Although the lockout might cause some disappointment for Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad, two players on the cusp of full-time NHL duty, there is still the good news of them being able to further develop their high-level skills in the AHL. Gormley and Rundblad along with fellow Phoenix Coyotes prospects playing in the Europe, junior and the NCAA still have a full season ahead to prove their worth as prospects, regardless of the situation with the NHL.
Here are some of the future Coyotes to keep an eye on heading into the 2012-2013 season.
Brandon Gormley, D, Portland Pirates (AHL)
As the club’s top overall prospect, it only makes sense for Gormley to be pegged as the Coyotes top pro prospect. Preparing to play his first full year in the AHL, the 20-year-old blueliner would have had a shot at making the Phoenix roster, but a year in what will be a highly competitive AHL will certainly be beneficial to his development. Gormley will have the chance to jump right in and log a ton of minutes while playing in every situation. His ability as both an offensive and defensive player surely makes him one of the top rookie rearguards to watch this year.
Not far behind however is 21-year-old defenseman David Rundblad. Rundblad’s fortunes are almost identical to Gormley’s as he too would have challenged for a spot on the Coyotes’ blue line. Instead, the offensive-minded Swede will get another year of adjusting to the North American game and should form an exciting duo with his new teammate in Gormley.
Andy Miele, C, Portland Pirates (AHL)
After leading the Pirates in scoring in his first pro season, Miele will be expecting to further build upon his production in his second year in Portland. The diminutive center scored 16 goals and led the team with 38 assists as well as with his 54 points, but he is fully capable of surpassing those totals. A slick offensive player with great quickness in his legs and hands, the 24-year-old forward’s vision and creativity give him the chance to be up towards the 70-80 point mark. The talent surrounding him up front might not be that great, but as an elite playmaker, Miele has the ability to make those around him better and that is what he will look to do in 2012-13 with the Pirates.
Although a hip injury limited his first OHL season to 35 games, Murphy proved why he was a first-round, 20th overall selection in 2011. In those 35 games the 6’3” blueliner scored eight goals and racked up 26 points for the high-powered Sarnia Sting. Entering the 2012-2013 season, the 19-year-old will have all the confidence in the world to become an impact player on the back-end, both as a shut-down defender and point-producer. A strong start to his season will also put him in contention for the the USA World Junior Championships roster, something that would only add to his confidence as a rising defensive prospect.
Lucas Lessio, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
It is hard to expect a guy coming off a 34-goal, 59-point campaign to have an even bigger breakout season but that is exactly what can and should be expected of the 19-year-old Lessio. A second-round pick in 2011, Lessio has the potential to score 40 goals and register 80 or more points. A stronger supporting cast with the Oshawa Generals makes it probable that he can reach those totals.
A smart offensive player who can play with speed and strength, Lessio’s ability to play off his linemates and put himself in good positions to score is what makes him one of the most dangerous wingers in the OHL. He could be in for a big year not only with the Generals, but also possibly having the opportunity to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Even if he is not technically skating with a new team in 2012-13, the Coyotes first-round pick in 2012 has high expectations entering his first full junior season in Edmonton. Samuelsson became an offensive force in 28 regular season games as a rookie a year ago, and then raised his game even higher during the Oil Kings run to the Memorial Cup. His impressive performance vaulted him to first-round status and increased the expectations from his future NHL team and himself.
The 18-year-old stands 6’3” and weights 216 pounds, giving him the stature to play a powerful game. He also possesses some high-quality offensive skills that will only continue to improve as his junior career possesses. He will have the chance in Edmonton to put up some big numbers as he will again be surrounded by considerable talent.
A young defenseman who is very much on the rise, Melindy has all of the tools to become a solid two-way NHL rearguard and a steal of a third-round pick. Having played behind Brandon Gormley for much of his two-year career with the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL, Melindy has now taken over as the club’s best and most reliable defenseman. The 18-year-old has good size and plays with smarts in both ends, with and without the puck. He remains somewhat of an underrated player but it won’t be long before he starts garnering the attention he deserves and climbs the ladder of the Coyotes strong list of defensive prospects.
Freshman to Watch
Samuel Fejes, LW, Colorado College (WCHA)
Preparing for his first collegiate season after playing for the esteemed hockey program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Fejes has the looks of someone who will have an impact freshman year. A skilled winger with good speed and goal-scoring capabilities, the 18-year-old will play at Colorado College where he will be one of four Tigers players with NHL rights attached to their name. A sixth-round pick in 2012, the Anchorage, Alaska native was a little off the radar in his draft year but possesses the raw ability of a higher pick.
Top European Prospect
Alexander Ruuttu, RW, Jokerit (SM-liiga)
Ruuttu takes the honor of being the Coyotes' top prospect playing in Europe almost by default as he is one of just two Phoenix prospects currently playing overseas. A surprise second-round pick in 2011, the 19-year-old forward is making steady progress as a pro in Finland. Already having played with Jokerit in the SM-liiga and Kiekko-Vantaa in the Finnish second division, Ruuttu will hope to make greater contributions as an offensive player this year.
Like many Finnish forward prospects, Ruuttu is an all-around player who, at this point in his career, is more concerned with proving capable of playing a complete game. If he is able to play the bulk of his season with the top team in Jokerit, it will be a good indication that he is developing exactly the way the Coyotes brass expected.