Modest group of Phoenix Coyotes prospects performing well in Europe and the NCAA

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Brett Hextall has shown a mix of skill and feistiness in his three years with North Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Hockey’s Future)

The Phoenix Coyotes have just three players currently playing overseas, all of whom play the center position. The Coyotes have four prospects playing in the NCAA; among them being two forwards and two goaltenders.


Europe

Anton Krysanov, C, 24
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall, 2005

Now with his third different team in the KHL, Krysanov has developed into a two-way checking-center but it doesn’t seem likely that the young Russian will be pursuing a career in North America any time soon. In 33 games this year with Nizhnekamsk, the 24-year-old scored four goals and added nine assists while averaging just over 10 minutes of ice-time per game. In five playoff games he registered a single tally before the club was ousted in the first round.


Oscar Lindberg, C, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2010

The club’s second-round pick in the 2010 draft, Lindberg has had an excellent season in the Elitserien. In his second season with Skelleftea, the 19-year-old potted five goals and dished out nine assists while being utilized as more of a defensive center on the team’s third line.

As the youngest forward on the roster, Lindberg has seen limited ice-time but has certainly made the most of it, chipping in offensively as well as maintaining an excellent plus-nine rating. In the playoffs he has continued to perform admirably notching three points in seven games helping Skelleftea advance to the semi-finals.


Vladimir Ruzicka, C, 22
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2007

The son of the former NHL player of the same name, Ruzicka continues to play under his father who is his head coach with Slavia Praha in the Czech Extraliga. A fourth-round selection in 2007, Ruzicka has been playing in Prague as far back as 2006 and this year set a career high in goals with eight. The 22-year-old tacked on seven assists for a total of 15 points in 32 games which was the sixth best total among team forwards.

Having been drafted almost four years ago, Ruzicka seems to be content on playing for his dad in his native country and while a move to North America can’t be ruled out, it doesn’t seem likely at this point.


NCAA

Brett Bennett, G, 23
Acquired: 5th round, 130th overall, 2006

For the second straight season Bennett has found himself in the role of back-up for the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin. Now a senior, Bennett has spent both of his two seasons at Wisconsin as the back-up to the undersized Scott Gudmandson who has become one of the best goalies in the NCAA. Bennett’s numbers are almost identical to last year but he was able to lower his goals against average and raise his save percentage, albeit very slightly. In 13 games the 23-year-old posted a 5-5-3 record with a 2.63 goals against average and a .901 save percentage.

In the decisive game of Wisconsin’s best-of-three WCHA playoff series, the Badgers turned to Bennett in order to rest the tiring Gudmandson. A victory would have given Wisconsin a spot in the NCAA tournament but despite his 24 save performance they fell to Colorado College by a score of 2-1, ending their season and Bennett’s collegiate career.


Chris Brown, LW, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall, 2009

A sophomore at the University of Michigan, Brown has enjoyed an excellent season with both the Wolverines and as a member of team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Had Brown not missed games due to his time at the World Juniors, his numbers would have mirrored that of his freshmen season when he registered 28 points in 45 games. This year the 20-year-old scored nine times and picked up 14 assists for 23 points which was good enough for fourth on the team in scoring, while his four power play goals and plus-18 rating ranked him second in those respective categories.

The native of Flower Mound, Texas, Brown is a big, strong winger who has the skills and physicality to be a good power forward. Brown helped lead the fourth ranked Wolverines to the CCHA regular season championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament where he and his teammates will hope to capture Michigan’s first national title since 1998.


Brett Hextall, C, 22
Acquired: 6th round, 159th overall, 2008

As a member of the top-ranked team in college hockey, Hextall continues to be a consistent performer for the immensely talented North Dakota Fighting Sioux. The 22-year-old son of former star NHL goalie Ron Hextall, Brett has matched his career high 26 points which he totaled in both his freshmen and sophomore seasons. On a team loaded with NHL prospects, Hextall ranks sixth in goals, seventh in points, and fifth with a plus-22 rating. Noted for his aggressive and feisty style of play Hextall managed to lower his penalty minutes considerably this year as he picked 61 minutes in the box compared to the previous two seasons when he racked up 88 and 91 respectively.

Projected to be more of a grinding two-way forward with excellent speed and a nasty element to his game, Hextall has also proved to be an effective offensive player in all three years of his college career. His tireless work ethic and fearless play has endeared him to fans and team-mates alike making him one of the emotional leaders for a team that appears to be on track for another national title.


Mike Lee, G, 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2009

Despite playing for a sub-par team, Lee put together a solid season in goal at St. Cloud State. After taking over as the starting goalie in the second half of the season, the 20-year-old sophomore improved his numbers drastically, registering a 2.41 goals against average and a .920 save percentage over the final 19 games of the season and finishing with an overall record of 12-14-4. With two years of eligibility remaining, Lee heads into the off-season with the challenge of improving all areas of his game as he will be counted on to provide veteran leadership and stability in net for a young rebuilding team.