Phoenix Coyotes CHL prospect pool low in numbers, high in potential

By Andrew Sykes
Henrik Samuelsson - Edmonton Oil Kings

Photo: Henrik Samuelsson, the Phoenix Coyotes' first-round selection last summer, continues to be a force for the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 
The Phoenix Coyotes prospect pool currently features a modest total of seven players currently playing in the Canadian Hockey League. What they lack in numbers though they certainly make up for in talent with several of the players possessing the potential to become quality players at the next level.

First-round selections Connor Murphy and Henrik Samuelsson along with second-round pick Lucas Lessio all rank within the club’s top seven prospects, while James Melindy and Andrew Fritsch are underrated players who continue to make strides in their junior careers.

WHL

Henrik Samuelsson, C, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired 1st round (27th overall) in 2012

Samuelsson entered his first full season in the WHL with the pressure of being a first-round draft choice and he has not disappointed the Coyotes or his junior team in Edmonton. After bursting onto the scene in the second half of the season and then playing a prominent role in the Oil King’s WHL championship victory, Samuelsson is once again a key member of a very strong team.

Again one of the top teams in the entire CHL, Edmonton has received contributions from a number of players, including the 18-year-old Samuelsson who has registered 13 goals and 29 points in 28 games. The powerful and versatile Swede has been a load to handle thanks to his 6’3, 208-pound frame, and he compliments that size with a high skill-level and a strong work ethic.

Kale Kessy, LW, Vancouver Giants
Acquired 4th round (111th overall) in 2011

Shipped to the Vancouver Giants after a lengthy career with Medicine Hat, Kessy is playing his overage junior season hoping to add a veteran presence to a young team. Known more for his aggression and chippy style rather than his offense, Kessy has been a solid contributor in both ends, posting 10 points in 16 games since joining Vancouver and is one of two forwards with a plus rating on the team. The 19-year-old has however demonstrated his penchant for physical play in the wrong light, having received a 12-game suspension for a check to the head, the seventh time he has been suspended in his career.

Despite his often overboard aggression, the Coyotes drafted Kessy exactly for that reason and certainly would like to see him continue to play a physical, rambunctious game.

Marek Langhamer, G, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired 7th round (184th overall) in 2012

The 18-year-old Czech goalie is playing in his first season in the WHL as a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers. Playing behind a middle-of-the-pack team, Langhamer has often been peppered with shots and it has certainly inflated his numbers. Splitting the majority of the Tigers' games, Langhamer has a record 5-7-1, a 3.27 goals against average, and a 0.898 save percentage, and has started to see his grip on the number one job loosen.

A seventh-round pick, Langhamer performed exceptionally well the last few years in his native Czech Republic so his early season struggles can be chalked up to adjusting to the new environment and playing for a below average team.

OHL

Lucas Lessio, LW, Oshawa Generals
Acquired 2nd round (56th overall) in 2011

What began as a season full of promise quickly turned into one of disappointment for Lessio who has been sidelined since late October with an injury. The 19-year-old winger stormed out of the gate with the Oshawa Generals scoring at a point-per-game clip through the team’s first 13 contests, but was then forced to the press box after being cut by a skate blade in a game against the Plymouth Whalers on October 21.

Lessio underwent surgery to repair tendon damage in the hand and at the time was expected to be on the shelf for as long as three months. The time missed will be even harder to deal with considering the opportunity that has been lost thanks to the injury. In the summer, Lessio performed very well at the Canada-Russia Challenge and put himself in a good position to be heavily considered for Canada’s entry at the World Junior Hockey Championship, a tournament that the talented young forward will be forced to watch from home due to a very unfortunate injury.

Connor Murphy, D, Sarnia Sting
Acquired 1st round (20th overall) in 2011

After missing the entire first half of the schedule a year ago in his debut season in the OHL, Murphy started the year completely healthy and has settled into a solid season with the Sarnia Sting. Like many of the Sting players, Murphy struggled through the month of October registering just a single assist in 10 games, but as the team has picked up its play in November so has Murphy. In November and early December the 19-year-old more than tripled his season point total and improved his plus/minus from a -4 to where he now sits with a +8.

Now listed at 6’5 and over 200 pounds, Murphy’s size gives him the look of more of a defensive-defenseman but the 2011 first-round pick can contribute in many areas. A powerful skater with a heavy shot and quality puck-moving skills, Murphy is considered to be pretty much a lock to suit up for Team USA at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships.

Andrew Fritsch, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired 6th round (155th overall) in 2011

Able to suit up in just 35 games a year ago, Fritsch has bounced back from his 2011 injury and is in the midst of another productive OHL campaign. The 19-year-old right wing ranks in a tie for second on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in goals (11) and third in points (23) through 29 games.

A sixth-round selection of the Coyotes in 2011, Fritsch has been a consistent offensive producer throughout his junior career and has been close to a point-per-game player in each of the past three seasons. One of the team’s leaders, Fritsch will be counted on to keep up a high level of play if the Greyhounds hope to make the playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference.

QMJHL

James Melindy, D, Moncton Wildcats
Acquired 3rd round (88th overall) in 2012

A third-round pick from the 2012 draft, Melindy is currently a big part of a much improved team in Moncton, with a strong defensive unit being a major reason for the club’s turnaround. The 18-year-old blueliner has chipped in with two goals and seven assists but it is his work in his own zone that has been his biggest asset this season.

A rangy defender at 6’3, Melindy’s s reach and smart positional play make him very tough on opposing forwards. The St. John’s, Newfoundland native received some deserved recognition for his solid play when he was selected to represent the QMJHL in the recent Subway Super Series against Team Russia. 

Justin Hache, D, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired 7th round (208th overall) in 2012

Playing for one of the weaker teams in the QMJHL, Hache is logging a ton of minutes and performing well for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. With 11 assists in 30 games, the 18-year-old is already closing in on his previous career high of points in a season with 18. Being utilized in all situations, Hache is sure to gain a load of experience this year despite the fact that the team situation is not ideal.