Coyotes Top 20 prospects

By Jeff Dahlia

The Phoenix Coyotes organization has come out and publicly stated that it is committed to rebuilding through its youth. While the cupboard is not necessarily stacked with elite talent, there are enough quality prospects within the system to get the process started. The core group of future difference makers continue to progress, while some others are struggling to keep pace.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Peter Mueller
2. Martin Hanzal
3. Matt Jones
4. Keith Yandle
5. Alexei Kaigorodov
6. Blake Wheeler
7. Kevin Porter 
8. Enver Lisin
9. David LeNeveu
10. Bill Thomas
11. Chris Summers
12. Logan Stephenson
13. Brendan Bell
14. Dmitri Pestunov
15. Josh Tordjman
16. Pier-Olivier Pelletier
17. Tyler Redenbach
18. Sean Sullivan
19. Daniel Winnik
20. Chad Kolarik

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (1) Peter Mueller, C
1st Round, 8th – 2006, 19, 6’2, 205

After nearly making the Coyotes this season out of training camp, Peter Mueller took his momentum back to the Everett Silvertips in the WHL. He went on to finish second on the team in scoring and 13th overall in the league with 78 points (21 goals, 57 assists) in 51 games. Not only did he put up the points, but he also took on a big leadership role. He led by example and got others around him to buy into the system and perform at higher levels. This helped the Silvertips earn their first ever regular-season championship.

There is no other prospect within the organization who could step into the Phoenix lineup next season and make a sizeable impact. Mueller has the skills and sensibility to do just that. He thrives under pressure and likes to be the go-to guy. He’s very humble and modest, but he’s not afraid to challenge his teammates when needed.

2. (6) Martin Hanzal, C
1st Round, 17th – 2005, 20, 6’4, 198

Many questioned if Martin Hanzal had the mental fortitude to handle all the moving around last year. There shouldn’t be doubts he’s a legitimate prospect at this point in his development.

Having joined the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL, Hanzal was able to excel at all facets of his game over the entire season. He went on to lead the Rebels – and all rookies in scoring – with 85 points (26 points, 59 assists) in 60 games played. He played all areas on the ice and showed a lot of poise and determination.

Hanzal is yet another key piece in the Coyotes future. He has stepped up to every challenge placed before him over the last few years and has exceeded many expectations. There’s a good chance he could sneak in and earn a roster spot in the 2007-08 season with the Coyotes but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he fine tunes his game a bit with Phoenix’s AHL affiliate first.

3. (4) Matt Jones, D
3rd Round, 80th – 2002, 23, 6’1, 210

It was never a matter if Matt Jones was going to play in the NHL, rather when he would be able to stick in the league. Heading into the 2006-07 season, Phoenix was already stocked with capable blueliners, so the plan was to have Jones playing every night in the AHL with San Antonio until he could get consistent time playing with the Coyotes.

With the exception of a couple brief stints with the Rampage throughout the season, Jones ended up with the Coyotes for the majority of the year. He has since earned a steady position in the lineup as Phoenix has seen some of their defensemen go down to injuries.

In 37 games, the defensive defenseman has earned five points (1 goal, 4 assists) and is averaging 16:26 minutes a game. He also has a modest 35 penalty minutes. Jones’ most impressive quality is his ability to adapt so well to the NHL game without losing his ability to deliver punishing style. He’ll make opposing forwards pay the price.  He should stick with the team full time next year.

4. (5) Keith Yandle, D
4th Round, 105th – 2005, 20, 6’2, 195

Keith Yandle wowed everyone in his first and only MVP season with Moncton in QMJHL last year. While his numbers are nowhere close to that in San Antonio this year – 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) in 60 games played – his development is right on track.

The Coyotes are very confident in his above-average offensive instincts. They believed in him so much that they gave him a taste of the NHL at the start of the season. What they needed him to do was to go to San Antonio and tighten up his overall game. All indications show that Yandle has responded.

It wouldn’t be totally surprising if Yandle were transitioned into a full-time role with the Coyotes a lot sooner than originally expected. Adding him to an already young and impressive defense unit will make other aging and under-producing blueliners expendable.

5. (NR) Alexei Kaigorodov, C
Trade with Ottawa – 2006, 23, 6’1, 181

Kaigorodov makes his debut on the Coyotes Top 20 after being picked up in a trade that sent Mike Comrie to the Ottawa Senators in early January. Kaigorodov started the 2006-07 season with the Senators, but when Ottawa reassigned him to their AHL team in Binghamton, he refused to report and went back home to Russia.

Playing with Metallurg Magnitogorsk for the rest of the regular season and well into the playoffs, Kaigorodov has reemerged one of Russia’s top young talents. In 32 regular season games in the Super League, he collected 17 points (6 goals, 11 points) and was a plus-6. In four playoff games, he has a lone assist and six penalty minutes, as Metallurg has been perfect so far in postseason play.

