.
He’s also tied for fifth on the team with a plus-14 plus/minus rating. So even when he’s not on the score sheet the team is scoring when he’s on the ice and Utica isn’t giving up many goals.
And Greer certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up, racking up 78 penalty minutes, which leads the team.
Greer is the lone Comet to earn AHL Player of the Week honors this season.
Rookie of the Year
Ben: To me, this is arguably a race between two guys: Alexander Holtz and Akira Schmid. (Nico Daws has been good too, but he’s spent more time with the Devils.)
I got Holtz. He’s showed why he was the seventh overall pick in the NHL with his offensive skill and talent. And, he’s shown a willingness to improve on the defensive side in an effort to move up full-time next season.
This season, his 50 points are a Comets’ rookie record. He makes the AHL All-Rookie team, in my mind, because he’s been among the top rookie goal-scoring leaders all season.
And, he’s 20 years old and playing in his first full season in North America.
Steve: I agree on the two top candidates, so let’s make the case for Schmid.
Despite fewer games than all four goalies ahead of him in wins this season, Akira Schmid is tied for fifth in the AHL in wins with 22. He’s played in 37 games, at least seven fewer than each goalie who has more wins.
He’s 13th in the league with a 2.54 goals-against-average and 16th with a .913 saves percentage. He also has a pair of shutouts.
Among rookies, that’s third in wins, second in GAA and fourth in save percentage. And no rookie has more than two shutouts.
He won his first eight starts, helping the Comets to surge right to the top of the North Division standings.
He also picked up some valuable NHL experience with the New Jersey Devils, starting in four games and appearing in six.
The Comets have 41 wins, so Schmid certainly hasn’t been the only goalie getting in done between the pipes for them, but in the preseason there was some question of who would even be the primary goalie for the team. With New Jersey’s injuries, the goalie carousel has been spinning for the franchise, but Schmid has been steady in Utica.
Ben: It is another one you could make an argument for a couple guys who helped Utica allow among the fewest goals in the AHL.
I’ll take Tyler Wotherspoon.
Take him away from the lineup and I feel like you’re missing a bit of experience (more than 500 pro games). I think that’s beneficial for the younger guys – Reilly Walsh, Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk among them – who are obviously making their mark this year as well.
Twenty points in 51 games is helpful. And, He’s a key penalty killer and has been steady.
I think there’s something to be said about his Olympics opportunity too.
Steve: Reilly Walsh has managed to put together a season that’s been balanced while also becoming the team’s top scoring threat on the blue line.
Walsh has eight goals this season, tops among Comets defenders. No one else has more than three. He’s tallied two of the four power-play goals scored by Utica defensemen. His 32 assists are tops among Utica defenders, as are his 40 points. He ranks second on the team for assists and fifth for points.
His plus-10 rating is tied for third among Comets defenders with Okhotiuk and Robbie Russo.
He’s also made big strides compared to last season when he was a rookie. Last season for the Binghamton Devils he played in 33 games, scoring five times and adding 10 assists. He was also a minus-5.
Ben: Aarne Talvitie has worked into a defensive-minded center and those are always important.
While he leans more to the defensive side, he’s totaled more than 20 points in his first full pro season.
He’s also got a plus-14 rating, which is a positive. And, he’s also been key on the Comets’ penalty kill.
Steve: Frederik Gauthier joined the Comets eight games into the season, in the midst of the team’s blistering start. But he’s fit in seamlessly and helped the top lines produce big numbers.
He’s putting up improved numbers of his own, scoring eight times and collecting 24 assists. Both are career highs in four full AHL seasons (as well as an abbreviated 2020-21 campaign).
He has a reputation as a good two-way player, and one measure of that is plus-minus. Gauthier’s plus-17 rating is second-best on the team.
Sometimes it’s not apparent how important a player is to a team until they’re out of the lineup. Gauthier last played on April 1, and in the eight games since then the Comets are 2-4-2-0.
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