Coyotes Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Andrew Sykes

2009 first-round pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson remains at the top of the list of prospects for the Coyotes. 

Top 20 at a glance

1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
2. Brett MacLean
3. Viktor Tikhonov
4. David Schlemko
5. Chris Summers 
6. Chris Brown
7. Kevin Porter
8. Chad Kolarik
9. Maxim Goncharov
10. Jared Staal
11. Jonas Ahnelov
12. Mike Lee
13. Nick Ross
14. Colin Long
15. Brett Hextall
16. Michael Stone
17. Mathieu Brodeur
18. Vladimir Ruzicka
19. Jordan Szwarz 
20. Justin Weller

1. (1) Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, 19
Acquired 1st round, 6th overall, 2009

Ekman-Larsson’s play has continued to be very much what you would expect of a sixth overall pick: impressive. Poise, skating, and mobility combined with a strong hockey sense and a tremendous puck-moving ability, Ekman-Larsson has all the tools to be a high-end NHL defenseman. While not overly physical, at 6’2 he has the reach to thwart the opposition with strong positioning and stick work, but at 176 pounds he will certainly want to fill out a little more in order to stand up to the pounding that an NHL defenseman has to take.

2. (3) Brett MacLean, LW, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2007

In his second season in the AHL, MacLean has continued to erase the notion that his strong junior career was due to playing with John Tavares. After posting 21 goals in his rookie year with the AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, MacLean has already hit the 20-goal mark once again in just 48 games. He currently leads the club in goals, (20), points (37), and is also a team-leading +9 which might be the most impressive stat since he is only one of four players on the roster who is plus. Yet to play a game in the NHL, MacLean need only to continue to do what he is doing and his chance should come.

3. (2) Viktor Tikhonov, C, 21
Acquired 1st round, 28th overall, 2008

After appearing in 61 games for the Coyotes in the 2008-09 season, Tikhonov struggled in the early going of his second pro season. The young Russian failed to make the Coyotes out of training camp and played in just four disappointing games with the Rampage before he was loaned to Severstal of the KHL, a club he had previously played with before coming to North America. The 6’2 Tikhonov has vowed that he will return to North America next season and hopes to rediscover the offensive skill and aggressive style that put him in the Coyotes lineup.

4. (14) David Schlemko, D, 22
Acquired as a free agent, 2007

No one in the Coyotes system has made a more rapid ascension up the depth chart than David Schlemko. The undrafted defenseman has seen his stock rise incredibly over the last two seasons and has put himself right in the mix to crack the Coyotes roster on a full-time basis. Schlemko was called up in early November and appeared in 17 games for the Coyotes before being sent back down to San Antonio in late December. In those 17 games, Schlemko managed a respectable five points while maintaining a plus rating, and was even trusted to play on the power play at different times. Although his time in the sun was brief, the 22-year-old showed that he can be counted on to be a consistent and reliable player on the back end, as well as provide some offensive punch if called upon.

5. (6) Chris Summers, D, 21
Acquired 1st round, 29th overall, 2006

Having captained his Michigan Wolverines for the last two seasons, Summers fits the mold of a future leader at the NHL level. Aside from his obvious leadership skills, Summers offers an all-around game that seems to improve with every game he plays. An effortless skating stride coupled with a strong ability to read the play and react to it, Summers projects to be a stingy stay-at-home defenseman, but that’s not to say that he can’t contribute offensively. As his career has developed, Summers has also proven to be a capable offensive threat from the blue line because of his ability to move the puck up ice quickly and effectively.

6. (11) Chris Brown, LW, 18
Acquired 2nd round, 36th overall, 2009

Brown, a freshman forward for Michigan has made an immediate impact in his first year of collegiate hockey. The 18-year-old Texas native has played with confidence beyond his years and currently sits third in team scoring with 21 points in 30 games. Entering the season Brown was thought to play a little soft despite his 6’2, 190 -pound frame, but he has quickly put those worries to rest and has demonstrated a physical game and relentless aggression. By the time his career with the Wolverines ends, Brown should be well over 200 pounds and the Coyotes will have a goal-scoring power forward at their disposal.

