There is little doubt that the Phoenix Coyotes were extremely happy with the performance of their CHL prospects this year. Of the seven players’ currently playing junior hockey in Canada, all had career years with their respective teams. Goaltenders Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue both ranked as two of the top goalies in the CHL and both helped lead their teams to the conference finals. Star defenseman Brandon Gormley suffered an injury early on but remains on track as the club’s top prospect, while forwards Philip Lane, Jordan Szwarz and Evan Bloodoff all posted career highs in every major offensive category.
Lane completed his second season with the Brampton Battalion in the OHL, improving upon a solid rookie campaign. A year ago Lane had 18 goals and 32 points in 64 games and showed glimpses of the raw talent that made him a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. This year the 18-year-old became a more consistent performer in both the offensive aspect, but also defensively and in the physical department as well. In 54 games he scored 17 goals and surpassed his rookie point total with 34, but his biggest statistical improvements came in the plus/minus and penalty minutes categories. A minus-10 as a rookie, Lane finished with a vastly improved plus-two rating this year and upped his penalty minute total by a whopping 61 minutes.
For a player who projects as a power-forward on the wing, the Coyotes had to like what they saw from Lane in terms of the physical presence in which he played with throughout the year. As he enters his third junior season, he will now be expected to increase his offensive production to that of a 25-30 goal scorer.
Jordan Szwarz, RW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall, 2009
A fourth-round pick in 2009, Szwarz enjoyed his finest junior season to date. In his fourth year with the Saginaw Spirit, Szwarz established career highs in goals with 27, assists with 39 and 66 points which was the second-highest total on the team. The club’s captain and emotional leader, Szwarz helped lead Saginaw to the franchises’ first ever division title but were upset in the second round of the playoffs by the Windsor Spitfires.
Throughout his junior career, the 19-year-old has established himself as a tenacious two-way forward who has developed a nice offensive game to go along with his superb leadership skills and strong defensive abilities. He will have a shot at beginning next season with San Antonio in the AHL but an over-age season in the OHL certainly wouldn’t hurt him either.
Mark Visentin, G, Niagara Icedogs
Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2010
The second goalie taken in the 2010 draft, Visentin had an outstanding season ranking among the top goaltenders in the CHL. Visentin’s season got off to a hot start which earned him a spot on team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships where he would become the number one goalie on the silver medal winning Canadian squad. Although the loss in the gold medal game was crushing, Visentin shook off the disappointment and turned in a stellar season in Niagara. The 18-year-old finished fourth in the OHL with 30 wins and led the Icedogs all the way to the Eastern Conference finals where they were defeated by Mississauga in five games.
Visentin will return for a fourth OHL season where he will backstop what should be another very strong Niagara team. He’ll also have the chance to avenge his defeat at the World Juniors as he will be eligible to play in the tournament again.
Brandon Gormley, D, Moncton Wildcats
Acquired: 1st round, 13th overall, 2010
The Coyotes first-round pick a year ago, Gormley’s expectations were very high heading into the season. As expected the 18-year-old blueliner got off to a strong start but suffered a serious knee injury that derailed part of his season. The injury kept Gormley from competing in the World Junior Hockey Championships in which he was considered a good bet to make team Canada’s roster.
Recovering from his injury quicker than was originally expected, Gormley went on to play in 47 games with his junior team in Moncton, averaging a point-per-game with 13 goals and 35 assists. Despite missing 20 games he was still the club’s leading scorer among defensemen proving his ability to not only play a strong defensive game but to also put up points as a power-play quarterback.
Once his young Moncton team was eliminated from the playoffs, Gormley was signed to an entry-level contract and appeared in four games with San Antonio where he potted his first professional goal. He will go to camp with a chance at cracking the Coyotes lineup but will more than likely return to junior for one more year.
Louis Domingue, G, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2010
In his first year as a full-time starting netminder, Domingue turned in a spectacular season for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. The 19-year-old appeared in a career high 57 games en route to posting a league-high 37 wins. A big goalie standing 6’3, Domingue’s play has only gotten better as Quebec has made their way through the playoffs. The 19-year-old has decreased his goals against considerably from 2.65 in the regular season down to 2.22 in the playoffs, and has upped his save percentage to .920 through 14 playoff games.
Up 3-1 in their conference final series against Gatineau, Domingue and his team-mates are closing in on a championship series appearance and perhaps a trip to the Memorial Cup.
Justin Weller, D, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2009
A strong stay-at-home defenseman for the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL, Weller had his best season as a junior in 2010-2011. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Weller had career highs in goals, assists and points and while not known for his offensive prowess, did chip in offensively for the Rebels. Defensively he was as rugged as it comes with 104 penalty minutes but what stood out was his impressive plus-24 rating. The 19-year-old should be back in junior next year for his over-age season but is on track to ink a pro contract once his career in Red Deer concludes.
Evan Bloodoff, LW, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 6th round, 157th overall, 2009
The oldest of all the Phoenix prospects playing in the CHL, Bloodoff saved his best for last in his final junior season. After playing in just nine regular season games a year ago due to injury, the 20-year-old winger bounced back with a career-high 22 goals and 44 points. He ranked third on the Kelowna Rockets in goals and fourth with a plus-minus rating of plus-11. The feisty Bloodoff is a highly energetic player with good speed and a willingness to play an effective grinding game. The only question is if his body can withstand the punishment as injuries have already become a major concern.