Coyotes offseason prospects update

By Jeff Dahlia






summerupdate

The Phoenix Coyotes have been the busiest team in league this summer. Not only did the
they add proven veteran leaders and stars to their NHL roster, but they were also busy signing prospects and building a formidable alliance with two minor league clubs. 

Going pro


When thinking of summer signings and the Coyotes, many
will only pay attention to the NHL-caliber players Phoenix brought into the mix.
But on the prospect front, the Coyotes started early this summer and signed five
prospects to their first pro contracts.

Before Joe Callahan could say he completed his 2003-04 season for the Yale Bulldogs, the junior blueliner waived his final year of college eligibility and signed a multi-year contract with the Coyotes in mid-May. Callahan,
21, made the trek to Springfield and caught up the Falcons. He played 13 games in the AHL and made a solid impact with then head coach Marty McSorely for his skill and tenacity.

Brandon Wheat King (WHL) sniper Lance Monych signed a three-way,
three-year deal with the Coyotes at the end of May. He played the 2003-04 season with an oft-injured shoulder and put up relatively decent numbers with Brandon.
He was looking for a better deal, but Monych, now 20, understood that he needed to get on with his professional career and signed a pro contract.

Rounding out the month of May, the Coyotes and 23-year-old free agent defenseman Dustin Wood agreed to a two-year contract. He played the 2003-04 with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. Wood made his pro debut with the ECHL during the 2002-03 season, skating with the Trenton Titans. He has steadily moved his way up and looks to play a prominent role on the blueline for the
Utah Grizzles next season.

In June the Coyotes signed their top prospect and former University of Minnesota star Keith Ballard to a three-year contract. Ballard waived his final year of eligibility with Gophers after ending the season as a Hobey Baker Finalist and the top defenseman in college hockey. With the current labor situation surrounding the CBA between the NHL and NHLPA, it is looking more likely that he will skate his 2004-05 season with the
Utah Grizzles of the AHL.

Changing affiliates

The end of the of the 2003-04 season
marked a new starting point for the Phoenix Coyotes. It also became the beginning of a whole new era for the Utah Grizzles of the American Hockey League (AHL). Late last April, the Coyotes announced that they had signed a new two-year affiliation agreement with the Grizzles that covers the 2004-05, 2005-06 seasons, and
has an option for the 2006-07 season. Leaving the Springfield Falcons in their wake, the Coyotes became the new parent club of the Grizzles and will be responsible for all hockey related decisions.

In June, Coyotes assistant coach Pat Conacher stepped down after four years behind the Phoenix bench and was named as the head coach of the Grizzles. Gord Dineen was also named the Grizzlies assistant coach and director of hockey operations.

Continuing to add depth and stability to their farm system, the Coyotes then signed a one-year affiliation agreement with the 2003-04 Kelly Cup Champion Idaho Steelheads of the
ECHL in August. The Coyotes and the Grizzles plan on placing at least four players under contract with the Idaho affiliate.
Both Idaho and Utah had previously been affiliated with the Dallas Stars.

Wasting no time under their new agreement, the Steelheads immediately made plans to host the Utah Grizzles training camp from September 29th to October 9th in the Bank of America
Center in Boise. The Grizzles will bring close to 30 players to their camp and give Idaho the chance to also scout potential players for their roster. Currently, the Coyotes and Grizzles have agreed to supplement the Steelheads with four contract players towards their 2004-05 season roster.

Also during the camp, the Steelheads will host two exhibition preseason games between the Grizzles and the Edmonton
Road Runners (Oilers AHL affiliate). The games have tentatively been scheduled for October 8th and 9th.


World Junior report

Even though the 2005 World Junior Tournament is nearly four months away, three of the newest Coyote prospects were invited to their native teams’ summer camps. Forwards Blake Wheeler and Kevin Porter attended the 2004-05 Team USA Junior Evaluation Camp in Grand Forks, North Dakota, while Logan Stephenson attended the the 2004-05 Team Canada Junior Development Camp in Calgary, Alberta.

Wheeler was the only high school player to make the list of invitees. He spent the majority of his time at the camp getting acclimated to the increased level of talent. He made a decent impact scoring four goals and adding an assist. Porter, a product of the US NTDP program, also had a decent showing dumping in two goals on one assist. Both played four games in the camp that showcased Team USA White, Team USA Blue, Team Sweden and Team Finland.

As for Stephenson, he showcased his fierce stay at home style. With little offensive upside and a stellar crew already in place, it will be hard for him to crack this
year’s lineup.

Wheeler commits to Green Bay

After working hard during the 2004-05 Team USA Junior Evaluation Camp, Blake Wheeler took a side trip to check out the home of the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. He was originally drafted by the Gamblers in the 2003 USHL draft.

On August 24th, Wheeler announced that he had committed to Green Bay for the 2004-05 season. He is scheduled to report to the Gamblers training camp within the next week. The first team practice has been scheduled for Monday, September 6th. The Gamblers open the regular season at home September 25th.

Currently, Wheeler is the highest player drafted by the NHL to play in the USHL.

Rookie camp

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks will host the Second Annual Rookie Camp at Disney ICE in Anaheim from September 9-13. The Coyotes return to sunny Southern California to defend their 2003 crown against teams from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. The Coyote roster has not
yet been released.

GAME SCHEDULE FOR 2004 ROOKIE CAMP

SEPTEMBER 9
4:00pm SAN JOSE vs. PHOENIX
7:00pm L.A. vs. ANAHEIM

SEPTEMBER 10
4:00pm PHOENIX vs. L.A.
7:00pm SAN JOSE vs. ANAHEIM

SEPTEMBER 12
1:00pm ANAHEIM vs. PHOENIX
4:00pm L.A. vs. SAN JOSE

SEPTEMBER 13
4:00pm CONSOLATION GAME
7:00pm CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

The Utah Grizzlies will play an American Hockey League regular season game versus the Manchester Monarchs (the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate) at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 23 at 1:00 p.m. Los Angeles, who is hosting the “HOCKEY DAY IN LA”, will also showcase the Midget AAA Jr. Kings and if
the NHL CBA gets worked out in time, the Kings and Coyotes will play later that night.

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