The Arizona Coyotes prospect pool has never looked better, and the team is starting to reap the rewards from their recent draft classes. Anthony Duclair and Max Domi looked great on the same line while playing for Canada in the 2015 World Junior Championships, and that chemistry has already resurfaced in Arizona.
With the deadline trades of Zbynek Michalek, Antoine Vermette, and Keith Yandle, the prospect pool appears even deeper than where it was just one year ago. While a number of the Coyotes top prospects will appear in the NHL this year, there are a number of young, intriguing prospects that will embark on their first professional season with the Coyotes’ new AHL affiliate in Springfield.
Overall, the Coyotes are clearly a team on the rise. Proof of such is in their depth chart, where a deep and varied group will be integral in the organization’s turnaround.
While a number of these prospects can play both wings, and in some cases down the middle – the Coyotes boast a number of players that could find themselves as full-time NHL players sooner than later. The first of these is Max Domi, who should be in line for Calder Trophy consideration if he continues his early scoring pace. Partner-in-crime Anthony Duclair was the centerpiece return from the Keith Yandle trade, and he hopes to build on his brief NHL experience last year. While not considered as a scoring threat, Lucas Lessio does a lot of the little things right and will be among the first call-ups should the Coyotes need reinforcements.
Brendan Perlini is back in Niagara this year and playing without longtime center Carter Verhaeghe (NYI), who recently graduated. Perlini has one of the best shots in the OHL, and should be able to eclipse his career-high goal total of 34 now that he is fully healthy.
The Springfield Falcons are going to see a number of new faces with the affiliation change, and some of those are going to be playing their very first season as a professional. One of the most underrated players currently in the Coyotes prospect pool is Michael Bunting, who plays a strong two-way game and should seamlessly make the transition to the AHL. The Coyotes took a gamble on accomplished DEL forward Matthias Plachta, a big-bodied power forward that could eventually bring some energy and physical prowess to the bottom-six.
The team has a trio of left wing’s competing at the collegiate level. The best of the bunch is Brendan Warren, who recently made his freshman debut at the University of Michigan. Hunter Fejes has had a tumultuous career at Colorado College, where a major injury derailed an otherwise promising career. Now in his senior year, Fejes has one last opportunity to redeem himself and earn an NHL contract. With just one goal last year, Jared Fiegl has plenty of room for improvement in his sophomore season with Cornell University.
Anton Karlsson was presented with an opportunity to come to North America last year and turned it down in favor of staying at home. At this point, any production he comes up with in the SHL will be a bonus. His tenacious forechecking and abrasive style got him drafted and he needs to tap into those traits if he ever hopes to make it to North America. Serving as nothing more than depth at the AHL level, Dan O’Donoghue is still in the system and not expected to make an impact outside of the ECHL.
Down the middle, the Coyotes have a deep and intriguing group of prospects. At the top, 2015 third-overall pick Dylan Strome is back in the OHL with Erie after a strong preseason showing in Arizona. He will attempt to assault the scoring leaderboard in an attempt to win back-to-back scoring titles, a particularly hard task since he is expected to be a major part of Canada’s World Junior team.
Strome will also have to fend off Christian Dvorak, who broke out last season for a staggering 95-point improvement from the 2013-14 season. Recently named as the London Knights captain, Dvorak also figures to play a part in the World Junior tournament with the United States. Also plying his trade in the OHL is Ryan MacInnis, who is now the featured forward for the Kitchener Rangers. He will be expected to carry the load offensively, and will be given every opportunity to excel playing on the first line.
Former Chicoutimi Sagueneens captain Laurent Dauphin is making the jump to the AHL, where he will need to refine his game in order to adapt. Dauphin is a proven scorer and consistent threat in the offensive zone, and is going to be given plenty of minutes in Springfield to figure out if he can translate those skills. Joining him on the Falcons will be a depth forward in Tyler Gaudet, who could be a future fourth-line center in the NHL thanks to his defensive acumen and presence in the faceoff circle.
Another depth forward who earned a full-time chance with the Coyotes is Jordan Martinook. The 2012 second-round pick was a bit of a forgotten commodity, but recently made some noise with his first NHL goal.
While his first NHL goal is a long ways away, Maxim Letunov is entering his freshman year with the University of Connecticut. Off to a hot start already with eleven points in his first five games, Letunov, who was acquired in the Zbynek Michalek trade, figures to be one of the top freshman scorers in the NCAA.
It’s almost funny at this point, but the Coyotes’ left side of the ice is filled with prolific playmakers and guys who can find the back of the net. Meanwhile, the higher-level right wingers have a decided two-way edge and intense style of play that makes this group decidedly different.
Leading the way in Henrik Samuelsson, who narrowly missed out on a job in the NHL. Known as a gritty and tenacious forechecker, his first season as a pro was a big success. Samuelsson notched 40 points in the AHL and should be in line to earn regular playing time this year, perhaps even in the NHL. Joining him on that quest in Jordan Szwarz, who plays a similar style, albeit less skilled with the puck than Samuelsson is. Szwarz more than makes up for his lackluster point totals with his astute situational positioning, penalty killing, and leadership.
