Going into the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the buzz around the Coyotes may have been tilted more towards other issues, but GM Don Maloney and company were focused on the task at hand, drafting six players amid a flurry of activity.
Phoenix was very active in the trade department. They managed to bolster their defensive depth by swapping picks for Shaun Heshka and Sami Lepisto from Vancouver and Washington. Additionally, Jim Vandermeer was acquired from Calgary for Brandon Prust.
Phoenix continued to rely very heavily on North America for the draft, with sixth overall selection Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the lone European. However, they picked up two college-bound players in addition to the three major junior players they have traditionally relied more heavily on. They were attentive to all positions, selecting one goaltender, two defensemen, and one player of every forward position.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D – Leksand IF (SWE-2)
1st round, 6th overall
6’2, 176 pounds
Phoenix did something that they hadn’t done since 1997 when they selected a defenseman with their first pick in the draft.
Ekman-Larsson rose into top ten contention with his strong performance at the U-18 World Championships this past April. He put up eight points in six games, tying for second in scoring among defensemen. He played in all situations for Sweden.
He is a mobile defenseman who can control the pace of the game with the puck on his stick. He is composed and reliable, capable of making a finesse play with his stick, but excelling when he keeps the game simple with accurate breakout passes brought by his patience and vision.
"I think I’m a puck-moving defender with good skating and good hands," said Ekman-Larsson at the draft. "I see the ice really good I think."
Ekman-Larsson spent last season in the Swedish Allsvenskan, the top farm league. This gave him the opportunity to play bigger minutes than the draft-eligible defenseman in the SEL, but against quicker and bigger competition than he would have seen in the Swedish junior league. Phoenix will be in no hurry to get him into the lineup after picking up a pair of NHL defensemen through trades on draft day. Ekman-Larsson expects to spend one more year in Sweden, where he thinks more strength will better prepare him for an NHL career.
"Yeah, more muscles and then I’m ready I think," he said.
Ekman-Larsson looks to be someone Phoenix can craft the future of their defense around. He is a smart and safe player, but has the offensive instincts and hockey sense to fit in with the bevy of talent up front that Phoenix has accumulated over their past couple drafts.
Ekman-Larsson is not an exceptionally physical player, but adding some mass to his frame will better adjust him to handle forwards in the NHL.
Chris Brown, C – US NTDP U-18
2nd round, 36th overall
6’2, 191 pounds
It’s safe to say the success of a pair of recent draft picks played a part in Phoenix’s selection of Brown. Brown is following the path of current prospects Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, who went through the National Development team en route to the University of Michigan. Under Red Berenson, both players developed into two-way scoring threats.
The Texas-born Brown is sculpted from a slightly different mold, as he is more of a defensive player. He plays big and his strengths lie more in his physical play and his willingness to play in high traffic areas. He plays every shift with the same intensity and has the frame to put some real impact into his hits, though he’s still working on being physical more often.
Brown is a relentless player who doesn’t take a shift off. He constantly moves his feet and is strong on the forecheck. He’s more of a heart and soul, energetic type of forward that Phoenix lacks among their current prospects.
He doesn’t have the offensive tools to put up big numbers in the NHL. Offensively, he is more limited to scoring goals around the net because of his size. He will have time in college to try to take this part of his game to the next level.
Mike Lee, G – Fargo Force (USHL)
3rd round, 91st overall
6’1, 185 pounds
Phoenix swapped a third-round pick in 2010 for the 91st pick in order to take Lee, who was the USHL‘s Goalie of the Year as a rookie.
Lee is a butterfly style netminder with good reflexes who plays well in pressure situations. He won gold with Team USA at the World Jr. A challenge in November and is considered one of the front-runners to be the starting goalie at the World Junior Championships next season.
Lee was second in the USHL in wins (26), save percentage (.918), and shutouts (3). Lee found his time in the USHL valuable.
"It’s a tremendous help to my game. It’s just exciting to play in that league and battle like that against all those good teams every night," Lee told Hockey’s Future. "There’s no nights off, and I think that does nothing but make you a better goaltender, a better player, and a better person, living on your own, and just mature."
