Despite last season’s acquisition of highly-regarded Swedish defenseman David Rundblad, 20-year-old blueliner Brandon Gormley has become the Phoenix Coyotes top prospect and headlines an ever improving group in the fall edition of the club’s Top 20 prospects.
Gormley, along with Rundblad, 2011 first-round pick Connor Murphy, and fringe NHL players such as Michael Stone, Chris Summers, and Maxim Goncharov are the leaders of a unit that ranks as one of the best groups of defensive prospects in the NHL. For an organization that has already developed young studs like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, defensemen continue to be the building blocks of a team that has enjoyed tremendous success under general manager Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett.
The Coyotes’ depth at forward was fairly thin the past few years but there have been significant improvements thanks to smart acquisitions through the draft and free agency. Lucas Lessio, a 2011 second-round pick, and Henrik Samuelsson, a 2012 first-round choice, are the two forwards who have the most potential to make an impact in the NHL, while free agent signings Andy Miele and Brendan Shinnimin are two intriguing prospects because of their ability to rack up points in bunches.
The club’s top three goaltending prospects, Mark Visentin, Louis Domingue and Mike Lee, are all coming off excellent seasons and are in similar situations as all three begin their professional careers in the AHL and ECHL in 2012-13.
1. (2) Brandon Gormley, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2010
Coming off a fine season which included helping his junior team in Shawinigan capture the Memorial Cup, Gormley takes over as the Phoenix Coyotes top prospect. On top of his team accomplishments, the 20-year-old also excelled individually throughout the season and was selected as the Best Defenseman at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
The Coyotes first-round pick in 2010, Gormley is an all-around defenseman who can contribute in all facets of the game. He possesses size at 6’2” and 196 pounds, mobility, and the strong in-zone play characteristic of a quality defensive player. Gormley is also very intelligent with and without the puck and extremely poised as a puck-carrier. He does some of his best work on the power play as he is a good passer and has a hard, accurate shot.
As a player that you could describe as being the “full package,” it is without question that Gormley could step in and not look out of place in the NHL this year. Whether or not management feels he should get some seasoning first in the AHL is really the only thing holding him back from debuting with the Coyotes to start the 2012-13 season.
2. (1) David Rundblad, D, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with Ottawa in December, 2011
After tearing up the Swedish Elite League as a 20-year-old, Rundblad’s first season as a pro in North America turned out to be somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. Starting the season with the Ottawa Senators, being traded mid-season to a new organization, and then being sent down to the AHL was probably not the way he envisioned his first season playing out. It was nevertheless an experience that the young Swede should be able to learn from.
Despite managing just seven points in his first 30 NHL games split between Ottawa and Phoenix, Rundblad remains one of hockey’s top offensive-minded defensive prospects. His play without the puck and in his own zone was often criticized in Ottawa and it became clear that he still had adjustments to make before becoming a full-time NHL defenseman. He played well with Portland in the AHL, however, displaying his ability as a highly-skilled offensive-rearguard. He will be in the mix to land on the Coyotes opening night roster.
3. (3) Connor Murphy, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2011
Overcoming an ailing back in his final year with the U.S. Development Program and then suffering a knee injury before the start of his first OHL season with the Sarnia Sting, Murphy’s injuries may have kept him off the ice but they have not come close to diminishing his ability and potential. Upon returning to the lineup in Sarnia, the 19-year-old collected eight goals and 26 points in 35 games, demonstrating his skills both defensively and offensively.
Already standing 6’3” and 190 pounds, Murphy’s size suggests that he will be more of a defensive presence when he fills out but he certainly possesses some developing offensive skills, as well. On top of being a mobile skater for his size, Murphy is an intelligent puck-mover who is very comfortable as a passer and stick-handler.
4. (6) Michael Stone, D, 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2008
A third-round pick, Stone has become an NHL-ready blueliner more quickly than projected on draft day in 2008. Playing his way into the mix after a solid first season as a pro, Stone saw 13 games with the Coyotes in 2012 and also appeared in two postseason games during the club’s surprising playoff run.
A smart defensive-defenseman who makes good decisions with the puck, Stone’s reliable play in both zones has allowed him to make great strides within the organization. While it is no guarantee due to the depth that the Coyotes have on defense, it is possible that the 22-year-old could be among the top-six defensemen on opening night.
5. (7) Mark Visentin, G, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2010
The best goaltender in the OHL the past two seasons, Visentin has done his part in proving why he is one of very few Canadian-born goalies taken in the first round in recent years. The 20-year-old has become a household name due to his two appearances as Canada’s goalie at the World Juniors as well as claiming OHL Goalie of the Year honors in 2011.
Although Visentin’s numbers have certainly been impressive throughout his junior career, some have wondered how much the strong Niagara IceDogs team in front of him has contributed to that success. He will have a chance to prove that notion wrong this year as he begins his professional career, likely with Portland in the AHL.
