Coyotes Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Jeff Dahlia

As the season wraps up, there are a few substantial changes to the Coyotes top 20 list. Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and Daniel Winnik have been with Phoenix from the onset of the season and have been integral parts of the team. Having played 65 NHL games, all three are now graduated per HF criteria.

The Coyotes welcomed in Al Montoya, acquiring the young netminder at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers. He’s the best goalie prospect Phoenix has at the moment and fits into second place on the organization’s list.

Overall, you’ll see a couple significant moves in the rankings and a handful of newcomers rounding out the top 20. And lastly, it is worth noting how much of an impact the 2007 class has already made. Six out of the seven selections from last summer make the list.

1. Kyle Turris
2. Al Montoya
3. Blake Wheeler
4. Keith Yandle
5. Kevin Porter
6. Chris Summers
7. Enver Lisin
8. Brett MacLean
9. Nick Ross
10. Bill Thomas
11. Jonas Ahnelov
12. Josh Tordjman
13. Logan Stephenson
14. Chad Kolarik
15. Sean Sullivan
16. Joel Gistedt
17. Benn Ferriero
18. Scott Darling
19. Vladimir Ruzicka
20. Anton Krysanov

1. (1) Kyle Turris, C
1st round, 3rd  – 2007, 18, 6’2, 170

In his freshman year for the University of Wisconsin, Turris leads the Badgers in scoring with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 33 games. It wasn’t really a shock that Turris would gravitate to the top of the scoring, as much as it was that the Badgers as a whole lacked a lot of chemistry. His skill shined through, yet he still looked a bit small when it came to matching up with the competition.  He is now ninth in the nation among rookies in points per game at .97.  In international play at the 2008 WJC, he lead Team Canada in scoring with eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in seven games played. The big question is whether the Coyotes 2007 top pick will sign as a pro this summer instead of returning to Madison this fall. Expect Turris to be a factor in either setting.

2. (NR) Al Montoya, G
Trade with New York Rangers – 2008, 22, 6’2, 190 

Acquired from the New York Rangers in a multi-player move at the trade deadline, Montoya has since joined the Coyotes AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. While some have wondered if the former first-round pick will ever pan out, some (including the Coyotes brass) think he still holds a lot of future potential. He has made an immediate impact in only three games for the Rampage, but he has also put up good numbers throughout the year, going 18-9-3 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .912 save percentage in 32 games played. As it’s been said in this sport, development at the goalie position generally takes a while longer at most positions. While Montoya has put up consistent numbers in the AHL, he still needs to step out from the pack within a year to truly show his long-term worth.

3. (6) Blake Wheeler, RW
1st round, 5th – 2004, 21, 6’4, 220

Looking solely at Wheeler’s stats this year does not tell the whole story of why his offensive production is down. Big holes were created on his team due to NHL signings and injuries dating back to last summer. The absence of top-end talent has taken its toll on the Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Wheeler has stepped up and has led the team in scoring for the majority of the season, with 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games. However, without a strong team offense and with scoring down in WCHA overall, Gophers numbers have been down across the board. Personally, Wheeler has continued to grow and mature physically and mentally. There are some concerns of consistency on the ice, however, when he is on, he can be one of the most dominating forwards in the WCHA and nation for that matter. It’s still up in the air if the former 2004 first rounder will sign with the Coyotes this summer, foregoing his senior year.

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

Having received a call-up to the big club last month, Yandle has been thrown into the fire and is making decent strides with Phoenix. Even though he has shown his youthfulness at times, the coaching staff has showed great patience with Yandle because of his enormous upside. He has a respectable 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 35 games, which is not a surprise because putting points up throughout his career has not been a problem. Though he has entered into the top six pairings as of late, in order for him to remain in the desert well into next season, the young rearguard is going to have to continue to work on his footwork, positioning, and defensive zone coverage. If he can round that part of his game out, he’ll be the explosive blueliner the club hoped for when they nabbed him three summers ago.

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

Finishing out his collegiate career with the University of Michigan, Porter is going out as the top Wolverine. Already named to the All-CCHA first team, he’s also up for CCHA player of the year award. Having led the nation, the CCHA, and his team in scoring during the regular season 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) to go along with his solid two-way play, Porter is in the thick of a race for the Hobey Baker Award. He easily erased doubt about his ability to score without the presence of T.J. Hensick (COL) early on. In exchange, he has helped drive up the stock of linemates Chad Kolarik and Max Pacioretty. In all, Porter is having a senior year every player dreams of and he’s doing it with a lot of poise. Expect the Coyotes to lock him up after the Wolverines season concludes.

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

It’s really no secret that the Coyotes would love to see defenseman Chris Summers leave the University of Michigan two years early to join the club. While it would be a great addition for Phoenix – because they’re looking to move additional young defensemen into the system – naturally the Wolverines would prefer Summers stayed. The smooth-skating defenseman has so much to offer at either level. Along with his skating, his poise and leadership are first-rate. He had a great regular season with the maize and blue, helping shut down opponents as the team won the CCHA regular season championship this year. In 34 regular season games, he was tied for second on the team with a plus-21 and he also chipped in 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists). Summers was also an alternate captain at the 2008 WJC for Team USA.

