Coyotes junior prospects season review

By Jeff Dahlia

All six of the Coyotes junior players showed areas of improvement in their games this year. Individually, each had significant roles on their squads and all were instrumental in helping their teams reach the postseason. With the exception of one player out west, all head into the summer with a chance to reflect, and get ready to coordinate offseason training in preparation for the next step in their development. 

WHL

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

Mueller followed up his rookie campaign with an equally impressive sophomore season with the Everett Silvertips by helping the team capture the U.S. Division title and the Scotty Munro Trophy for best overall record in WHL. Having continued to progress due to skill, ability and the benefit of a talented roster, the pivot lived up to the expectations this year. Though he was rested towards the end of the season due to illness, he soared in later months, which proved to be huge for the squad even when they hit a rough stretch.

Mueller turned in 78 points (21 goals, 57 assists) in 51 games played. He had 45 penalty minutes and was a plus-6. When the Tips entered the post season, it was Mueller who led the charge, scoring 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) in 12 games. Unfortunately, Everett and Mueller met a stronger and hungrier team in Prince George and lost to the Cougars in the semifinal round of the playoffs.

Mueller played consistently strong this year and has continued to mature into a well-balanced player whose overall game is solid. While he isn’t the most tenacious skater out there at times, he has the ability to step it up when needed. His overall understanding of the game at the junior level at this point meant that it appears to have not posed that much of a challenge for him. He continued to improve and one can only think he will be wearing red and white for the 2007-08 season.

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

After tons of questions as to where Martin Hanzal’s development was headed at the end of the last season, he hit the mark this year with Red Deer. Hanzal got off to a great start and did not let down. He became an offensive leader whose overall game continued to progress by leaps and bounds. There wasn’t much the league threw at Hanzal that he wasn’t willing or able to handle. He thrived in all situations and has really developed an edge that will suit him well at the next level.

Having led the team in scoring, Hanzal posted 85 points (26 goals, 59 assists) in 60 games played, which was also tops in the league for all rookies. He ended the regular season an impressive plus-13 and earned 94 penalty minutes. He rolled into the playoffs scoring a team-high nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in a total of six contests. He also racked up 19 penalty minutes and was a plus-2. Regardless of Hanzal’s effort, Red Deer took Medicine Hat seven games in the quarterfinal round only to be shown the door early.

Now the question is, where will Hanzal be next season? He is a huge part of the Coyotes future and he’s going to get a chance to prove himself in training camp. He has an outside chance to make the organization, but it appears the AHL is where he should go. Having said that, the move would only serve a purpose if the situation were right with the club’s top development affiliate. A very wise but unpopular choice would be to let him continue to flourish under Red Deer coach Brent Sutter‘s tutelage.

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

Playing on a very talented and cohesive Medicine Hat team, Jordan Bendfeld is playing quality minutes as he has continued to progress at a good clip for this year. His primary role as a defensive-defenseman has not changed as other blueliners such as Kris Russell (CBJ) and David Schlemko and been the primary defensive distributors this year for the Tigers. Bendfeld’s point total increased slightly this past season, but that has come as a result of playing on one of the two top scoring teams in the WHL.

Bendfeld is the lone prospect still in the playoffs. Currently battling the Calgary Hitmen in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Leduc, Alberta native has seen action in 12 games for the Tigers through three rounds and has four points (all assists). He’s a plus-7 and leads all players in the postseason with 34 penalty minutes. During the regular season, he collected 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) in 72 games played. He earned himself a plus-15 ranking and racked up 136 penalty minutes.

Bendfeld is expected to return to junior next season.

QMJHL

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

After starting the season off slow, Martin Latal’s game started to take off after Christmas. Head coach Yanick Jean confirmed that the crafty winger suffered from a bit of culture shock and was hindered by his ability to understand the North American style and the team’s system early on. However, Jean reiterated that once Latal was able to make a full transition – both on and off the ice – his confidence, presence and production increased immensely. He went onto apply what he was learning and continued to see time in all areas. Jean said that even as there was a spike in his offensive production, Latal’s blazing speed also made him the team’s best penalty killer.

He finished the season scoring 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 66 games. He also logged 90 penalty minutes and a turned in a minus-13 ranking. As the playoffs got underway, Latal stepped up his play and was one of the constants for the Rocket. In only seven games, Latal scored the same number of points (3 goals, 4 assists). However, PEI’s playoff run was short-lived as they got bounced in the first round by the Acadie-Bathurst Titans.

Latal’s first season in North America was a positive one. Whether or not this is going to be his first and only season with P.E.I. in the Q is unknown. If the Rocket has it their way, they would love the young winger back for the 2007-08 season. Coach Jean is confident that with Latal’s skill set, his willingness to succeed, and a year’s experience under his belt, he’d be one of the league’s premier players next fall.

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

Pelletier returned this year off of an injury and went on to turn in his best season to date. It is very impressive that he has bounced back as strong even though he medically won’t see his labrum healed for another two years. This is very encouraging because before he was drafted, Pelletier was pegged as a netminder with a wealth of potential, drive, and ability to strive in crucial situations. Having come back off injury and able to play at the level he is shows that Coyotes scouts were right on the mark with selecting the young backstop so high in the draft.

Pelletier helped the Voltiguers into the postseason by posting a 29-18-0 record, a 2.97 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in 51 games played. In the playoffs he didn’t fare as well, posting a 7-5-0 record in 12 games played. He posted a 3.34 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage. While he played hard, the Voltiguers had some difficulties playing up a level in the postseason.

Unless the Coyotes can offer Pelletier a position with their AHL team, he’d be another prospect who would probably benefit by playing in out his junior career as an overager. While he made a great improvement this season, he should really be afforded a chance to conquer the league.

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

Cormier took the opportunity to play with his brother Patrice and a young Rimouski Oceanic club at the start of the season. While it was beneficial for the brothers, the elder was traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes right after Christmas. With Cormier’s need to develop his overall game beyond fighting and with Rimouski’s change in strategy, it made the move possible.

In Shawinigan, Cormier was able to play more minutes and get additional experience in all aspects of the game.  While he played almost the same amount of games, the results were just about the same. Between the two squads, he scored 21 points (12 goals, 9 assists) in 21 points. He logged 167 penalty minutes and was a minus-8. He saw action in three of the four Cataractes playoff games. He was held scoreless and registered on four penalty minutes in a quarterfinal series sweep by Lewiston.

This was Cormier’s last season in junior. Having recognized that today’s new enforcers have to produce at both ends, Cormier used the past season in order to increase his overall game. He’ll start his professional career come next summer. Depending on who ends up on Phoenix’s AHL roster, Cormier has a decent chance to bypass the ECHL.

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