Coyotes Top 20 prospects

By Jeff Dahlia

Coyotes Top 20 Quick Glance

1. Keith Ballard
2. David LeNeveu
3. Matt Jones
4. Jakub Koreis
5. Blake Wheeler
6. Tyler Redenbach
7. Enver Lisin
8. Kiel McLeod
9. Randall Gelech
10. Joe Callahan
11. Logan Stephenson
12. Frantisek Lukes
13. Martin Podlesak
14. Roman Tomanek
15. Sean Sullivan
16. Beat Forster
17. Lance Monych
18. Igor Knyazev
19. Jason Jaspers
20. Dmitri Pestunov

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (2) Keith Ballard, D
2004 trade with Colorado, 21, 5’11, 204

Keith Ballard’s stock continued to improve as he signed with the Coyotes organization earlier this summer. He was one of the best defensemen in college hockey last year. Playing his final year at the University of Minnesota, Ballard was a 2003-04 All-American, a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist and an All-WCHA First Team selection. Winning two national championships in the three years with the Gophers, he will bring that same winning attitude to a new and improved Coyote lineup.

Ballard will get a solid look and should start the season with the Coyotes filling out the back end of the blueline corps.

2. (1) David LeNeveu, G
2nd Round, 46th 2002, 21, 6’1, 170

After amassing a cache of accolades with the Big Red at Cornell University, David LeNeveu spent the 2003-04 season with Springfield in the AHL. He continues to establish himself as a top future prospect for the NHL and the Coyotes.

LeNeveu continues to transition into the pro style game and he should be poised to make more of an impact with the organization’s new affiliate, the Utah Grizzles, during the 2004-05 season. He is another player that has continued to excel at every level and he has the ability to be a top goalie for many years to come.

3. (11) Matt Jones, D
3rd Round, 80th – 2002, 21, 6’1, 210

Making the biggest jump up the rankings of all the prospects, defensemen Matt Jones has continued to impress and make great strides while at the University of North Dakota. Jones has shown much success while adding the offensive dimension to his game. Jones has already shown great ability in defending his own zone. He uses his strength to clear out opponents. He is a smart player that makes good decisions and moves the puck well.

Jones has been comfortable working himself into the offensive mix. He has above average offensive instincts even though the he continues to develop his overall game. He should see his on ice time increase next as he returns to the Fighting Sioux for his senior season.

4. (4) Jakub Koreis, C
1st Round, 19th 2002, 20, 6’2, 205

After leaving Plzen of the Czech Republic elite league, Jakub Koreis signed a multi-year deal with the Coyotes in July 2003. During the 2003-04 season, he made a solid debut with the Guelph Storm of the OHL.

Koreis is a big two-way playmaking center who has a tremendous offensive upside. He assimilated himself well last season and saw extra time on the power play and penalty kill units. He did a good job of stepping up in play in critical moments during the season.

Koreis still needs to find how his game translates into the North American style. The more comfortable he becomes, the more effective he will prove to be. He has shown that he is not afraid to use the body and he likes to get his nose dirty down low. If he continues to remain effectively consistent, then he will see his stock rise.

5. (NR) Blake Wheeler, C
1st Round, 5th – 2004, 17, 6’3, 185

Blake Wheeler makes his debut on the list in the top 5. Scoring 100 points in a 30 game 2003-04 season with Breck High School, Wheeler was still taken higher in the 2004 Entry Draft than many suspected. He still has a senior year ahead of him and right now it’s not clear where he will play his 2004-05 season.

Wheeler just wrapped up skating at the USA Hockey’s 2004 National Junior Evaluation Camp, where he got a fresh look at the competition on a higher level. Ideally, he should be skating with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL next season, though he has not made a decision. He is aware that the level of talent in high school is not a challenge for him and he is conscious about making advancements in fulfill his goal of playing in the NHL.

Wherever Wheeler ends up next season, he has already committed himself to the University of Minnesota for the fall of 2005.

6. (13) Tyler Redenbach, C
3rd Round, 77th – 2003, 19, 5’11, 184

Tyler Redenbach is the second biggest climber on the list this year. After turning into a human highlight reel, he walked away from the 2003-04 as the CHL’s Bob Clarke Trophy winner (top scorer), while playing with the Swift Current of the WHL. Drafted in the third round of last year’s draft, Redenbach is becoming a pleasant surprise for the Coyotes.

Redenbach is a highly skilled forward that can put points on the board with consistency. He is a very smart player that has a very good hockey sense. The brass in the organization would like to see him continue his development in the AHL. He has already had a breakout year and it would be better to see how much potential he has against stronger competition.

