Gormley leads diverse and talented group of Arizona Coyotes prospects in Fall 2014 Top 20

By Pat Paeplow

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Brandon Gormley appeared in only five games for Arizona in 2013-14 but is expected to be a fixture on the Coyotes’ blueline in 2014-15. (courtesy of Chris Coduto/Icon SMI)

 

A revamped Coyotes prospect pool suddenly boasts a plethora of two-way forwards who can generate offense off the forecheck. Until this offseason, the Arizona Coyotes prospect pool has been overstocked by promising young defensemen threatening to die on the vine. However, since the 2013-14 trade deadline, general manager Don Maloney has methodically balanced the prospect pool.

Maloney traded David Rundblad for a second round pick which would turn into forward Christian Dvorak. The graduation of defensemen Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy to the NHL is all but imminent. Finally, the 2014 NHL Draft was almost exclusively focused on forwards, further restructuring the Coyotes’ prospect pipeline.

Heading into camp, there are several prospects threatening to play their way onto Arizona’s NHL roster. Gormley, Murphy, Max Domi and Lucas Lessio among others all have legitimate shots at becoming full-fledged NHL hockey players. Some will succeed, others will require further seasoning with Arizona’s AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, and almost all of the 2014 draftees will be headed to major junior leagues in Canada.

1. (1) Brandon Gormley, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2010

Brandon Gormley plays a methodical all-around game which should make him a dependable fixture on the Coyotes’ blueline for years to come. Many organizations would have had him playing in the NHL at least a season ago.

Arizona’s wealth of talented defensemen coupled with management’s aversion to youngsters learning on the job resulted in an extended incubation period in the AHL for Gormley. Instead of playing a dozen or less sheltered minutes a night in the NHL, Gormley played around 30 minutes a night for the Portland Pirates. He was groomed to run a power play at the professional level while being relied upon for penalty kills and other high leverage situations.

Arizona’s investment in developing Gormley slowly will begin to pay dividends in 2014-15. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that he will be on the Coyotes’ NHL roster coming out of training camp. It remains to be determined whether his play and decision-making will endear him to highly particular head coach Dave Tippett. If he can overcome Tippett’s fussiness, Gormley should fit in nicely among Arizona’s top four defensemen in 2014-15.

2. (2) Max Domi, C, 8.0D
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2013

After buying out Mike Ribeiro and losing Radim Vrbata the highest bidder via free agency, Max Domi may be the most dynamic forward left in the Coyotes organization. Playing against men in the NHL would most certainly test Domi’s ability to produce offense consistently. Still, his measurables are undeniably good. His top-end speed, acceleration and lateral movement are all world-class. He stickhandles like the puck is on a string and the only bad passes he makes are when he seemingly gets bored with junior competition and tries to force play.

With their offseason departures, Arizona would seem to have an opening for Domi on their NHL roster. However, his lack of discipline may not immediately endear him to Tippett and the rest of the management team. His defensive game should mature quickly once Domi is exposed to a level of play that does not allow him to play defense by simply going out and dominating possession. Yet, discipline also means not taking ill-advised penalties and engaging with every opponent who mutters a half-phrase of trash talk. He may need to develop his tolerance to provocation in the AHL, unless the speed and competitiveness of the NHL is all that is needed to hone his focus.

3. (3) Henrik Samuelsson, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2012

Henrik Samuelsson dominated in his final season of junior hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings. He used his combination of overwhelming strength, hands and excellent vision to team up with talented linemates like Mitch Moroz and dominate the cycle game most nights. The prevailing logic is that Samuelsson does not have enough skating ability for his offense to translate to the NHL level. Even if he cannot play in a top-six capacity, his aforementioned strength and hockey sense, combined with the gritty approach probably inherited from his father Ulf, should make him a valuable third-liner.

