The Phoenix Coyotes have a total of five prospects playing in junior. Spread out across North America, they have two prospects in the WHL, and one each in the OHL, QMJHL, and USHL. Positionally, they have one goalie, two defensemen, and two forwards.
After having an extended summer with the Coyotes at their training camp, Nick Ross was welcomed back to the Regina Pats for the 2007-08 season. On one of the stronger squads in recent times for the Pats, Ross jumped back in and has been a continued force on the blueline for Regina.
Ross has been spending most of his even strength time paired with Colten Teubert (2008 eligible), part of one of the top shutdown pairs for Regina.
“Five-on-five, he’s a good compliment for Colten,” head coach Curtis Hunt said. “Colten is also a top-end player, but a different kind of player. Between them, when they’re physical, it’s a pretty intimidating pair to play against.”
However, when the Pats go on the power play, Hunt mixes up the pairing, putting Ross together with Logan Pyett.
“We feel they’re a pretty dynamic pair, who both have the ability to quarterback the power play,” Hunt explained.
One of the biggest improvements Ross has made has been making the mental transition. After his big summer — and his introduction to the game at the professional level — he has come back to Regina more focused, taking all the opportunity to improve himself both on and off the ice.
While he’s still young and possesses a lot of raw talent, Hunt welcomes Ross’ commitment and approach. He vows to continue to work with the young rearguard to improve.
“The bottom line is to keep giving him feedback when he needs it, both positive and constructive,” Hunt added. “We have to give him opportunities to get better in practices, so he keeps his standards where they need to be to continue to develop into an everyday NHL player at some point in time.”
After 28 games, Ross has 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists), 48 penalty minutes and is a plus-7.
Overall, the Pats have an 18-11-0-0 record, and are in first place in the East Division. With 36 points, Regina is just one point ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Swift Current Broncos.
Jordan Bendfeld, D – Medicine Hat Tigers
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 152nd overall
The Medicine Hat Tigers were strong out of the gate to start the 2007-08 season. Once they moved into November, however, the team has sputtered, going 3-7 during the month. Lacking offensive pop up front, their overall record slid to 15-12-2-0.
Jordan Bendfeld is one of the older rearguards on a relatively young Tiger blueline corp. Even though the team captain is currently enduring a 10-game pointless streak, he is still the second leading defensive scorer with 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) and is a minus-2 in 27 games. He does lead the team with 68 penalty minutes, of which the majority has been fighting majors.
Regarded more as a defensive defenseman, Bendfeld is a tough customer for any opposing team’s lines. Through a lot of the heartache this past month, he’s been right there trying to make a difference every night. He’s wearing a letter as well.
Brett MacLean is another prospect who had a brief but positive stop with the Coyotes during training camp this fall. After getting sent back to his junior team in the OHL, the Port Elgin native has been Robin to phenom John Tavares’s Batman early on. Then again, in the month of November alone, there has been a bit of a role reversal as MacLean has gone on a torrid scoring barrage. He has an 11-game point streak (tops in the OHL at the moment), where he has multiple points in 10 of those contests and he has 22 goals in that stretch.
Obviously getting the chance to play with top-end talent is going to afford you the opportunity of being more effective. A knock on MacLean going back to last year was that his stats were inflated due to his paring with Tavares. Regardless, anyone who is able to score that much and that often is talented. You can’t blame any player who, like MacLean, winds up in such a situation.
The biggest concern the Coyotes might have at this moment would be of him topping out talent-wise. On the flip side, if he continues to become a stronger player well into his mid-20s, Phoenix definitely did well selecting him in the second round this past summer.
Already a quarter into his season with the Generals, MacLean has 50 points, (29 goals, 21 assists) in 21 games played. His points are good for third overall and his goals put him at the top of the league. He also has accumulated 14 penalty minutes and is tied with Tavares with a plus-17.
His hard play has not gone unnoticed outside the OHL. According to one NHL scout, MacLean seems to be inching towards a roster spot on Team Canada’s WJC team this year.
Martin Latal, RW – P.E.I Rocket
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 131st overall
The Rocket has had a rough start to their year. With a young and inexperienced defensive core and with inconsistencies in their goaltending, PEI has hovered around the bottom of the league for the majority of the year. After it was apparent that things were going to get better early on, head coach Yanick Jean was relieved of his duties at the end of October. Immediately after the move, Rocket Governor and President Serge Savard Jr. named Guy Chouinard the team’s new coach.
