Coyotes training camp is well under way, with faces new and old, but there is definitely a new feel in the air.
“We’re going to do everything properly and there are going to be no shortcuts,” said Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky. “We talked about the fact we’re going to be moving in ‘baby’ steps in order to accomplish things each and every day.”
While the approach seems to be a bit rudimentary, you could tell that the level of expectations on the ice and in the locker room are in a state of change.
This bodes well for the prospects in camp. The sense is that Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney and his staff have set an interesting level of competition among the players from the start. The high-profile veterans seem to be safe, but it’s the fringe players who should be on the lookout.
“The message was sent that we were going to make changes and we’re going to insert players that want to play hard every single game,” he said. “The veteran players are going to bring that [edge] back to the locker room but they’re going to get pushed by the young guys.”
That has not always been the case for the Coyotes. The last few years have started to bear some fruit from the drafting process, but before that, the Coyotes hedged their bets on obtaining players and filling holes in the roster most notably by free agent signings and trades.
“In the past we had young guys come to camp and not have a real good chance of making this team,” Gretzky explained. “Let’s be honest, they probably weren’t good enough. Now, you’re adding some guys with talent like Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, and Nick Ross.”
The crop of young players with ‘NHL’ potential is a welcomed sign around Phoenix. Gretzky is pleased with their presence because they’re chippy and making things interesting already.
“It’s great for our organization because we’re adding depth we desperately needed,” he finally added.
Lisin back in the desert as promised
Enver Lisin took the ice during the first day of on-ice workouts and looked physically stronger and more poised than last year. In an attempt to show he’s improved after he dropped a minus-18 last season in 17 games with the Coyotes, he already looks to be a little more attentive on the backcheck.
“One of the things he wanted to go back to Russia for was to work on his defensive game,” Gretzky explained. “He’s in a lot better situation right now.”
It’s too early to tell if he’ll stick to the game plan. Although, the first thing that stood out was that he wasn’t a slouch on the backcheck. He was trying to play all areas of the ice equally strong, which tells you he’s more than capable.
Lisin has been forecasted to be a top-flight offensive winger for some time and the magic is there. He’s got quick hands and an NHL-caliber shot, but in order to remain in favor with the coaching staff, a two-way player he must be.
Ireland checks in
With most of the attention focused on the players, only a select few would be able to pick out some of the coaching staff on the rink.
Hired last month as the head coach of the Coyotes AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, Greg Ireland made his formal on-ice debut in camp.
“I’m excited,” Ireland said after a scrimmage. “The first few days have been great. It’s a tremendous organization.”
After spending the last four years within the Detroit Red Wings system, Ireland along with his new assistant coach Ray Edwards will be looked upon to keep the system balanced down in San Antonio.
“I think it is really important,” he said about getting the AHL team in line with Phoenix. “It takes away a lot of the confusion and creates organizational clarity. It allows people to know where they are, know where they stand, as well as know what is expected of them.”
And once it becomes clear whom he may be working with in the lone star state, Ireland said he’s going to set the expectations high in order to help build a new culture and a new mindset for the Coyotes prospects.
“I think when players understand the parameters and know what is expected of them as far as the guidelines and accountability levels; there should be no excuses,” he added. “It allows the players to go out there and play as hard as they can within that system.”
And that system is also going to focus on building up a process and teaching players to embrace a fresh winning attitude.
“Winning breeds success,” Ireland said. “When you see that things work, guys are willing to buy in.
“We’re going to go down there and we’re going to create a culture that has a good infrastructure, good foundation, strong work ethic and clarity so the players have the opportunity to be successful.”
Turris finds a big fan in TSN’s McGuire
Kyle Turris may not be able to attend the Coyotes training camp, but he found the international forum suitable to showcase his talent and skill level. As Team Canada went undefeated (7-0-1) in the eight-game Super Series against their Russian counterparts that wrapped up last weekend, Turris lead the team in goals scored with seven and was the tied for third in overall scoring.
In doing so, Phoenix’s latest prospect drew a lot of praise from TSN’s play-by-play announcer Peter Loubardias and most notably, his color analyst Pierre McGuire.
Early in the series McGuire went as far to tell viewers that, “The more you watch him, the more he reminds you of Steve Yzerman. It’s uncanny, but that’s how good he is.” Given McGuire’s history in the sport prior to his television work, it was only fair to track him down and see if he would be willing to explain the high praise he gave Turris.
HF: What does it say about Turris coming from junior A hockey to performing so well at this level of international play?
PM: To go from junior A to this level, here we’re talking about the best arguably in their age group outside of the NHL is amazing. He is just so smart, he vision is good, he is so aware and he makes the players around him better, which is a sign of a really good player.
HF: In this situation, do you think a lot of his success had to do with the all-star teams he was playing with or is this just a good player elevating his game?
PM: He’s a player who’s capable of elevating his game. I think he’s going to be NHL ready within a year. It would be a rush to put him in the league this year. I don’t think he’s physically ready for 82 games with the strength factor that is involved with it. I think one year under Mike Eaves at Wisconsin and being in the situation he’s going to be in at the World Juniors, which is another chance to play at a gigantic stage.
HF: Talk about his shiftiness and his level of skill with the puck.
PM: He’s got a capability, like a quarterback senses pressure. The most gifted players can sense pressure, where it comes from and when to get out of it. They can play in confined areas and protect the puck. They can make passes and make plays. He has that and that’s a unique attribute. Not a lot of guys have it, but the best guys have it.
Just to put it into comparison again, I really think he is like [Steve] Yzerman. Not because he wears No. 19, but because he’s got the defensive awareness Steve had even late in his career. He’s got the same vision and skates a lot like him. I think what separates him from a lot of the other players is his ability to shoot the puck in tight areas and get it up in the air in a hurry. He elevates the puck better than any young player I have seen.
Coyotes add new scouts
After the draft this summer, the Coyotes released a portion of their amateur scouting staff. In their place, Phoenix added the following new scouts: