Arizona Coyotes exercise patience with rookies

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Arizona Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy is learning on the job (courtesy of Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Arizona Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy is learning on the job (courtesy of Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)


Three rookies have played significant roles for the Arizona Coyotes this season. On the blue line, a pair of former first round selections in Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy seem to be settling in as NHL regulars, and former Edmonton Oilers pick Tobias Rieder has earned top-nine minutes after starting the season in Portland of the AHL.

Brandon Gormley, D, 22

The Coyotes were thrilled to select big blueliner Brandon Gormley when he fell to 13th in the 2010 NHL Draft. To this year, they have been patient with the 6’2, 190 pound, former Moncton Wildcat, but after nine games with Portland of the AHL, Gormley has become a mainstay with the Coyotes.

Aside from his first game of the season against Toronto, in which he played under 10 minutes, Gormley has been averaging over 15 minutes per game, but hit a season-high 19:35 against Ottawa on January 10th. He has been getting both power play and penalty kill ice-time since December and has looked comfortable on both units. More of a defensive defenseman, he does have some offensive potential, as displayed in both games against Edmonton this season. His three points this season in 15 games have all come against the Oilers, including a career game on December 23rd, his first back from a lower-body injury, in which he scored a goal and added an assist, while recording a plus/minus rating of +4.

Early in the season, there were rumblings that Gormley unhappy with his position in the organization, but with increased ice-time those rumors have faded.

Connor Murphy, D, 21

After playing 30-plus games with the Coyotes last season, Connor Murphy had an inside track at earning a top-six spot on the team’s blue line in 2014-15. The big-bodied 6’4 American defender did just that, and he has been a staple in the Coyotes lineup all season, finally graduating from prospect status.

Playing in 41 games, Murphy has scored twice and added three assists, while earning varied ice time throughout the season. Like Gormley, Murphy is not expected to provide much offense from the backend, but the team would like to see the 21-year-old play with a little more consistency in his own end. The young player has been sheltered somewhere in just his second NHL season, starting more shifts in the offensive zone than his teammates (he has a positive relative offensive zone start percentage), yet the Coyotes’ possession numbers are better with Murphy on the bench than when he is on the ice. A struggling team is a tough place for a young defenseman to thrive, but Murphy looks to be a solid core piece for Arizona.

Tobias Rieder, RW, 22

Having recently turned 22 on January 10th, Tobias Rieder has been a surprising fit for the building Coyotes. The former Kitchener Ranger had an impressive rookie season in Portland of the AHL last season, and scored four goals in nine games with the team at the start of this season.

Recalled by the Coyotes at the beginning of November, Rieder has been put in positions to succeed and he has performed admirably. He earned just 10 minutes of ice time on November 11th against Dallas, but has been closer to 20 minutes a game since. In total, the German-born winger has 12 points in 36 games, with the highlight of his season coming on December 1st against the Oilers, the team that drafted him. Rieder, an admirable penalty-killer in his own right, showed his offensive abilities down a man, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals 58 seconds apart in a 5-2 Coyotes win.

Lucas Lessio, LW, 21

Lessio, who turns 22 on January 23rd, is another Coyotes prospect who could see more NHL games as the team plays out the string. The 2011 second rounder got a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in three games and registering four shots on goal. With Portland Lessio had been much more impressive, posting 29 goals and 54 points over 69 AHL games. This season he has been effective again, with 16 points in 26 games for the offensively-challenged Pirates. The Coyotes are looking to the future at this point and Lessio and some of the other young prospects will benefit from NHL exposure, as well as NHL paychecks. Lessio tallied his first career NHL goal on January 20th as Chicago beat the Coyotes in a lopsided outing.

2015 World Junior Tournament Update

The Coyotes had just two prospects play in the World Junior Championships over Christmas, but have plenty of reason to be optimistic with what they saw.

Watching Max Domi shine with Team Canada at this year’s World Juniors, it is hard to understand how the dynamic forward fell to the Coyotes at 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. The Philadelphia Flyers selected hulking defenseman Samuel Morin one pick before Domi, and while Morin was also a part of Team Canada, he had nowhere near the impact Domi had.

Named the tournament’s top forward, Domi was a force in every game, but saved his best for the gold medal game against Russia. In the 5-4 win, Domi scored once and added a pair of beautiful assists, earning praise from the Air Canada Centre crowd who chanted his last name numerous times throughout the tournament.

Domi scored five goals and added five assists in seven games throughout the tournament.

In his first appearance at the World Juniors, 18-year-old Anton Karlsson was not exactly relied upon to do the heavy lifting. Rather, he made the team for his combination of physical play and defensive responsibility. Still, Karlsson picked up two assists in seven games for the Swedes, who lost in the bronze medal game to Slovakia.

His two points came against Denmark and Switzerland, and his ice time tapered off against Czech Republic and Russia in the round robin. Karlsson will likely see his role expanded next year, as he is eligible to return.

Coyotes Prospect of the Month

American-born winger Christian Dvorak was already having a breakout season with the London Knights of the OHL prior to the World Juniors, but with fellow Coyotes prospect Max Domi leaving for the World Juniors, Dvorak and Mitch Marner (2015) carried the charge offensively.

Since the beginning of December, Dvorak has recorded 35 points in just 14 games, highlighted by a pair of five-point nights and a six-point performance against the Sarnia Sting on New Year’s Eve. He is currently third in league scoring with 78 points in 41 games, a tremendous leap from last year’s 14 points in 33 games.