Coyotes AHL prospects update

By Jeff Dahlia

The San Antonio Rampage roster was reworked in the summer and this was supposed to be a big transition year. At the behest of the Phoenix Coyotes management, the farm team brought in proven veterans to blend with a fresh wave of incoming talent. The plan was well thought out and executed well, though the team seems to be going nowhere fast and it appears as if another gloomy ending is on the horizon.

With a 15-22-1-1 record and 32 points, San Antonio sits last in the West Division and second to last in the Western Conference. They have scored 109 goals, but given up 142. The team’s power play ranks 16th overall in the league, while their penalty-kill ranks 17th out of 27 teams.

The Coyotes currently have 11 prospects holding roster spots. A 12th prospect, Enver Lisin, was suspended by the Coyotes after he failed to report after a demotion from Phoenix. Lisin has subsequently returned to his native Russia and is playing for his old team Ak Bars Kazan.

Here is how the rest of the prospects have fared to date.

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The Coyotes currently have prospects Bill Thomas, Randall Gelech, Jakub Koreis, Daniel Winnik and Tyler Redenbach playing up front for the Rampage. Thomas has emerged as a consistent force, leading all prospects in scoring with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 39 games played, which is third on the team and good for 20th overall in rookie scoring in the league. Although he’s on a five-game scoreless streak, as has proven in the past, he will find the ways to get onto the scoring sheet more times than not.

Gelech’s scoring has picked up and he’s on pace to turn in his best pro offensive season. He has 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists), has logged 43 penalty minutes and has a sub-par minus-11 rating. Don’t be worried if the sturdy two-way forward’s output is a lot more infrequent than that of the rest of the squad. He’s still your typical unsung hero and will do whatever it takes to help the team win.

The oft-enigmatic Koreis has even elevated his game. At times, he has looked a bit more in control of his game and more comfortable at this pace. He currently sits at 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games.

Winnik is making strides in his first pro season and still has a ways to go. His numbers aren’t earth shattering, but you could expect him to start show a lot steady progress towards the latter part of the year. If you look at his progression while playing at the University of New Hampshire, it took the former Wildcat a little more than a season to start making an impact night in and night out. In 33 games played, he has 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists), 18 penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.

Redenbach is back with the Coyotes organization after the franchise let him walk at the signing deadline. He played in the Boston Bruins system in Providence last year and towards the start of this season, but returned as he was part of the Phillipe Sauve deal. He’s already proven he can play at this level, so it will be interesting when and if he can help the rest of the team ignite the offense. To date, he’s seen action in 20 contests for San Antonio and has scored 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) and is a minus-8.

Defense

Matt Jones once again leads the young and promising core of the Coyotes defense. However, he is subsequently playing up with the parent club due to shortages though injuries. Beyond Jones, the Rampage is currently icing prospects Keith Yandle, Logan Stephenson, Joe Callahan and Matt Spiller.

Yandle is the offensive specialist out of the bunch and it should be not surprise that he leads all the prospective blueliners with 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) in 28 games played. Having started his first pro season with the Coyotes this year, the team sent the young rearguard down to San Antonio in order to get him consistent playing time to help his overall development. He’s really shifty and productive, but still needs some fine-tuning on his coverage responsibilities and offensive urges. He is a minus-8 on the season.

Stephenson, who is also in his first pro season, got off to a rocky start but has since settled down and is currently playing a lot more disciplined and stronger in his end. His six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 37 games is a far cry from that of last season (his last with Tri-City in the WHL), only because the franchise is looking for to him be able to fit into a solid defensive-defensemen role.  He does however have a decent minus-2 rating considering the circumstances and has registered 62 penalty minutes, which ranks second on the team.

As for the more experienced of the bunch, both Callahan and Spiller haven’t done much to be excited about. While Callahan has tightened up his game a bit, Spiller leads the team with 99 penalty minutes, having had his share of fights.

Goalies

The most promising story so far this season is the rise of newcomer, Josh Tordjman. Entering his first pro season, the free-agent signee started making noise by playing solid in camp and then playing just as strong with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the ECHL. After weathering a goaltending shake-up from the top down, he was promoted to the Rampage and has emerged as a very steady and reliable netminder. He has a winning record of 8-7-1, his 2.39 goals-against-average ranks ninth in the league (second for all rookies) and his .924 save percentage ranks fourth in the league and is also good for second among rookie goalies. If he can continue to produce at this pace and be as effective, don’t be surprised if the troops continue to rally around him. He could be the spark the Rampage needs.

As for the Coyotes other young netminder David LeNeveu, things seem to be headed in the opposite direction. After failing to step it up for the franchise at the NHL level, and even with the trade that brought goalie Mikael Tellqvist over from Toronto, it’s probably a safe bet that he’s working his way out of the Coyotes future plans. Having been billed as Phoenix’s ace netminder of the future, LeNeveu seems to have to fallen from the franchise’s graces. His less than spectacular play in San Antonio has earned him a 3-10-0 record, a 3.96 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage. However, there seems to be a bigger battle being waged between the ears.

Analysis

The team has had its fair share of being victimized in runaway contests. For the most part, they are losing a lot more of the closer games. More times than not, the team spends the majority of its nights playing in the hole or surrendering leads. They have the ability to remain in a lot of games, but they simply can’t finish on the majority of the nights.

It is no secret that the franchise has tried time and time again to end the futility at this level. However, it is concerning that with all the retooling over the last three seasons alone, they haven’t been able to produce a winning environment. There is still time to salvage this season, but it will be very difficult. The window of opportunity is closing and it’s going to be interesting to see who’s standing on the outside looking in if the ship can’t be righted.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.