Phoenix Coyotes hope late round picks can develop in NCAA and Europe

By Mitchell Brandner

Alexander Ruuttu - Team Finland

Photo: Finnish forward Alexander Ruuttu has yet to break through in the SM-liiga, but after a mid-season trade from Jokerit to Ilves, he could get a bigger shot in 2013-14 (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Thanks to most of their NCAA prospects recently making the jump to professional hockey, the Phoenix Coyotes do not have a large number of European and collegiate prospects. Fortunately for them, the ones they do have continue to get better with each passing season. From adjusting in their freshman seasons to being introduced to the European professional leagues, most of these prospects enjoyed successful seasons in 2012-13.

Though it is not a guarantee that any of these players will play professional hockey in North America, their development shows a lot of promise, especially for two of the players currently playing the NCAA. Outside of Alexander Ruuttu, these prospects were drafted late, which could provide some extra motivation for them to succeed. From speedy wingers to bruising defensemen, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect pool in the NCAA and Europe has it all, except a goaltender.

Europe

Alexander Ruuttu, C/RW, Ilves (SM-liiga)
Drafted in the 2nd round, 51st overall, 2011

A speedy winger with great defensive play, Alexander Ruuttu has yet to break out offensively in Finland’s top professional league. He had some success posting 26 points in 35 games in the second division, but it looks likely that Ruuttu will never be much of an offensive factor.

Unfortunately for Ruuttu, the Phoenix Coyotes have many prospects that are good in their own zone, so he will need to continue to try and develop his offensive game in order to put himself above the other young players in the system.

Niklas Tikkinen, D, Espoo Blues (SM-liiga)
Drafted in the 5th round, 148th overall, 2012

Recently converted to a defenseman, Niklas Tikkinen got his first taste of SM-liiga hockey this season. After posting 18 points in 14 games for the Blues junior club, Tikkinen had eight points in 25 games in the top division.
 
Being a former forward, Tikkinen uses his offensive instincts to his advantage as his skating and puck skills are his best assets. His defensive game could use some work and he needs to get bigger and stronger in order for that to happen. Until then, Tikkinen will make a good powerplay quarterback and continue to excel in the transition game.

NCAA

Samuel Fejes, LW, Colorado College Tigers (WCHA)
Drafted in the 6th round, 178th overall, 2012

It is said that you cannot teach hockey sense. Fortunately for Samuel Fejes, not only does he possess great hockey sense, it is probably the best aspect of his game. He had a decent freshman season at Colorado College despite putting up less-than-stellar offensive numbers, leading the Tigers' freshman class with eight goals and 14 points in 41 games. As he gets older and matures both physically and mentally, Fejes will be relied upon more and more to have an impact at both ends of the ice.

Zac Larraza, LW, Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
Drafted in the 7th round, 196th overall, 2011

After a weak freshman season offensively, Zac Larraza quadrupled his scoring output this season. With 21 points in 36 games, Larraza is clearly getting more comfortable with the NCAA style of play. His patience and confidence with the puck has made a big difference in his game this season. He has gotten stronger and faster this season and he is not as timid as he was as a freshman. He plays without fear and reads the game very well. If he can continue to develop at this pace, he could be a late round gem for the Coyotes.

Rhett Holland, D, Michigan State Spartans (CCHA)
Drafted in the 4th round, 102nd overall, 2012

After playing just three games in his freshman year, Rhett Holland’s season was cut short by injury. Although he lost an important developmental year, Holland will have to continue to work on his all-around game in order to have a successful collegiate career. Holland is purely a defensive-defenseman who is no stranger to the punishing body check. At 6’2, 220 pound, Holland effectively uses his size to punish opposing forwards as well as his defensive awareness and good positioning skills to eliminate threats in his own zone.

Because Holland lost basically the entire season, he will have to use his sophomore year to adjust to the NCAA game. If he can do that, it will be a huge step in the right direction.