10. (8) Ryan MacInnis, C, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2014
One of the most improved players in the OHL last year was Ryan MacInnis, who quietly charged up the depth chart for the Kitchener Rangers. With a long line of NHL centers that came from Kitchener before him, MacInnis is starting to realize his potential and ability to be more than just a typical third-line center. He added 25 points from his rookie year, improved his plus/minus by 20 points, and was one of the top penalty killers in the league last season.
After enduring a rebuilding season, MacInnis and the Rangers are primed for a big year. He does have work to do to improve his skating stride, but his intelligence and pure playmaking ability should push him as the first line center. If all goes well at the beginning of the season, MacInnis may have a chance to make the United States World Junior team. USA Hockey brass have kept an eye on him since he left their Development program in 2013 and a player with his strengths will be a big part of any international success.
9. (7) Laurent Dauphin, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2013
Laurent Dauphin recently completed a fairly pedestrian QMJHL career in terms of accolades, but still finished as a better than point-per-game player and maintains a spot in the first half of this list. Dauphin finished his third and final season with Chicoutimi and, as the team’s captain, took on more responsibility and was trusted to be more than just a high-scoring offensive threat. Dauphin got a brief glimpse of what the future has in store for him as he joined the Portland Pirates last year after his team was quickly eliminated from QMJHL playoff contention.
This will be the first full year in professional hockey for Dauphin, who figures to play a top-six role for the Coyotes’ new AHL affiliate in Springfield. There may be a longer learning curve with Dauphin, but it’s hard to knock a player with his consistency and effort level.
8. (NR) Nick Merkley, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2015
Though he spent time as a center for the Kelowna Rockets, some believe that Nick Merkley is best served at wing. However, Merkley’s versatility enables him to make an impact no matter where he is slotted. He was a bit of an underrated talent last year, which is hard to say for a player that logged 90 points in a full 72 game regular season. He is incredibly smart both with and without the puck, and he is valuable to the team no matter whether they are attacking or defending – one reason why the team lifted the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL Champions.
Merkley’s motor simply doesn’t stop, and with another year back in Kelowna without a number of forwards that moved on, he will be one of the top stars on a team trying to defend its title. He is a wizard with the puck, able to setup teammates wherever they are, and he’ll need those skills to continue to develop if they hope to repeat.
7. (5) Christian Dvorak, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2014
Well, who saw that coming? After struggling through an injury-plagued 14 point season in 2013-14, Christian Dvorak’s meteoric rise to the top of the OHL’s scoring charts culminated with a 41 goal, 68 assist regular-season campaign. Part of that success is due in part to part-time linemates Mitch Marner (TOR) and fellow Arizona prospect Max Domi, but make no mistake, Dvorak’s ability to finish around the net and vision is top notch. Dvorak’s work ethic and tireless compete level made him a difficult player to contain.
The London Knights loaded up for the 2015-16 season, acquiring a number of players from the United States Development Program, and adding to an already deep roster. They will miss Domi, but Dvorak’s return will be an exciting prospect for a team looking to return to their usual place atop the OHL standings. The United States World Junior team should come calling as well and Dvorak would be a welcome addition to a historically offensively starved squad.
6. (4) Brendan Perlini, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2014
Held back by injuries two years in a row, Brendan Perlini hasn’t been able to gain traction to become one of the OHL’s top scorers. He has all the tools to succeed, and is a threat to score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. Niagara has long been known as a grind-it-out team that plays a cycle game, which fits Perlini’s profile quite well. Overall, if Perlini can stay healthy, he is primed for a breakout year.
Paired together with Carter Verhaeghe (TOR), the duo was a consistent threat in most games over the last two years. With Verhaeghe off to the Marlies, Perlini will assume billing as the IceDogs’ top offensive threat. If he can shake the bad luck, a good start to the season would ensure that he has a place on Canada’s World Junior team.
5. (3) Henrik Samuelsson, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2012
Henrik Samuelsson’s first season in the AHL went about as expected, as the capable two-way center climbed up the depth chart by the end of the 2014-15 season. As determined as anyone on the team, Samuelsson started to fill the scoresheet shortly after the midway point in the year. His tenacious forechecking led to numerous mistakes and he was ready to strike in transition. He is a steady, trustworthy center that is just starting to figure things out in the pro ranks.
