When the Coyotes hopes of a playoff berth were cut short, Phoenix management,
led by GM Mike Barnett, decided to make a series of moves to cut payroll, add youth and add depth to their developmental system.
A month removed from the 2003-04 season, Barnett addressed many Coyote faithful in a May town hall meeting, about the
team’s direction and said the team was planning for the long term. Going into June’s
Entry Draft with the same mindset, Director of Amateur Scouting Vaughn Karpan took over the reins at the RBC
Center in Raleigh. Led by Karpan, the team added nine forwards and one
defenseman to the system.
Blake Wheeler, RW
– 1st pick, 5th overall (Breck School – USHS)
6’5” – 200 lbs.
Born: 08/31/1986 – Robbinsdale, MN
When Wayne Gretzky stepped up to the podium and announced Phoenix’s first pick in the 2004 draft,
the room was shocked, none more so than Blake Wheeler himself. Many predicted that the Coyotes would
walk away with University of Michigan goalie Al Montoya with their first pick,
but Gretzky and the organization were comfortable making the move on Wheeler with the
fifth overall pick, thanks to the confidence the club has in prospect David LeNeveu
Known for his size and athleticism, Wheeler was a two-way star last year at Breck High
in Minneapolis, Minn. Playing both hockey and football, Wheeler’s ability and talent helped both of his varsity teams win state championships last season.
Blake is everything you envision a forward to be with a 6’5” frame. He is a all-round player that is able to skate well with ability and speed, while maintaining balance. He plays an up-tempo game and loves to be physical down low on the forecheck, around the net, and in the corners. He has a dependable wrist and slap shot that he does most of his damage with. Wheeler has great hands and puckhandling skills. He is a player that seems to excel under pressure and is a leader.
Wheeler has a couple of options when next season rolls around. He still has one more year to attend at Breck, or join the U.S. NTDP. He was also drafted by the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, which remains a distant possibility. He has also rendered a verbal commitment to the University of Minnesota for the fall of 2005.
As long as Wheeler continues to progress his development and fill out his frame, it is only a matter of time before
he’s in a Coyotes uniform. He is still a couple years away but his ability to score and create offense are already there.
2003-04 Statistics: 30GP – 45G – 55A – 100PTS – 34 PIM
Projection: Skilled Power Forward
Logan Stephenson, D –
2nd pick, 35th overall (Tri-City – WHL)
6’2” – 185 lbs.
Born: 02/19/1986 – Saskatoon, Sask.
Don’t expect a lot of offensive production from Stephenson at this stage of his development.
Characterized by many as a “miserable” guy to play against, Stephenson uses his size, strength and grit to block and clear opponents from his net. He is very confident and is aware of his responsibilities down low. He battles every night and moves the puck out of the zone well. He is a very good up and down skater and has excellent vision.
Phoenix is very high on its second pick and hope that fills the role and has a Scott Stevens presence on the
2003-04 Statistics: 69GP – 3G – 8A – 11PTS – 112PIM
2003-04 Playoffs: 11GP – 1G – 1A – 2PTS – 10PIM
Projection: Stay at home Defenseman
Enver Lisin, RW – 3rd pick, 50th overall (Saratov – Russia)
6’2” – 190 lbs.
Born: 04/22/1986 – Moscow, Russia
Projected higher, Lisin was still available midway through the second round of
the draft. Phoenix sent a second round pick to Edmonton for left wing Jason
Chimera and in turn GM Mike Barnett moved the club up in the round by packaging the teams 60th and 80th overall picks to the Rangers for the 50th overall pick in the draft. The team then selected the speedy right winger out of Russia.
Many felt that Lisin was the fastest skater available in this year’s draft,
however, he was thought to be lazy and lack defensive awareness. He was projected to be a middle to late first rounder, though a poor showing in recent international play left many feeling suspect about the
winger’s overall ability. Lisin is a very good finisher, with a great wrist
shot. The upside to him is that he has a very good attitude and is willing to address areas of concern to prove he belongs.
