For the fourth consecutive summer, prospects from the Phoenix Coyotes organization participated in the Pacific Division rookie tournament, which has now officially been named the Pacific Division Shootout. The team played against prospects from the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and the host team, the Los Angeles Kings.
The Coyotes won the tournament this year, a second title in four years. Phoenix took home its first tournament title back in 2003, the first year the event was held.
The theme of this year’s very skilled team revolved around pride and perseverance.
“It’s unbelievable,” Peter Mueller said about playing on a squad that battled every night and refused to lose. “Even when we were down four goals one night, we have the guys who can put up five goals quick. It’s really exciting to be in a locker with guys like that.”
The rookie squad would have to comeback the first night to steal a win from the Sharks, while cruising to an easy, but hard-earned victory over the Ducks the following night.
Before Phoenix squared off with the Kings (who were also undefeated after two matches and tied with them in points), the clubs struck a deal to change the format of the tournament’s last two games. The first game of the two consecutive matches between the squads would end up being part of a two-game championship series.
Consequently, the Coyotes would go on to win the first match, but the Kings jumped all over them in the second game to tie the series up again.
Also a part of the initial agreement stated that, if both teams were deadlocked after the two-game championship series, an additional ten-minute “playoff period” would be used to decide the victor.
As time almost ran out on both clubs during the extra frame, Coyotes 2006 first round pick Mueller scored the game winner to give Phoenix the title.
“It was very special,” Olivier Latendresse said of the tournament win. “Peter ended up scoring his first goal, which won it for us. He deserved it because he worked very hard during the whole tournament.”
Unlike the past few years, the Coyotes entered the tournament with a lot of talent up front. In the end, it proved to be the difference maker.
Not only did Mueller score the game-winning goal to win the title for the Coyotes, but also his five assists led the team and his six overall points left him tied with four others for tournament lead in scoring.
While Mueller factored himself into the picture every night and played like a top-rated prospect, the most potent of the tourney was the Martin Hanzal line. With Enver Lisin and Latendresse, this line worked extremely hard, put up points and generated a lot of buzz.
Hanzal was a strong presence up the middle because of his skating, quick hands and overall mobility. He worked hard down low and showed to ability to work hard both with and without the puck.
Tournament head coach Pat Conacher was impressed with this line and all of his players, but he was especially impressed with Hanzal’s play.
“Martin Hanzal played very well for us,” said Conacher. “He was probably our best forward every day and every shift.”
Lisin added top-notch speed and maneuverability, which made him very dangerous. He showcased some all-star offensive talent and wasn’t afraid to try and make the big play even if he had to pay the price to do so.
“Enver Lisin added a lot of speed,” said Eddie Mio,Coyotes Director of Player Development. “He gave us something we didn’t have a lot of in the last few tournaments.”
And for Latendresse, his overall ability and tenacity blended very well with his equally skilled linemates.
“I liked playing with (Martin) Hanzal and (Enver) Lisin,” he said. “They’re very skilled players but they play very hard. They’re not soft players and that’s what I like about them.”
Former college standouts Bill Thomas and Daniel Winnik also played a strong tournament for the Coyotes. Thomas, having already seen action in nine games NHL games last season, showed to be a strong skater with the above average instincts and natural ability. Winnik on the other hand, was impressive on both of the ends but as he shown in the past, his presence and poise on the forecheck can be a problem for struggling defenses.
For the second straight year, Coyotes young enforcer Kevin Cormier has come into the tournament better than the year prior. While his ice time was limited because of his role, he still got two fights in. He won one over Anaheim’s Nathan Saunders and the other being a wash with San Jose’s Jonathan Tremblay. More surprising, Cormier’s skating and stickhandling has improved profusely. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be pushing for top six minutes, rather it shows his willingness to improve important aspects to better his overall game. He’s also got a tremendous amount of character and strong leadership qualities.
Martin Latal and Liam Lindstrom’s performances were a push. Both worked hard and threw the body around a little bit but still needs that season in North America to help them make the transition. Latal has the skill and quickness to be very dangerous, but there was not enough time for him to get comfortable enough to be a force. Lindstrom, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have his legs under him at times. He should continue to focus on assimilating himself to the flow of the game and the systems in order to increase his overall effectiveness.
The strong point of the Coyotes system as of late has been defense, as it showed when opposing offenses found it increasingly hard to score on the team at even strength.
Matt Jones, who was also the team’s captain, was the strongest defensive-defenseman on the squad. Propelled by his skating ability and willingness to attack, he stood out by far among the others, playing his zone very tight and shutting down the opposition.
For the second year, Logan Stephenson, the Coyotes other defensive-defenseman, came in and was relatively quiet, but had a good performance. He’s still the gritty defender that the Coyotes drafted two years ago. He just seems to have refined his approach bit, playing with a smarter calculated game. He’s got great positioning and is a force to reckon with in his own zone, but he was a little edgy handling the puck and moving it up the ice on the breakout. There shouldn’t be much concern, as the season gets closer Stephenson should be ready to go and back in form.
Keith Yandle had a very impressive tourney. He was by far the team’s strongest two-way defenseman, while he finished the tournament tied with Mueller and three others for the lead in scoring with his six points (2 goals, 4 assists). Not only did he display his ability to join in the attack and help score, but Yandle also showed a lot of poise defending his own zone. The only thing that hurt his cause was his inability to distribute the puck quickly and effectively from the point. It is going to be addressed and it’s something that he shouldn’t have a problem grasping and only make him stronger.
“He came off a strong year in the QMJHL and he’s showed it here,” Mio said of Yandle.
Coyotes newcomer Jordan Bendfeld was another prospect who had an average tournament. He was a little shaky and a step off pace to start, but he would settle down as the tournament progressed.
Phoenix had a solid tandem between the pipes this year with 2005 second round draft pick Pier-Olivier Pelletier and free agent acquisition Josh Tordjman. The two went on to split time in the net, seeing action in two games apiece.
Pelletier got off to rough start in the first contest, which also happened to be his first contest since shutting it down last season for surgery to repair his hip. He bounced back and had a solid game against the Kings. He was a little rusty, but he showed a lot of promise and he should be on road to making a full comeback this season.
The bigger story was Tordjman, who was one of the better goalies in the tournament. He showed a lot of focus, control and patience in net. He worked on getting low, picking up the puck and controlling his rebounds.
“He has showed us a lot,” said Mio. “He’s a turning out to be pretty good pick-up this offseason.”
For the last two years at the tournament, Coyotes management has optimistically held out for the day that they could line up their prospects and be able to match them step for step with the prospects of their division rivals. They were able to do that this year, but as far as adding prospects and the CBA goes, they’ll have to continue to draft well and find key free agents to keep a level of balance.
“The tournament is very important,” Mio said. “It’s not just a camp to bring a rookie team out here to compete in the tournament. You have to dangle the carrot in front of these kids so they go out there and play hard and we can see what they’re about and so we can get a good evaluation on them.”
With respect to the 2003 team who also won the tournament, this was by far one of the Coyotes’ most talented rosters in the history of the tournament. The biggest elements that worked for Phoenix this summer were the obvious amount of skill, talent and determination.
“There was a perfect mix,” center Winnik said. “We had some great scorers in Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Bill Thomas and Enver Lisin. There were some good defensemen too and it ended up being a perfect mix.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.