Samuelsson’s certainly in the mix for an NHL roster spot in 2014-15, although he is probably less of a contender than some of Arizona’s other prospects. If he dispels some of the concern about his skating he might fit the Coyotes’ roster better than Domi. Despite his in-your-face style, he has a better sense for the line between hard-nosed hockey and five-minute majors. He is more disciplined and coach-friendly than Domi at this point in their respective developments. Still, Samuelsson’s more likely to start the season in Portland playing 20 minutes a night than he is riding the bench in Scottsdale. He will probably be better off for it in the long run. 

4. (4) Connor Murphy, D, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2011

Like fellow defenseman Brandon Gormley, Connor Murphy is most likely to begin the season in Arizona, quickly graduating himself from the prospect pool. He played 30 NHL games in 2013-14 and seemed to gain the confidence of Dave Tippett, who exposed Murphy to top opposition, clutch and late situations along with just about any other scenario.

Despite being an offensive-minded blueliner throughout junior and the AHL, Murphy’s decision-making in the NHL was fairly conservative, always making the high percentage play. Although his choices never generated much offense or puck possession, he also limited turnovers and transition opportunities for the opposition. These attributes, along with his assertiveness in his own end, make him a solid complimentary piece in a defensive corps featuring puck-movers like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.

5. (5) Lucas Lessio, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2011

Lucas Lessio started 2013-14 in Arizona. Although there were certainly growing pains, his game seemed to be adjusting fairly well until he was demoted to Portland, presumably as part of an organizational shake-up in response to an early losing streak. He never made his way back to the Coyotes but he produced very well in Portland, scoring 29 goals and 25 assists in 69 games, one of the few bright spots on that club. With Arizona’s need for offense, Lessio should be a frontrunner for an NHL roster spot in 2014-15.

Lessio plays with lots of jump on the forecheck. He routinely beats defensemen in short four or five–step races below the goal line. This allows him to interfere with breakout attempts or simply be first on the puck. Scouts trumpet his ability to score off the rush with his shot or his puck skills. Those attributes are legitimate but opportunities to use them are few and far between in the NHL. His bread and butter is his ability to compete down low and generate scoring opportunities from those areas.

6. (NR) Brendan Perlini, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2014

Brendan Perlini, Maloney’s first choice in the 2014 NHL draft, is a big, strong kid whose primary assets are his speed and puck skills. He has a knack for creating space on the rush and finding the soft spots in the offensive zone, where he sets ups for tip-ins and rebounds. At 6’2, 205 pounds and likely to continue to fill out, Perlini’s size and strength should add a dimension to his game. Right now he uses his frame as a tool for absorbing contact from the opposition. His ability to be more assertive with his size will be crucial for him to successfully mature into a top-six forward.

After the Coyotes’ training camp Perlini will be back in the OHL with the Niagara IceDogs. Many top-end prospects of Perlini’s caliber find their post-draft year to be something of a lost season because junior is not challenging enough, they’re not ready for the NHL and the collective bargaining agreement prevents them from playing in the AHL. Another season in junior could actually be beneficial to Perlini’s development, however, offering him another year among amateurs to experiment with his physicality.

7. (7) Laurent Dauphin, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2013

Laurent Dauphin is an extremely versatile center whose primary attribute is his work ethic. This is by no means a back-handed compliment. ‘200-foot player’ is a term that gets tossed around recklessly in prospect evaluation but Dauphin earns this type of hyperbole through his dedication in all three zones.

2013-14 was a bit of a letdown for him. Dauphin never took his offensive game to the next level. A full season in Portland competing against AHL talent on a nightly basis should offer a glimpse into whether Dauphin’s lanky frame can withstand the grind of professional hockey.

8. (9) Tobias Rieder, RW, 7.5D
Acquired via trade with the Edmonton Oilers, March 2013

Tobias Rieder was impressive in his first full season of professional hockey in 2013-14. Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for the workaday Kale Kessy, the German right wing exceeded expectations with 28 goals and 20 assists in 64 games. Far from one-dimensional, Rieder was deployed consistently on penalty kills and defensive zone situations in Portland. 2014-15 will see him back with the Pirates, although with Arizona’s holes at right wing it would not be inconceivable for Rieder to get an NHL audition provided he duplicates his production.

