The Portland Pirates are having a successful season, thanks in large part to the influx of young talent. The Phoenix Coyotes’ AHL affiliate features eight rookies, including a few first round picks. Many of the Coyotes prospects that are playing professional hockey play the same style as many of the players on the parent club: a speedy, gritty, two-way game.
A few players have already seen some time in the NHL and while they have not taken games over, they have not looked out of place either. While none of the prospects look to be offensive superstars, they all have a great work ethic and possess many of the qualities that it takes to win hockey games.
It is pretty clear that the Coyotes have attempted to draft players that could easily fit into Dave Tippett’s system.
David Rundblad, D, 22
At such a young age, David Rundblad already possesses elite offensive instincts. He is part of the revolving door on defense that the Phoenix Coyotes have used so far this season, and he has not looked out of place in the NHL. After 25 points in 34 games with Portland, Rundblad has only one assist through eight NHL games. While he is susceptible to making defensive errors and getting caught out of position, it is hard to get frustrated when you see what he can do with the puck on his stick. His physical game is severely underrated as well.
Though he has just one goal in his NHL career, Rundblad’s shot seems to always find a way through to the net and his vision makes him a lethal power play quarterback. If he can learn the defensive side of the game, he will be a great number two or three defenseman for years to come.
Michael Stone, D, 22
Another defenseman who has seen time in the NHL this year, Michael Stone has fit right in on the Coyotes blue line when he has been called upon. He is a solid two-way defenseman, though his defensive game outshines his offense. Positioning is Stone’s greatest asset as he rarely gets caught making a bad pinch or leaving a man wide open. He also contributed offense in Portland with 28 points in 36 AHL games.
Tippett trusted Stone enough to give him a couple playoff games last season, and it looks like he will be a solid middle-pairing defenseman for the Coyotes in the near future. His skating could still use some work, but his excellent positioning makes it easier for him to keep up with the play.
Chris Summers, D, 25
Speed and skating is quite obviously Chris Summers’ best asset. It is not hard to find him on the ice, he is usually the guy motoring around, flying by everybody. Summers won the Portland Pirates fastest skating competition this season, which was not a surprise. He does not have any other exceptional skills, but he is a smart player who is always in position.
He has had a taste of the NHL the past few seasons, but he needs to continue to round out his game if he wants to become an NHL regular. He is a defenseman that you will not always notice when he is playing, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Summers pitched in 10 points in 41 games with Portland before joining the Coyotes, where he has yet to score a point through five games.
Philip Lane, RW, 20
After being drafted in the second round in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Phil Lane has not developed as quickly as the Coyotes had hoped. Although his point totals rose in his two OHL seasons after being drafted, the difference was so minimal that it is almost negligible. Considering the fact that Lane had every opportunity to lead the Brampton Battalion and demonstrate his offensive skills, his point totals were disappointing. He was third on the Battalion in points with 41 in 53 games in 2011-12, while missing some time due to a concussion.
In Portland this season, Lane has once again struggled to find offense. With just 12 points in 47 games, it looks like taking Lane in the second round might have been a reach, but he has come on a bit in February with five goals and an assist through nine games this month. What he does have going for him is his physicality and two-way play. Lane is not afraid to take the body using his solid 6’3, 205-pound frame to his advantage. If Lane can continue to develop his defensive game, he could be useful as a bottom six forward in the future.
Jordan Szwarz, RW, 21
After playing his junior career in Saginaw for the Spirit, Szwarz is in his second year playing professional hockey for the Portland Pirates. He is a player that never quits on a play; his work ethic is definitely his best asset. Szwarz has no fear of going into the corners to battle for the puck, no matter how big the other guy is. He has speed and quick hands, with a little bit of offensive flair. Szwarz is another solid two-way player who would be a perfect fit for a Tippett-coached team.
After putting up 204 points in 262 games in the OHL, he has 45 points in 105 career AHL games. He already has more points this season than he had all of last season in 11 fewer games. He is steadily climbing the depth chart and could probably see some NHL time as soon as next season on an injury call-up basis. If Szwarz makes the NHL, it will be due to his determination and work ethic.