After a month with the team, Chouinard has made some changes and has seen some progress, but is not sure the team is out of the woods just yet.
“It’s going to take a while,” Chouinard said about changing the on-ice play. “We’ve seen some changes, but not the way I wanted it to change so far. We still have some work to do, especially with the players. We’ve seen a bit, but overall we’re a little ways out.”
Since he took over, the Rocket have turned in a 4-7-0 record, one he’d hoped was better given the fresh start.
“I didn’t expect the [slow] start, to be honest,” he said. “Usually when you make a change, it goes to one side, but that was not the case. The first five games we lost, we should have got points in all of about one but we didn’t. We’re playing better as a team. I thought during our short three-game winning streak, we were on the right track.”
In a month’s time, Chouinard stated they are starting to see some flashes but have to become more consistent and responsible with their overall game.
“I’m the kind of coach where details are really important,” he said. "Until they understand what I want, and what we want as a team, I’m going to keep making sure that they know what we want from them.”
As for Latal, he admittedly is trying to get to know him, just like all the other players. Before Chouinard’s arrival, the Czech native was producing better than a point a game. When the new coach got there, he did notice that Latal was struggling. Rightfully so, the team doctor looked him over and learned that the winger was suffering from the effects of the flu.
“He hasn’t been that much of an offensive player right now for the team,” the coach added. “We expect more from Martin, especially in the second half. I don’t think that he’s produced enough offensively, but I think he’s capable of it.”
Now that Latal is healthy once again, Chouinard is trying to find the chemistry to pick his game up. He noted that his lack of production has probably hinged on the fact that he was playing with younger linemates. He also seemed to realize that when Latal was having his most success, he was playing with the older more experienced players in Geoff Walker and Brett Morrison. Chouinard stated he was going to start shaking up the lines and has already reunited the three.
Overall, Chouinard would like Latal shoot more and use his speed with the puck and show some of that breakaway speed. However, he also noted that the young winger occasionally likes to fly the zone too early, which has left the team vulnerable at times.
“He has a tendency to leave the zone really quick and hope for the breakaway pass,” Chouinard said. ”He’s on the fly all the time and the puck doesn’t really come. We don’t have that one outstanding offensive defenseman that will see that play all the time.”
They have worked with him on that aspect and reminded him to work on his timing. Chouinard would like Latal to be more responsible on the breakout and be ready just in case possession is lost and they have to revert to the backcheck quickly.
“He has some trouble adjusting to it,” Chouinard finally added. “We’ll keep on working with him and hopefully he’ll start understanding what we need him to do.”
To date, Latal has 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in 23 games. He’s ice cold, scoring only an assist in his last seven games. He also accumulated 29 penalty minutes and is dead last on the team with a minus-12.
Scott Darling, G – Indiana Ice
Drafted 2007, 6th round, 153rd overall
With first year head coach Charlie Skjodt at the controls, the Indiana Ice are off to a great start. With winning streaks of four games and seven games and the odd loses in between, the Ice have jumped out with a strong 12-4-0 record. Though Indiana has been tough all-around, they have been lights out at home, going 9-0-0.
“We’re all starting to believe in our systems,” Skjodt said about the impressive home record. “We’ve got a lot of confidence and we’re scoring a lot of goals.”
Altogether, Skjodt praised the team work ethic, chemistry, and overall tightness. The team has responded to the staff and they’re really putting strong performances out there to date.
The Ice has leaned on Scott Darling to take care of the majority of the work between the pipes. He started the season slow, but he’s gotten stronger as the year has progressed.
“He struggled a little bit at home early on, but he took care of that with the 4-0 shutout against Tri-City,” Skjodt said. “He’s played great on the road.”
By and large, Darling has come in and has worked very hard both on and off the ice. So far, Skjodt has liked what he’s seen.
“He’s big and very athletic for a 6’5 guy,” he said. “He’s got the right demeanor and personality to be a goalie. He doesn’t get down on himself.”
Seeing action in 12 the first 16 games, Darling has a record of 8-2-0-1, including one shutout victory. He’s stopped 320 of 358 shots, has a 3.37 goals-against-average and a .894 save percentage.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.