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

You couldn’t blame anyone if they turned into an immediate skeptic when the Coyotes sent Lisin down to San Antonio at the start of the year. Though, after months of hard work and dedication spent learning the North American game (and buying into the Coyotes system), Lisin has steadily transformed into steady capable winger. He still has ways to go, but the young Russian has already earned a call-up at the start of the month and has seen time on the lower lines. While his chances will continue come with Phoenix, he already showed the ability to put up points while playing for San Antonio. While he’s been held pointless with the Coyotes this time around, he has posted 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) and a plus-8 rating in 51 games for the Rampage.

8. (19) Brett MacLean, LW
2nd Round, 32nd – 2007, 18, 6’1, 195

Until MacLean shakes off Oshawa Generals teammate John Tavares, he’s going to be hard pressed to earn the notoriety he truly deserves. Having a career year with Oshawa, MacLean has scored an amazing 61 goals to lead the OHL. In addition to that feat, he was also the holder of the league’s longest point-scoring tear, collecting points in 32 consecutive contests. He’s second in league scoring with 119 points (61 goals, 58 assists) in 62 games. Out with the flu as of late, the winger is gearing up for the postseason. Beyond that, expect MacLean to make a lot of noise come this summer with Coyotes at their respective camps. He’s got the shot and skill Phoenix needs to continue the rebuilding process. Plain and simple, goals win games. That’s something that MacLean has shown a propensity for over the last two seasons.

9. (16) Nick Ross, D
1st round, 30th – 2007, 18, 6’0, 195

The Coyotes loved what Ross brought to the table during training camp. They also gave him an immediate opportunity to see where he stacked up against some of their NHLers. While he might have been a hair off and a bit green, he went back to junior and worked hard at improving his game with the Regina Pats. Then he got the biggest shock when he was part of a deal that sent him to Kamloops. Regina management stressed that Ross was great player and that they were simply looking to bolster their roster for the post-season. Ross wasted no time catching on with the Blazers, where he continued to show that he has all the tools. Between the two teams, he has scored 47 points (8 goals, 39 assists) in 71 games. Now, all he has to show is a consistent rhythm to his approach and he’ll be well on his way to the NHL.

10. (11) Bill Thomas, RW
Signed as Free Agent – 2006, 24, 6’1, 185

After seeing two dozen games with Phoenix last season, Thomas hasn’t had the same luck this year. He’s been called up a couple times and seen action in seven games, but he hasn’t been an impact. In the meanwhile, the former University of Nebraska-Omaha all-star has done all his damage in San Antonio. Currently the team’s second leading scorer, Thomas has 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 60 games. He still shows a nose for the net but he’s has yet to develop an edge that would catapult him into full-time duty back with Phoenix. Currently on a one-year deal, the summer will show what plans the Coyotes have for the Pittsburgh native.

11. (13) Jonas Ahnelov, D
3rd round, 88th – 2006, 19, 6’3, 205

Even though Jonas Ahnelov’s Frolunda team has seen rough patches this past season, the Swedish rearguard has continued to find room to grow. While he still needs to improve his footwork, Ahnelov is well on his way to becoming a legit prospect for Phoenix. He has posted seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 51 games for the Indians. Seeing how the Coyotes are looking to move some young defensive prospects into the system, Ahnelov could have an outside chance to make the jump this summer. If he does come over, one should expect to see the young rearguard be molded into a top defensive-defenseman. If he doesn’t, he needs to continue to tighten up his game with Frolunda.

12. (17) Josh Tordjman, G
Signed as Free Agent – 2005, 22, 6’1, 165

Tordjman has been one of the Coyotes best prospect free-agent signings over the last few years hands down. The Montreal, Quebec native continues to impress and be solid in the AHL. Since the Rampage’s coaching staff and roster was overhauled last summer, Tordjman saw immediate decrease in rubber and a big increase in the win column. Head coach Greg Ireland has rotated the goalies early and often waiting for someone to break through. Tordjman seemed to answer that call about mid-January and hasn’t looked back. He has recently received a new partner in Al Montoya as David LeNeveu was shipped out as part of the deal with the Rangers. Currently, Tordjman boasts a 21-10-4 record, a 2.60 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage in 37 games.

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

In his second season with the Rampage, Stephenson’s development is starting to show signs that it may be leveling out. Still regarded as a defensive-defenseman, Stephenson does have time on his side being only 21 years old. In 60 games thus far, he has eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) 64 penalty minutes and a plus-9. For the most part, the new coaching staff has been an added benefit for players like Stephenson who needs extra seasoning at this level. He’s been praised for his mobility, but he’s been chided for playing a poor positional game and taking costly penalties. The biggest thing that the blueliner needs to work on is his consistency in his approach. If he can’t get over this curve, his value could fall drastically. However, given his size and potential – if tapped – he still could be a strong force to reckon with at the next level.