In the WHL, Nick Merkley is the glue that holds the Kelowna Rockets together. Always on the go, Merkley is a fierce competitor that is also able to play down the middle. It will be difficult to improve upon his 90-point 2014-15 campaign, especially considering recent graduations and trades. That said, Merkley should be able to find a role with Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
Another potential World Junior addition for the United States, Christian Fischer recently joined the Windsor Spitfires, and didn’t waste any time figuring out the OHL style of play. He’s already a point-per-game player, and is a big reason why the team has been successful this year.
The lone exception to the grit and two-way play this group provides, Conor Garland is a scoring machine and could be one of the biggest steals of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. After winning the QMJHL scoring title, Garland was taken in the fifth round of the 2015 Draft and already has 31 points through just 13 games for the Moncton Wildcats. Born in Scituate, Massachusetts, Garland has an outside shot of joining Dvorak and Fischer to represent the U.S. team.
Jens Looke has already suited up for three teams in Europe – not uncommon for players who are stuck in between a junior league and major competition. Looke has found a consistent scoring touch at the junior level, but has yet to translate those skills in the SHL.
Another player having a hard time finding the net is Jedd Soleway, who has just nine goals in his 70-plus games college career. Soleway plays a responsible two-way game, and barring an unforeseen breakout, is unlikely to contribute much for a troubled University of Wisconsin program.
Perhaps the weakest position within the Coyotes depth chart, this group is far behind the forwards who have both marquee names and explosive talent. With the trade of Brandon Gormley to Colorado, there are a few options to take over top billing as best defensive prospect with a number of others that have a chance to climb up the depth chart.
Dysin Mayo and Kyle Capobianco headline the list, both plying their trade in the CHL. Both players have a similar style, both preferring to push the pace and have been entrusted with running their respective teams power play unit. Mayo has found some success in Edmonton, and benefits from playing behind quality talents. Capobianco doesn’t have quite that luxury with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, but is clearly the icetime leader and a big part of deciding whether or not the team can get out of the basement.
There is a strong group of two-way defensemen that could find time both in the NHL and the AHL this year. Solid but unspectacular, Klas Dahlbeck is getting his first full-time opportunity in the NHL. The main return from the Antoine Vermette trade, the young Swede is a valuable and underrated addition to the Coyotes blueline.
In the AHL, Philip Samuelsson and Dakota Mermis will battle other older organizational depth to be among the first call-ups later in the year. Samuelsson, a quality defensive defenseman, has a leg up on the competition, having already spent some time in the NHL alongside his brother. Mermis recently won both the OHL title and the CHL Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals and was a late free-agent signing, so his progress will be an interesting one to watch.
Justin Hache and James Melindy will have a difficult time finding regular playing time in the AHL, and may spend some time with their ECHL affiliate. Hache spent 60 games in the AHL last year, but will have to fend off a number of older depth players for playing time. Melindy spent nine games in the AHL, but spent the majority of the year with Rapid City and will have to improve significantly in order to earn more time in the AHL.
The Coyotes have a pair of bruisers playing collegiate hockey. Rhett Holland is entering his senior year with Michigan State and Connor Clifton is a junior at Quinnipiac. Both known for their abrasive style of play and for taking the body, they are limited players offensively and not likely destined for immediate professional results.
The lone Coyotes defenseman in Europe is David Westlund, who certainly won’t be on the scoresheet often. He is in his second year in the SHL and recently transferred to Karlskrona HK, who offered him more playing time than he would have got if he stayed with Brynas.
One of the standout stories from an abysmal 2014-15 NHL campaign, Louis Domingue stepped in admirably last year during a rough injury situation to win a handful of games for Arizona. Domingue played a risky game this offseason, choosing to wait to sign with the team until early September. Though limited, Domingue is the best of the bunch and one reason why the team chose to move on from former top prospect Mark Visentin.
Perhaps why Domingue was concerned about re-upping with the Coyotes is the presence of Niklas Treutle, who was statistically speaking the best goalie in the DEL last year. The top-tier German league isn’t known for producing NHL prospects, but Treutle will be given a fair chance in the AHL this year.
Treutle will compete for playing time against Czech native Marek Langhamer, who is entering his first year in the AHL after three quality campaigns with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
In the WHL, Adin Hill returns to the team and finds a slightly different squad than when he left it. Hill, a 6’4”, 190-pound blocking style netminder, certainly will miss a few of the impressive offensive talents that helped give him some scoring support. Despite the losses the team faces, Hill is capable of stealing a game on his own and this year will prove whether or not Hill’s success came from playing behind one of the WHL’s perennial powerhouses or from his own ability.
Like Hill, fellow 2015 draft pick Erik Kallgren is hoping to prove that his statistics were a product of his own doing rather than the help received in front of him. Kallgren played behind a very strong Linkoping U20 squad, one that helped him become one of the SuperElit’s dominant goaltenders. Now plying his trade for IK Oskarshamn in the Allsvenskan, the transition may prove to be difficult, but if he finds success Kallgren could very well be an option for Sweden’s World Junior Championship team.