The Coyotes are very familiar with Kaigorodov’s situation with the Senators as they went through the same process with Enver Lisin. Phoenix, like Ottawa, believed in the crafty Kaigorodov’s ability. Phoenix, however, is willing to show a little more patience and hopes the gamble will pay off. To the Coyotes advantage, they feel they have a place for Kaigorodov on their roster next season. His talent level and ability are not in question, only his desire to do what it takes to stay and play in the NHL.

6. (7) Blake Wheeler, RW
1st Round, 5th – 2004, 20, 6’3, 185

Blake Wheeler has finally arrived. After scoring a phenomenal game-winning goal over the University of North Dakota to earn the Gophers a WCHA title, Wheeler was the talk of college hockey.  He wrapped up his sophomore season with the University of Minnesota this weekend as they fell to UND in the NCAA tournament.  This year, Wheeler scored 38 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 44 games, which was a good improvement from the 2005-06 season.

Wheeler needs to continue to grow every day with every opportunity. He’s got the size, skill and heart. Moving forward, he needs to come out with a bit more consistency and drive every night. The Coyotes would probably love to have him turn pro after his junior year. However, Wheeler might better off playing out his four years. While that is far from being settled, there is a lot of confidence and positive momentum in the Phoenix and Wheeler camps. Power forwards with his size usually take a bit longer to mature, so there is a recognition of patience.

7. (8) Kevin Porter, C
4th Round, 119th – 2004, 21, 5’11, 194

Kevin Porter is turning into the all-around player Phoenix envisioned he would become. A leader on numerous levels, Porter continues to make the most of his experience at the University of Michigan under Red Berenson. For three straight seasons, he has continually advanced his game and has proven he can play with and play against the best in the nation.

Porter’s offensive game is in very healthy shape. He’s racked up 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 41 games played, which is good for second in team scoring and third overall in the nation. Not only can he generate offensive, but Porter’s defensive game is equally strong.

There has been some speculation that Porter could headed out of Ann Arbor as soon as this summer. The Coyotes would love to grab him if they’re committed to sticking to the youth movement. If he ends up staying at Michigan, expect him to be the team’s top forward and team captain.

8. (2) Enver Lisin, RW
2nd Round, 50th – 2004, 21, 6’1, 185

Enver Lisin fell six spots on the list and questions about his overall maturity loom. He also left North America after refusing reassignment to the Rampage. Having a hard time adjusting in the NHL and leading all players with the league’s worst plus/minus early on, Lisin returned to Ak Bars Kazan in Russia’s Super League for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.

Lisin played in 17 contests for the Coyotes, earning two points (a goal and an assist). Back home in with Ak Bars he scored eight points (6 goals, 2 assists) in the last 20 regular season games. In the playoffs, he has yet to see action.

The Coyotes are optimistic that they will have Lisin back next season when he can give it a second go. Having someone like Kaigorodov by his side, a much younger squad and key veterans, he could continue to improve to into the sniper they feel they drafted three years ago. All signs point to the atmosphere being ideal for Lisin to succeed once he settles in.

9. (3) David LeNeveu, G
2nd Round, 46th – 2002, 24, 6’1, 187

In what will be his last stop on the Coyotes Top 20 due to age, David LeNeveu‘s stock has fallen in the rankings. There are a lot of questions surrounding the young netminder. Whether he still isn’t ready for the NHL or he hasn’t been given a chance to honestly prove himself, he didn’t fare well early this year. Add in the numerous moves Phoenix made to shore up the position, and the speculation grew. Many started to ask whether he truly was the best goalie for the Coyotes future.

Having consistently played with San Antonio since December, LeNeveu has nearly split time with rookie Josh Tordjman. LeNeveu’s somewhat inconsistent play is what stands out the most. He has a stretch of games where he has does exceptionally well, and then he seems to fall off. LeNeveu’s biggest attribute is his ability to bounce back. His perseverance has kept his numbers respectable, regardless of his relapses.

Playing behind and young and sometimes suspect defense, LeNeveu has been able to piece together a 12-18-2 record with a 3.06 goals-against-average, and a .905 save percentage in 34 games. Usually in the fourth year in the AHL goalies would start to show some substantial gains, however, he is on pace to turn in his worst totals in his pro career.

10. (14) Bill Thomas, RW
Signed as Free Agent – 2006, 23, 6’1, 185

Spending the majority of the season in the AHL, Bill Thomas earned 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 47 games with the Rampage. He earned a spot on the PlanetUSA team for the AHL All-Star game, but the Coyotes came calling instead.

In his second call-up with the Coyotes, Thomas is showing why the franchise lured him away from the University of Nebraska-Omaha last year. He’s not a suberb skater, but Thomas generates offense and does what it takes to score goals. He has been averaging decent minutes and in the last few contests, he’s starting to show that he’s nearing the pace of the league.