6. (9) Lucas Lessio, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2011
One of the few offensively-gifted forwards in the Phoenix organization, Lessio is a young player who continues to develop towards his potential of being a scoring-line winger in the NHL. The club’s second-round pick in 2011, the 19-year-old has used his big, athletic frame and strong skating to become one of the OHL’s top left wingers in his two seasons with the Oshawa Generals. On top of his good size and speed, Lessio is a smart player in the attacking zone, supports the puck on the cycle, and gets in the right spot to receive passes or pick up rebounds.
The Maple, Ontario native played for Canada in the recent Canada-Russia Challenge where he played well and displayed good chemistry with high-profile linemates Ryan Strome (NYI) and Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA). Should he continue his fine play with Oshawa, he will again have a chance to wear the Canadian sweater at the World Junior Championship.
7. (NR) Henrik Samuelsson, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2012
For the first time since 2008, the Coyotes selected a forward in the first round of the NHL Draft by selecting Henrik Samuelsson at 27th overall in 2012. Henrik, the son of former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, is a powerful winger who possesses some impressive physical attributes along with a budding skill set.
At 6’3”, 216 pounds, the 18-year-old Samuelsson has room to get stronger but is already not far off from having the size of a prototypical NHL power forward. Although his speed and quickness need some improving, he has surprisingly nifty hands and a quick release.
After beginning his draft year in Sweden, Samuelsson really started to gain some confidence in his game during his 28 regular season contests and lengthy playoff run with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Despite mainly being considered a physical, grinding winger, the offensive ability he displayed is what ultimately made him a first-round pick and something the Coyotes hope he can continue developing when he returns to the Oil Kings for his first full season in the WHL.
8. (4) Chris Summers, D, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2006
The 24-year-old Summers, now a veteran of the Phoenix prospect pool, has put himself in good position to grab a full-time spot on the blue line for the upcoming season but will need a strong training camp if he hopes to beat out his competitors. Summers appeared in 21 regular season games during the 2011-12 season, but he was unable to get into any playoff games as he fell behind the likes of David Schlemko and Michael Stone on the depth chart.
Summers has not played poorly in 23 career appearances with the Coyotes, but he has yet to show any wow factor. His safe and simple game is adequate, but with such a strong group of young defenders in the organization, it may continue to be hard for him to get a long enough look to gain confidence at the NHL level.
9. (5) Andy Miele, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent in April, 2011
Ever since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Miele has been one of the club’s more intriguing prospects. A tremendously skilled player with a knack for producing offense, the former Hobey Baker Award winner enjoyed an excellent first pro season. After a brief seven game call-up early in the year, Miele returned to Portland and led the Pirates in scoring with 54 points in 69 games.
At 5’9” and 180 pounds, Miele’s size held him back from making an immediate impact in the NHL. But with the departure of Ray Whitney, a very accomplished player who is similar both in stature and skill, the door may have opened for Miele to come in and do some of the things Whitney was able to do in his two years in the Desert.
10. (8) Brett MacLean, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2007
Long had MacLean been the Coyotes top forward prospect, but after a frightening cardiac emergency, his health took precedence over his hockey career. The incident happened on July 2, 2012 while MacLean was playing pick-up hockey in Owen Sound, and although he has recovered, it remains unknown when he will be able to return to the ice.
When healthy, MacLean has proven that he is a fringe NHL player who could become a valuable offensive producer in the right situation. The 23-year-old has had little trouble racking up points in the AHL thanks to his soft hands and quick release, but his skating and defensive play have held him back from making the jump thus far.
11. (10) Maxim Goncharov, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2007
One of the more unheralded members of the Coyotes strong crop of defensive prospects, Goncharov has also put himself in the mix for a roster spot for the upcoming season. The 6’3” Russian suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in his second North American season, struggling with injuries and not duplicating the solid two-way play he delivered in his rookie AHL campaign. When at the top of his game, Goncharov is a physical, defensive defenseman who uses his size and strength to his advantage and can unleash a howitzer of a shot from the point.
A physically imposing player with good mobility, the 23-year-old will likely be on the outside looking in to begin the year, but fans should expect to see him receive his first NHL action at some point in the new season.
12. (11) Chris Brown, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2009
After his junior year at the University of Michigan, Brown decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and sign a pro contract with the Coyotes. The move should turn out to be a good one for both sides as Brown figures to get some quality playing time with a young team in Portland. The 21-year-old winger was the club’s second-round pick in 2009 and has developed his game to the point where he appears ready for the pro game.
A sturdy left winger who can also line up at center, Brown plays a physical game along the boards and uses his strength to drive to the net and create havoc in the crease. He has the ability to score some goals but will likely take on more of a grinding role during much of his first season in Portland.
13. (16) Philip Lane, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2010
Lane has been an interesting prospect since he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. A very raw player at that time, he has developed into a physical force on the wing despite not having the eye-popping numbers one might expect of a second-round NHL draft pick.
