Utah Grizzlies Focus On Development As Marquee Players Come And Go
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As with most weekends, this past weekend was a series of ups and downs for the Utah Grizzlies, but this time it wasn’t as much about the wins and losses as it was about the coming and going of players.
Anxious anticipation was filling the Grizzlies fan-based social media pages when locally born goaltender Garrett Metcalf signed an amateur tryout contract with the team. Metcalf’s father is well known to the local hockey community. He has coached local youth teams and officiated local youth and pro games in the area for over 4 decades. Speculation of Garret being a Utah Grizzly date back to 2015, when he was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks, who, at the time, were the NHL affiliate of the Utah Grizzlies.
Grizzlies Coach Tim Branham told KSL sports, “It’s funny the way the league is. There’s so much movement and, therefore, timing plays such a big role with opportunity. When G first became available, we did not have room to add another player, but as soon as a spot became available, I made the call.”
— ECHL Week (@ECHLWeek) March 26, 2021
Metcalf served as a backup in the Saturday night game and then started and won the Sunday afternoon game. Metcalf stopped 23/24 shots in regulation and made one save in overtime.
As the Grizzlies played on Sunday afternoon, fans immediately noticed a huge absence in the lineup. One of the Grizzlies’ top players this season has been 19-year-old Hunter Skinner. Skinner is a 4th round draft pick of the New York Rangers and a recent member of the gold medal-winning Team USA in the World Junior Tournament.
A player like Skinner usually doesn’t see any time in the ECHL, but, because his entire junior league (The OHL) took the season off due to COVID, he needed a place to play. The obvious choice was for Skinner to sign with the Rangers and play this season in the AHL, but playing in the ECHL would keep his status and allow him to return to the London Knights and possibly re-enter the draft as an expected higher pick.
“We knew there was always a chance that you could lose him. He deserves to play at the next level and so, honestly, as a coach in the ECHL, you hope he got the chance. He has a bright future ahead of him.” Couch Branham continues, “Hunter is a tremendous talent. He’s a sponge, he constantly wants to learn. Anytime you can add a player like that, you do it.”
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 29, 2021
Skinner was a focus for the other team. The game plan was constantly to attack Skinner’s side of the ice and play him as physically as allowed to see how the 19-year-old could handle playing against grown men. Hunter responded by putting up 17 points in 26 games as a defenseman.
“I believe Hunter learned that you have to be consistent every night and in every battle. The difference between playing against older players is the fact that they are stronger. Therefore, you need to be ready for that altercation. Hunter is physically gifted anyways, so it was just a slight mental adjustment for him. He did a great job,” said Branham.
Skinner is expected to play the rest of the season with the Hartford Wolfpack in the AHL, but with the amount of movement in the Rangers D-core, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see him get a few games in the NHL.
For Branham and the Utah Grizzlies, it’s business as usual trying to develop young players for the Colorado Avalanche organization. For the Grizzlies fans, it’s been another crazy weekend of lineup changes and impact players coming and going.
One more thing of note.
One of Utah’s top up and coming players is Mason Mannek. Mannek is currently playing for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, where he already has 4 points in 6 games. As an undrafted player, Mannek will be looking for a place to play when the WHL finishes its season. KSL Sports asked coach Branham about the possibility of having 3 Utah-born players on his roster at once.
“I truly feel like Mannek would fit well with us. Maybe things will work out.”
Utah Puck Report is a podcast all about Utah hockey, from interviews with NHL stars to which Grizzlies players are about to take the next step, Utah Puck Report has everything for a Utah hockey fan. Find it wherever you find podcasts or on KSLSports.com. The show is hosted by KSL Sports’ hockey insider, Jay Stevens.