The freshly rebranded Arizona Coyotes loaded up on forwards at the 2014 NHL Draft. Although General Manager Don Maloney claimed the organization would merely be targeting the best players available, only two of their nine draft picks were defensemen.
The Coyotes organization already boasts a glut of talented veteran and emerging defensemen. Yet, management arrived in Philadelphia lacking scoring punch up front, an issue which was to be exacerbated with the loss of Radim Vrbata to free agency and the buyout of Mike Ribeiro.
Maloney was aware of these looming subtractions at the draft, saying “We’re trying to leave some positions open to younger players. That’s where the Domis and Samuelssons and Lessios are going to get their opportunity.”
The Coyotes selections remained true to their team identity. Selections like Brendan Perlini and Ryan MacInnis have the potential to drive offense at the NHL level but they also possess discipline and boast the size to excel in the physical aspect of the game.
Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
1st Round, 12th Overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 205
Perlini is a big, strong kid who can skate really well and possesses tremendous hands. He will develop into a dynamic first line winger if he learns how to get the most out of his size and strength, the attributes that distinguish him from a lot of the other high-end forward talent at the draft.
Perlini’s speed and puck skills are attributes that are desperately needed in the forward group of Arizona’s prospect pool. Although he does not take advantage of his size nearly enough, he does have the scorer’s knack for cashing in on garbage goals in front of the net.
In 2012-13, when he entered the OHL with the Barrie Colts, Perlini’s junior career got off to a rough start. He scored only a single goal in the first 32 games of his rookie season before Barrie shipped him off to the Niagara IceDogs. Perlini managed 10 points in 27 games after the trade but by his own account, matured exponentially.
“Things didn’t work out really the way I kind of planned it in Barrie but I think everything happens for a reason and that definitely showed me that this is a business and not just midget hockey anymore. It showed me that there’s going to be adversity in this game and it really taught me early to stay mentally tough.”
Perlini came into his own in 2013-14, registering 71 points in 58 games and solidifying himself as a legitimate first-round prospect. Along with Carter Verhaeghe (TOR), Perlini willed the IceDogs into the OHL playoffs. Despite his success in junior, Perlini understands the challenges ahead of him.
“It’s going to be a big summer. I’m going to try to do everything I can to get big and faster and stronger and hopefully come in ready for training camp.”
Ryan MacInnis, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
2nd Round, 43rd Overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 185
MacInnis does not mince words when asked what he brings to the table. “I’m a two-way center. I have good size and hockey sense. I just need to get stronger.”
He was arguably the best player available at the 43rd slot while also adding desperately needed forward depth to the Coyotes prospect pool. Most importantly, MacInnis possesses the physicality and defensive responsibility which align with Arizona’s culture under Maloney and Dave Tippett. If he adds muscle like he acknowledges he must, MacInnis’ playing style should endear him to management and allow him to climb the Coyotes prospect ladder relatively quickly.
As the son of Hall-of-Famer, Al MacInnis, Ryan is an NHL legacy, a trend in the organization over the past few drafts in which they have selected the sons of Tie Domi, Ulf Samuelsson, and Sean Burke. Maloney acknowledged this curiosity saying, “We’re gonna have a heck of a player-father game.”
Ryan was quick to credit his father and acknowledge the integral role he played in the younger MacInnis’ development into a first-rate NHL prospect.
“When I was younger, he was on the ice a lot, just taught me everything, taught me how to skate, taught me how to shoot. I think he was a great coach…he’ll call me after every game and just talk about the good things, talk about the bad things.”
However, Ryan was not willing to make any bold predictions that his slap shot would live up to the folk-status of his father’s. “It’s not as good as his”, he stated definitively.
MacInnis has the attributes and hockey sense to develop into a prototypical power forward. He needs to develop physically and improve his skating in order to fulfill his potential, two major factors.
Christian Dvorak, C/LW, London Kinghts (OHL)
2nd Round, 58th Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 180
Maloney had acquired another second round pick at the 2014 trade deadline when he traded David Rundblad to Chicago. With the 58th selection, he decided to roll the dice a little with the selection of Christian Dvorak.
“I tore my ACL in December,” Dvorak explained, “had surgery in January.”
Dvorak played a depth role with the London Knights in his first OHL season. His greatest attribute is his skating ability which makes a knee injury even more alarming. However, the evolution of invasive medical procedures means ACL injuries are not the career-enders they once were. Dvorak is the first person to dispel any concerns. “Four months after surgery, I was able to come back and play in the Memorial Cup. The knee felt good for that. Still working on it now and it feels great so I’m ready to go.”
Based on Maloney’s evaluation, Dvorak projects as another forward who fits into Arizona’s disciplined two-way approach. “Skilled Derek Stepan-type player, intelligent center-iceman we hope.”
This is an assessment that Dvorak was quick to agree with. “Being from Chicago, I watched Jonathan Toews a lot, try to play like Patrice Bergeron as well…I’m a two-way forward, skill guy offensively, can make plays, can put the puck in the net, defensively responsible player, just someone the coach can trust in any situation.”
Dvorak will return to London for the 2014-15 season where the departure of players such as Arizona’s Max Domi should provide him with room to grow, “I’ll get a bigger opportunity to take on a top-six role. Hopefully, I’ll take advantage of it.”
Dvorak acknowledges he must improve in a number of areas in order to skate in the NHL, “little things like acceleration…get a quicker shot and just all-around game, just improve on everything.”
