The Arizona Coyotes took a step back at the NHL level this season, but multiple prospects within the organization had career years in this feature handing out season-ending prospect awards.
The team had three noteworthy prospects spend time between the Coyotes and the Portland Pirates in the AHL. Lucas Lessio, Brandon Gormley, and Henrik Samuelsson each have brought a different dynamic to the Pirates this year, and have all earned time in the NHL for different reasons.
Arizona is known to draft heavily out of the OHL, with Max Domi at the top of the list. However, one teammate in particular took a major step forward this season as Christian Dvorak became one of the best reclamation stories in all of junior hockey. Ryan MacInnis surprised with the Kitchener Rangers and will be one to watch, and Brendan Perlini helped his team overcome major early-season challenges.
Taking a critical look at the organization, Anton Karlsson has raised questions about his genuine NHL interest with his actions this season, and his work on the ice is less than impressive.
One “don’t forget about me” prospect is Mark Visentin, who did not play this season due to an unfortunate injury. With the Coyotes bringing in at least one new face to the ranks between the pipes, Visentin will need to again ascend the depth chart to regain his former reign as the go-to guy in net.
Hardest Worker: Lucas Lessio, F, Portland Pirates (AHL) / Arizona Coyotes
Lucas Lessio received his first extended stay in the NHL this season, one year removed from overcoming a foot injury and a roster battle to make the squad out of camp. Lessio’s work ethic helped cross off milestones such as his first NHL goal and assist. He worked his way up the depth chart this season, earning time with Coyotes captain Shane Doan and Antoine Vermette. Lessio returned to Portland in early March, and helped them clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Hardest Shot: Brendan Perlini, F, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
After injuring his hand in training camp with the Coyotes, Brendan Perlini guided the IceDogs through the muck to a successful playoff run. Niagara started with an abysmal 2-13 record, but Perlini’s return resulted in a turnaround in part thanks to his shot release. As dangerous a player as there is around the net, Perlini scored 26 goals in just 43 games in the regular season and finished third in playoff scoring for Niagara with 12 points in 11 games.
Best Defensive Prospect: Brandon Gormley, D, Portland Pirates (AHL) / Arizona Coyotes
There were seven transactions involving Brandon Gormley this season, perhaps raising questions over his standing with the organization having not earned a full time job. Still, he’s at the head of the class almost by default in a position where the Coyotes are not necessarily strong. It has been suggested that Gormley has struggled through injuries this season, perhaps explaining why the slow-developing defenseman has not put together the offensive season he once displayed as a former Memorial Cup champion. That said, Gormley’s defensive instincts and improving positioning have him positioned for a full time job next season.
Fastest Skater: Anthony Duclair, F, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) / New York Rangers (NHL)
Anthony Duclair entered the Arizona Coyotes system on March 1st, acquired from the New York Rangers as part of the Keith Yandle trade. The deal might have been foreshadowing, as Duclair and Coyotes prospect Max Domi were bonafide stars on the gold medal Canadian WJC team, and potential teammates next season. Duclair’s best asset is his speed. His NHL-ready skating stride was on display at the beginning of the year as he made the Rangers out of camp, putting up one goal and six assists in 18 games before he was returned to the Quebec Remparts. There, Duclair finished the regular season with 15 goals and 19 assists and has the Remparts poised for a deep playoff run.
