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Photo: Lindsay Mogle

Injuries giving Comets’ young guns big opportunities

By Nick Mecca AHL On The Beat

With the rash of injuries that have come over the Utica Comets to start the season, players have needed to step up and take on bigger roles than what they are used to.

As a result, rookies such as Zack MacEwen, Alexis D’Aoust, Jalen Chatfield, and Guillaume Brisebois have had to pick up some of the slack, and haven’t looked out of place.

Injuries to Evan McEneny, Philip Holm, and Jaime Sifers on the back end have forced Chatfield and Brisebois into larger special-teams roles. Brisebois has filled in nicely on a Comets power play that ranks eighth in the league at an 18.6 percent conversion rate. The young defenseman is starting to find his way, collecting an assist in two straight games.

On the flip side, Chatfield has become a defensive stalwart on the penalty kill. The Comets’ kill has dipped a bit since the beginning of the year but are back on the rise. They currently rank 13th at 83.7 percent and have killed 23 of 25 penalties over the last four games, including a perfect performance Sunday afternoon.

The points may not be adding up just yet for Brisebois and Chatfield, but their impact has certainly been felt off of the scoresheet.

“It’s always tough to watch some of your top guys go down, but you can’t dwell on it,” Chatfield said. “You just have to go out there and rise to the occasion when given the opportunity.”

Between the call-ups of Nikolay Goldobin and Michael Chaput to the parent Vancouver Canucks, as well as injuries to veterans Darren Archibald, Brendan Woods, and Wacey Hamilton, MacEwen and D’Aoust have seen expanded roles as well. After missing the first five games with an injury, MacEwen has played himself into first line and power play minutes; the payoff was felt immediately as he notched four assists in five games after his placement on the top line. The Charlottetown, P.E.I., native most recently tallied an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss to Providence on December 9. The rookie forward has also collected three assists over his last five games and totaled two goals and eight assists on the year.

“I’m excited for the opportunity. I feel like I’ve worked hard to get here and I’m glad the coaching staff trusts me to put me out into high pressure situations,” MacEwen said. “It’s up to everyone to make sure we bear down and get wins.”

D’Aoust has been thriving in his new role as well. The rookie forward has had a number of scoring opportunities and is a threat every time he’s on the ice. Like Chatfield, his impact has not been immediately felt on the board, but D’Aoust is consistently hounding the puck on the forecheck and attempting to create chances. He finally broke through for his sixth goal of the year Sunday afternoon in a 4-3 overtime loss to Providence.

D’Aoust has also been one of the Comets’ most effective players on the road. The Trois-Rivieres, Que., native has racked up five of his six goals away from the Adirondack Bank Center and has collected the fourth most road points of all Comets players this season.

One of the main goals of playing in the AHL is for young players to develop their game and prepare themselves for the next level. Sometimes, there is no better way to learn than by being thrown into the deep end to see if one sinks or swims. So far, the Comets rookies are swimming.