Rieder is just as likely to generate scoring off the rush as from the cycle. Along with playing conscientious defensive hockey, Rieder has demonstrated his leadership and tendency to elevate in clutch situations. His greatest weakness right now is a troubling tendency to miss large chunks of time with injuries.

9. (10) Mark Visentin, G, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2010

The Portland Pirates were the worst team in the entire AHL in 2013-14. This was due to a variety of reasons, from a lack of veteran leadership to injuries to key players being poached by the Coyotes to being evicted from their own home arena. Whatever the reason, Mark Visentin took the brunt of the Pirate’s inability to compete on his shoulders. He endured a shooting gallery most nights and his numbers reflect this. Yet, he continued to compete all game long throughout the season. He showed the mental fortitude of a quality NHL back-up and emerged as a leader in Portland. He will be the full-time starter for a completely revamped Pirates line-up in the fall. Coyotes management probably would not hesitate to rely on Visentin for a moderate stretch if the depth chart opened up.

10. (NR) Ryan Macinnis, C, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2014

Arizona’s second draft selection in 2014 fits the mold of a classic power forward. Like most 18 year olds, Ryan Macinnis needs to add muscle mass. This will happen as he matures physically. Macinnis displays patience and composure when he gains control of the puck in the slot, making the most of his scoring opportunities. He has good hands and skating ability for his size but his success in the NHL will almost certainly hinge on his ability to excel at the physical side of the game.

Macinnis is at least two years away from even being considered for an NHL roster position. In the fall he will return to the Kitchener Rangers, where he should become an impact player in his second OHL season. He should increase his scoring production, impose himself physically and provide the leadership Kitchener has been lacking since the departure of Tobias Rieder.

11. (11) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2009

Jordan Szwarz is establishing himself as a reliable fourth-liner for the Coyotes. In 2013-14, after being named captain of the Portland Pirates, Szwarz was called up to Arizona as a part of an organizational shake-up in response to a prolonged losing streak early in the season. He ended up playing 26 games with the Coyotes. Although he did not generate much offense, he delivered the discipline and physical element that Tippett relishes in his system. There is nothing jaw-dropping about Szwarz’s skillset and nothing is guaranteed. Still, he earned himself a lot of goodwill last season and, even if he begins the year in Portland, should be among the first call-ups.

12 (NR) Christian Dvorak, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2014

Christian Dvorak was selected by Arizona with a second round pick acquired from Chicago in exchange for David Rundblad. Some analysts considered this selection a bit of reach. Dvorak’s primary attribute is his skating, but he blew out an ACL midway through the 2013-14 season. It is impossible to deny that this pick, to some degree, is a roll of the dice. Still, Dvorak did come back from the injury to appear in the 2014 Memorial Cup. He also has the benefit of playing for the London Knights, arguably the greatest developmental program in amateur hockey.

Dvorak was deployed on the third line and penalty kill for London in 2013-14. This season, with London graduating Max Domi and other talented forwards, Dvorak will have a chance to play on a scoring line. He will have the opportunity to demonstrate he is completely rehabilitated from the knee injury and that he is capable of driving offense.

13 (NR) Anton Karlsson, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2014

The best way to visualize Arizona’s third round pick in 2014 is as a Swedish version of Laurent Dauphin with a little more size. The first line of any scouting report on Anton Karlsson compliments his work ethic. He moves his feet throughout all three zones. This is buoyed by above-average speed and soft hands in traffic

As much as Dvorak’s selection in the second round was criticized, the Karlsson choice was lauded as having excellent value. Karlsson was selected by the Erie Otters in the 2014 CHL Import Draft. As of this writing, nothing is official but early indications are that he will play in North America rather than stay in Frolunda and attempt to make the senior team, where he would probably get nothing more that sheltered minutes.

