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COLUMN

Komets, Graham off to interesting start on roster

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog, www.tailingthekomets.com.

Three big defensemen signed Tuesday

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 6:04 am

Unlike many recent summers when the Fort Wayne Komets might have as many as 15 players signed by now, this year is going to be about the process and patience as much as the players.

The Komets signed defensemen Jeremy Gates, Simon Danis-Pepin and Nik Pokulok on Tuesday. Danis-Pepin is 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, and Nik Pokulok is 6-5, 225 pounds. Just from their measurements, they sound like a pro wrestling tag team, and Komets coach Gary Graham wants them to control the front of the Fort Wayne net.

"The biggest area of concern for me in the defensive zone was our net front coverage, and Nick and Simon are big, physical guys who can bang in the corners, shove guys in front and they are good with their sticks, too. They can also skate and move well. They add well to what we're trying to do, which is get bigger and faster.''

This gives the Komets six forwards and four defensemen under contract. On paper, only Brandon Marino and Mickey Lang are obvious top-line forwards, and the defensemen could grow into top-three spots but haven't played there before.

The next month is critical as more of those top-six forwards and top-three defensemen make their selections. This is a good foundation for the Komets, but there's a lot to fill in.

The Komets and Chris Auger said they are close to a contract, but Auger wants another week to think about his options. The Komets didn't extend Auger a protected spot, and the 5 percent raise that comes with it, which allowed him to receive other offers.

"They are doing some great things trying to get younger and all the things that probably should have happened last year,'' Auger said. "If you are a fan, you should be happy with the way it's going.''

It doesn't help that the ECHL salary cap shrank from $12,400 to $12,000 this year, meaning not everybody could get a raise.

Komets General Manager David Franke said Tuesday he definitely wants an affiliation with NHL and American Hockey League teams. The Komets ended their one-year experiment with Anaheim and Norfolk last week in an attempt to find a better deal.

Franke said there are seven or eight AHL teams who do not have ECHL affiliates. He's sure the Komets will be affiliated, whether it's a working agreement or a full affiliation.

"It's got to be something that's got to be a positive for both sides and a spirit of cooperation between all three clubs, NHL, AHL and ECHL,'' Franke said. "It needs to be a spirit of helping each other and making it work for everybody rather than maybe the ECHL team is the one that gets left out in the cold once in a while.

"I'd like to have an affiliation and have it for a few years instead of working on it every summer. I'm trying to find out if we can do that. We have to have an avenue to the AHL for the players who are here who are young, free agent kids so they know they have a path if they are playing well to get to a higher level. We have more time and more options, and we want to explore them all.''

The Komets have also reached out to former Anaheim pros Gabe Guentzel, Nick Schaus and Josh Brittain, who are all exploring their options as free agents in the AHL. Graham is also spending extensive time on the phone recruiting NCAA Division I and high-end major junior rookies.

The thing that may annoy fans is the Komets also must be very patient. They can't fill their roster now because better high-number players will be available later, either through affiliation or free agents finally making decisions. As much as everyone wants to know NOW what the Komets are going to look like, it's still two months too early.

The only thing we really know is that Graham wants bigger and faster players and the most competitive Komets training camp in recent memory. So far, he's off to an interesting start.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .