Coyotes getting look at prospects

By Russell Brooks

As the Coyotes fall out of playoff contention, general manager Mike Barnett is bringing up Coyotes prospects from their AHL affiliate in Springfield to give them a taste of the NHL.

Center Erik Westrum and soon to be 24-year-old defenseman Goran Bezina got their feet wet with the big boys making NHL debuts in the last ten days. Forward Mike Stutzel will look to make a NHL debut tonight against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Twenty-one-year-old defenseman Matthew Spiller, 20-year-old right wing Frederik Sjostrom, and 22-year-old center Jason Jaspers have spent time with both Phoenix and Springfield this season.

The 6-foot-0, 204-pound Westrum has yet to record a point in the NHL in five games but has impressed Bowness with his play so far.

“Erik (Westrum) stepped right in and played very well,” said Bowness. “Erik is a third-year pro, so he understands the pro game.”

Westrum’s smart play and high energy has earned him valuable ice time. Heading into Tuesday, Westrum was averaging 15:43 in ice time, first among all Coyotes rookies.

Bezina made his NHL debut a day after the trade deadline against the Los Angeles Kings at the Glendale Arena. In his first recall with the Coyotes, the Split, Croatia native hasn’t recorded a point in three games. He has seen limited ice time on the fourth line averaging 5:17 a game.

“I was really excited getting the call and coming up to help this team,” said Bezina. “I didn’t get too many shifts, but I enjoyed the time I was on the ice.”

Rookie center Jaspers made his NHL debut two seasons ago but was excited to return to the big club after putting together a solid season in Springfield.

“It’s an exciting time and I just tried to contribute,” said Jaspers, who tallied 26 points in 45 games with Springfield this season. “I just tried to make an impression on the coaches. We were laughing earlier as three or four guys were carrying bags after they were called up. It’s been a thrill for me personally.”

Head coach Rick Bowness has been impressed with a lot of the young kids brought up.

“I thought the kids brought us a lot of enthusiasm,” said Bowness. “They played with a lot of energy. They competed. Jaspers and Bezina were very solid and responsible in their zone. I was very impressed with their play. They’ll continue to get sufficient playing time in the future.”

The Coyotes have the youngest active roster in the Western Conference.

“We’re getting younger, there’s no doubt about it,” said Bowness. “But believe me, its going to come together. I know it looks bleak now, but this organization will come together.”