7. (NR) Enver Lisin, RW
2nd Round, 50th – 2004, 18, 6’1, 185

Projected to be drafted a lot higher, Lisin was still available midway through the second round of the 2004 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.

Lisin spent the 2003-04 season with Kristal Saratov of the Russian Upper League. He has the potential to be big offensive threat in the near future. He needs to be surrounded by top level talent if he is going to put up the numbers that are suspected. Many times, he found himself playing with less talented, slower skaters. Lisin has an above average overall package, though he is known for his keen ability to finish with consistency. He is a very responsible player who also helps out on defense.

Lisin signed a contract with Ak Bars (Kazan) for the 2004-05 season and will likely skate in the Super League next season.

8. (3) Kiel McLeod, C
Free Agent – 2003, 21, 6’5, 216

Kiel McLeod spent his first full season in the Phoenix organization after signing a free agent with the Coyotes in 2003. Last season was also his first in the AHL after spending the past as an overager with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL.

It is hard to deny a forward with McLeod’s size and ability. Though he exploded during the 2002-03 season with Kelowna, he hasn’t transitioned as gracefully to the pro game as many might have hoped and is fulfilling the role of a grinder currently.

Due the lack of offensive output, McLeod’s value has dropped. He was statistically below average last season. He suffered from an enlarged spleen right before the season started and never got things going from then on after. He will be back for the 2004-05 season with the Utah Grizzles. He will need to assert himself more accordingly and show that he simply had an off season.

9. (NR) Randall Gelech, LW
7th Round, 208th – 2003, 20, 6’1, 195

This hard working, over achieving left winger turned in a solid post season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, winning the Memorial Cup and being named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team. Gelech is an energy player who never takes a shift off. He is not an overly skilled forward, but his determination and work ethic take him a lot farther. He is a crafty player that works hard on the forecheck and crashes the net with intensity and consistency.

Gelech was instrumental for leading the Rockets all the way to the Memorial Cup last season. He can return to Kelowna as an overager, but turning pro may be better for his development.

10. (12) Joe Callahan, D
3rd Round, 70th – 2002, 20, 6’2, 200

Moving up only two spots, Joe Callahan has yet to prove that he is has made a solid transition into the pro style game. He left Yale University after the 2003-04 season early to further his career while turning in yet another successful season for the Bulldogs. He only played in 14 games for Springfield and generally played well.

Callahan is a big defenseman who is exceptionally skilled for his size. He will continue to work on his overall game with Utah for the 2004-05 season. He has a tendency to show mental lapses in the defensive zone and misjudge flow.

Phoenix wanted to put Callahan on the fast track early in his career, but giving him time to grow and further his development has been a huge bonus. He is a very offensive minded defenseman that loves to contribute. Once he shows the confidence he displayed at Yale, it is only matter of time before he is guarding the Coyote blueline. He has the potential to be a solid two-way defenseman but he needs to continue to round out his overall game.

11. (NR) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 18, 6’2, 185

It will be hard for Logan Stephenson to gain much notoriety for his offensive play with the other very talented defensemen in the system. This 2004 draft pick is your prototypical stay at home defenseman. Stephenson understands his role and knows how to shut opposing rushes down.

Due to his intense physical game, Stephenson is earning a reputation as a tough guy to play against. He is very confident in his own zone and effective in moving the puck up the ice. He needs to round his offensive game. He shouldn’t be concerned with changing his approach because he already has the makings of a future star for the Coyotes.

He will return to Tri-City of the WHL to finish up his junior career with the Thunderbirds.

12. (9) Frantisek Lukes, LW
8th Round, 243rd – 2001, 21, 5’10, 170

Frantisek Lukes steadily progressed when he was with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL. He left the program as the second leading scorer after the 2002-03 season. The flashy left winger spent the 2003-04 season with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He made the most of his transition.

Overlooked because of his size, Lukes will have to continue to improve on last year and make the most of his opportunity. He is highly skilled and can produce offense when he finds his grove with Utah for the 2004-05 season. He has the tools and ability to ascend through the ranks with the Coyotes.

13. (6) Martin Podlesak, C
2nd Round, 45th – 2001, 21, 6’6, 200

Noted for his ability to blend skill in with his physical play, Martin Podlesak didn’t turn in a rookie 2003-04 campaign with Springfield of the AHL that turned many heads. He still possesses the ability to make a splash with the Coyotes in the future.

Podlesak needs to develop an edge and continue to use his size to his advantage. He plays soft at times and needs to focus on going through opponents rather than maneuvering around them. He handles the puck well and is a great passer. He needs to know when shoot first rather than be so quick to dish off the biscuit.

He is another player that needs to find his groove quickly. With his size and stature, Podlesak will head into the 2004-05 season with something to prove with Utah.

14. (NR) Roman Tomanek, LW
4th Round, 103rd – 2004, 18, 6’0, 175

Roman Tomanek made his way through the Povazka Bystrica system in Slovakia during the 2003-04 season, ending the season with the elite team. He excelled on all levels and made significant contributions. He captured a lot of attention during last year’s U-18 tournament, sharing the scoring lead.

Tomanek has seen a lot of top competition from around the world and has displayed the skills and ability to be an elite prospect. The knock against him is the fact that he is somewhat lazy and not serious about preparing for his future as a potential NHL star.

Tomanek was also drafted by the Calgary Hitman from the WHL in the 2004 CHL Import Draft. It is believed that he will transition to the North America and suit up with the Hitman. Regardless if he stays in the Povazka Bystrica system or comes to Calgary, he desperately needs to shake the reputation that is beginning to follow him around.

15. (NR) Sean Sullivan, D
9th Round, 272nd – 2003, 22, 6’0″, 190

Despite the dismal season that Boston University had this year, Sean Sullivan continued to make steady progress. He missed his only two games of the regular season in November due to a concussion. He suffered a separated shoulder in the Terriers’ 4-0 loss to archival Boston College on March 12th in the Hockey East Conference Playoffs opening round match.

Sullivan is a good two-way threat that works well on both ends of the ice. He has good hands and works well in the transition aspect of the game. He has a good shooting package and a good wrister. He will return recharged and healthy for the 2004-05 season with the Terriers.

16. (8) Beat Forster, D
3rd Round, 78th – 2001, 21, 6’1, 209

Spending another season with HC Davos of the Swiss Elite League, Beat Forster showed a tad more offensive flair during the 2003-04 season. He hasn’t lost his physical game and continues to work strong with Davos. He has considered making a move to North America, but nothing is set in stone.

Forster is a very aggressive defenseman that will hit hard and finish his checks. He is a very smart player that uses his ability and skill to make himself more effective in his own zone. He is a good skater and average puckhandler. He has been working on his offensive game and he progressing well with Davos. His window of opportunity is around the corner.

17. (7) Lance Monych, RW
4th Round, 97th – 2002, 20, 6’1, 200

Lance Monych spent the 2003-04 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. He suffered setbacks this season from a reoccurring shoulder problem and missed a total of 14 games. Monych also represented Team WHL in the 2003 RE/MAX Canada Russia Challenge Series.

Monych has all the skill and ability to be a top producer. He is a sniper with a great shot but has been inconsistent with his scoring at times. He possesses good puckhandling skills and can make things happen. He is very strong on the forecheck and works hard around the net. He does a good job setting up around the net, thus increasing his ability to score off rebounds and deflections. He tends to start off very hot and then his production seems to level off as the season progresses.

The speedy winger signed a three-way deal with the Coyotes this past June.

18. (5) Igor Knyazev, D
2003 trade with Carolina, 21, 6’1, 190

Igor Knyazev is still young, still tough and still holds value to the Coyotes. He spent the 2003-04 with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. It is more than obvious that Knyazev is becoming more of a stay at home defenseman. It is hard not to get frustrated with a player of his stature, but you cannot expect him to be very explosive in the offensive zone.

Knyazev definitely has the size to play in the NHL. He uses it well to play a solid all around defensive game. He is an above average skater and is a solid puck carrier from the defensive zone. He will more than likely report back to Utah for the 2004-05 season.

19. (14) Jason Jaspers, C
3rd Round, 71st – 1999, 23, 6’0, 185

Jason Jaspers got a sniff of the NHL towards the end of the 2003-04 season with the Coyotes for the third consecutive year. Playing the majority of his time with Springfield, he put up average numbers and did not impress. He is a fringe player that needs to make a move or his value in the system is going to diminish.

Jaspers could fit the role as a grinder at the NHL level. He has good vision and is more of a setup man than a finisher. He is a good physical two-way player that makes him valuable for special team assignments.

20. (NR) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 19, 5’9, 196

Dmitri Pestunov spent the 2003-04 season playing with Metallurg Magnitagorsk of the Upper League in Russia. He was also selected to the 2004 Russia WJC Team, who finished fifth overall in tournament play.

Pestunov is a very effective two-way player who sees the ice well and works above average with and without the puck. He’s not all that physical but he is said to sneak in and backcheck at times. His maturity and hockey sense are of a player beyond his young age. He will continue developing with Metallurg Magnitagorsk. He continues to be one of the club’s up and coming young forwards and will likely continue earning ice time on the third or fourth lines.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.
Russell Brooks, Eric Vegoe, Eugene Belashchenko, Jes Golbez Ursulak and DJ Powers contributed to this article.