The Rampage enjoyed a winning season in 2009-2010 but failed to make the playoffs in the stacked West division. With the return of high draft picks such as forwards Brett MacLean, Mikkel Boedker, and Viktor Tikhonov, along with the addition of young defensemen such as Chris Summers and Michael Stone, The Rampage will once again challenge for a playoff spot.
San Antonio will be led up front by the club’s leading scorer from last year Brett MacLean. MacLean was one of the final cuts at the Coyotes camp and despite his disappointment of not making the big club; he can be assured that he to be the go-to-guy offensively for the Rampage. MacLean will be joined by fellow youngsters Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov, who must also put the bitter disappointment of not starting the season in the NHL aside; as both will be highly counted on to replace the scoring void left by Kyle Turris.
Picard is an intriguing player who was dealt from Syracuse last season and appeared in 16 games for the Rampage. His combined total of 26 goals ranked him second on the team and his 50 points ranked him third; totals that likely would have been higher had he not served 125 minutes in the penalty box.
Josh Lunden, Dusty Collins, Eric Neilson, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, and David Brine are all likely candidates to fill in the rest of the spots, and although they aren’t big point producers, their additions should help to improve the overall depth at forward.
The strength of the Phoenix organization is the array of young talent on the blue line and the Rampage will greatly benefit from that talent in 2010-2011. David Schlemko and Maxim Goncharov were in a battle for the final spot at Coyotes training camp and Schlemko came out on top and will start the season with the Yotes. Schlemko was arguably the club’s best defensemen last year so now the onus switches to Goncharov, and don’t be surprised if he quickly turns into one of the best first-year players in the league. The young Russian is said to still be somewhat raw but he showed flashes of brilliance at training camp and should be able to pick up the slack.
Chris Summers, Michael Stone and Mathieu Brodeur are all competing for spots and if they make it that means the Rampage will have three rookies in their top six. Summers and Stone seem like locks to make it at this point, but don’t count out the towering 6’6 Brodeur either, as he has seen a rapid improvement in his development over the last two years.
Jonas Ahnelov, Nick Ross and Jeff May are all still very young defensemen but they will be considered veterans compared to some of the others and will need to bring leadership and consistency to the table. Ross was the Coyotes first-round pick in 2007 but had a tough time adjusting to the pro game in his first season. Ahnelov was thought to be on the cusp of making the NHL until injuries plagued his 09-10 campaign and hindered his development. He must now more-or-less start from scratch and regain the form that had the Phoenix management so high on him.
Well-travelled AHL blueliners Garrett Stafford and Nolan Yonkman have also been added to the mix and will look to provide some stability and toughness for a defense corps that will be very young.
The goaltending situation appears to be very thin for San Antonio with a host of goalies with very little experience battling for the two positions. Al Montoya who has been a backup for the Rampage for the past three seasons is in line for the starting job and was recently recalled by the Coyotes. Montoya was called up for emergency purposes so he should be back with the Rampage before too long.
The backup duty is up for grabs between three unproven net-minders. Matt Climie, Joe Fallon and Andrew Volkening are all new additions and they will be trying to catch on with the club as the back-up. Out of the three players, Climie is the only with NHL experience having appeared in just four career games for the Dallas Stars. Fallon was a sixth round pick of the Blackhawks in 2005, while the undrafted Volkening is realistically auditioning for a spot with the Wranglers in the ECHL.
Entering his first full season as head coach, Ray Edwards takes over a team that enjoyed a successful 2009-10 season but ultimately fell just short of every team’s goal which is to make the post-season. Edwards took over as interim coach on November 23, 2009 and under his guidance the team went on to have the league’s best power play percentage.
Prior to taking over as head coach, the 40-year-old Edwards served as assistant coach for the Rampage starting in 2007 and was a part of the ‘07 team that set franchise records for wins and points.
Edwards also previously coached in the CHL with the New Mexico Scorpions and the ECHL’s Huntington Bilzzard
The overall influx of talent is not very overwhelming in terms of offensive prospects for the Rampage. Most of the Coyotes forward prospects remain in junior or the collegiate level, leaving the likes of Brett MacLean, Viktor Tikhonov, Mikkel Boedker, and Colin Long as the only prospects expected to make significant scoring contributions.
Defense is the strength of the Phoenix organization and it is certainly evident when you look at the Rampage blue line. Maxim Goncharov, Chris Summers, Michael Stone, Mathieu Brodeur, Nick Ross and Jonas Ahnelov are an excellent group of young defensemen who will need to be strong defensively as well as provide some offensive punch from the back-end.