Oliver Ekman-Larsson remains Phoneix Coyotes top prospect

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the top defensive prospects in the league, will be expected to compete for a spot on the Coyotes opening day roster. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

On a top 20 deep in defensive talent, four new players make their debut, including 2010 first-round picks Brandon Gormley and Mark Visentin. As many as five players, including defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Viktor Tikhonov will be expected to compete for a spot on the NHL opening day roster. Several more, such as defensemen Maxim Goncharov and David Schlemko will be expected to be mid-season call-ups.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (1) Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D 8.5C
2. (2) Brett MacLean, LW, 7.5C
3. (3) Viktor Tikhonov, C, 7.5D
4. (NR) Brandon Gormley, D, 7.5C
5. (4) David Schlemko, D, 7.0C
6. (5) Chris Summers, D, 7.0C
7. (7) Maxim Goncharov, D, 7.0C
8. (6) Chris Brown, LW, 7.0C
9. (NR) Mark Visentin, G, 7.0C
10. (13) Michael Stone, D, 7.0C
11. (NR) Oscar Lindberg, C, 6.5B
12. (10) Nick Ross, D, 6.5C
13. (14) Mathieu Brodeur, D, 6.5D
14. (8) Jonas Ahnelov, D, 6.5C
15. (11) Colin Long, C, 6.5C
16. (NR) Philip Lane, RW, 6.5D
17. (9) Mike Lee, G, 6.0D
18. (16) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 5.5C
19. (12) Brett Hextall, C, 5.5C
20. (17) Justin Weller, D, 5.5D

1. (1) Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, 19
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2009

Ekman-Larrsson remains the Coyotes top prospect and the time might be now for the young defensemen to begin his career in the desert. A tremendously talented player in all aspects of the game, Ekman-Larsson brings both stellar defensive play as well as the ability to produce offensively. An effortless skater with great overall hockey sense, the 19-year-old spent the past two seasons with Leksands in the Swedish second division and was the club’s leading scorer among defensemen for the 2009-10 season. He also ranked second on the team with 98 penalty minutes showing his commitment to improving the physical side of his game, which has been questioned in the past.

With a couple spots open on the Coyotes blue line it is largely expected that Ekman-Larsson will grab one of those spots and begin what is poised to be a long professional career.

2. (2) Brett MacLean, LW, 21
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2007

MacLean is a player who has done seemingly all he can at the AHL level and appears ready to make his first appearance in an NHL uniform. MacLean was the top performer for the AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage leading the club in goals with 30 and points with 65. He also led the team with a plus-13 rating and was one of only a handful of players that maintained a plus rating.

MacLean has proven the ability to produce at every level he has played and is itching for a chance to prove he can continue to produce at the highest level. He will have a good chance to crack the Coyotes line up out of training camp as management has been very impressed with his play through two seasons in the AHL.

3. (3) Viktor Tikhonov, C, 22
Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2008

Having already played close to a full season with the Coyotes, Tikhonov went through quite the ride during his second go round with the club. Expecting to make the team out of camp, Tikhonov was assigned to the Rampage where he would play in just four games before being loaned out to Severstal in the KHL. In 25 games for the Russian side, Tikhonov displayed his goal scoring prowess, collecting 14 goals.

Despite varying reports, Tikhonov maintains that his goal still is to play in the NHL and he will head to training camp hoping to make the team just as he did two years ago.

4. (NR) Brandon Gormley, D, 18
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2010-08-30

A player many expected to go in the top five picks of the 2010 draft, Gormley slid on draft day and landed in the welcoming arms of the Phoenix Coyotes. A solid contributor at both ends of the ice, Gormely is extremely poised in all areas of the ice. Not overly flashy, he rarely makes a mistake with the puck, preferring to make smart passes and keeping it simple in his own zone. His hard, accurate shot from the point makes him a weapon on the power play, and at 6’2, 186 pounds Gormley has the size to play a physical shut down role but doesn’t take himself out of position by looking for the big hit. In 58 games last season, Gormley posted 9 goals, 34 assists, and a plus-31.

Gormley will head back to his junior team in Moncton where he will be looked upon as one of the leaders of what is now a much younger team. The 18-year-old also seems to have an excellent chance at making team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Hockey Championships, something that is always a valuable experience for any young player.

5. (4) David Schlemko, D, 23
Acquired as a free agent in 2007

As an undrafted player, Schlemko’s development has been fast and impressive to say th
e least. Since being left off the draft board in 2007, Schlemko has more than exceeded expecations and impressed enough to receive call-ups on two different occasions. Last year the 23-year-old appeared in 17 games for the Coyotes and chipped in a respectable five points. When he was sent back to San Antonio, Schlemko picked up as the club’s best all around defensemen, finishing as the second highest point getter on the blue-lines despite playing in some 20 less games than his teammates.

A gifted offensive defensemen, Schlemko has the ability to stabilize or even quarterback a power play as he possesses good vision. He is also good at distributing the puck up ice and starting the play.

Schlekmo will be in tough to find a spot among the Coyotes top six but with his ability to provide offense, he certainly has put himself on the short list of candidates.

6. (5) Chris Summers, D, 22
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2006

Having wrapped up his collegiate career with the University of Michigan, Summers is destined for his first full year of professional hockey which is likely to begin in the AHL. A captain during his junior and senior seasons, Summers was a rock solid defensemen for the maize and blue amassing a total of 12 goals, 34 assists and 46 points in 123 games. As a captain his leadership abilities shone through on and off the ice as he helped guide a young and inexperienced team.

An excellent skater, Summers projects as more of a stay-at-home defensemen but with his good mobility and effortless stride, Summers should be able to chip in offensively as well.

While likely to start the season in San Antonio, it is very possible that the 22-year-old will get called-up at some point during the season due to the fact that injuries are inevitable.

7. (7) Maxim Goncharov, D, 21
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2007

Young Russian defencemen Maxim Goncharov is starting to turn into somewhat of a steal for the Yotes. Not drafted until the fifth round of the 2007 draft. Goncharov has already played five seasons in the KHL with CSKA Moscow. In 51 games this past season, Goncharov registered four goals and 13 assists in 51 games. He also kept a solid plus-five rating for the season while playing his usual aggressive style of defense.

Goncharov has good size and speed and his effective at both ends of the rink. He doesn’t mind playing a physical game either and loves looking for a big hit.

The 21-year-old has been improving every year and has now worked his way into having a legitimate chance at making the Phoenix roster. He will be in tough to do so but the fact that he has already put his name in the hat must be an encouraging for both he and the Coyotes.

8. (6) Chris Brown, LW, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2009

A team-mate of Summers’ at the University of Michigan, Brown enjoyed a very successful freshmen season in Ann Arbor. Brown was one of the top scoring freshmen in the nation posting 13 goals and 28 points in 45 games. Those 28 points were the fourth highest total on the team as Brown became a go-to-guy for head coach Red Berenson as the season progressed.

A rare hockey prospect hailing from the state of Texas, Brown heads into his sophomore season looking to become one of the top players in the country for the Wolverines who will look to return to national prominence.

Brown is a prototypical power forward on the wing with great size and strength combined with good speed and an ability to find loose pucks around the goal area. The 19-year-old is also unafraid to mix it up and was one of the team’s most aggressive players on a consistent basis.

9. (NR) Mark Visentin, G, 18
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2010

As the second of Phoenix’s two first-round picks, Visentin quickly became the organization’s top goaltending prospect when he was selected as the 27th pick in the 2010 draft. Visentin has played two seasons with the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL and although his stats aren’t great, Visentin has shown that he has the talent to be a number one starter. In 55 games, the netminder posted a 24-26-4 record, a 2.99 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage.

Having recently just turned 18 years of age, Visentin already has good size at 6’1, 186 pounds and is very athletic between the pipes. With excellent flexibility, Visentin is never out of the play and is very determined not to be beaten no matter if he is square to the shooter or out of position.

Despite playing all of last year as a 17-year-old, Visentin was considered to be a leader of a young team going through a re-building period. Aside from his duty in Niagara, Visentin, like fellow first-rounder Brandon Gormley, has a chance to crack team Canada’s line-up for the WJHC in December.

10. (13) Michael Stone, D, 20
Drafted 3rd round 69th overall, 2008

One of the WHL‘s highest scoring blueliners over the last two years, Stone enjoyed an excellent season in terms of individual play and team success. The 20-year-old captained his Calgary Hitmen to the WHL title and semi-final berth in the Memorial Cup. Stone led the club in every major category among defensemen and was the focal point of the team on the back-end. In the 69 games he played over 2009-10, Stone posted 21 goals and 44 assists, including 15 goals on the man-advantage.

Throughout his junior career, Stone proved that he is also capable playing a shut down role against the other team’s best players.

Now ready for the next step, Stone will have the chance to earn an important role with the Rampage and very well could turn in an excellent rookie season with the club.

11. (NR) Oscar Lindberg, C, 18
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2010

The Coyotes first of two second-round draft picks in 2010, Lindberg is a strong two-way center who can put up points and is also very responsible defensively. Lindberg began last year with Skelleftea in the Swedish Junior League where he was one of the leagues top gunners. In 30 games he scored 14 goals and dished out 23 assists, and for the second consecutive season, led the league in faceoff percentage. The 18-year-old’s excellent play granted him a call-up to the Elite level where he would appear in 36 games. Although he didn’t produce nearly as much in terms of offense, Lindberg still held his own defensively and then gained valuable experience of playing in 10 playoff games.

Lindberg will get a couple more years to develop in Sweden before he brings his game to the pro level in North America.

