Slew Of defensemen highlight Phoenix Coyotes minor-league prospects

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Goal-scoring forward Brett MacLean will look to compete for a spot on the Phoenix Coyotes next fall. (Photo courtesy of the NHL)

The Coyotes had 10 prospects playing with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL and the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. The Rampage failed to make the playoffs finishing in seventh place in the AHL’s West Division, while the Wranglers were ousted in five games by the Idaho Steelheads in the first round of the ECHL playoffs. The Coyotes boast a strong contingent of defensemen in the minors with the likes of Chris Summers, Maxim Goncharov, Michael Stone and Jonas Ahnelov making up a big part of the Rampage blue line.

AHL

Forward

Brett MacLean, LW, 22

For the second straight year MacLean was far and away San Antonio’s best player. In 51 games he scored 23 goals and dished out 27 assists for 50 points which was one off the team lead despite playing in a much lower number of games. His all-around dominance on the ice was proven by the fact that on a non-playoff team loaded with minus players, MacLean was able to post a team best plus-13. He was rewarded with a call-up to the Coyotes and like he has done his entire career, MacLean demonstrated his uncanny scoring knack as he found the back of the net in his first NHL game.

The 22-year-old winger went on to play in 13 total games with Phoenix helping the team to the post-season for a second straight year. While his skating might not be front-line NHL caliber, there is simply no doubt that MacLean is a gifted goal scorer and an incredibly smart hockey player; something that should make him a regular in the Coyotes lineup next year.

Viktor Tikhonov, RW, 23

The 2008-09 season must seem like a distant memory for Tikhonov. In that year he played in 61 games for the Coyotes as a 20-year-old, but the young Russian hasn’t seen NHL action since then. After a year split between the AHL and the KHL, Tikhonov returned to play a full season in San Antonio where he appeared in 60 games and registered 34 points.

A winger with good size, Tikhonov is a smart two-way hockey player but hasn’t developed the scoring touch that Phoenix thought he would have when they drafted him in the first-round of the ’08 draft. Like has been the case for the past two seasons, Tikhonov will be in tough to crack the Coyotes lineup. If he once again fails to do so the question then becomes just how much longer he will be willing to play in the AHL before returning to Russia for good.

Justin Bernhardt, C, 23

The 23-year-old Bernhardt was a solid producer this year for Las Vegas in the ECHL. In 47 games with the Wranglers he scored six goals and collected 25 points as one of the younger players on the roster. In five playoff games he picked up two helpers and had a team-high 14 penalty minutes.

Although he fits the mold as more of a gritty two-way forward, Bernhardt was a high-scorer in junior and has demonstrated that ability in the ECHL. If he is to become a full-time AHL player he will need to continue to play an effective all-round game, but if put in the right situation he could thrive offensively.

Colin Long, C, 21

After playing last year in San Antonio, Long’s season got off to a rough start when he was re-assigned to Las Vegas after five games with the Rampage. The former high-scoring Kelowna Rocket refused to let that disappointment get the best of him and went on to have a productive year with the Wranglers. The 21-year-old finished fourth in both goals with 16 and points with 37 in 50 games played.

A slick centermen, Long has the skill-set to be a point-producer at the AHL level. If he can continue to add strength to his smallish frame and find a more consistent approach to his game, he could become a top-notch scoring threat for San Antonio.


Defense

Jonas Ahnelov, D, 23

After a nagging shoulder injury allowed him to play in just 11 games a year ago, Ahnelov was able to stay healthy enough to appear in 42 games for San Antonio this year. The 24-year-old Swedish defenseman finished the season with two goals and two assists and a minus-four rating. While it wasn’t the greatest of seasons from a statistical standpoint, Ahnelov was atleast able to recover from a disastrous 2010 season and slowly regain the form that had him ranked as one of the Coyotes top defensive prospects a couple years back. He will really need to up his performance starting in training camp if he ever hopes to have a serious chance of playing in the NHL.

Maxim Goncharov, D, 21

In his first year as a North American pro, Goncharov turned in a superb rookie season for the Rampage establishing himself as one of the club’s most NHL-ready defenseman. The 21-year-old Russian finished second on the team in scoring among rear-guards with 15 points in 61 games. An excellent skater with good passing skills and a bomb for a shot, Goncharov has all the tools of a top-six NHL blueliner. He showed the ability to provide offense and quarterback a power-play as well as playing an aggressive defensive game. Although he still needs to improve his decision making in both zones, Goncharov has given himself a good chance to see his first NHL action next year.

Michael Stone, D, 20

The former captain of the Calgary Hitmen, Stone turned in a solid rookie campaign for the San Antonio Rampage. The lanky 6’3 defenseman became a power-play threat for the Rampage, frequently showing off an excellent point-shot which led to 123 shots on goal; a total that was the second-most among team blueliners. He finished the year with two goals and 11 assists in 70 games. Defensively he struggled at times with the speed and physicality of the AHL but gradually improved in both areas as the season progressed.

A smart and heady hockey player, Stone is on track to carve out a lengthy pro career. With offensive upside and an ability to play a calm and composed game in all areas of the ice, the 20-year-old is a couple years of seasoning away from fulfilling his NHL dream.

Chris Summers, D, 21

Another Rampage blueliner in his rookie season, Summers showed why he was a first-round draft pick in 2006. The former Michigan Wolverine quickly became a fan favorite due to his effortless skating and penchant for joining the rush. Although he is not a pure offensive-defenseman, Summers is effective with the puck making a crisp breakout-pass and sneaky passes through the neutral zone. Defensively he uses his excellent skating to cover up his pinches or when caught out of position.

In 75 games the 23-year-old recorded just 10 points but his efficient all-around play caught the eye of the Phoenix brass and he was called-up for two games with the big club. The small taste of NHL life will no doubt give Summers the extra motivation to work even harder this off-season and come to training camp hoping to earn a spot with the Yotes on a full-time basis.

Mathieu Brodeur, D, 20

At 6’6, 230lbs Brodeur is a towering presence on the blue line who plays strictly a stay-at-home game. In 52 games with Las Vegas, the 20-year-old rookie picked up just a single assist but was one of only three regulars on defense that finished the season with a plus rating. Still a long way to go in terms of his overall development in all aspects of the game, Brodeur could very well grab a spot in San Antonio to begin next year; something that would certainly do wonders for his progression

Nick Ross, D, 22

For the second straight year Ross split time between the AHL and the ECHL. The 2007 first-round pick played 29 solid games for San Antonio picking up six assists and maintaining an excellent plus-six rating, but on a team loaded with young defensemen, Ross often found himself to be the odd man out. In Las Vegas he scored two goals and had 11 points in 21 games.

The 22-year-old probably hasn’t panned out the way the Coyotes thought he would at this point in his career but he is still a talented blueliner who will evolve into a full-time AHL player and perhaps further.