The Coyotes were extremely active at this year’s draft as they continued to improve their talent pool. Before they could turn to the future though, they made a big splash by acquiring Olli Jokinen from the Florida Panthers in a trade. For Phoenix, this move addressed the immediate concern of adding skill, speed, and scoring up front in the desert and adding balance to the young team.
“With Jokinen, it really puts everyone into place,” said Coyotes GM Don Maloney. “Now we don’t have to rely on Kyle Turris to be ‘the guy’ next year. Peter Mueller looks really good on the wing and Hanzal is right there underneath. It just fits for what we’re doing.”
The flipside of the Jokinen trade created an immediate void at defense when the Coyotes sent rearguards Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida in return. While the franchise will look to young defenders to step up, they’ll also look to shop the free agency market on July 1 to help fill those vacancies with reasonable priced veterans.
“Part of this is opening the door for [Keith] Yandle or Nick Ross,” Maloney explained. “But let’s face it, we need a little more experience at that position. The challenge now is to shore up the defense.”
The depth on the blueline was an area of concern heading into Ottawa and the Coyotes responded to their needs during the second day of the draft. They traded their third-round pick to the New York Rangers to acquire forward prospect Alex Bourret, then used three of their selections to pick up more defensemen to give them options down the road.
In the end, Phoenix was able to utilize draft picks and trades to continue to move the organization in a young, powerful direction. The club took five forwards, all of whom they hope will add a combination of that speed, skill, toughness, and character down the road.
Mikkel Boedker, LW – 1st pick, 8th overall (Kitchener Rangers – OHL)
5’11, 195 lbs.
Born: 12/16/1989 – Copenhagen, Denmark
Heading into the draft, the Coyotes were taking a “best player available approach” as they were certain a flurry of action would precede their first selection. When it was their turn to report to the podium at Scotiabank Place, the club was completely confident when they took Mikkel Boedker at the eighth spot.
“We knew Nashville wanted [Colin] Wilson but we really liked Boedker,” said Coyotes head of amateur scouting, Keith Gretzky. “His speed is what we’re looking for.”
Having just completed his first season with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, the Danish winger turned in a solid campaign, collecting 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) in 62 games played. While he was runner up to Taylor Hall for rookie of the year honors, he was named to the OHL’s All-Rookie team and named the best skater in the Western Conference. He turned it up another notch in the post season, collecting 35 points (9 goals, 26 assists) in 20 games. He finished second in scoring to Justin Azevedo (36 points), but was the most dominant rookie in the playoffs. As the top team in the OHL last year as well as the host city for the Memorial Cup, Boedker led the Rangers to the final with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in five games. In addition to his play with Kitchener this past year, Boedker was a member of the 2008 Denmark team at the WJC.
Maloney said, “Mikkel fits into the way we really like to play that speed, puck pursuit game. Playing back in Kitchener with Peter DeBoer and Steve Spott given the background and the training, we really think he can make a run at making our team.”
The speedy winger adds to another depth on the left wing, which also is a need for the club. With spots open on the roster and Boedker’s talent level, he’ll get a chance to compete for a spot when the team convenes this summer for training camp.
“I feel pretty comfortable right now,” said the Coyotes newest member. “I feel I am ready to try and make the next step. I feel prepared because the coaching staff in Kitchener obviously knows a lot about the NHL and they prepared me well.”
While he’s not entirely familiar with city, the winger is excited to get out west.
“I heard a little about it and I know it’s nice and warm,” Boedker said about Phoenix. “You can’t go wrong in the sun, but I’m not going there to tan. I’m going there to play hockey and try to win games with the Coyotes.”
Viktor Tikhonov, W – 2nd pick, 28th overall (Severstal Cherepovets – RSL)
6’2, 187 lbs.
Born: May 12, 1988 – Riga, Latvia
For the third straight year, the Coyotes traded picks to get another late selection in the first round. This year, they maneuvered to get a strong and sizable winger in Viktor Tikhonov. While the grandson of legendary Russian coach – who he was named after – was eligible for the draft for the past two years, the late bloomer gained a lot of attention heading into this year.
“We knew of roughly three teams who were looking to trade up to get him,” said Gretzky. “We knew that if we didn’t get him in the first round, we weren’t going to be to get him at the 35th pick. We knew you have to pay to get something and he’s part of something were trying to build.”
Most aren’t aware that Tikhonov was raised in the United States for the first 17 years of his life, as his father, Vasily worked numerous coaching jobs in the NHL, the defunct IHL league, and the AHL. He returned to Russia to play within CSKA junior system, but moved to another team to forge a career on his own.
“I made the decision not to play for him because I wanted to go my own way and I didn’t want people to think I was on the team because of my grandfather,” Tikhonov said. “I went another way and made my way up.”
Playing for Severstal Cherepovets in the RSL last year, he was noted as one of the most improved forwards in the league during the 2007-08 season. In 43 games, he scored 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists). He was also played for Russia at the 2008 WJC. He was the team’s second leading scorer – behind Nikita Filatov – with 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists), but was named the best forward and was selected to the tournament’s all-star team.
“He really burst on the scene this past Christmas at the World Juniors and then we followed him really closely,” said Maloney. “He’s got a great personality and he’s upbeat. We look at him as a California kid playing Russian hockey. He just fits in with what we’re all about. He’s hard on the puck and he competes.
