With a strong core of young defensemen already in place within the organization, many were expecting the Coyotes to take a forward with their first round pick at the 2011 NHL draft. Instead, GM Don Maloney surprised everyone by once again going with a defenseman, making American Connor Murphy’s NHL draft dream come true as the Phoenix Coyotes 1st round, 20th overall selection in 2011.
Phoenix then followed up their surprising first-round choice by indeed addressing the club’s biggest organizational weakness of a lack of forward prospects. They went on to take six forwards out of their seven remaining picks; five of which they used to select left wingers. Maloney and his staff also leaned heavily toward CHL players in this year’s draft as five of the eight draftees were Canadian major-junior players.
As the 25th ranked North American player heading into the draft, it wasn’t all that surprising that Connor Murphy went in the first-round. The surprise was that it was the Phoenix Coyotes who took him; a team that was highly expected to draft a forward with their first pick. By selecting the 6’3, 185 blueliner, the Coyotes continue to add to an impressive list of young defensemen that includes the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Brandon Gormley.
The son of former NHL defenseman Gord Murphy, Connor missed much of the 2010-11 season with a serious back injury but when he was able to lace up the skates, scouts and general managers around the league liked what they saw. His coming-out-party of sorts came at the World U-18 Championships where he scored the gold medal-winning goal in overtime to beat Sweden and was named the player of the game in the process. Throughout the tournament Murphy displayed his talents as a smart and efficient player with excellent offensive ability. He is a strong skater who makes a good first pass and is very confident with the puck on his stick in all three zones.
The 18-year-old will join his U.S. team-mate and fellow first-round pick Tyler Biggs (NYR) at Miami Ohio University where he projects to require a few years of seasoning at the college level, but with his NHL bloodlines and maturity both on and off the ice, Connor Murphy is on the right path to having a long NHL career just like his father.
With their second pick in the draft, the Coyotes again grabbed a player with NHL ties selecting Alexander Ruuttu, who is the son of former Buffalo Sabre and current Coyotes European Scout Christian Ruuttu.
Well off the radar through the first half of the season, Ruuttu shot up the rankings thanks to an excellent second half with Jokerit’s junior team in the Finnish SM-Liga. In 41 games he scored an impressive 18 goals and totaled 31 points which boosted his draft stock considerably where he went into the draft as the 16th ranked European prospect.
At 6’1 and 183 lbs, the 18-year-old Ruuttu is a good sized, two-way center who, as many Finns seem to do, plays a gritty style of game. He compliments his high compete-level with a deft scoring touch that can be credited to quickness in both his skating and with his shot.
In a good program in Jokerit, Ruuttu will likely remain in Finland for the next few years to further develop his game before hopefully making very smart men out of his father’s employers.
Lucas Lessio, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
2nd round, 56th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 197 lbs
Phoenix acquired an extra second round pick from the Philadelphia Flyers in the trade involving franchise goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The Coyotes used the pick on high-scoring winger Lucas Lessio from the Oshawa Generals in the OHL. A highly-touted player before even playing with the Generals, Lessio had an excellent rookie season in the OHL. In 66 games he scored 27 goals and dished out 27 assists while playing alongside fellow top prospects Nicklas Jensen (VAN) and Boone Jenner (CLB).
The 18-year-old Lessio is a strong, powerful winger with an athletic build that is still filling out. With good speed and soft hands, as well as possessing a high hockey IQ, Lessio has all the tools of an offensive game-breaker on the wing. He is also hard to knock of the puck and is particularly dangerous around the goal area where he is able to score a bulk of his goals.
With all of the good things that can be said about Lessio’s game, all signs point to the Coyotes landing a second-round steal. An invitee to Canada’s summer camp for the World Juniors, he is a good bet to improve on what was a terrific rookie year in Oshawa.
Despite having an outstanding group of prospects on the blue line, the Coyotes do not feature a player who is strictly a rugged, defensive defenseman. Enter Harrison Ruopp. The 6’2, 198 pound rear-guard was considered one of the most physical players in this year’s draft field and the Coyotes selected him with their 84th overall pick. A big, right-handed defenseman, Ruopp has shown very little offensive ability in his first two seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL, but he is a mobile skater so an improvement offensively can be expected.
The 18-year-old Ruopp is one of those players who is simply no fun to play against. He plays with a nasty edge and is a threat to deliver a heavy body-check every time he steps on the ice. Although he struggles with his decision making and passing skills at times, Ruopp is a strong defensive presence who is a nice compliment to the more skilled blue-liners in the organization.
Whereas Harisson Ruopp was one of the most physical defensemen in the draft, left-winger Kale Kessy might even exceed his physicality. A grinding winger with good size and tremendous toughness, Kessy scored 10 goals and racked up over 100 penalty minutes in each his first two junior seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL. A 1992 birth-date Kessy was considered to be one of the best body-checkers among forwards heading into the draft.
As his offensive totals would indicate, Kessy has been used strictly as a checker thus far in his career. He has shown the ability to be a very effective player in terms of getting under opponents skin and playing a physical game but he must improve his overall skill-level and skating if he hopes to succeed at the next level.
With their fifth round pick the Coyotes once again went the way of a grinding, physical player and for the third straight pick that player came from the WHL. They continued to address an organizational weakness by selecting Darian Dziurzynski, making him the third left-winger taken by the Coyotes in the 2011 draft. A veteran with the Saskatoon Blades, Dziurzynski went un-drafted in his first two chances but after a career year of 35 goals and 57 points, the interest in his service was much higher this time around.
Having gone over the century mark in penalty minutes in each of the past two seasons, the offensive explosion proved that the 20-year-old has the offensive ability to match his physical play. As demonstrated by his high penalty-minute totals, Dziurzynski is a tough customer who always plays with an edge. He has continued to improve his offensive skills and is very effective in high-traffic areas and around the net where he scores most of his goals.
With one year of eligibility remaining in junior, Dziurzynski may return for his overage season, but a move to professional hockey is a possibility as well.
Like Dziurzynski, Andrew Fritsch was another player that enjoyed a career year in junior. After being traded from Niagara to Owen Sound just two games into his season, Fritsch went on to play a starring role with the eventual OHL champion Attack. In 58 games he scored 27 goals and finished third on the team in scoring with 62 points. Playing on the top line with NHL prospects Joey Hishon (COL) and Garrett Wilson (FLA), the 18-year-old Fritsch complimented his linemates with good goal scoring and puck distributing abilities to help fill out one of the best lines in the OHL.
Limited to only seven games in the Attack’s playoff run, Fritsch will return to Owen Sound hoping to duplicate his strong first season with the club. Although he will likely be without both of his star line-mates this time around, Fritsch has the skill-set and hockey sense to produce offensively regardless of who he plays with, and as a sixth round NHL draft pick, he looks to be an excellent late-round selection by the Coyotes.
With their final pick in the 2011 NHL draft the Coyotes went local. Yes, local as in a player who learned to play the game within the state of Arizona. A native son of Scottsdale, Zac Larraza grew up playing in the Jr. Coyotes program where he developed the skills that eventually led him to the U.S. Development team where he captured World Under-18 gold this year alongside the Coyotes first-round pick Connor Murphy.
Ranked as the 70th North American skater heading into the draft, Larraza possesses excellent size and physicality on the wing, as well as being a high-energy player. The 18-year-old will play at the University of Denver, hoping that by the time his collegiate career comes to an end, he can be the first player from the Arizona youth leagues to sign an NHL contract.