Samuelsson earned a cup of coffee at the end of the season when the Coyotes were well out of playoff contention. It was a positive debut, and while he was held scoreless in three contests, it was an eye-opening experience. The Coyotes have a number of players vying for a job in training camp, and most figure that Samuelsson has an inside track to start the season in Arizona.
4. (NR) Anthony Duclair, LW, 7.5C
Acquired via trade, March 2015
Some pundits may not have expected Anthony Duclair to make the New York Rangers straight out of training camp to begin the 2014-15 season, but that’s exactly what he did, sticking around for 18 games before being sent back to the Quebec Remparts for his final season in junior hockey. Part of the decision to send him back stemmed from getting him consistent playing time before the World Junior Championships, a tournament that Canada dominated. Moreover, Duclair meshed well with Max Domi and the duo helped lead Canada to a Gold Medal, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing into the pair’s future.
Just two months removed from the tournament, Duclair was traded to the Arizona Coyotes as the centerpiece of the Keith Yandle trade. Adding Duclair to an already deep prospect pool is almost overkill, but he will be given every opportunity to break camp with the Coyotes, and perhaps alongside of Domi once again.
3. (2) Brandon Gormley, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2010
Patience is certainly a virtue, but the Coyotes are fresh out of both virtues and waiver eligibility. It’s time for Brandon Gormley to make the team full-time or else be subject to waivers on his way down to the AHL. He is just 23, and while it might be easy to place the bust label on him, the Coyotes have put faith in him and given the young defenseman plenty of time to work on his game. With 149 AHL games under his belt, consistency is the main point of contention. At the AHL level, Gormley sometimes appears to be a confident, puck-moving blueliner, but then he looks mismatched against the speed and tenacity of the NHL.
Overall, Gormley deserves some slack and an honest chance at a roster spot. With a couple veterans off to presumably greener pastures, the roster spots are certainly available for him to make the team. He was already passed by once – by Connor Murphy – so if Gormley can’t secure a spot, Klas Dahlbeck or another suitor will step into the lineup ahead of him, leaving Gormley’s future cloudy at best.
2. (1) Max Domi, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2013
Another example of patience shown to a player comes when looking at how the Coyotes have handled Max Domi. No matter how he performed at prospect and training camps, Domi was returned to the London Knights for the past two years now. All Domi did in the meantime was guide the Knights into the playoffs and improved his point totals in each consecutive season. He ruffled feathers at times this year with his “do it myself” attitude, and London opted to break up their big three (Domi, Dvorak, Marner) because of rumored consistency issues. However, there is no doubting that Domi oozes talent with the puck. He is as dazzling a scorer as there is, and he is capable of rushing the puck through the neutral zone, setting up a play, or scoring all by his lonesome. His puck distribution was questionable as he wound down his OHL career, but having already eclipsed 300 career points in junior hockey, you can understand some indifference.
Max Domi is as talented as he is enigmatic, and the Coyotes were extremely patient in not calling his name. The time has come, however, and now he gets to take a serious shot at the roster alongside his World Junior teammate and fellow offensive dynamo Anthony Duclair. There are a number of Coyotes fans who already envision a line with those two together for the majority of the 2014-15 season, and if their tournament results are to be believed, the Coyotes are ready to cash in their chips, with Max Domi prepared to break the bank.
1. (NR) Dylan Strome, C, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2015
Rest assured, Coyotes faithful, Dylan Strome is more than just a consolation prize behind Connor McDavid (EDM) and Jack Eichel (BUF). The Erie Otters center tied for the CHL lead in scoring with fellow Coyotes prospect Conor Garland, but Strome brings a completely different package to the organization. At a solid 6’3, Strome’s ability to protect the puck is top notch. So too is his vision to set up a teammate by threading difficult passes. Strome thinks the game one or two steps ahead, leads by example, and perfectly fits the mold of the type of top-line center that is now required in the NHL.
The Coyotes have rarely placed a player in a situation that he isn’t ready for, which would strongly suggest that Strome is headed back to the OHL. Depending on his play in training camp, he could potentially earn a nine-game tryout with the club, but it would be surprising if he spent the full season with the Coyotes.
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