Coyotes 2003 draft evaluation

By Jeff Dahlia

The downside of trying to make the Phoenix Coyotes a continued success at the start of  the Michael Barnett era in the desert came with consequences. At the time, the front office tried desperately to ice a competitive team at all costs. In doing so, that required the franchise to acquire big name players with mass appeal to try to keep the buzz up, the turnstiles spinning, and the seats filled. As we are reminded, sometimes the price is just too steep. That is, when you’re willing to sacrifice assets – in this case draft picks – to help minimize immediate loss and to help keep a young franchise relevant in a new market. Looking back, a lack of patience and foresight, miscalculated trades, and an inability to identify significant prospects haunted the Coyotes. The club turned in their worst performance at the draft in franchise history, ever. Yes, that even includes the Winnipeg Jets days.

In a year where it would have been wise to amass early draft picks to help stimulate internal growth through youth, the Coyotes brass went in the opposite direction. Before they even got to Nashville that summer, Phoenix dealt away their first round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Daymond Langkow. They also sent their second round pick to the Florida Panthers to get Brad Ference. Stepping out and into a hole, the desert dogs didn’t get started until early in the third round. Responding to the lack of position in the first two rounds, the Coyotes hedged their bets on a handful of low risk, high reward type of prospects.

In the end, the plan backfired as the franchise left Music City with eight players, none of which have seen action in the NHL to date.

Tyler Redenbach, C (3rd Round, 77th overall, Swift Current Broncos – WHL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

The Coyotes took Tyler Redenbach with their first pick due to his skill, smarts, and the good decision making ability he displayed back in the WHL. While he was able to tear up the competition and take the home the league scoring title during the 2003-04 season with Swift Current, he leveled out the next season on a weak Broncos team He was traded during the middle of the season to the Lethbridge Hurricanes to help with their playoff run. After the 2004-05 season, the Coyotes failed to negotiate with the centerman and he opted for free agency. Thereafter, he signed with the Providence Bruins in the AHL.

After bouncing in, out, and back into the Coyotes organization over the past two years, the young pivot has spent his entire pro career in the minors. During a couple stints in the AHL, Redenbach has had a hard time playing with any consistency in the top pro development league. This past season, he was a tremendous success playing with the Coyotes double-A affiliate, the Arizona Sundogs in the CHL. After returning on loan to the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL, he helped the Sundogs capture the league championship.

Dmitri Pestunov, C (3rd Round, 80th overall, Magnitogorsk Metallurg – RSL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

Even though he was on the smaller side (listed at 5’9, 190 lbs at the time of the draft), the franchise felt they had a good and strong playmaking centerman when they took Dmitri Pestunov with their second pick. Even though he has never shown any interest in coming to North America, there was menial interest from some members of the team’s management to bring Pestunov over, though nothing materialized.

Pestunov has been an effective center on the lower lines back in the Russia‘s top league. His career hasn’t taken off per say, but he’s been very consistent and has played his part on some powerful Metallurg teams, including the one that won the RSL championship during the 2006-07 season. As the RSL transitions into the KHL next season, Pestunov will suit up for Avangard Omsk.

Liam Lindstrom, C (4th Round, 115th overall, More IK – Swe-1)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

Many scoffed at this pick largely because many felt that Wayne Gretzky and Co. was doing the kid a favor, seeing how the Great One played with his father, Willy Lindstrom back in Edmonton. Call it what you want, but there was actually a time when Liam Lindstrom’s stock was on the rise and he appeared to be shaping up to be a strong two-way pivot. The only problem was, as Lindstrom was playing some of his best hockey heading into the draft, his talent was at its apex.

Lindstrom progressed out of juniors and into the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second tier league) with Sundsvall for two seasons. He started the 2005-06 season with Hammarby, but nothing materialized for the center. He made the jump to North America, playing for the then Coyotes ECHL affiliate, the Phoenix Roadrunners for the 2006-07 season. After a below average year, he returned home.

