Coyotes 2009 draft preview

By Kyle Kujawa

Coyotes Top 10 prospects

1. Viktor Tikhonov, C
2. Kevin Porter, C
3. Jonas Ahnelov, D
4. Chris Summers, D
5. Brett MacLean, LW
6. Nick Ross, D
7. Chad Kolarik, RW
8. Maxim Goncharov, D
9. Jared Staal, RW
10. Josh Tordjman, G

In the second full season of Don Maloney as the Coyotes General Manager, Phoenix had a team ripe with young talent that showed glimpses of promise. They remained competitive and looked to be in good shape around the middle of the season, but started to fall out of playoff contention in February. This led Maloney to deal veterans like Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris at the deadline, bringing in younger players and draft picks to continue building off of.

Team Needs

Phoenix could use a little more experience both offensively and defensively, as they just didn’t have enough to get through their midseason slide. However, with their financial uncertainty, they will look to their young players to play even bigger roles if they can’t land any big names. Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, and Brett MacLean headline the group in San Antonio that might be close to an NHL jump.

In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov still appears to hold the No. 1 spot going forward. Last year’s backup Mikael Tellqvist was traded to Buffalo at the deadline, so Phoenix will likely let Al Montoya and Josh Tordjman duke it out for the backup spot come training camp. Picking up a veteran backup would not be surprising, however.

Organizational Strengths

The good news is Phoenix has young players already contributing at every position so there is no rush for any of the current prospects or whoever they select in the draft. Despite some crucial graduations, the team still has plenty of depth coming in on the back end, with a few big names finally itching closer to the NHL. Nick Ross and Chris Summers are former first-round picks that are still on the right track. Phoenix is getting great development out of some mid-round picks like Jonas Ahnelov, Maxim Goncharov, and Michael Stone.

Additionally, while lacking an elite starter, there is a stable of quality goaltending prospects who will be pushing for that currently vacant backup seat in the coming years. Montoya finally made his NHL debut this season, silencing some critics. Scott Darling and Brett Bennett are further out of the picture, but still each have a few years of college eligibility left.

Organizational Weaknesses

Firepower among the forward prospects has taken a hit, but that’s to be expected when you look at some of the regulars on Phoenix who are still under the age of 25. Outside of Kevin Porter, most of the young scorers and the remaining highly touted forward prospects are purely offensive guys. There is a need for some grittier two-way forwards to complement the players they have scoring goals. Also, most of the forward depth resides in the middle. Many centers can shift to the wing but it doesn’t hurt to have some prospects who were naturally trained there. Brett MacLean, Chad Kolarik, and Jared Staal are virtually all the organization has in this area.

While overall defensive depth is good, Phoenix could use some help right now. They have invested some high picks on defensemen but are still waiting on their reward. Meanwhile, if for some reason the organization cannot offer a few contracts to free-agent defensemen, some prospects may be thrust into the NHL earlier than their development might allow.

Draft Tendencies

The Coyotes have found themselves with two first-round picks each of the past three drafts. That is a trend that nearly continued this season when they acquired a first-round pick from Calgary in the Olli Jokinen deal, but that pick became a 2010 first-round pick at Calgary’s option. Still, the potential for trading up late in the first round is there if Maloney sees fit, as they have eight draft picks this season, including two in the second round.

This will be Maloney’s third draft as the General Manager, but through two drafts some interesting trends emerge. Last year, he selected only one college-bound player in Brett Hextall. In fact, only two of eight 2008 selections did not play major junior hockey. However, in 2007 he selected two college-bound players and only two major junior players among seven selections.

It will be interesting to see if last year’s major junior preference comes into play at all this year, as it could have an effect down the road. Phoenix will have a lot of young players coming in around the same time and may face losing some quality players if they run into a logjam. With eight picks, if Phoenix does hold on to most of them, it might be wise to invest into some long-term, college-bound projects.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selection: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Leksand, Sweden-2

After three straight years of taking forwards in the top 10, Phoenix would do well to secure a cornerstone for the blueline in Ekman-Larsson.  A very typical Swedish defender, he is an effortless skater who moves the puck up ice with composure and rarely rushes a bad play. He is tall, but often leans on his strong positional play to force an opponent into a mistake instead of playing the body. Once he fills out, this could change. He is capable of making finesse moves as well.