Coyotes 2008 draft preview

By Jeff Dahlia

Top 10 Prospects

1. Kyle Turris, C
2. Al Montoya, G
3. Keith Yandle, D
4. Kevin Porter, LW
5. Chris Summers, D
6. Enver Lisin, RW
7. Brett MacLean, LW
8. Nick Ross, D
9. Bill Thomas, RW
10. Jonas Ahnelov, D
   
Team Needs

As a young team headed into the 2007-08 season, the Coyotes knew it could shape up to be a long year. However, the blend between veteran battle-tested players and “green” rookies proved to be a successful mix. The group was able to surpass many expectations, and for a moment, were in the playoff hunt late in the season. Though they would run out of gas, there are a lot of positives to take from last season.

Up front, rookies Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal lived up to their expectations, playing prominent roles on the team’s top two lines. Daniel Winnik surprised just about everyone in the organization by making the team in summer and not relinquishing his spot all year long. Enver Lisin, Bill Thomas, and Kyle Turris made brief appearances with the club and at least two of them are expected to return full time. The Coyotes also welcome forwards Brett MacLean, Kevin Porter, and Chad Kolarik into the fold. Phoenix will look to their youth to fill many holes next season, but only a few players may be ready. If Radim Vrbata signs elsewhere, that leaves Shane Doan and Steve Reinprecht, Mueller, and Hanzal to fill out the top six spots. While there won’t be a player come draft day immediately ready to make the jump, the Coyotes still need to acquire top-six talent at the position to enhance the team’s overall skill and scoring.

At defense, last year’s group was not bad, but they weren’t stellar either. Ed Jovanovski, Nick Boynton, and Derek Morris remain the team’s steady veteran leaders. Keith Ballard and Zbynek Michalek are the two young workhorses of the bunch, while Matt Jones and Keith Yandle continue to work their way into mix. Chris Summers and Nick Ross are the two leading blueline prospects outside of the system who appear to have the inside track on making the club over the next couple years. While Jonas Ahnelov has made strides in his development back in Sweden with the Frolunda Indians, his next big test comes this summer when he starts skating with the franchise. Logan Stephenson and Sean Sullivan are available but they’re still a ways out. A couple of these names will disappear in the seasons to come and the Coyotes are very intent on making sure they have capable replacements. Therefore, expect Phoenix to select at least two defensemen somewhere within their first five picks.

Back in net, the Coyotes got a godsend from the Anaheim Ducks when they placed Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers. Bryzgalov has stepped in and taken over the role as the team’s No. 1 goalie, something they have been lacking for some time. The Coyotes also have a trio of capable but unproven prospects in Al Montoya, Josh Tordjman, and newly-signed Joel Gistedt. It would be reasonable to suggest that current Phoenix backup Mikael Tellqvist will be moved leading up to the season to avoid a potential logjam in the AHL. This would allow Montoya to move up to the NHL and Gistedt into the vacant spot that would be created in San Antonio. Even though they have another prospect in Scott Darling – who had a stellar year in the USHL and is headed to the University of Maine – don’t rule out the Coyotes taking another netminder later if the right situation doesn’t present itself earlier.

Organizational Strengths

GM Don Maloney’s tactical and analytical lead has really set the tone for the rest of the franchise. His patience, poise, and determination continue to help the club carve out its desperately needed identity in a crowded sports market. Combined with the coaching staff’s ability to integrate new, young players into the system with able veterans, the structure seems far more harmonious than in the past.

The Coyotes development system has been always been the biggest internal concern up until now. After changing personnel in San Antonio and adding additional staff in Phoenix to assist in player development, Phoenix’s farm is finally in order. Coaches Greg Ireland and Ray Edwards have been in constant communication with the Coyotes and are starting to bring the players along rather nicely. The Rampage finished above .500, making it the Coyotes first-ever farm team to post a winning season since relocating to the desert.

Drafting has improved tenfold over the last four drafts. While some picks have come out of misfortune, there are quite a few that have come later and have shown promise. Today, the Coyotes have accumulated a good list of talent that will continue to drive the franchise on all fronts. And of those players, the likes of Mueller, Hanzal, Turris, Winnik, and Yandle are all proof Phoenix is doing better at the table in June.

Organizational Weaknesses

While the Coyotes prospect list as a whole is filled with names, it is no longer as deep or as rich because players have graduated. That is not to say talent doesn’t exist throughout the organization but, looking down the road, Phoenix needs to acquire top-end talent at the forward position for obvious depth reasons. There is a drop off in talent up front and the Coyotes need to keep an influx of top-notch prospects to help the team continue to grow. They seem to be fine up the middle for now, but they’re still bare on the wings. When it comes to defense, the Coyotes have strength in numbers but they should be looking to add more depth here as well. They are a little bare when it comes to two-way and mobile puckmoving rearguards.

Draft Tendencies

Looking back over the last five drafts, the Coyotes have averaged a total eight picks a year. Their highest total was ten selections in 2004, while their fewest picks were five in 2005. The franchise has had a first-round pick in four of the last five drafts. The Coyotes have also been fortunate to have additional first-round selections in the last two drafts. In 2006, the Coyotes traded two second-round picks to Detroit for the Red Wings No. 29 selection. Last year, they acquired the Dallas Stars first round pick (21st overall) as compensation in the Ladislav Nagy deal, which was eventually traded to the Edmonton Oilers for the last pick in the first round and a additional second-round pick.

Phoenix has been extremely active in the first two rounds for four of the last five drafts. Here is a breakdown where the Coyotes picks have fallen over the last past half decade:

•    1st round – 6 picks
•    2nd round – 5 picks
•    3rd round – 3 picks
•    4th round – 5 picks
•    5th round – 4 picks
•    6th round – 4 picks
•    7th round – 5 picks
•    8th round – 2 picks
•    9th round – 4 picks

(Note: The draft was reduced to only seven rounds starting in 2005)

With 38 total picks over that span, 66 percent or 25 prospects were taken from the Western Hemisphere. While the numbers dropped a fraction from last year’s total, North American prospects continue to be the preference of the franchise. The breakdown is as follows:

•    WHL – 28 percent or 7 picks
•    USHS – 24 percent or 6 picks
•    USNTDP – 20 percent or 5 picks
•    Junior A – 12 percent or 3 picks
•    NCAA – 8 percent or 2 picks
•    OHL – 4 percent or 1 pick
•    QMJHL – 4 percent or 1 pick

Of the North American prospects, 56 percent or 14 players are U.S.-born players, while 44 percent or 11 players hail from Canada.

The franchise has been reluctant to select a lot of prospects out of the OHL or the QMJHL. Over the last five drafts, the franchise has only selected one player from each league. They haven’t drafted a player out of the USHL since they took John Zeiler from the Sioux City Musketeers in 2002.

On the European front, 34 percent or 13 of a total of 38 selections have come form the east, which is trending up ever so slightly. The breakdown is as follows:

•    Russia – 36 percent or 4 picks
•    Czech Republic – 27 percent or 3 picks
•    Sweden – 27 percent or 3 picks
•    Slovakia – 9 percent or 1 pick
•    Germany – 9 percent or 1 pick
•    Switzerland – 9 percent or 1 pick

On the flipside, they still haven’t drafted a player out of Finland since the 2000 draft when they took Sami Venalainen from Tappara Tampere.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
Mikkel Boedker, LW, Kitchener Rangers – OHL

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