14. (NR) Chad Kolarik, RW
7th Round, 199th – 2004, 22, 5’11, 170

Chad Kolarik’s stock continued to soar while playing on the top line at the University of Michigan and that of the entire nation. Even though he was sidelined for the last few regular season games due to injury, the senior forward has truly transformed into a great two-way player. As the Wolverines second best point producer and tied for first in the nation in game-winning goals with seven, Kolarik has been one of the team leaders and has helped guide a young squad to the top of the rankings. After four years of developing in Ann Arbor, it shouldn’t be a surprise Kolarik earned All-CCHA first-team honors. He scored 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) and led the team with a 159 shots in 32 regular season games. The Coyotes must sign him by Aug. 15.

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

After a shaky start in his first pro season, Sean Sullivan has settled in and has become a pleasant surprise for the Coyotes. He was simply trying to do too much too soon and found himself out of sync in the pro game. However, after finding his balance with the Coyotes CHL affiliate, the Arizona Sundogs, he returned to San Antonio and hasn’t looked back. A prototypical defensive-defenseman, Sullivan is very good in his own end and very competent moving the puck of the zone and up the ice. Even though he’s displayed the ability to score points back with Arizona in the CHL and in his college days at Boston University, his primary goal will be to shut down the opposition at this level. As his stats reflect with the Rampage, he has only a total of four assists in 27 games played, but he’s a plus-5.

16. (14) Joel Gistedt, G
2nd Round, 36th overall – 2007, 19, 5’11, 175

It was a challenging season for the Frolunda Indians. While the team battled through a lot of adversity (which included a coaching change), Gistedt hasn’t been that lucky. A year ago, he put up respectable numbers after seeing more than half the action during the regular season. This time around, he was reduced to 11 games this season, as the Frolunda coach has gone with Ari Ahonen. His numbers have ballooned a bit, but it’s really been out of his hands. In those games, he’s posted a 3.84 goals-against-average and a .857 save percentage. Unless the Coyotes change their current goalie lineup in North America, expect Gistedt to remain in Sweden until next year.

17. (NR) Benn Ferriero, C
7th Round, 196th – 2006, 20, 5’11, 175

If there is one thing that you’ll find in Benn Ferriero, it’s consistency and persistence. In each of his three seasons as an Eagle, his game has continued to grow. The junior forward is among the top team’s top scorers upfront for the second consecutive year. While he’s a hair under a point of game this season, Ferriero has stepped up and been there for BC in crucial situations. As it shows, the Essex, Massachusetts native has already elevated his game – scoring three goals in two nights against Providence College – as the Eagles move through the Hockey East tournament. To date, he has collected 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games and has a plus-1 rating.

18. (NR) Scott Darling, G
6th Round 153rd – 2007, 6’6, 190

Every solid team has an equally solid goaltender to lean on. So is the case for the Indiana Ice and Scott Darling. In his first season with the junior tier 1 team, Darling has helped backstop Indiana to an East Division leading record of 36-10-6. Night in and night out Darling comes in and simply gets his work done. He’s worked extremely hard to develop and play at an elite level while with Indiana. His attitude and approach has served him well, as he is one the leagues top goalies with a 25-6-2 record, a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage in 35 games played. As the regular season wraps up, Darling will turn his attention to the playoffs, where he and the Ice hope to make a run at the Clark Cup.

19. (NR) Vladimir Ruzicka, C
4th Round, 103rd – 2007, 19, 6’1, 180

After two successful seasons playing with the junior team within the HC Slavia Praha system, Vladimir Ruzicka is well on his way to making a good transition with the club in the Extraliga. He has been playing regular shifts on the team’s third and fourth lines and has seen an increased role (especially on special teams), when other players have gone down due to injury. Slavia Praha is one of the league’s top teams with an abundance of veteran players, which has been a good environment for the young player to learn in. He has showed an ability to build both confidence and strength in his game over the course of the year. In 42 games, he has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) and is a plus-8.

20. (NR) Anton Krysanov, C
5th Round, 148th – 2005, 20, 6’3, 201

If Anton Krysanov gave North America honest consideration, chances are the Coyotes would be more than happy enough to find him a spot in the system.  He’s got a lot of the tools and a frame that could fit well in the NHL down the road. The first hurdle would be convincing him to spend sometime in the AHL to make a proper adjustment to the North American game. It’s no secret that Russian prospects – who are currently playing in the RSL – expect a lateral transfer into the NHL when it is only effective for a few. The second hurdle would be that, it appears the new Russian pro league has legs and it may reshape and revitalize the sport in the former Soviet Union. Regardless, he’s progressed rather nicely for Lada, increasing his production for the third straight year. He has 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in 54 games, which is good fifth overall in team scoring.