"However long it takes to develop, and hopefully winning a couple national championships in the process would be great," said Lee.
Phoenix has a handful of goalies in the system already, but have yet to see one emerge above any of the others. The college-bound Lee allows Phoenix up to four years of development before they need to make a decision on him.
It’s considered a weak year for goalies, but Phoenix still managed to nab one of the top-ranked ones in the third round. Lee only has one year of junior hockey under his belt going into college, as he played high school hockey in Minnesota up until this season. He’s conquered every challenge he’s faced so far, despite the fact he’s only had limited action at a higher level of competition.
Jordan Szwarz, RW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
4th round, 97th overall
5’11, 189 pounds
Phoenix turned back to major junior hockey for their last three selections. The first of these was Szwarz, a playmaking winger from the OHL. Szwarz came away from his draft experience impressed with the Phoenix organization.
"I talked to them once at the NHL combine so I knew there was a little interest there. I’m just very happy to be picked by Phoenix, I’ve heard great things about the organization." Szwarz said. "I’m very excited to get started here."
He admitted that having Wayne Gretzky as a coach is part of Phoenix’s appeal.
"Having the best hockey player in the world coaching you, that’s something special there. You could learn a lot from him."
Szwarz is a player gifted with superb hockey sense and he possesses a good attitude and the positive characteristics you look for in a player. He is a leader, serving as an alternate captain this year for Saginaw, leading with hard work both on and off the ice. He excels in his own zone, demonstrating strong defensive responsibility, but he can also put up points through his playmaking skill and creativity. He’s not afraid of physical contact despite his size, evidenced by his strong play in the corners as well as the front of the net.
"I’ve always been a very defensive-minded player," said Szwarz. "Also I think I’ve got great hockey sense out there, I’m just a very smart player."
Szwarz is a hard-worker who projects him as a role player in the NHL. He’s very creative with the puck but doesn’t gamble with it. He looks like a player who could chip in offense in any role at the next level.
Szwarz doesn’t have an elite shot or elite speed, limiting the opportunities he will have to be a scoring line player at the next level. Players of his size and caliber generally project more in the checking mold.
Justin Weller, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
4th round, 105th overall
6’2, 205 pounds
Weller is a no-frills, straight-forward defensive defenseman. He takes care of his own and and plays the body as often as possible. He was on his team’s top penalty-killing unit and possesses the tools to be a shutdown defenseman in the future. Weller saw his season limited to just 32 games because of injury.
Weller’s offensive instincts are limited, but he keeps his play with the puck very simple to minimize mistakes. He hasn’t managed to score a goal in two WHL seasons, though he has been limited to 82 games in two years.
He has good size and plays physical. He’s very hard to beat one-on-one and he reads the play well. He projects to be a useful third-pairing stay-at-home defenseman.
His upside is very limited, he doesn’t offer much outside of his own zone. He’s prone to mistakes when he’s pressured. He needs to work on his footwork as he’s easily burned when he’s caught flat-footed.
Evan Bloodoff, LW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
6th round, 157th overall
5’11, 190 pounds
With their final selection in the draft, Phoenix took an energetic forward from the WHL Champion Kelowna Rockets.
Bloodoff is a speedy winger who plays a reliable two-way game. His offensive upside is limited — in fact, he scored more goals last year (15) than this year (12). However, he played on a pretty veteran team that is facing the prospect of losing up to seven forwards this offseason, thus opening up ice time for Bloodoff. As a late 1990-born player, Bloodoff could emerge as a leader and could potentially end up in a scoring role.
He’s generously listed at 5’11 and played a defense-first role this season. He forechecks well, and finishes his hits when he can, although he could use more strength.
His speed is top notch, he’s a strong skater in every aspect. He’s surrounded by a winning environment in Kelowna and could have some untapped potential that was buried among a star-studded lineup.
So far he hasn’t shown much offensive upside, projecting more as a fourth-line energy player at the next level.