From this standpoint, Lisin is a couple of years away from seeing any playing time with the Coyotes. He needs to show a bit more consistency and develop an overall package where he doesn’t solely rely on his speed.
2003-04 Statistics: 30GP – 9G – 5A – 14PTS – 20PIM
Projection: Skilled Forward
Roman Tomanek, LW – 4th pick, 103rd overall (Po. Bystrica – SVK-2)
6’1” – 176 lbs.
Born: 01/28/1986 – Povazka Bystrica, Slovakia
Tomanek is a dynamic forward with excellent skating and puckhandling. He has the confidence to attempt plays and moves that only world-class players can pull off and he often succeeds. Despite his smaller stature, Tomanek is a fearless forechecker, and is quite zealous in his pursuit of the puck in the offensive zone. He has been lauded for his keen hockey sense, and has shown adeptness as reading the play both offensively and defensively.
During games against teams of weaker competition, or games of little consequence, Tomanek was noticeably disinterested and had trouble maintaining the high level of play that he had shown against better opposition. His lack of interest on the defensive end hurt his own team, and he tended to get by on his offensive skills alone.
Off the ice, Tomanek ran into some trouble with bad influences when he was playing, for a short time, in Bratislava’s system. Tomanek was more concerned with
having fun, rather than training and preparing for games.
He will remain in Slovakia in 2004-05.
2003-04 Statistics: 29GP – 11G – 9A – 20PTS – 30PIM
Projection: Skilled Two-Way Forward
Kevin Porter, LW – 5th pick, 119th overall (NTDP U-18)
5’11” – 194 lbs.
Born: 03/12/1986 – Detroit, MI
Porter is a forward that has tremendous ability regardless of his size. Last year,
he spent the most of his time setting up teammates last season for the NTDP U-18 squad. He has soft hands and great vision. He is a solid two-way player who makes a commitment to help defensively.
He is headed to the University of Michigan this fall, where he is expected to step in and contribute immediately.
2003-04 Statistics: 56GP – 8G -30A – 38PTS – 32PIM
Projection: Two-Way Playmaking Forward
Kevin Cormier, F – 6th pick, 168th overall (Moncton –
6’3” – 236 lbs.
Born: 01/27/1986 – Moncton, N.B.
Becoming the first Maritime Jr. A Hockey League player drafted by a National Hockey League team since 1982,
Cormier was virtually unknown to the Coyotes until team consultant Charlie Henry dug
him up. While playing 42 games for the Moncton Jr. A team, Cormier racked up an impressive 235 penalty minutes.
Originally passed over by the QMJHL, Cormier signed a free agent contract with the Prince Edward Island Rockets before last season. Halfway through last season, his rights were traded to the Halifax
Mooseheads. He wants to make the best of this opportunity, dedicating his time to hone his craft and
taking boxing classes in Halifax over the summer.
Cormier is a player who will seldom be looked to provide anything but protection for other prospects when and if he reaches the NHL.
2003-04 Statistics: 42GP – 3G – 8A – 11PTS – 235PIM
Projection: Enforcer Forward
Chad Kolarik, C – 7th pick, 199 overall (NTDP U-18)
5’10” – 170 lbs.
Born: 01/26/1986 – Abington, PA
Kolarik spent his time last two seasons with the U.S. NTDP U-18 team along fellow teammate and Phoenix prospect Kevin Porter. He is known to be very skilled and determined. Kolarik was the NTDP U-18’s third leading scorer last season. Prior to last year, he led the NDTP U-17 team with 61 points on 29 goals and 32 assists in 62 games.
Coyote scout Steve Lyons is well aware of Kolarik’s potential and believes he will develop into a solid player.
He has also committed to play for the University of Michigan starting this fall and he will be looked to produce along with
Kolarik’s older brother Tyler is a 2000 draft pick of the Columbus Blue
Jackets and has just finished his senior season with Harvard.
