2011 NHL Draft: Arizona Coyotes sought strength in Saskatchewan

By Peter Prohaska
Connor Murphy - Arizona Coyotes

Photo: Arizona’s 2011 first-round pick Connor Murphy has developed into an NHL defender, as well as a consistent blueliner for Team USA (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The 2010-11 season produced a playoff berth for the Phoenix Coyotes, but one that ended poorly, in a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. With that bitter defeat in mind, and having conceded 18 goals in those four games, toughness seemed to be the foremost goal at the draft table. The offensive flair the Coyotes have added in recent years is missing, but some of these players have indeed gone on to help the franchise’s cause.

1st round, 20th overall: Connor Murphy, D, USDP (USHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 181

Connor Murphy took his time arriving as a player. But in a draft that seems notably weak in NHL caliber defensemen, he has looked one of the better picks at the position. Murphy opted for the OHL route, but had what seemed like a constant stream of injuries. He ended up playing just 68 junior games over two seasons, but turned pro in 2013. Murphy’s health has been better since, and this season he hit a career-high 78 games for the Coyotes. A restricted free agent this summer, Murphy is likely to earn another contract from the Coyotes. His simple, effective style is a nice complement to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Murphy also has enough skill that he should improve again next season.

2nd round, 51st overall: Alexander Ruuttu, C, Jokerit U20 (Finland)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Alexander Ruuttu was a bit of a reach by the Coyotes in a second round that has provided much of this draft’s value in retrospect. That said, Ruuttu was 16th among NHL Central Scouting’s European skaters while Nikita Kucherov was 17th (drafted 58th overall). Nashville Predator Miikka Salomaki – the 7th ranked Euro skater – was taken at 52nd. Ruuttu certainly had some pedigree – his father had played over 600 NHL games and scored over 400 points, mostly for the Buffalo Sabres. More importantly, Christian Ruuttu was Director of European Scouting for the Coyotes, though this would be his final draft with the organization.

Ruuttu has gone on to a career in Europe, but performed better against the lesser competition of Finland’s Mestis and Sweden’s Allsvenskan than he has in those nations’ top divisions. He returns to Finland next season with KalPa.

2nd round, 56th overall: Lucas Lessio, LW/RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Status: Prospect (Montreal Canadiens)
NHL Games Played: 41

A youngster when he made his OHL debut in 2010, Lucas Lessio was the 44th ranked North American skater at the midterms, and 46th in the finals, but had put together a solid season for Oshawa. The team’s top scorer that season was Christian Thomas, the player for whom Lessio would later be traded.

Lessio, like Murphy, ran into some injury troubles early in his career, but did eventually play some pro hockey for the Coyotes, putting up a great rookie season for the Portland Pirates in 2013-14.

Lessio looked like a possible option for the NHL at times while with the Coyotes organization, but gets a new opportunity with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs organization is nowhere near as deep as the Coyotes is, and sits a little further ahead in the timeline for playoff contention. Lessio could very well earn a depth role in Montreal next season and finally arrive as an NHL player.

3rd round, 84th overall: Harrison Ruopp, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Status: Prospect (Pittsburgh Penguins)
NHL Games Played: 0

Harrison Ruopp did not last long in the Coyotes system, being traded less than a year after being picked, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Zbynek Michalek deal. A strong, defensive right-handed player from the rural Saskatchewan town of Zehner, Ruopp had the mature physicality that a tough stay-at-home blueliner needs. But even with his size and courage, Ruopp has spent more time in the ECHL than the AHL over the last two seasons. Pittsburgh – or another NHL squad in search of depth – may yet have room for Ruopp in some capacity. He is still just 23 and has paid his dues in an admirable and respectable way, but has limited utility in the NHL context.

4th round, 111th overall: Kale Kessy, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Status: Prospect (Edmonton Oilers)
NHL Games Played: 0

Among the lowlights of Steve Tambellini’s career as GM of the Edmonton Oilers was the trade that sent Tobias Rieder to the Coyotes in exchange for Kale Kessy. Although Rieder may have been hesitant to sign with the foundering Alberta club, the trade has not been equal value.

