With a handful of NHL-caliber defensemen, the Coyotes blue line is the definite strength of the organization. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an elite player on the back-end with future all-star written all over him, while 2010 first-round choice Brandon Gormley is an impressive two-way defender who exhibits great talent as well. Wingers Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov lead a group of forward prospects which appears to be thin but is ever improving with the likes of young players such as Chris Brown, Phil Lane and Oscar Lindberg.
Brett MacLean has led the San Antonio Rampage in scoring the past two seasons and easily could have started this season with the Coyotes, but was one of the final cuts at training camp. The 21-year-old will get another year of seasoning in the AHL but remains one of the best left wing prospects in all of hockey.
Chris Brown, the club’s second round pick in 2009, is in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. Brown, a power forward, was one of the top freshmen in the country a year ago and this year the 19-year-old figures to have a good shot at making team USA for the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Another 2009 selection, Evan Bloodoff is playing his overage season with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. An assistant captain for the Rockets this year, Bloodoff is a grinding forward with excellent speed and feistiness to his game.
The Coyotes have a little more depth at center than they do the other forward positions but the players remain a work in progress.
Three of their prospects in the middle, Oscar Lindberg, Anton Krysanov and Vladimir Ruzicka are playing overseas and have all showed promise. As a second round pick in 2010, Lindberg seems most likely to have a future in North America while it is unsure if and when Krysanov or Ruzicka will try their hand at the NHL.
Colin Long, Justin Bernhardt, and Josh Lunden have all started their 2010-2011 season in the minors. Long began the season in the AHL but was demoted to Las Vegas in the ECHL where he joins Bernhardt who was up and down between the two teams last year.
Brett Hextall, a small center with excellent speed is in his junior year at the University of North Dakota. Despite his stature, Hextall plays with an edge and brings a high intensity level on a consistent basis. His speed and compete level makes him one of the more dangerous scorers in the NCAA and he appears to have been a steal for the Coyotes who drafted him out of the 6th round in the 2008 draft.
General Managers around the league hoping to land a right winger in a trade with Phoenix should probably look else where. With only three prospects at the position, the lack of depth at right wing is a weakness of the organization.
For the second straight season Viktor Tikhonov failed to make the Coyotes out of training camp but instead of bolting for the KHL like he did last year, the 22-year-old seems to be content on playing in the AHL. With seven points in nine games, the young Russian would likely be one of the first to be called up in the event of an injury to one of the Coyotes forwards.
Phil Lane, the club’s second-round draft pick in 2010, is a budding power forward playing in his second season with the Brampton Battalion. Lane has some good raw talent but is yet to assert himself as a dominant player in the league which is something the Coyotes would like to see.
19-year-old Jordan Szwarz also plays in the OHL where he has established himself as one of the best all-around forwards in the league. Szwarz, who was named captain of the Saginaw Spirit this year, is a fearless player who will do whatever it takes to help his team win. Despite not having great size, Szwarz will drop the gloves with just about anyone, but he is also proving to have some offensive qualities as well. He had career highs with 26 goals and 54 points last year and is poised to top those totals this year.
Defense is the Coyotes deepest and most promising aspect of their organization. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Schlemko earned roster spots in Phoenix and figure to play out the entire season with the Yotes, while first year pros Chris Summers, Michael Stone and Mathieu Brodeur will all look to make an impact in the minors. They will be joined by Jonas Ahnelov and Nick Ross; two players hoping to rebound from disappointing seasons. 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley remains in junior with the Moncton Wildcats, as does Justin Weller, a defensive defenseman with the Red Deer Rebels.
The biggest name of the group is undoubtedly Ekman-Larsson. The 19-year-old is considered by many to be the top prospect at the position in all of hockey. A rare combination of size, skill and poise, Ekman-Larsson is cut from the same cloth as star defensemen such as Duncan Keith (CHI) and Drew Doughty (LA). His effortless skating, poise with the puck and ability to think the game at a high level has quickly found Ekman-Larsson a spot in the NHL, and he is unlikely to ever look back.
Brandon Gormley is another player with future all-star written all over him. Thought to be a top five pick in last June’s draft, he slipped a little and landed right in the welcoming arms of the Coyotes. A tremendously well-rounded blueliner, Gormley is good at both ends of the ice with the ability to play a shut-down game or quarterback the power play. Already off to a hot start in junior, Gormley may only be a year away from fulfilling his NHL dream.
While not overwhelming in terms of talent, the Coyotes are starting to add some solid depth at the position and have shown a commitment to doing so by drafting three goalies in the last two years.
At the 2010 draft Phoenix selected Mark Visentin in the second round and the 18-year-old quickly became the top goaltending prospect in the system. Visentin plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL, and after being invited to team Canada’s development camp in the summer, he will have a shot at making the squad for the World Junior Championships in December.
Louis Domingue was the second goalie taken by the Coyotes in the 2010 draft when they selected him in the fifth round. After a late season deal last year sent him from Moncton to the Quebec Remparts, Domingue has flourished. As the starting goalie for the top ranked team in the CHL, Domingue has started 10 of the club’s 15 games and is unbeaten with a 10-0-0 record. He has a miniscule GAA of 2.07 and a sparkling .910 save percentage. While his numbers are destined to be inflated due to the dominant team he is playing for, Domingue is a big, athletic goalie whose stock is certain to rise thanks to the amazing run that he and the team have been on.
The Coyotes have two goalies playing in the NCAA; Mike Lee and Brett Bennett. Lee, in his sophomore season at St. Cloud State has shown promise at times but still needs to find some consistency. The 22-year-old Bennett is a veteran of college hockey having previously played two seasons for Boston University. Now in his second and senior year at the University of Wisconsin, Bennett is hoping to establish himself as the number one guy for the Badgers.
In the minors the Coyotes have former second round pick Joel Gistedt playing for the Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL, while Scott Darling, a sixth rounder in 2007 is playing for the Louisiana IceGators in the SPHL.