Huge group of Coyotes prospects finding way at minor-league level

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Ethan Werek is one of several young Phoenix prospects making their professional debuts this season. Like many players making the transition from juniors to pros, Werek has experienced growing pains. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With two new locations making up their minor league affiliates, the Coyotes hope the new era for their AHL and ECHL teams will get under way with a successful first season.

The Portland Pirates feature a very young and inexperienced roster but have largely met expectations and currently sit in eighth place in the AHL‘s Eastern conference with a record of 16-12-2-3.

The club has gotten an excellent rookie season from forward Andy Miele who is among the league’s top first year players, while the likes of Chris Summers, Maxim Goncharov, and Michael Stone continue to make strides as solid young defensemen.

AHL

Evan Bloodoff, LW, 21

In his first season as a professional hockey player, the 21-year-old Bloodoff has been a surprising contributor for the Portland Pirates. Originally expected to play much of the year with the ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett, Bloodoff has earned a spot on the Pirates thanks to his good speed and sound defensive game.

A sixth-round selection in 2009, Bloodoff has just a goal and an assist on the year but has been able to stay in the lineup because of the speed and energy he brings every time he steps on the ice.

Mathieu Brodeur, D, 21

After playing most of his first pro season in the ECHL, the 6’6 Brodeur has managed to stay up with the Coyotes AHL affiliate in Portland, but an injury at the start of the year forced the 21-year-old to miss an extended amount of time and he has appeared in just 13 games for the Pirates.

Strictly a defensive defenseman, Brodeur will never be a player who offers much in the way of offense and is yet to record a single point this year, but with his size and reach he has been a reliable presence in his own zone for Portland.


Maxim Goncharov, D, 22

The 22-year-old Goncharov came into the year expected to be one of the Coyotes top minor league rearguards, and while he possesses all the attributes of an NHL defenseman, he has been unable to play with the consistency needed to make the jump.

Goncharov received his first ever call-up to the big club early in the season but never did see any game action. In 24 games for the Pirates he has a goal and two assists along with a minus-six rating.

Brett Hextall, RW, 23

Following an excellent college career at the University of North Dakota, Hextall has gotten his pro career off to a solid start. The 23-year-old son of former NHL goalie Ron Hextall, Brett has been one of Portland’s most consistent two-way forwards providing the club with toughness and energy on their third and fourth lines.

With four goals and six assists in 29 games, Hextall offers much more than offensive production. He is a tenacious forward who is a disruptor on the forecheck and keeps the opposing team’s defense on their toes thanks to his speed and tireless work ethic.

Colin Long, C, 22

Off to a nice start with eight points in 19 games with Portland, the offensively gifted Long looked to have finally settled in at the AHL level. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old center is now out indefinitely with reoccurring post-concussion symptoms.

The former Kelowna Rocket now faces what could be a long road to recovery as he will not be cleared to play until his symptoms are completely gone.

Brett MacLean, LW, 23

To say that it has been a whirlwind season for MacLean would be an understatement. The Coyotes best minor-league prospect the last two years, MacLean’s strange year began with the 23-year-old thinking he had a good shot at cracking the Coyotes roster out of training camp. Instead he was placed on waivers by the club and was quickly snatched up by the Winnipeg Jets. He played five games for the Jets before they too put him on waivers where he was reclaimed by the Coyotes.

Immediately assigned to Portland, MacLean has once again taken over as the team’s top offensive player. In 24 games he has scored a team-leading 14 goals and ranks second with 24 points despite missing the Pirates first nine games of the season.


Andy Miele, C, 23

The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, Miele’s free agent signing was one of the most talked about moves in which general manager Don Maloney made in the off-season. The diminutive forward came into the season expected to play the year entirely in Portland but some early season injuries to Phoenix forwards paved the way for Miele to receive a call-up. In seven games with the big club, he had no trouble fitting in but was unable to provide the offensive production that will certainly be expected from him in the future.

Since being reassigned to Portland, Miele has shown why his services were so highly sought following his tremendous senior season in college. The 23-year-old leads the Pirates with 27 points in 26 games and is among the top scorers in first-year AHL players.

Nick Ross, D, 22

Now in his third pro season, Ross is again struggling to stay on the ice at the AHL level. Splitting the last two seasons between the AHL and ECHL, the former first-round draft pick has appeared in just seven games for Portland this year.

Having fallen out of the club’s top six defensemen, Ross appears to be headed for another disappointing season in terms of his development. Although he is still young at 22 years old, he badly needs to become an AHL regular before it is too late.


Michael Stone, D, 21

After a solid rookie season in the AHL, Stone has continued to make impressive strides with Portland this year. The former Calgary Hitmen standout has 12 points and is one of three Pirates players to appear in all 33 games.

The 21-year-old has been a consistent presence on the blue line all year, and with continued improvement in his in-zone coverage, Stone is well on his way to becoming an NHL caliber defenseman.


Chris Summers, D, 23

While his play on the ice through the seasons first two months has been anything but up and down, that is exactly what the story of Summers’ season has been. On several occasions the 23-year-old rearguard has been called up to Phoenix and then sent back to Portland.

Summers has appeared in four games with the Coyotes and 17 for the Pirates and although he played very well in his most recent stint with Phoenix, the trade that sent Kyle Turris to Ottawa in exchange for defenseman David Rundblad left the Yotes with no choice but to send Summers back to the minors.

The former Michigan Wolverine possesses the mobility and puck smarts to play in the NHL and will continue to be the first blueliner called up when any injuries occur.

Jordan Szwarz, RW, 20

A first year pro, Szwarz is experiencing the learning curve that is inevitable for almost every young hockey player. A fourth-round pick in 2009, the gritty winger has appeared in 15 games for Portland scoring one goal and collecting two assists.

A tough as nails player throughout his junior career in the OHL, the 20-year-old Szwarz provides energy and physicality when he is in the lineup. He can’t be expected to provide much offense at this point in his very young career and can only look to play to his strengths with the little ice time he is given.


Ethan Werek, C, 20

Acquired in an off-season trade with the New York Rangers, Werek came into his rookie season with high hopes but has struggled somewhat to adjust to the pro game. A point-per-game player in junior, the 20-year-old center has yet to perform as the type of player the Coyotes think he can be in the future.

A two-way center with good speed, Werek’s skating has been and continues to be his biggest obstacle. He does however possess all the other tools of a point producer, so as long as he continues to work on his speed and quickness, he is still a promising forward prospect for in the Coyotes system.


ECHL

Marc Cheverie, G, 24

Acquired in an off-season trade with the Florida Panthers, Cheverie has been splitting time between the pipes as a member of the Gwinnett Gladiators. With Curtis McElhinney and Justin Pogge holding down the crease for Portland, Cheverie has appeared in a single game for the Pirates in which he came out victorious.

In 13 games with the Gladiators, the 24-year-old has a very odd 3-2-6-2 record to go along with a 3.05 GAA and a .900 save percentage.


Spencer Bennett, LW, 21

A free agent acquisition from this past off-season, the 21-year-old Bennett grabbed a spot in the Coyotes system after a strong training camp earned him a contract with the organization.

An imposing winger at 6’2 and 200 pounds, Bennett has played just 10 total game this season. He played in four games with Gwinnett but injuries and inconsistency among the Portland forwards made room for the big winger to be called up where he has since appeared in six games for the Pirates.

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