Heading into the summer, former Saint Lawrence University forward John Zeiler and former University of New Hampshire goalie Jeff Pietrasiak were the only two Coyotes college prospects who had finished up their senior seasons and had yet to be signed.
The Coyotes have until August 15 to lock the two up, if so desired.
Instead of having to sit around and wait to hear from their agents, both Zeiler and Pietrasiak got the chance to come out to Phoenix and participate in the team’s inaugural prospect conditioning camp.
“The opportunity is great,” Pietrasiak told Hockey’s Future at the Coyotes training complex in Peoria, Arizona. “I was already out of school when I found out, so I just worked hard, got into shape and got ready for the camp.”
Pietrasiak is happy there is still some interest there, because he felt as if he had a lot to prove last season after a not-so-stellar junior campaign with the Wildcats.
“I kind of slipped off my junior year and I wanted to come back and prove to myself and to everyone else that I could play,” he explained. “A couple of bad games didn’t mean I was a bad goalie. Obviously UNH is one of the top college programs in the country. I feel as if I have developed so much from being there.”
Zeiler on the other hand, already had a sneak peak of the competition at the pro ranks, having joined the Coyotes AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, at the end of the 2005-06 season.
“It was a good adjustment and very exciting,” Zeiler explained about playing in the AHL. “It was definitely a step up from college.”
Zeiler finished seeing action eight total games, with a lone assist. He also spent time adjusting in the CHL, with the Lubbock Cotton Kings. He got into four contests, scoring two goals. He’s glad he got the jump, as it indirectly helped him prepare him for this week with the Coyotes.
“Yeah, it definitely did,” Zeiler said. “Just being around the guys at the pro level and talking to them about what to expect when I came here to rookie camp helped.”
As they came into this past week, a mild level of pressure began mount. In their minds, they knew this was the last chance to leave an impression with the Coyotes upper management.
“A little bit, but I just put that behind me,” Zeiler explained about thinking and preparing to enter the camp unsigned. “I was just going to work hard, see what happens and hope everything falls into place.”
The two stopped to notice the rest of the talent they were up against, but when it meant the most, the two were in the thick of things, trying to best their peers.
“It was awesome to skate with a bunch of first rounders,” Zeiler noted. “Then you have (Michael) Barnett, Coach Smith and the rest of his staff, who’ve all seen time in the NHL out there guiding us. I learned a lot coming here and listening to them.”
Pietrasiak agreed, “I was looking forward to skating with all these guys and having a good week.”
Minus the awe, the ultimate motivation still focused on having a good camp.
“It makes you want to work harder because you’re already skating with some guys who have contracts,” Zeiler explained. “You want to prove you can skate with these guys, show you’re just as competitive and you’re worth a contract.”
For Pietrasiak, he’s kept his approach rather simple.
“Just play hard, never give up and do my best,” he said.
To their credit, Zeiler and Pietrasiak have had a good week with their temporary teammates.
The Wildcat goalie hung in there with the likes of Josh Tordjman and Pier-Olivier Pelletier.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen after this, but the camp doesn’t hurt my cause,” said Pietrasiak.
And Zeiler, he was one of the physically strongest forwards out there. He never gave into the pressure, and he left it all on the ice for the brass to see.
“We’ll just see what happens,” Zeiler stated before parting. “Hopefully I can get a contract, we’ll move on and I get the chance to play in San Antonio next year and as a Coyote down the road.”
Though they’re both done with school, by August 15, both prospects will know whether they passed the Coyotes’ final exam.
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