Kessy fit right in with the trend of this draft for the Coyotes: big, tough Saskatchewan kids. Kessy hails from the small town of Shaunavon, also home of Braydon Coburn, Rhett Warrener, and Hayley Wickenheiser. Kessy’s career has not gone quite as well as theirs to date, but the winger is still putting up points as a pro prospect.

Since making his pro debut in 2013, Kessy has spent only three games at the ECHL level, and had a solid campaign of 12 points in 56 games for the Bakersfield Condors this past season. With the role of physical intimidation diminishing some in pro hockey, Kessy has still managed to bring some offense and solid positional play to the Oilers farm. For the Coyotes, this pick represents an excellent return in the form of Rieder, an NHL winger with a sound defensive game aided by speed and a reasonably high level of skill.

5th round, 141st overall: Darian Dziurzynski, LW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Again the Coyotes scouts did not stray far from Saskatchewan, taking a player from Lloydminster, Alberta, which straddles the provincial border. Darian Dziurzynski did play his junior hockey in Saskatchewan however, racking up an impressive 35 goals in 2010-11, a season in which he turned 20. He returned for an overage season as well, bringing his goal-scoring and physical play to the Brandon Wheat Kings organization. Dziurzynski made his pro debut the next fall, and after some solid play, earned a two-year deal from the Coyotes in March of 2013. Despite a Cy Young-like 15 goals and three assists in the 2014-15 season, the team opted not to qualify him, and he has been an ECHL player ever since. While a solid player at that level, the NHL is a far cry.

6th round, 155th overall: Andrew Fritsch, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Andrew Fritsch had an excellent draft season with Owen Sound, though the team was bolstered with plenty of skill. Joey Hishon, Garrett Wilson, Andrew Shaw, Mike Halmo, Jesse Blacker and others helped the team to an OHL Championship. Despite finishing second on the team in scoring during the regular season, Fritsch ran into the injury troubles that changed the course of his career. He played two more seasons in the OHL, totaling 221 points in 274 games. The Coyotes never offered Fritsch a contract, and he has since brought his talents to St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.

7th round, 196th overall: Zac Larraza, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Before Auston Matthews, the Coyotes took a flyer on another Scottsdale product who had come up in Phoenix-area amateur hockey. The 70th ranked player by Central Scouting (even ahead of Tobias Rieder at 73), Zac Larraza had moved on to Ann Arbor, Michigan and the US Development program by draft day, winning a gold medal at the U-18s with fellow Coyotes prospects Henrik Samuelsson and Connor Murphy.

Larraza went on to play four seasons of hard-working hockey for the Denver Pioneers, but topping out at 21 points helped establish the fact of limited NHL potential. He has continued his pro career nevertheless, having some success with a good Manchester Monarchs team that now plays in the ECHL. The Monarchs also sent Larraza out on a series of loans, and his ability to put up points with three separate AHL organizations this season bodes well for the possibility that he gets a pro contract in the next few months.

HF takes a look back at the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes 2011 NHL Draft in video, including NHL Combine footage of Lucas Lessio.

 

Prospect of the Month

Christian Dvorak - Arizona CoyotesCoyotes fans should already know about Christian Dvorak, who put up 35 points in 18 games in the OHL playoffs – including the goal that clinched the Robertson Cup. While there is no question that Mitch Marner is a special talent and Matt Tkachuk helps too, Dvorak has been able to more than hold his own centering the top line in junior hockey. After swiftly dispatching the Niagara IceDogs and fellow Coyotes prospect Brendan Perlini  – the 12th overall pick of the 2014 Draft, who has trended the wrong way for a couple of seasons – the Knights will represent Ontario at the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alberta. Dvorak has little more to prove as a junior, but his emergence presents new Coyotes GM John Chayka with a conundrum. Can Dvorak’s production translate at a similar pace in the NHL, or does Dvorak have more value as a key trade piece in the coming offseason?