Thomas will outwork opponents to get the job done. He has some work in his own end to do to tighten up, but he’s proven he can put up points. In 17 games so far, he’s earned 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists).

11. (9) Chris Summers, D
1st Round, 29th – 2006, 19, 6’1, 180

After playing defense for the majority of his freshman season at the University of Michigan, Chris Summers ended the year up front for the Wolverines. Having been blessed with a natural skating ability, Summers was moved up to the left wing with linemates Andrew Cogliano and Chad Kolarik. It proved to be a good move, exposing Summers’ offensive ability.

Focusing more on his defense, Summers didn’t fare that well from a statistical standpoint. However, when he moved up for the last 10 games his numbers picked up dramatically. He finished the season with 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in 41 games played.

It will be interesting to see what head coach Red Berenson has in mind for Summers going forward. With the Los Angeles Kings signing Jack Johnson and the graduation of Matt Hunwick, one would expect Summers to slide into the top pairing with Mark Mitera next year. Regardless of where he lands, Summers will be one of the Wolverines top players next year.

12. (12) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 21, 6’3, 197

Logan Stephenson has had a good transition year for the Coyotes in San Antonio. After turning in quite the offensive performance in his last season with Tri-City in the WHL, this year it’s back to his primary defensive-defenseman role.

His strongest attributes are playing the body and creating headaches for opposing forwards, something he has done with much efficiency this year. His numbers are indicative of his defensive-first approach. In 69 games he’s earned seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) and racked up 90 penalty minutes. The most impressive stat that sticks out would be Stephenson’s even plus/minus rating on a struggling team.

The Coyotes are hoping that Stephenson will continue to develop into one of their top shutdown defensemen of the future. He should be expected to make the club in a season or so.

13. (NR) Brendan Bell, D
Trade with Toronto, 23, 6’1, 205

At the trade deadline, the Coyotes acquired Brendan Bell and second round draft choice in 2008 from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Yanic Perreault and fifth round draft choice in 2008. Bell came right to Phoenix and played immediately. Averaging roughly 15 minutesin just eight games in a Coyotes uniform, Bell has only earned two assists, two penalty minutes and has a minus-5 rating. Overall, he has seen action in a total of 39 NHL contests between the two teams this year, has earned seven points (1 goal, 6 assists), is a minus-8 and has logged 23 penalty minutes.

Bell has yet to show his offensive explosiveness, but the Coyotes are banking on his successful history as an offensive defenseman. He has made strong transitions throughout the levels thus far and has steadily progressed through his development. While he only has six more games this year to show Phoenix what he’s capable of, it’s safe to say that he’ll be considered for a role next fall. Adding him only adds more depth to an already deep and talented pool of future rearguards.

14. (13) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 22, 5’9, 196

Phoenix was hoping it would get Dmitri Pestunov over to North America this past summer. That didn’t happen as he remained in Russia for the 2006-07.

Pestunov continued his career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and turned in another productive year. Having played the majority of the season with well-established wingers in Ed Kudermetov and Ravil Gusmanov, Pestunov was the team’s fifth leading scorer with 23 points (5 goals, 23 assists) in 53 regular season games. He has also seen action in three of Metallurg’s five playoff games. He has been held scoreless, though Magnitogorsk has remained perfect so far.

It’s really no surprise Pestunov didn’t come over seeing how Metallurg was getting ready to brace itself for the Evgeni Malkin rights fight. While they’re not the same caliber of player, Pestunov is a strong-skating, crafty pivot who could strive in the new young environment the Coyotes are trying to create. Whether next season is the year he makes his debut is still uncertain. Given the fact Lisin and Kaigorodov (who also happens to be Pestunov’s teammate back in Russia) are headed back, he may finally be inclined to make that jump.

15. (NR) Josh Tordjman, G
Signed as Free Agent – 2005, 22, 6’1, 155

In his rookie season, Josh Tordjman has far exceeded a lot of expectations and has been quite the pickup for the Coyotes. After starting the season with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the ECHL, Tordjman made the jump to the AHL when the Coyotes reshuffled their goalies. As the starting goalie for San Antonio when LeNeveu was up with the Coyotes, Tordjman jumped in and did an excellent job.

Practically splitting time, Tordjman has outplayed LeNeveu, posting a 12-13-0 record, 2.62 goals against average, and a .919 save percentage, putting him in the top end of the league.

As his first regular season closes out, Tordjman has turned in very encouraging numbers. He is very athletic and very well balanced. His weight has been a heavily discussed topic because it’s been hard for him to keep any on. Regardless of that minor issue at this part of his development, he gives the Coyotes another promising prospective netminder to keep in the fold.