“We think he’s an NHL player and we decided, ‘Let’s get the guys that fit what we’re trying to be all about.’ He just fits, so let’s pay the price to get him.”
After trading down twice – and collecting additional picks in the process – the Coyotes took another player with good family hockey history, Jared Staal, the youngest of four brothers.
After a quiet first year with the Sudbury Wolves during the 2006-07 season, Staal started showing progress last year. The power forward finished second on his team in scoring as he picked up 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 60 games.
“We know he is going to take some time,” Gretzky explained about Staal’s development. “With all the guys we selected, he’s going to probably take the longest. He grew a lot over the last year and hopefully he develops, works hard, and becomes bigger and faster.”
Staal obviously needs to fill out, as he projects to be a solid forward who is honest and smart. He has goods hands and but needs to refine his overall mechanics as he continues to grow.
Michael Stone, D – 4th pick, 69th overall (Calgary Hitmen – WHL)
6’2, 200 lbs.
Born: June 7, 1990 – Winnipeg, Manitoba
After taking three consecutive forwards, Phoenix switched gears and took their first defenseman in Michael Stone. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native has skated for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL for the past two seasons, where made positive strides over that time. In his first season, he was named co-rookie of the year with the Hitmen. He also was a member of the silver medal Team Manitoba at the 2007 Canada Winter games. Last season, he collected 35 points, (10 goals, 25 assists) in 71 games played.
While playing with Calgary, Stone has earned the reputation for being a consistent, smart, and unruffled rearguard. He sees the ice really well and has good mobility.
Said Gretzky, “We think he moves the puck well and he’s going to continue to improve his feet work.”
The Coyotes selected defenseman Mathieu Brodeur with their second pick in the third round. Brodeur played last season – his first – with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL. In 69 contests, he logged 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 69 games. The first-year defenseman maintained a level of consistency and simplistic approach, which earned him the team’s most improved player award.
“I feel that I’m more of a stay-at-home defenseman,” Brodeur stated. “I wasn’t that physical because of my cardio. My coach decided that I play the positional side of the game first in my own zone.”
Headed into next season, Brodeur looks to build on last season’s success. He spent a lot of time studying the game and taking in special team meetings to help his own cause. He noted that he accepts his role and that it is time to develop a good physical edge and develop a presence on the team’s specialty units.
“Brodeur has the smarts and size is intriguing for us,” Gretzky stated.
It’s too early to tell if the 99th pick will bring Colin Long any luck in this organization, but luck had nothing to do with his development over the last year as a member of the Kelowna Rockets. In his first full year with the Rockets (his rookie year, the 2005-06 season as cut short due to mono), the Southern California native struggled to catch on to the pace and demand of the WHL. During that 2006-07 season, he had a measly 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) and a disastrous minus-29. As a result, he was officially off everyone’s radar and was passed over last year at the draft in Columbus.
Instead of folding, Long went back to the table and started to work on his game and physical stature in the off season. This year’s results far surpassed what many would have expected from the third year forward. He would lead the WHL in scoring for the majority of season, but Chilliwack Bruins forward Mark Santorelli (NAS) caught him late to win the scoring title by one point. Long still finished with 100 points (31 goals, 69 assists) and plus-22 in 72 games played.
Long has clearly defined himself as a forward with great character, desire, capacity of adjusting and willingness to continually seek out ways to improve his game. His attitude and approach has been infectious and the Rockets have benefited from that.
“Long is a skilled forward who tripled his points this past season,” Gretzky described. “We hope he can keep improving.”
Brett Hextall, F – 7th pick, 159th overall (Penticton Vees – BCHL)
5’10, 180 lbs.
Born: April 2, 1988 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
With their sixth-round selection, the Coyotes turned to Brett Hextall, the son of former NHL goalie and current Assistant General manager of the Los Angeles Kings, Ron Hextall. Unlike his father, this Hextall is a forward, who has skated with the Pentiction Vees for the last two seasons in the BCHL. In his first year, Hextall turned in a good season, where he put up decent points and racked up penalty minutes. As the captain for the 2007-08 season, he came back this year to lead the team in scoring with 72 points (24 goals, 48 assists) in 54 games. During the postseason, Hextall also helped lead the Vees to a league championship. The team would move on to the Canadian Junior A Hockey League National Championship against the Camrose Kodiaks. After going head-to-head with the Kodiaks, the Vees lost their bid for the Doyle Cup.
His determination and poise over the last two seasons have earned the respect of his teammates.
“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Gretzky said. “He cares and his passionate. His teammates just loved him. Everyone on the staff was confident [with the pick] and everyone liked him.”
Hextall has wrapped up his junior A career and is headed to the WCHA, the University of North Dakota, to continue his development.
“He’s another late kid, but he’s going to school for four years,” Gretzky said. “If he improves his skating again, who knows in four years.”
Tim Billingsley, D – 8th pick, 189 overall (Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors)
6’1, 177 lbs.
Born: January 17, 1990 – Ottawa, ON
With their last pick in the 2008 draft, Phoenix came full circle by taking OHL blueliner Tim Billingsley from the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors program. Playing with the St. Michael’s for the last two years, Billingsley has improved his numbers and overall game. He finished last year with 5 goals and 22 assists for 27 points in 68 games.
“Our scouts liked his skating,” Gretzky explained. “We wanted a good skating defenseman and we went with him.”