Coyotes junior prospects season review

By Jeff Dahlia

Phoenix had five prospects playing in the junior ranks throughout North America this year.

WHL

Nick Ross, D – Regina Pats/Kamloops Blazers
Drafted 2007, 1st round, 30th overall

Things were looking up for rearguard Nick Ross, as he was off to a good start with the Regina Pats. He was playing with Colten Teubert (2008 eligible) and was on of the league’s toughest defensive pairs in the league. Then he got a wake-up call. Ross was traded to the Kamloops Blazers as the Pats looked to solidify their roster for the deep playoff run.

Regina GM Brent Parker didn’t have anything personally bad to say about the rearguard after the trade went down. The one thing he noted about Ross was that he hoped the defenseman could consistently play at a higher level and in doing so, find more fluidity in his overall game.  Many times, Ross would find himself playing outside his role and not living up to the needs and expectations of the team. In the long run, it caught up with him as it made him expendable.

In turning to Kamloops, Ross stepped right in and was instantly noticeable on the weaker squad. He stepped up and helped the team maintain is playoff push. In 31 games for the Blazers, he was able to collect 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists). The team made the playoffs but they also made a quick exit, getting swept by the Tri-City Americans in the opening round.

Between the squads, Ross put up 47 points (8 goals, 39 assists) in 72 games. He finished tied for seventh overall among defensemen in scoring in the WHL.

The Coyotes signed Ross to an entry-level contract earlier this month. He also signed an ATO with the Coyotes’ AHL team, the San Antonio Rampage. Ross is still playing for the Rampage in the postseason. 

Jordan Bendfeld, D – Medicine Hat Tigers
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 152nd overall

Donning the captain’s “C,” Jordan Bendfeld lived up to expectations in Medicine Hat. A formidable defenseman with a sizable presence on the blueline, Bendfeld was also the Tigers main source of muscle this season. He finished the regular season with 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) in 72 games.

Bendfeld’s consistent effort helped the team all year as they earned a playoff berth. However, Kootenay ran the Tigers out of the playoffs in the first round.

The Coyotes also declined to sign Bendfeld this year, which makes him a free agent. He also has one more season of eligibility in the WHL as an overager. 

OHL

Brett MacLean, LW – Oshawa Generals
Draft 2007, 2nd round, 32nd overall

MacLean started the season for the Generals hot and kept up that consistency all season long. The sniper finished the regular season with 119 points (61 goals, 58 assists), which led Oshawa and was good for second overall in the OHL in scoring. In addition to those feats, his 61 goals led the OHL. MacLean also had the longest point streak all season in the OHL, scoring 78 points in 32 games from Nov.1 to Jan. 25. During that stretch, he was named the OHL player of the week for Nov. 5, as well as the CHL player of the week for Nov.7.

Towards the end of the regular season, he caught the flu, but bounced back for the postseason. Regardless of his presence with the rest of Oshawa’s stars, the Generals look like they’re going to get bounced in the Eastern Conference finals by a stronger Belleville team. MacLean has managed to add 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 13 playoffs games.

QMJHL

Martin Latal, RW – P.E.I Rocket
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 131st overall

After PEI brought in new head coach Guy Chouinard to help turn the team around, the Rocket really never ended up taking off. They had a winning record for the months of November and December, but the team faltered thereafter.

Latal was fighting off the effects of the flu during to as the team headed into the holiday break. The Czech winger was able to return home to represent his country in the 2008 WJC. He scored two goals in six games, was a minus-1, with four penalty minutes. Once he returned to PEI, Latal’s game showed a little life, but like the rest of the team, he seemed to battle consistency as the team continued to slide. He finished the season with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists), an abysmal minus-23 and collected 65 penalty minutes in 57 games.

The Coyotes seem to be a little interested in Latal, as they have sent him to San Antonio to be with the team. While he hasn’t been signed to an ATO, he is skating with the club when they’re home. The Coyotes have to sign Latal by Jun. 1 this year if they want to retain his rights. He can also return to the QMJHL to play his overager season next year.

USHL

Scott Darling, G – Indiana Ice
Drafted 2007, 6th round, 153rd overall

In his first season in the USHL, Darling came into Indiana and helped backstop the Ice to the top of the east division with a 35-19-6 record. Darling finished the regular season with a 27-10-2 record, while posting a 3.04 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage. He earned goaltender of the week honors on Nov. 12, Jan. 21, and Feb. 4 for his strong play.

Throughout the season, Indiana’s head coach Charlie Skjodt praised Darling for his poise, persistence, and his strong work ethic. Untested at this level, Darling showed he was able to adjust and constantly elevate his game.

Both Darling and the Ice headed into the playoffs last week, but they faltered early on. They lost in the first round to a relentless Chicago squad.