Prospect of the Year: Max Domi, F, London Knights (OHL)
Despite playing in a career-low 57 games, Domi managed to cross the 100-point plateau for the first time in his OHL career. Domi has been a do-it-all player for the Knights, finishing fifth in points-per-game in the OHL with 32 goals and 70 assists. Paired up with Duclair, Domi led the WJC tournament in goal scoring with five and was named as the best forward following his 10 point effort. Back in London, Domi produced multiple highlight-reel goals, displaying why the Coyotes selected him with the 12th overall selection in 2013. Arizona brass, players, and fans alike are pining for offense, seeing as Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the team in scoring as a defenseman. Domi, the Coyotes Prospect of the Year, will be on the scene this fall as they look to turn their organization around.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Ryan MacInnis, F, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
The Kitchener Rangers entered this season in a bit of a transitional phase, and expectations were fairly low. However, Ryan MacInnis had other plans, leading the team in scoring with 25 goals and 37 assists en route to a playoff bid. There, MacInnis continued to put up points, again leading the way as the Rangers bowed out to London in six games. He recently signed his entry-level contract with the Coyotes, as the team rewarded him for a solid season. MacInnis blends a mix of size, speed, intelligence and puck possession and will be a player to watch moving forward.
Most Improved Prospect: Christian Dvorak, F, London Knights (OHL)
The 2013-14 season was a difficult one for Christian Dvorak, as the power forward struggled with injuries, chemistry, and icetime with the Knights. Following a 14 point season, many were wondering just exactly why the Coyotes used a second-round pick on Dvorak last summer. Well, that was just a microcosm of what was to come. Dvorak scored an astonishing 41 goals and 68 assists this season, a 95 point improvement from the year before. He earned significant icetime in London, sometimes playing with fellow Coyotes prospect Max Domi, but more often paired with 2015 draft-eligible Mitch Marner. He was dynamic with and without the puck, a major contributor on special teams, and a key cog in London’s attack as clearly the most improved player in the system.
Overachiever: Dysin Mayo, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
At just 18 years old, Dysin Mayo already has a WHL Championship and Memorial Cup victory under his belt. So what would make him an overachiever this season? Well, a major step forward with his offensive game has put Mayo near the top of the Coyotes defensive prospects list. Mayo played in all 72 games this season for Edmonton, marking career highs in goals with 14, assists with 37, and penalty minutes with 75. Mayo isn’t easily rattled, and displayed a calm, composed nature with the Oil Kings, leading a younger squad back to the playoffs.
Underachiever: Anton Karlsson, F, Frolunda (SHL)
Heading into this season, Karlsson was presented with an opportunity to play in the OHL with the Erie Otters, and he declined that chance in favor of returning to Sweden to play for Skelleftea. There, he was merely a point-per-game player with their SuperElit junior team, before a bout of homesickness struck and he was released from his contract. To no one’s surprise, Karlsson quickly resurfaced with Frolunda, the organization in which he developed. Karlsson only had two assists in 15 SHL games, and disappointed with Sweden’s WJC team, again posting only two assists in seven games. Karlsson’s a clear bottom-six forward, and after signing a two-year extension with Frolunda, questions remain whether he is serious about a career in North America.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Mark Visentin, G, Did Not Play in 2015
Mark Visentin felt a twinge in his ankle early in training camp this season, and as the weeks went by, his confidence waned. Visentin never regained full motion in his ankle, and he opted to have surgery, ending his 2015 season before it even began. The former first-round selection has unceremoniously been passed on the depth chart by Louis Domingue and may soon have to fend off Marek Langhamer and Brendan Burke. However, Visentin’s history and clear ability to play the position leaves the Coyotes with a prospect that can either grab the reins, or one who will tumble into obscurity.
Arizona Coyotes Prospect of the Month
Henrik Samuelsson became the first Arizona native to play in the NHL, making his debut this season with the Coyotes. His dad, former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, ending up coaching against him as an assistant with the New York Rangers. The game was a reward for a season’s worth of hard work, as the younger Samuelsson has been impressive with the Portland Pirates.
The month of March was good to Samuelsson, which saw the Pirates propel themselves back into playoff contention with an 8-2-2 month. Part of their success was due in part thanks to Samuelsson, who scored four goals and six assists in those contests with a +8 rating. Playing on a line with AHL veteran Alexandre Bolduc and fellow prospect Jordan Martinook, Samuelson’s two-way game elevated those around him as the trio maintained their defensive responsibilities.