16. Pier-Oliver Pelletier, G
2nd Round, 59th – 2005, 20, 6’1, 175

The 2006-07 season has been all about vindication for goalie prospect Pier-Olivier Pelletier. After missing the majority of last year due to a torn labrum, Pelletier was determined to come back this season in top shape. He was a little rusty this summer, but once he got back into a regular routine, Pelletier started to regain his form.

After having a couple bouts of inconsistency his overall numbers for the QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs were good all things considered. He turned in 29-18 record, 2.97 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. All of these stats were well within the top 10 among goalies in the league.

Pelletier has graciously gotten past a lot of hurdles this past season. He is well on his way to returning to full strength. He should still prove to be a worthwhile goaltender.

17. (NR) Tyler Redenbach, C
Trade with Boston – 2006, 22, 6’0, 190

The Coyotes walked away from Tyler Redenbach at the end of the 2004-05 season only to watch him sign on with the AHL Providence Bruins last year and finish 11th overall in rookie scoring. Well into this season, Phoenix had a chance to make up for not signing him by trading with Boston for him, which they did. Having come back into the organization, Redenbach’s performance continues to be positive.

While he’s a bit behind last year’s totals, he does show an innate ability to create chances and providing scoring. He’s currently coming off a 15-game layoff due to injury. Redenbach was reassigned to the Coyotes ECHL affiliate the Roadrunners. He has scored 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) in 43 games between Providence and San Antonio this so far this year.

18. (17) Sean Sullivan, D
9th Round, 272nd – 2003, 23, 6’0, 190

Sean Sullivan just wrapped up his collegiate career with the Boston University Terriers, and he’ll probably be in a San Antonio Rampage uniform sometime this week. Upon his exit, the Terriers team captain was named to Hockey’s East first team and earned the league’s best defensive-defenseman award.

Reflective of his entire career at BU, Sullivan has been a silent hero for the Terriers. At the collegiate level these past years, there are few other defensemen who can play with such smarts, poise and tenacity while protecting their own zone. It goes to show just how valuable Sullivan was, seeing that he took all of 12 minutes in penalties all year. In 38 games, he scored 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists). San Antonio would be the next logical step for Sullivan. The tough as nails defender would be a welcome addition for the Rampage.

19. (11) Daniel Winnik, C
9th Round, 265th – 2004, 22, 6’2, 210

After leaving the University of New Hampshire where he turned in a spectacular junior season, Daniel Winnik would have never envisioned that he would be taking a couple steps backward in his development this year. Having started the 2006-07 season with the Rampage, Winnik has been twice demoted to the Roadrunners in the ECHL. Both stays weren’t long and he hasn’t found the touch that made him all-star caliber player he was when he left the Wildcats.

In 57 games for the Rampage, Winnik has only notched 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) and 28 penalty minutes. In the short stints with the Roadrunners, he played in five games and earned six points (all assists).

In retrospect, compared to the firepower back at UNH last year and the lack of it in San Antonio now, Winnik is suffering from a huge offensive slow down. Over the past few years, the Coyotes top farm team has lacked true offensive flair. While some of that can be attributed to Winnik and that of other players in San Antonio, a lot of his current and future development relies on his ability to complete the transition. If he pulls through, Winnik should prove his worth come next season.

20. (19) Chad Kolarik, C
7th Round, 199th – 2004, 21, 5’10, 185

Over the last three seasons at the University of Michigan, Chad Kolarik has turned into one heck of a sniper. He saw top minutes for the Wolverines, and he increased his point total for the third consecutive year. He finished the year with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games played, which ranked him among the top 25 scorers in the nation. He was one of the top skaters in Ann Arbor and has really defined himself as a heart-and-soul type of individual. He plays with a noticeable edge, but the only minor setback is that he lets his emotions get the best of him at times, and they spill over in games. Even though he’s more offensive minded, Kolarik can pitch in on both ends of the ice and in all situations.

Expect Kolarik to return to the Wolverines next season. He has first line potential and with T. J. Hensick graduating, he should  be one of the team’s top seniors.

Missing the cut

Olivier Latendresse, C
Signed as Free Agent – 2004, 21, 5’10, 190

After tearing up the QMJHL as an overager with Val-d’Or last season, things haven’t gonewell for Oliver Latendresse this season. Having started the season with the Rampage and making a minimal impact, Latendresse was jettisoned off to the Roadrunners.

In 42 games for the Roadrunners, Latendresse has scored 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). As for his two short-lived stints in San Antonio, the LaSalle, Quebec native saw action in 17 games earning 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists).

Finishing out his junior career, Latendresse was known around the ‘Q’ as a tenacious two-way pivot with explosive offensive ability. The Coyotes were hoping that that would have carried over this immediately; but it appears that Latendresse’s transition is coming around a bit slower than anticipated. His stock has plummeted as it’s not clear if his game is suited for the pros.

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