Brett Hextall, RW, 24
The first word that comes to mind when you hear the name Hextall is fearless. Brett is no different. As the son of former NHL goaltender Ron Hextall, Brett has a lot of the same qualities.
He is a gritty, checking line player, who is not afraid to take the body. Despite standing just 5’10, Hextall’s game is all about hitting and being a pest to throw the other team off their game. He has six goals and 11 points through 47 games this season for Portland. Unfortunately, it does not look like Hextall will ever be able to provide much offense.
Chris Brown, LW, 22
After a great college career at the University of Michigan, Chris Brown is in his first year as a professional. He has continued in Portland where he left off in college. Brown is a big, power forward with a gritty two-way game. He is another Coyotes prospect who loves to take the body and is at his best when he is hitting everything that moves. His skating is another strong point of his game.
Brown has some offensive potential as well. With 18 goals, which ranks second on the team, and 29 points so far in his rookie season, he looks to have a bright future. He was invited to the Coyotes shortened training camp this season and looks like he is one of the first forwards in line for an injury call-up. Brown is not bad at any particular skill and he just needs to continue to develop his overall game and he will find himself in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Darian Dziurzynski, LW, 21
Yet another big, gritty winger, Darian Dziurzynski passed the hundred penalty minute mark three times in his junior career, along with 96 penalty minutes in his second WHL season. Clearly he is not afraid to drop the gloves. Dziurzynski is a power forward with an underrated skill set, evidenced by his 35 and 30 goal seasons in the WHL.
The offense has yet to translate to the pro level for Dziurzynski, but the toughness has not. He has scored five goals and seven points while racking up 52 penalty minutes in 37 games so far this season. He looks to be fitting in nicely in Portland’s bottom six.
Andy Miele, C, 24
With a small stature and big-time skill, Andy Miele has put up points at every level he has played. Signed as a free agent by the Coyotes after his Hobey Baker Award winning season in 2011, Miele has done well adjusting to the pro game. He put up 43 points in his rookie season with the Pirates and has continued to produce this year. Although he is pointless in eight NHL games, he has 11 goals and 32 points in 48 AHL games this season.
Miele possesses great puck handling and playmaking skills. If he can continue to develop is lower body strength in order to avoid being pushed off the puck, Miele could carve out a decent NHL career.
Brendan Shinnimin, C, 22
Another small forward with great puck skills, Brendan Shinnimin was also signed as a free agent. Although he and Miele are similar in many ways, Shinnimin also has a bit of an edge to his game. He is an excellent two-way player with great offensive skill as showcased by his 134-point year in the WHL. Shinnimin is still adjusting to the pro game in Portland and he got off to a slow start. He has since picked it up and is almost at a half a point per game pace, and he is only getting better. He has totaled nine goals and 24 points through 53 games so far this season.
The Coyotes will give him time to develop and he will likely play a big offensive role for the Pirates next season, with the possibility of being an injury call-up.
Ethan Werek, C, 21
The first thing that jumps out about Ethan Werek is his skating, and not in a good way. Although he is not exactly fleet of foot, Werek has an incredible work ethic. The offense has not really shown in his young AHL career, he has 21 points so far this season in 45 games, but he is developing into a solid two-way player.
His skating will definitely hold him back and it is something he needs to continue to work on. Until then, though, his work ethic will continue to stand out and he will continue to be a great defensive forward for the Portland Pirates.
Jordan Martinook, C, 20
Though listed as a center, Jordan Martinook can easily make the transition to the wing. Coming off a 40-goal season in the WHL, he has struggled to get going offensively in Portland with only four goals and eight points in 32 games. He has a solid build and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. He crashes the net regularly and enjoys throwing his weight around. Fortunately for him, he does not have to be scoring goals to be effective.