At this point, Karlsson projects as a solid bottom-six forward. While playing for Frolunda’s U20 and U18 teams over the past two seasons, he displayed playmaking and finishing ability. However, it is difficult to conclude whether he will be able to drive scoring while playing against men in North America. Karlsson’s primary attributes are is his tenacity and leadership skills. Karlsson served as captain in Frolunda and for several Swedish national teams.
Karlsson consistently grinds out wins in puck battles in the dirty areas. He also shows an ability to make reasoned, situational hockey decisions under duress. He will reveal much more about the upside of his finesse game when he competes in the 2015 World Junior Championships.
Michael Bunting, LW, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
4th Round, 117th Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 180
Bunting comes out of the same Soo Greyhounds organization which produced Tyler Gaudet, a 2013 undrafted free agent signing by the Coyotes. At the draft, Bunting described Gaudet as a mentor, “I’ll probably give him a call right after this is all done. He was the one that drove me around everywhere in the Soo…He was an overager so he knew the ropes. He definitely would help me out a lot.
Like Gaudet, Bunting was a late-bloomer. Rather than specialize in hockey at an early age like many talented players, Bunting was a three-sport athlete into high school. “I played AAA just last year. I got passed on the OHL draft twice then I got drafted by Sault Ste. Marie. It’s been quite a ride and it’s definitely been a great experience.”
After being a late-round OHL pick in 2013, Bunting quickly jumped up to the Greyhounds top line in 2013-14 where he produced at roughly a point-per-game rate. Despite displaying enough scoring prowess to transition into the most competitive amateur hockey league in the world and produce, Bunting is primarily a relentless pest who commits to doing everything right. The instigation and agitation is a role he accepts with glee. “I love to get under other player’s skin,” he says.
Bunting’s limited exposure in the OHL clouds his potential. His combination of tenacity and discipline project as fourth line attributes although his stock could rise if his finesse game continues to develop. Bunting is the first to acknowledge there is room for improvement. “Definitely my skating. I think I need to be more powerful there. Definitely my size and strength. That’s what my number one goal is and that’s what I’m going to work on all season long.”
Certainly, he has displayed this persistence in the past. Perhaps Bunting’s greatest attribute as he embarks on the rocky road to the NHL is his ability to succeed in the wake of failure. Bunting says, “I just want to tell kids, if you don’t get drafted in the OHL, it’s not over. It’s your decision to make it or break it. If you want to keep working at it, anything’s possible.”
Mayo is a tough prospect to gauge. Overall, the defenseman is a pretty good bet as a fifth round pick.
The 2013-14 season was a coming out party for Mayo. He played with Henrik Samuelsson and the Edmonton Oil Kings. In his second year in the WHL, his play progressed all season. In the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup, he was probably the Oil Kings most efficient puck-moving defenseman. He was able to create offense and generate transition out of his own end consistently.
However, the Oil Kings were stacked. Many defensemen would have created offense initiating breakout passes to the dynamic forwards on the Memorial Cup champions. Without possession, Mayo has a troubling tendency to get lost in his own end.
Ultimately, the raw skills are there. Mayo a nimble skater with good stick skills. He will have the next three to four years to develop his hockey IQ.
David Westlund, D, Brynas IF & J20 (SHL/SuperElit)
6th Round, 163rd Overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 207
Westlund was an off-the-radar selection. As the 68th rated European skater, he was chosen based on the evaluation of Robert Neuhauser, Arizona’s European scout.
Westlund is a 6’3” physical, stay-at-home defenseman. He began 2013-14 with the Brynas U20 team in Sweden where he registered five goals and 10 assists in 33 games. He made the jump to the SHL to play 21 games with the men’s team over the course of the season. Although he only registered a single point, his ability to play at this level should be seen as evidence of his maturity at this point in his career. Solid, stay-at-home defenders are typically very difficult to evaluate at draft age because their ceiling is so dependent on how much they mature physically in their early twenties.
Throughout his drafts as Arizona GM, Maloney has repeatedly shown confidence in prospects coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that he would take a flyer on a big physical forward coming out of that system.
Fiegl projects as a physical bottom-six forward who earns his keep in the dirty areas of the ice. It has been stated several times that Coyotes management emphasizes physical and disciplined hockey. They value grinding forwards and reward those types of players with advancement in their organization. Fiegl falls into this surplus of player-types who look to follow the path of Jordan Szwarz and grind out a path to the NHL.
Edgars Kulda, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
7th Round, 193rd Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185
After a late season surge in 2013-14 where he captured the Memorial Cup MVP award, Kulda rode a wave of media hype into the draft. The buzz indicated he might go somewhere in the third round. In the end he slipped all the way to the final round of the draft where Maloney snagged him with the second of two seventh-round picks.
After selecting Kulda, Maloney said, “I really like our last pick. He was the MVP of the Memorial Cup. He’s a 20 year-old but just a really talented player. You take a flyer and you hope that maybe, here’s a guy that, at that stage in his career, the light clicks on and he’ll continue to be a good player at the next level. When you get into that area, you’re really throwing darts. We hope we hit a bull’s-eye. Time will tell.”
Kulda displayed lots of high-end skill in 2013-14. He’s very difficult to knock off the puck and seems to be able to simultaneously engage the puck and appraise the ice situationally. His speed and the aforementioned puck skills catapulted him to nearly a point per game pace in 2013-14. This production, especially clutch and late, combined with the defensive acuity he exhibited, made for a fairly impressive season.
His downside is that 2013-14 is basically his entire resume. Further, the Latvian’s accomplishments in 2013-14 came while he was sheltered on a championship-caliber Oil Kings team. It remains open for debate how much of his production was driven by his linemates and the favorable matchups afforded to him by the presence of other great players on his team.