Trent Cull and his entire coaching staff will be back behind the bench of the Abbotsford Canucks next season.
Abbotsford Canucks general manager Ryan Johnson spoke on that topic and several others during a year end press conference with media on Friday (May 6).
Cull coached the Canucks to a record of 39-23-5-1 during the regular season, good for fifth place in the competitive Pacific Division. Abbotsford was then bounced from the playoffs in two games by the Bakersfield Condors.
“Couldn’t be happier with the job they have done,” Johnson said. “Since day one in bringing in this group their attention to detail, the support they have from our development staff … To have that many players, whether losing them through injury or being called up – to win 29 games since early-January with a depleted lineup to give us a chance to have home ice – you have to be a structured coaching staff. I don’t think people realize how hard that is to do as a coaching staff.”
He added the coaching staff faced many challenges, but that he feels they got the most out of what they were given.
Johnson said he was unhappy at the abrupt end to the Canucks playoff run.
“I fully expected us to go in there [to Bakersfield] and win the series and I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t,” he said. “I tried to prep players that were new to the playoff experience of what the difference between regular season hockey and playoff hockey is and I felt there were some players that didn’t take in that information or rise to the occasion.”
Cull’s decision to play defenceman Jett Woo as a forward during the playoffs left observers with questions and Johnson explained that Woo will remain a defensive prospect, but they will be working more with him to develop.
“We’ve talked extensively with Jett about creating an identity for himself at the pro level,” he said, noting that Woo filled in as a forward and played well during the season. “Do we see him as a forward – no. Jett is still trying to find his identity as a pro.”
Johnson added that for many second-year players in the AHL this was their first non-pandemic season and it was an adjustment for many, Woo included. He said he believes Woo can grow and develop on the blueline next season and moving forward.
Injuries wise, Johnson hinted that Will Lockwood may have been able to return if the Canucks had gone on an extended run, but Justin Bailey is dealing with a long-term shoulder injury and was done for the season.
He praised the performance and effort of goalie Spencer Martin, who worked his way into a big league contract due to his play in Abbotsford.
Another pressing issue on social media was the decision not to use forward Danila Klimovich in the playoffs. Johnson said more work is needed to develop the second-round pick, but he said the strides Klimovich has made in one season are impressive.
“The improvement from where he was in September to now is astronomical,” he said.
But Johnson said that he hopes Klimovich learned from watching the way Vasily Podkolzin played in Abbotsford. He said Podkolzin’s wall play, the way he manages the puck and his defensive awareness and knowing when to use high-risk plays and when not to, are all things Klimovich can work on.
He said Klimovich’s mental approach to the game also needs some fine tuning, adding the player is very hard on himself and his energy and body language can hurt teammates. He also said they didn’t see what they needed to see near the end of the season from him. But Johnson said he still believes in Klimovich’s potential and this summer is a big one for him.
Johnson said he will spend the summer continuing to evaluate and has some more decisions to make in regards to the roster for 2022-23.