12. (10) Nick Ross, D, 21

Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2007

Beginning the 2009-10 season in San Antonio, Ross who was never a big scorer in junior, had a tough time of it offensively, posting just two assists in 47 games.
Despite a lack of productivity in terms of offense, Ross held his own defensively and was a plus-6. With the San Antonio line-up stacked with defensemen, Ross was sent down to the ECHL where he played seven games with the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Having battled through a tough first season, Ross came out alive and is still very much a player that management thinks can play in the NHL in the not too distant future. With a better understanding of what to expect, look for the 21-year-old to have a much better second season with the Rampage

13. (14) Mathieu Brodeur, D, 20
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2008

A towering blue-liner at 6’6, Brodeur has been steadily improving every year of his junior career and has worked his way onto the growing list of good NHL prospects in the Phoenix organization. In the 2009-2010 season, Broduer reached career highs with four goals, 25 assists, 31 penalty minutes, and a plus-31 rating, and was one of the stoutest defenders for his junior team in Cape Breton on a nightly basis. At the conclusion of his season, Brodeur received an amateur tryout contract and played in two games with the Rampage, collecting one assist.

Brodeur plays a smart, mature game, and has improved his puck-moving and passing tremendously over the last couple of seasons. The 20-year-old is not the fleetest of foot but is fast enough to take advantage of his long reach and wingspan.

14. (8) Jonas Ahnelov, D, 21
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2006

It was an injury plagued year for Ahnelov and it came at exactly the wrong time as the young Swede was really starting to come along nicely. The injury bug that tore through Ahnelov allowed him to play just 11 games and the former 3rd round pick will now have to re-discover his game and re-establish himself at the AHL level.

A good skater with great core and lower body strength, Ahnelov plays physical and sometimes reckless game that coaches either love or hate. The 21-year-old will hope to put injuries behind him and get back on track for the upcoming season in San Antonio.

15. (11) Colin Long, C, 21
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2008

A forward who posted 191 points over his last two seasons in the WHL, Long has the ability to put up points in bunches and is extremely dangerous in the offensive zone, especially on the power play. In his rookie season with the Rampage, Long never really showed the touch he showed in junior, registering just four points before an injury ended his season after 29 games played.

Long is a smallish center who has a knack for scoring goals. He has an excellent sense of knowing where open ice is and the vision to find teammates in scoring areas. The 21-year-old does need to improve his strength and his defensive awareness which were too areas he struggled during his first pro season.

16. (NR) Philip Lane, RW, 18
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2010

The Coyotes first pick in the second round, Lane is a budding power forward with impressive raw talent and physical ability. At 18, Lane already weighs close to 200 pounds and is listed at 6’2 but expects to gain another inch or two by the time his junior career ends. In his rookie season with Brampton in the OHL, Lane scored 18 goals and added 14 assists in 64 games. The 18 goals ranked among the top 10 in the league among first year players.

While Lane certainly has the tools to be a power forward in the NHL, he will need to bring a more consistent effort on a game-to-game basis. The Battalion and the Coyotes want to see the imposing winger assert himself more physically and use his size to bull his way around the offensive net. The 18-year-old will be counted to produce much more offensively this year for a young team that has seen the graduation of many veteran players

17. (9) Mike Lee, G, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2009

A freshman at St. Cloud State, Lee had a respectable first season and also was a member of team USA’s gold medal winning World Junior team. In 26 starts Lee compiled a record of 12-9-3 with a 2.80 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, as well as two shutouts. At the World Juniors, Lee was the Americans starting goalie for most of the tournament but was pulled in the gold medal game.

Lee is an athletic goalie who is calm and is technically sound in the crease. He possesses good size and moves well side to side, but is prone to letting in some soft goals. Lee will continue to improve his game for the next few years at the collegiate level with St. Cloud.

18. (16) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 19
Drafted 4tth round, 97th overall, 2009

Szwarz is a gritty forward with the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL who is coming off a career year with the club. Szwarz established career highs in goals, assists and points and penalty minutes. With 26 goals and 54 points, Szwarz ranked third on the team in scoring and was one of the team’s inspirational leaders in what was a very successful year.

Szwarz doesn’t have the purest offensive skill set but he makes up for it with a high motor and relentless work ethic. The 19-year-old brings a pit-bull like mentality to the ice every night and is simply fearless when it comes to engaging physically with the opponent.

Szwarz will again be a major leader of a young, up and coming team and will hope to reach the 30-goal-plateau, something he just missed out on last year.

19. (12) Brett Hextall, C, 22
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2008

A small, quick skating center from the University of North Dakota, Hextall is one of the most intense players in collegiate hockey. Despite his lack of size, Hextall is unafraid to stick his nose in the dirty areas and flies around the ice with reckless abandon. That same reckless style cost the 22.year-old part of his junior season with the Fighting Sioux but he still managed to produce good offensive numbers. With 12 goals and 26 points in 34 games, Hextall was fifth on a very talented team in scoring despite missing 10 games.

So far Hextall has never let his smallish frame dictate the way he plays the game. With great speed and tenacity, he projects as a third or fourth line grinder.

20. (17) Justin Weller, D, 19
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2009

Weller is a big, strong defenseman from the WHL who plays a rugged defensive game and is a big physical presence in the back-end. With career highs of two goals and nine points, Weller is almost strictly a stay-at-home defenseman but he is a mobile skater and can make smart first passes out of the zone.

Weller will return to Red Deer where he will be one of the team’s most counted on shut down defensemen.