Coyotes junior prospects 2008-09 review

By Jeff Dahlia

The Phoenix Coyotes have seven prospects playing in junior leagues across North America. Six of them are already playing in the postseason, while the seventh is on his way to the playoffs. Of the group, three play in the WHL, two in the OHL, and one in each of the QMJHL and the USHL.

Colin Long, C – Kelowna Rockets
Drafted 2008 – 4th round, 99th overall

The Rockets captain has remained the centerpiece of Kelowna’s potent offensive attack. Leading the team in scoring and finishing sixth overall in the league with 91 points (33 goals, 58 assists) in 68 regular season games. He’s been consistent all season long in the offensive, but he’s really ramped up his play heading into the playoffs. He earned WHL player of the week honors Mar. 9 for a seven-point outburst in a three-game span. Long was also named a WHL Western Conference Second-Team All-Star and a finalist for the Brad Hornung Trophy (most sportsmanlike).

It’s not going to be an easy road to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals seeing how tough the Western Conference is tough, but Long and the rest of the Rockets have enough firepower and poise and to make a good run. As long as he continues to be a consistent factor for Kelowna, it’s hard to think they’ll make an early exit in the playoffs.

Nick Ross, D – Vancouver Giants
Drafted 2007 – 1st round, 30th overall

After starting off the year with the Kamloops Blazers, Ross was sent to the Vancouver Giants at the trade deadline. The Blazers used the trade to get younger, while the Giants looked to add more experience and depth having Ross help protecting their blue line. For Ross, it was a good move, as he’s been able to learn and develop his game even further under head coach Don Hay.

Ross finished with 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 74 games, but only 21 of those points came from his time with Vancouver over 34 games. The overall figure is in the area of previous totals, but numbers weren’t the top reason why he was shipped to his third team in as many seasons. As a veteran WHLer, the talented rearguard was brought in to enhance an already tough and experienced defense. With the Giants a clear favorite to make it to the finals, expect Ross to pick up his game for what is probably his last season in the WHL.

Michael Stone, D – Calgary Hitmen
Drafted 2008 – 3rd round, 69th overall

It’s really hard to have a bad year on a great team, and it holds true for Calgary’s Michael Stone. Playing on the league’s top team in the Hitmen, Stone has been a big presence coming off the blueline. He’s definitely elevated his game throughout the season and he put an exclamation point on it by finishing as a top defensive scorer in the league. He might have come in fourth overall in the league with 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) in 69 games, but the he finished as the leading defensive scorer from the entire ‘89 class in the WHL. For his effort, Stone was named a WHL Eastern Conference Second-Team All-Star.

The offense wasn’t really to come hard by playing on the league’s top-scoring team, but Stone didn’t make that his sole focus. As he continued to grow his game, he did a good job playing in all areas and all situations. One-dimensional play will not get you far, but that’s something Stone doesn’t have to worry about.

Jared Staal, RW – Sudbury Wolves
Drafted 2008 – 2nd round, 49th overall

The focus this season for Jared Staal and his Sudbury Wolves was consistency.  And though they finished the regular season with a 26-35-3-4 record (59 points), the Wolves actually inched out the Oshawa Generals for the last playoff spot by one point. The consolation prize for that feat saw Sudbury draw the Eastern Conference’s top team in the Belleville Bulls.

As for Staal, he finished with 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 67 games. Since HF’s October report, he registered a point in 23 of his last 41 regular season games. Over the course of those games, he picked up 31 points, including an eight-game point streak from Dec. 13 – Jan. 8. His overall game still needs work, but he’s definitely improved it.

Tim Billingsley, D – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Drafted 2008 – 7th round, 189th overall

After missing some time to injury early in October, Billingsley missed additional time from mid-January to the second week of February. But both times, he came back with the same poise and determination that helped propel the Majors into the playoffs for the second straight year.

As an older member of a relatively younger defensive group, the defensive-defenseman did his part trying to control things on the back end. Team defense in general was an issue for the Mississauga all year long, but it was just good enough to finish13 games over .500 with a 39-26-1-2 record. In the playoffs, the Majors already have two games on the Barrie Colts in the first round.

Mathieu Brodeur, D – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted 2008 – 3rd round, 76th overall

The Screaming Eagles finished out another strong year, where they were one of the top teams in the league. As one of their top defensive-minded defensemen, Mathieu Brodeur had a good developmental year. But the one thing that stood out is a lack of a strong physical base. Brodeur desperately needs to add weight to compliment his 6’6 frame. Offensively, he managed to improve his numbers, collecting 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 61 games.

Cape Breton couldn’t catch the Moncton Wildcats for the Atlantic Division crown, but Brodeur and the Screaming Eagles made it into the playoffs, where they’re currently taking on another Atlantic rival in Saint John.

Brett Bennett, G – Indiana Ice
Draft 2006 – 5th round, 130th overall

After he was oddly excused from Boston University at the end of last season, Brett Bennett went shopping for a new home. He surfaced in the USHL playing for the Indiana Ice, which proved to be a good move for the homeless collegiate netminder. Bennett’s solid play has helped the Ice remain one of the top teams for the second straight year. He’s posted a 2.52
goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage, but his 31-15-2-3 record is tops in the league. Bennett also earned goaltender of the week honors three times this season for his play.

Even with five games remaining after this weekend, Indiana is a shoo-in for the playoffs. The last thing that remains to be determined is which team wins the regular season crown and takes home the Anderson Cup. From there, expect Bennett to help push the Ice deep into the playoffs.