2003-04 Statistics: 55GP – 21G – 24A – 45PTS – 20PIM
Projection: Skilled Forward
Aaron Gagnon, C – 8th pick, 240 overall (Seattle -WHL)
5’10” – 185 lbs.
Born: 04/24/1986 – Armstrong, B.C.
Characterized as a aggressive, good skating player who is very strong on his feet,
Gagnon is another forward that lacks size but makes up for it with determination and a strong work ethic. When
he started in Juniors during the 2002-03 season, he was well aware that the Thunderbirds were returning key veteran players. He just put his head down and went to work and filled in on lines as needed. Gagnon credits the
adversity because it has given him the chance to lineup with many other experienced players and learn things along the way.
Gagnon needs to step up this season, now that he is one of the veterans. This will be a key indicator to see how well he responds to a bigger role. He is committed to working on his offensive skill, skating and working out this summer to increase his strength and durability. He will attend the Coyotes camp in September.
Gagnon plays aside fellow Phoenix prospect Ryan Gibbons (2003 -178th overall) and has played with current Coyote and former Thunderbird, Matt Spiller.
2003-04 Statistics: 63GP – 21G – 15A -36PTS – 29PIM
Projection: Checking Forward
William Engasser, LW – 9th pick, 261 overall (Blake School – USHS)
6’1” – 224 lbs.
Born: 09/25/1985 – Edina, MN
This Blake School graduate leaves behind an excellent senior season as he
moves on to Yale University this fall. William was a finalist for Mr. Hockey (top high school senior) in Minnesota. He was named all-conference, and received the
team’s most improved player award. The Blake School lost in the Section 5A title game to fellow Coyote prospect Blake Wheeler and The Breck School.
Ranked 73rd among North American Skaters by the Central Scouting, Engasser will join high school teammate Rob Page (2004
Columbus – 167th overall) at Yale. The left winger finished second in scoring for the Blake School, registering a point in every game during his 26-game season.
Engasser is a decent overall skater with good technique, who brings a big physical game. He has a quick trigger and a solid wrist shot. He really isn’t a sniper,
but works hard down low and displays good presence in front the net. He is said to have good hockey intelligence and good poise on the ice.
He is another Minnesota prospect that is very athletic and starred in multiple sports. He also added MVP and all-conference honors in football and baseball during his senior year at The Blake School. He was also
captain of all three teams.
2003-04 Statistics: 26GP – 22G – 30A – 52PTS – 28PIM
Projection: Power Forward
Daniel Winnick, C -10th pick, 265 overall (UNH -NCAA)
6’2” – 210 lbs.
Born: 04/06/1985 – Mississauga, ON
Winnik is a forward with good size who is tough to move off of the puck. He has shown tremendous patience and confidence with the puck. He is excellent on
faceoffs and has good passing skills. He protects the puck quite well and has a
long reach. He is a good skater with long and powerful strides. He has good hockey sense and moves well through traffic. His play down low is also quite good.
For a bigger player, he has a nice blend of skill that might someday translate into a solid third or fourth center in the NHL.
Winnick will be heading into his sophomore year for the Wildcats at the University of New Hampshire next fall. He needs to take full advantage of his next three seasons if he intends on furthering a professional career in the sport.
2003-04 Statistics: 33GP – 4G – 10A – 14PTS – 10PIM
Projection: Power Forward
Phoenix came into the draft with the intention of adding size and speed. While they did a good job of obtaining players that fit their
needs, there are many projects that will take years to develop. The only upside to that dilemma is the majority of prospects are either in or planning to attend top college programs.
Positionally, they did a good job of moving their picks down in the draft this year. The club did address the need
for left wing prospects, but failed to add more offensive defensemen.
Eric Vegoe, Eugene Belashchenko, Jes Golbez Ursulak
and DJ Powers contributed to this article.