Brandon Gormley, D, 21
Ranked as the Coyotes best prospect, Brandon Gormley has already tasted success. He had a tremendous World Junior tournament last season in which he was named a first team all-star, defenseman of the tournament, and finished with a bronze medal. On top of that, he won a Memorial Cup with the Shawinigan Cataractes.
“Junior was a great time for me,” said Gormley. “I learned a lot, obviously, and had a lot of great opportunities there. It was a lot of fun and you have to take those things that you learn and the experiences into the pro game.”
He has taken that experience to the pro level, registering four goals and 17 points in 46 games as a rookie. Gormley is a smooth skating, two-way defenseman with exceptional hockey IQ. He can quarterback the power play effectively using his great vision and accurate shot from the point. Both his offensive and defensive instincts will help him carve out a successful career.
Maxim Goncharov, D, 23
When Maxim Goncharov first came over to North America from Russia, the hype was through the roof. He was a hard-hitting defenseman with a heavy shot and great skating ability. He was expected to have a shot at making the Coyotes as a 20-year-old.
Things have not exactly panned out that way for Goncharov, who has nine points this year through 27 games. He has struggled to adapt to the small ice and consistently makes bad decisions. His skills are certainly close to NHL caliber, but his hockey IQ is not. With the list of Coyotes top-end defense prospects growing, Goncharov is falling farther and farther down the depth chart.
Mathieu Brodeur, D, 22
A huge defenseman with a long reach, Mathieu Brodeur is a pure shutdown defenseman. In his third full year of professional hockey, he continues to work on his skating and develop his all-around game. Unfortunately for him, the depth on the Coyotes blue line will make it difficult for him to crack the lineup if he cannot develop the offensive side of his game, but he has had himself a nice AHL career so far. Brodeur has 12 points through 42 games this year for Portland.
Mark Visentin, G, 20
The former Niagara IceDogs goaltender had a very impressive junior career topped off by a bronze and silver medal at the World Juniors. Mark Visentin has adjusted to the professional game quite well and the Coyotes hope he can be their goalie of the future. He has great lateral mobility and his rebound control is top-notch. Visentin has an 11-9-1 record with a .909 save percentage and 2.85 goals against average so far in his rookie pro season. If he continues to develop at this rate, there is no doubt that he will have a solid NHL career.
Mike Lee, G, 22
After a great college career, Mike Lee has also impressed at the professional level. Filling in for an injured Chad Johnson, Lee has posted stellar numbers at the AHL level after doing the same for the Gwinnett Gladiators. Lee is 6-1 with a .936 save percentage and 1.98 goals against average in eight appearances for Portland this season. The oldest of the three first-year goaltenders, Lee is furthest along in his development. It is looking as though he could be the full-time starter in the AHL next season.
Louis Domingue, G, 20
Another rookie goaltender that had a solid junior career, Domingue has played most of this season with the Gwinnett Gladiators. Sporting a record of 16-8-2 at the ECHL level with a .894 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average, Domingue looks calm and collected between the pipes at the professional level.
He is an athletic goaltender with good positioning skills. He has a long way to go, but he has excelled at every step of his career so far, including a strong stint in the AHL since being reassigned to Portland with one win, a .931 save percentage, and 2.40 goals against in two AHL appearances.
Scott Arnold, C, 23
After struggling at the beginning of the season for the Portland Pirates, Scott Arnold was sent to the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. He has never really been an offensive threat and it was his two-way game that got him a spot on the Pirates originally. After two assists in eight AHL games, Arnold has posted five goals and 13 points in 21 games for Gwinnett. Unfortunately, he looks to be a long-shot to make an NHL roster at this point.
Justin Weller, D, 21
As a pure defensive-defenseman, Justin Weller loves taking the body. He lacks offensive instincts and has never really produced offense at any level, but he finds other ways to be effective.
He has been an important piece on the Gwinnett Gladiators blue line this season, scoring two goals and seven points through 53 games. He will need to continue to develop at both ends of the ice if he wants to see time in the AHL next season.