14. (18) James Melindy, D, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2012

In 2013-14, James Melindy struggled in his first full season of professional hockey. He was timid with the puck, lost in his own end and caught playing catch-up throughout the season. With the call-up of Connor Murphy, Melindy was thrust into some scenarios he might not have been prepared for.

Melindy came out of junior looking like a refined two-way forward. With the likely graduations of Gormley and Connor Murphy, Melindy has the chance to play significant minutes on the blueline in Portland.

15. (16) Yan-Pavel Laplante, C, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2013

Yan-Pavel Laplante played as if he was a ball of destruction over the past two seasons in the QMJHL. Despite possessing impressive playmaking ability and positional discipline, he has developed a reputation for two things: being clutch and playing with a physical edge. Laplante will play his first full season of professional hockey in 2014-15. If he can maintain his rabid style throughout the year without succumbing to burnout or injury, he could reveal himself as a valuable bottom-six forward.

16. (NR) Tyler Gaudet, C, 6.0C
Free agent acquisition, November 2013

It seems like everyone around the Coyotes organization is raving about Tyler Gaudet right now. Speculation has the two-way center vying for a role on the Coyotes fourth line in 2014-15. Despite being a player who seems to do everything right, it’s instructive to recall how quickly Gaudet has progressed. He was playing Junior A hockey just 16 months ago. In November 2013, he was signed to an entry-level contract as an undrafted free agent. His exponential learning curve is encouraging but it suggests a developmental plateau could be on the horizon. He could develop into a valuable bottom-six forward in the NHL but this season he will play in Portland and he will likely struggle at times as he adjusts to professional hockey, which is a natural part of the development process.

17. (13) Brendan Shinnimin, C, 6.5D
Free agent acquisition, March 2012

Brendan Shinnimin’s back is against the wall this season as 2014-15 is the final year of his contract. So far, the creativity and net drive that made him the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy winner in his final year with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL has not translated to professional hockey. He spent most of 2013-14 on the second line sheltered by Andy Miele’s offensive consistency. Still, he only managed 28 points in 52 games playing against lesser opposition. Shinnimin must produce early this season. There will be many new talented faces eager to replace him if he falters.

18. (19) Louis Domingue, G, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2010

Like Mark Visentin, Louis Domingue’s numbers suffered because he played behind a last place club. In 36 AHL games, he compiled a 3.63 GAA and .890 save percentage. What these numbers don’t describe is how Domingue pounced on the Pirates backup position when Mike Lee went down with injury. They also fail to reveal how he progressed throughout the season as he grew more comfortable with the level of competition. Domingue is an athletic goaltender whose technical acumen seems to improve every season.

19. (16) Philip Lane, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2012

Like Brendan Shinnimin, Philip Lane is another underachieving forward in the final year of his contract. Lane was a second round pick by the Coyotes in 2010. Back then, scouts salivated over his size and strength coupled with the scoring production in the OHL. The scoring never translated to the AHL. Lane has never been comfortable in a top-six role in professional hockey. To avoid being pidgeon-holed as a career minor-leaguer, Lane must get out to a quick start in 2014-15 and fend off the younger prospects nipping at his heels.

20. (NR) Edgars Kulda, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2014

Edgars Kulda was a media darling heading into the draft. After elevating his game in the CHL playoffs and being named the Memorial Cup MVP, he was speculated to be drafted as early as the third round. Instead, he was selected in the seventh round when Maloney selected the Latvian.

Kulda  is an excellent stickhandler with above average acceleration. In junior, his competitiveness was obvious. He is consistently first on the puck. However, he seems to lack the resourcefulness and offensive creativity displayed by most top-six forwards in junior. This is belayed by his willingness to elevate his game in high-leverage moments.

After going unsigned by the Coyotes following the draft, Kulda reported to training camp for Dynamo Riga. Playing in the KHL will aid Kulda’s development, pushing him out of his comfort zone. Of course, the experience comes with the risk that he may never return to North America.

Follow Pat Paeplow on Twitter via @PPaeplow

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