Coyotes junior prospects update

By Jeff Dahlia

The Phoenix Coyotes currently have six prospects playing in junior. The prospects are split down the middle with three in the WHL and three in the QMJHL. Positionally, there are four forwards, one defenseman and one goaltender.

WHL

Peter Mueller, C – Everett Silvertips
Drafted 2006, 1st round, 8th overall

After turning in a stellar freshman campaign and earning the league’s rookie of the year honors, Peter Mueller is back with the Everett Silvertips and is already off to a hot start. Though he missed four games at the beginning of the season playing in the Coyotes preseason games, Mueller didn’t waste any time getting back into the flow of things back in Everett.

Boasting a league-leading 1.85 points-per-game average and quickly closing in of the league’s scoring lead – he currently ranks fourth overall – with 37 points (7 goals, 30 assists) in 20 games played, the Bloomington, Minnesota native continues to develop into the dynamic player many expected to see. Mueller is playing a strong overall game and has a strong on-ice presence. He’s stepped it up by controlling games and making things happen on a consistent basis. He’s also found a lot of success running the team’s power play from the point, replacing defenseman Shaun Heshka, who signed an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks over the summer.

Tips’ head coach Kevin Constantine attributes Mueller’s early success to a year’s experience in the league, an elevated level of confidence and most of all, his willingness to step up and take on a full-time leadership role. Having spent the first season trying to find his own way and trying to develop his game in the new league, things are quite the opposite this year. According to Constantine, he feels Mueller has come back and with a wealth of knowledge, experience, skill and ability, turned it outwards and has become more of team player who pushes his teammates and himself to compete at higher levels.

As the Silvertips continue to play strongly and remain one of the league’s top teams, Constantine hopes Mueller’s determined approach helps lead the way.

Martin Hanzal, C – Red Deer Rebels
Drafted 2005, 1st round, 17th overall

Having bounced around last season between countries and leagues, Martin Hanzal has found a steady home and a steady system this year while playing in the heart of Alberta with the Red Deer Rebels.

On a learning curve since he stepped on North American soil late last season, Red Deer Rebels head Coach Brent Sutter stated Hanzal has shown to be a completely different player from last year and his production has backed that up. He currently leads the league in scoring with 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 28 games played. He also carries a plus-14 and has logged 40 penalty minutes.

While Hanzal has shown his prowess up front, he has been used in all situations and is showing strides in all facets of the game. Sutter feels Hanzal, like all his players, has room to grow, but he believes his determination to be that go-to guy has helped his own cause.

Hanzal has all the skill and ability to continue to be one of the best players in the league, but a chink in his armor has shown that he needs to be challenged on occasion. The Rebels coaching staff has worked with him to reinforce what it is going to take to play at a top level every night and even at the next level. He has been very receptive and it should be no surprise how quickly he has snapped back. Sutter added that he feels that Hanzal is currently playing some of his best hockey, with a strong presence in Red Deer’s last six contests and is optimistic that more is to come from the aspiring Czech pivot.

Jordan Bendfeld, D – Medicine Hat Tigers
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 152nd overall

In his third season with Medicine Hat, Jordan Bendfeld continues to develop into the tough defensive-defenseman the Coyotes felt they were getting on draft day at June. Playing on a very talented squad and making respectable strides in his game, Bendfeld has been a consistent force on the blue line for the Tigers. Closing in on the halfway point of the season, he is on pace to eclipse his previous numbers with ease.

Bendfeld has had six fights, scored nine points (2 goals, 7 assists), racked up 65 penalty minutes and is a plus-1 in 30 games played.

QMJHL

Pier-Olivier Pelletier, G – Drummondville Voltiguers
Drafted 2005, 2nd round, 59th overall

Pier-Olivier Pelletier was happy to be back in net for Drummondville this season after missing the majority of the 2005-06 season with a torn labrum. He got off to a rough start to the new year before he missed about a month due to a thumb injury. Returning the second week of November, he came back and played brilliantly in his first three contests but followed those up with two of his weaker games this year. But Pelletier has proven no matter you throw at him he is going to come back hard and fight it out on the ice every night. He is currently playing some of his better and most consistent hockey as of late.

After somewhat of a rollercoaster ride statistically, Pelletier’s better games are starting to pull his numbers within respectable margins. He currently has a record of 7-6-0, a 3.39 goals against average and a .893 save percentage in 15 games played. He has stopped 392 of 439 shots and is averaging 31.7 shots per game.

Kevin Cormier, C – Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted 2004, 6th round, 168th overall

Heading into the new season, Kevin Cormier had a big decision to make. After signing an entry-level contract with the Coyotes, he would have been sent outright to the Phoenix Roadrunners in the ECHL because Phoenix had three enforcers in the system between their NHL and AHL squads. On the other hand, he could request to stay closer to home and continue to develop on other aspects of his game in the QMJHL. Haven taken the latter, Cormier was able to get his rights traded to the Rimouski Oceanic. This has also afforded him the chance to play with his younger brother, Patrice Cormier (2008 eligible).

It should come as no surprise that Cormier leads the Oceanic with 77 penalty minutes. He has also scored nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 24 games and is a minus-4.

The Oceanic are in another rebuilding year. This has allowed Cormier the chance to get consistent ice time. While other aspects such as skating and his overall stick work have seen some improvement, he has also stepped up into a leadership role as one of the alternate captains.

Martin Latal, RW – P.E.I Rocket
Drafted 2006, 5th round, 131st overall

In his rookie season the Rocket, Martin Latal is off to a slow start. After going scoreless in his first five games, he started to turn things around by scoring eight points in the next six games. Since the start of November, Latal has been hit and miss, and has pretty much flown under the radar.

He has seen time in all situations and is a decent skater with quick hands and nice control of the stick. P.E.I is hovering around the middle of the pack in the league and could use an added boost from the capable right winger.

In 25 games played, Latal has scored a total of 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists), has 32 penalty minutes and is a minus-9.

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