7. (5) Kevin Porter, C, 23
Acquired 4th round, 119th overall, 2004

Porter enjoyed a hot start to his second full season in pro hockey but as the team’s play diminished so did Porter’s. The former Hobey Baker Award winner remains very much a bubble player in the Coyotes system. He has appeared in four games for the Coyotes this year with limited minutes and was unable to find the score sheet, and was reassigned to San Antonio where he continues to be one of the leaders of a young team. Porter ranks third on the team with 33 points but has a team-worst -14. It is hard to know just how much to read into his poor plus/minus, but Porter will definitely want to improve on it if he wants to see the Phoenix sun for a more extended period of time.

8. (8) Chad Kolarik, RW, 24
Acquired 7th round 199th overall, 2004

Much like his long-time Michigan teammate Porter, Kolarik is one of the leaders of the Rampage. He ranks second on the team with 16 goals and is the club’s fourth highest scorer with his 31 points, but the plus/minus category is where he disappoints. Unlike Porter, who has usually been a responsible two-way forward, Kolarik has never been known for his defensive play and is struggling in that department yet again. Kolarik has unquestionable offensive skills and can find the back of the net as well as anyone, but the biggest knock against him is that he pays little attention to his defensive game which is holding him back from the next level.

9. (9) Maxim Goncharov, D, 20
Acquired 5th round, 123rd overall, 2007

Goncharov has long been an intriguing prospect for the Coyotes. A flashy skater with good size, (6’3, 190) Goncharov who is still just 20 years old, is already in his fourth year as a pro in Russia with CSKA Moscow. As a fifth-round pick, the rangy blueliner continues to develop nicely, but having played for so long in Russia it will be interesting to see when he will come to North America, and how his game will translate at the AHL level or beyond. With the size, skating and skill that Goncharov possesses, it would be foolish to think that he couldn’t turn himself into a solid player in the years to come.

10. (12) Jared Staal, RW, 19
Acquired 2nd round, 49th overall, 2008

The youngest of the Staal brothers, Jared might not have the same skill set as his older brothers but he certainly brings the same type of size. Just 19, Staal is listed at 6’3 and 198 pounds and although the question of whether or not he will develop the same type of skills that brothers Eric and Jordan possess remains a concern, Jared is determined to play his own game. In his fourth season with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, Staal has 41 points in 44 games and should surpass his career high in that department. Only nine of those 41 points have been goals, which will likely leave him well short of the career-high 21 goals he scored last season. Staal will need continue to work on the offensive side of his game as he embarks on his own professional career.

11. (4) Jonas Ahnelov, D, 21
Acquired 3rd round, 88th overall, 2006

In his second season with the Rampage, Ahnelov has struggled to maintain the same level of play that made him a very promising young defenseman. After recording just one point in 11 games, Ahnelov suffered an injury and has been sidelined since November which has made the season even more challenging. At his best, Ahnelov may be in the mold of Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov, with a similar build and the same penchant for physical play and the big open-ice hit. Ahnelov’s biggest downside is that he can be a little too erratic and often gets lost in defensive coverage.

Ahnelov will have to rebound quickly from his injury if he wants to salvage what has been a fairly disappointing season to date.

12. (13) Mike Lee, G, 19
Acquired 3rd round, 91st overall, 2009

A freshman at St. Cloud State, Lee has enjoyed a successful season thus far. The 19-year-old has posted some respectable numbers while splitting time in goal for the nationally ranked Huskies, and was also one of the goalies for the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. Although he was pulled from the gold-medal game after surrendering three goals on just seven shots, until that game he had played a very solid tournament.

13. (7) Nick Ross, D, 21
Acquired 1st round, 30th overall, 2007

It has been a challenging first season in professional hockey for the former first-round pick who has managed just two assists in 34 total games split between San Antonio and ECHL affiliate Las Vegas. While the offense hasn’t been there, Ross still brings a steady defensive game and is a player you can count on to give a tough effort in every game he plays. It is questionable if he will ever live up to the high expectations that go with being a first-round draft pick, but Ross is the type of player who should continue to improve as he gains more and more experience.