The 20-year-old’s career highs in three OHL seasons of 18 goals and 41 points are fairly modest totals but he has done everything he has been asked to do within Brampton Battalion head coach Stan Butler’s well-rounded, defense-first style. Much in the same way that he first stood out to Coyotes management, Lane has been a very physical player and a power forward on the wing. His offensive skills remain a little unpolished, but his size and strength have continued to emerge allowing him to control the boards and do damage in front of the net. Fans of the Portland Pirates should quickly take a liking to Lane as he will be a punishing body-checker and certainly no stranger to dropping the gloves in his rookie pro season.
14. (NR) Jordan Martinook, C, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2012
One of two 2012 draft picks to appear on this list, Martinook’s breakout season in the WHL gave a major boost to his status after being passed up in the draft in his first two chances. Martinook scored 40 goals and totaled 64 points in 72 games last season for the Vancouver Giants, displaying a knack for scoring goals in a variety of ways.
At 6’1” and 208 pounds, Martinook is a solidly-built forward who can play center or wing and provide a physical presence on top of his offensive attributes. The 20-year-old is an instinctive goal-scorer who can beat the defense not only with skill but also through his understanding of where to be on the ice.
Martinook had an impressive rookie camp and was said to have turned a lot of heads (namely that of GM Don Maloney) within team management. His strong showing may have even put the forward in a position to grab one of the final roster spots with the big club, but a pro debut with Portland to begin the year seems more likely.
15. (18) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2009
With one successful pro season under his belt, the tough-as-nails Szwarz continues to develop into a future third- or fourth-line grinder in the NHL. A former team captain during his days in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit, Szwarz is an intelligent player who leads by example through the hard work and determination that he brings to every shift.
With a productive seven-goal, 20-point season despite playing checking line minutes in Portland a year ago, the 21-year-old right winger will have gained the confidence in his ability to increase his production in year two. Szwarz improved his goal and point output in each year with Saginaw, and if he can see that trend continue, he will put himself in position to be one of the first call-ups should any injuries occur in Phoenix.
16. (NR) Brendan Shinnimin, C, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent in March, 2012
Much like Miele, Brendan Shinnimin is a highly-skilled, high-scoring forward who was passed up in the draft because of his small stature. Despite being among the most productive players in the WHL, no NHL team would take a chance on the 5’10”, 185-pound Shinnimin, forcing him to play an overage season with the Tri-City Americans. The decision to return turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Shinnimin ripped up the league with a remarkable 58 goal, 134 point season. For his efforts he earned the CHL Player of the Year award, and more importantly, a pro contract with the Coyotes.
Now that the 21-year-old has some security about his future in the game, he will again look to prove himself by showing that his size will not be a factor at the pro level. Being such an offensively-gifted player, Shinnimin will be expected to add some firepower to the Portland forward group and display the same scoring prowess he did as a junior player.
17. (15) Brett Hextall, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2008
One of the young forwards who debuted in Portland last season, Hextall possesses the speed and tenacity of an effective energy forward. The 24-year-old plays an aggressive game in terms of pressuring the puck with his speed and being a physical, in-your-face pest. In 72 games with the Pirates in 2011-12, Hextall scored seven goals and picked up eight assists and was one of only two forwards who maintained a plus rating. He will be back with Portland for the upcoming season where he will continue to play an energetic, grinding game and hope to contribute a little more offense.
18. (12) Alexander Ruuttu, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2011
Very much in the early stages of his development, Ruuttu’s progression in Finland is typical of many Finnish prospects. An all-around player with good awareness in both zones, the 19-year-old was impressive with Jokerit’s junior club and will hope to make a greater impact with the top team on a full-time basis this year.
Needing to fill out his 6’0”, 171-pound frame, Ruuttu has thus far proven to be a very responsible player with good speed and quickness. He has yet to demonstrate a real offensive flare but that is pretty common with young Finnish players as their leagues preach a more defensive approach. He has the chance to take over as the Coyotes top right wing prospect now that Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov, although recently qualified by Phoenix, has lost his prospect eligibility.
19. (19) Louis Domingue, G, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2010
A tall, athletic goalie, Domingue put together a very successful junior career and has made some nice strides as a goaltending prospect. With his size and athleticism, the 20-year-old has the tools to one day find a spot in the NHL, but he must improve upon his focus and consistency. With fellow prospects Mark Visentin and Mike Lee also expected to make their pro debuts, the battle for the two spots in Portland will be hotly contested. Should Domingue fail to make the Pirates roster, he could return to the QMJHL for an over-age season with the Quebec Remparts or play in the ECHL with Gwinnett.
20. (NR) James Melindy, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2012
One of three 2012 draft picks to appear on this list, Melindy is a young defenseman whose stock is very much on the rise. After playing behind fellow Coyotes prospect Brandon Gormley throughout his first junior season, Melindy took on a greater role with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats once Gormley was traded 26 games into the 2011-12 season.
Following that trade, Melindy’s talents really began to shine through as he became the club’s top blueliner. The 18-year-old was a standout player in Moncton’s playoff series against the Halifax Moosehead, playing a ton of minutes and going up against the Moosehead’s top line which featured 2013 draft prospect Nathan MacKinnon.