Ryan Gibbons, RW (6th Round, 178th overall, Seattle Thunderbirds – WHL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

With an abundance of size, grit, and character, Ryan Gibbons was making a name for himself in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds. But his development was slowed by injuries. Because of these on-going issues and concerns from team officials, the Coyotes passed on signing the tough forward after the 2005-06 season. He signed on and played his rookie season with the ECHL Johnstown Chiefs during the 2006-07 season. Last summer he signed with the Charlotte Checkers, but he had hip surgery and missed most of the year. After getting back in action with the Checkers, he was traded to the Bakersfield Condors. Gibbons was released shortly thereafter.

Randall Gelech, RW (7th Round, 208th overall, Kelowna Rockets – WHL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

After winning the WHL championship with the Kelowna Rockets during his draft year, Gelech followed that up by helping Kelowna win the Memorial Cup at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season. He joined the Coyotes and reported to their AHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies, during the 2004-05 season. Though Phoenix changed affiliations, he put up respectable back-to-back seasons and he appeared to be shaping up as a good two-way grinder. After the final year in his entry-level contract (and best to date), the Coyotes opted not to re-sign him. Gelech signed on with the Detroit Red Wings last season to a two-year contract that runs through next season. Even though his production slipped last year, he’ll continue to develop under the Red Wings in the AHL.
 

Eduard Lewandowski, F (8th Round, 242nd overall, Cologne Sharks – DEL)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

From a tactical standpoint, the Coyotes were on the mark for taking Eduard Lewandowski at this point in the draft. Five years prior to the draft (starting with the 1997-98 season), he began to make a name for himself, as a consistent and effective forward while playing with EC Wilhelmshaven in the German lower leagues. Once he hit the DEL during the 2001-02 season, Lewandowski was on the verge of breaking out with Berlin Polar Bears. Even though he would transfer to Cologne Sharks during the 2002-03 season, his game continued to progress. As his game blossomed in the DEL, he was also very effective on the international front, displaying an ability to match up to elite talent for Team Germany. Lewandowski would eventually go onto win the DEL championship during the 2006-07 season with the Mannheim Eagles.

While Lewandowski could have turned out to be a late-round steal, they were mistaken when it came to his interest in the NHL.

Sean Sullivan, D (9th Round, 272nd overall, St. Sebastian’s – USHS)

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL games: 0

As Sean Sullivan headed into his collegiate career with Boston University during the 2003-04 season, Phoenix believed he would turn out to be a good two-way defenseman. After four years with the Terriers, it appeared as if he’d be better suited as a defensive-defenseman who could move the puck effectively. He joined the Phoenix organization this past season in double-A with the Sundogs and showed some offensive flair. Sullivan was able to work his way up to the AHL, where he saw time with the San Antonio Rampage. Sullivan looked poised and comfortable with the speed and overall pace of the league. He should return next season ready to take on a top four role with the Rampage in a pure defensive role.

Sullivan is the only remaining  player from this draft to have an outside chance for the NHL. However, the window is closing quickly as new prospects enter the system.

Loic Burkhalter, C (9th Round, 290th overall, Ambri-Piotta – Swiss)

Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

With the third to last pick of the 2002 draft, the Coyotes selected Loic Burkhalter. The Coyotes were pleased with his progress up until this point and they felt that he could add depth down the middle in the future. However, the forward has never been tempted to jump over to North America, as he has had quite a decent career in the Swiss NLA. He spent the 2002-03 season with Ambri-Piotta in the top Swiss league. Burkhalter joined the SCL Tigers during the 2004-05 season and continued to excel. He would play most of the following season with SCL before going to HC Davos.  During Davos’ 2006-07 championship season, Burkhalter finished as the team’s fourth leading scorer. This past season, he was moved back to Rapperswil-Jona, the team in which he broke into the NLA with.