14. (16) Colin Long, C, 20
Acquired 4th round, 99th overall, 2008

A former high-scoring junior player, Long has found finding the score sheet at the AHL level to be a little more difficult. After scoring 30+ goals and 90+ points in consecutive seasons for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, Long has registered just four points in 29 games, albeit in a limited role with the Rampage. Used to being a player who receives important minutes on special teams and top scoring lines, Long will now have to adjust to his role as a third and fourth liner, and show the coaches that he is willing to play more of a grinding style of hockey.

15. (19) Brett Hextall, C, 21
Acquired 6th round, 159th overall, 2008

A small, feisty center for the University of North Dakota, Hextall has never let his size dictate the way he plays the game. Before going down with a leg injury in early January, Hextall had posted a respectable eight goals and four assists in 19 games as well as 66 penalty minutes. At just 5’10 and 176 pounds, Hextall has never been the type of player to shy away from the physical part of the game, and his scrappy in-your-face style makes him anything but a joy to play against. Besides being a pest, Hextall can also beat defenders with speed. The question will be if his size translates to the pro game.

16. (15) Michael Stone, D, 19
Acquired 3rd round, 69th overall, 2008

Stone, a high-scoring defenseman for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, continues to post above-average numbers, and has developed into a good prospect for the Coyotes. With 15 goals and 33 assists, Stone currently ranks seventh in scoring among WHL blueliners, following a season in which he finished as the fourth highest-scoring defenseman. The 6’2, Winnipeg native has definitely seen his stock on the rise over the last two seasons and will look to continue his stellar play as his Hitmen team embarks on what is poised to be a long playoff run.

17. (NR) Mathieu Brodeur, D, 19
Acquired 3rd round, 76th overall, 2008

At 6’6 and 204 pounds, Mathieu Brodeur has the size and reach needed for the pro game. The 19-year-old rearguard for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, has nothing flashy about his game. It is his simplistic approach to defense that has begun to move him up the rankings of Coyotes prospects. Along with his towering size, Brodeur has also developed into a very adept skater who despite his large stature still has the mobility and foot-speed to keep opposing players at bay. A third-round pick in 2008, Brodeur has had a consistent career in the QMJHL, but can still do a lot of improving in all areas of his game such as making sure to bring a more physical approach game in and game out.

18. (17) Vladimir Ruzicka, C, 21
Acquired 4th round, 103rd overall, 2007

The son of former NHLer Vlad Ruzicka, Ruzicka continues to hone his skills in his native Czech Republic. Now into his fifth season with Slavia Praha of the Czech league, Ruzicka can bring a very skillful game, but at times he has lacked some consistency. A tall and lanky pivot who can skate and move the puck, this is likely to be Ruzicka’s final year in Europe with the hope that he will be ready to start his North American career next season.

19. (18) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 18
Acquired 4th round, 97th overall, 2009

The 18-year-old Szwarz has improved his scoring modestly for Saginaw, going from .76 points per game last season to .85 points per game this season. Despite his average size (5’10, 189) Szwarz actually plays more of a physical game than a finesse one. Not the quickest of skaters, Szwarz uses tremendous lower-body strength to fight through checks, which enables him to hold his own in the corners and around the net. His game does not project easily to the pros, however.

20. (20) Justin Weller, D, 18
Acquired 4th round, 105th overall, 2009

A stay-at-home defenseman who doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of offense, Weller is one of the top shut-down defenders for the Red Deer Rebels. The 18-year-old won’t take many risks but is a good enough skater to recover when he does. At 6’2, 205 pounds, Weller brings the physical presence that you would expect from a defensive defenseman and as a player who keeps it very simple in his own zone, he uses positioning and strength to turn away opposing forwards. Weller will need continued work on his mobility as well as improving his offensive repertoire.