The Arizona Coyotes are in the middle of an organizational shift, opting to move on from some of their longest serving players in favor of promoting their top prospects. Opportunities abound and there are a number of notable prospects who have a chance to make their mark as training camp kicks off.
New additions Anthony Duclair and Maxim Letunov, arriving in a pair of deadline moves, boosted an already deep system, while Dylan Strome vaulted straight to the top of the Coyotes rankings as the third overall pick in June’s 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The system has a number of interesting stories from established pro prospects, junior-level talents, and a few amateur and European skaters looking to earn their first contract.
The Arizona Coyotes have shown an extreme amount of patience, and if the team is anything like a poker game, it’s time for the team to push “all-in” and embrace Max Domi’s arrival. Domi recently completed his fourth and final season in the OHL, finishing his junior career with 331 points in just 244 regular-season games. The young phenom is a polished offensive product that appears ready to make the Coyotes straight out of training camp.
Last year, Domi made it interesting in the preseason, but the team ultimately sent him back to junior. The extra experience gained not only from the OHL but from his time spent with Canada’s World Junior squad has prepared Domi for day-to-day life in the NHL. While it’s conceivable that the team could continue to be patient and let him work on other parts of his game in Springfield, the Coyotes desperately need an injection of offense, something that Domi provides in spades.
Anthony Duclair, LW/RW, Arizona Coyotes (NHL) / Springfield Falcons (AHL)
After beginning last year with the New York Rangers, the team opted to send him back to junior, where Duclair would be an integral part of the Memorial Cup host Quebec Remparts. Ultimately, the Remparts fell short of their goal, but Duclair teamed up with Max Domi on the gold medal-winning Canadian World Junior team. The duo appeared to be a step ahead of most of their opponents, displaying an unmistakable chemistry by using the lethal combination of speed and vision.
When the Coyotes acquired Duclair this spring, it raised some eyebrows around the hockey world. It was clear the team liked what they saw at the tournament, and with two top-six spots potentially open, the Coyotes appear ready to bring Duclair along for the ride as well.
Lucas Lessio, LW, Arizona Coyotes (NHL) / Springfield Falcons (AHL)
The road to the NHL can be a perilous one filled with unexpected twists and turns. Entering his third season as a pro, Lucas Lessio appears primed to be given an enhanced role in order to tap into his offensive potential. The former OHL Cup MVP once displayed a penchant for scoring timely goals, and while his AHL work has been respectable, Lessio now knows what it takes to translate that success at the NHL level. He is entering a make-or-break season in the last year of his rookie contract, and the Coyotes have spots available for a scoring winger, now it’s up to Lessio to prove that he can be more than just bottom-six depth.
Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
It may sound far-fetched to some, but the Coyotes may choose to send the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft back to junior after a CHL-leading 129 point campaign. Dylan Strome represents the future of the club down the middle, and while it might be tempting to tap into his potential right away, the best thing for the team and player is another year in Erie.
Like Domi and many others before him, the Coyotes have exercised patience in player development and have opted to wait it out. While mostly blown out of proportion, Strome does have to work on his skating and other small nuances of the game, and a long OHL season and potential spot on Canada’s World Junior team would go a long way to erasing all doubt.
New Team in 2015-16
Christian Fischer, C/LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Under new management, the Windsor Spitfires are reaping the rewards of an 11th round pick in 2013, as Christian Fischer reneged on an agreement to play for the University of Notre Dame in favor of signing with the Coyotes and reporting to Windsor. The Spitfires happily welcomed Fischer, who already is turning heads in training camp with his rugged style and effective offensive game. After a 31 goal, 33 assist campaign with the United States Development team, it will be interesting to see how his game translates to the OHL.
There may not be a more polished defenseman in the Coyotes system than Dysin Mayo, who has quietly been one of the top rearguards in the WHL over the last two years. This will be a critical season for Mayo, who has yet to earn a contract from the Coyotes. After 35 and 51 point seasons consecutively, Mayo figures to be on top of the WHL defensive scoring charts, thanks in part to his quick, accurate breakout passes and ability to maneuver out of trouble by himself. He has a keen understanding of when to pinch, and in combination with his increasingly physical nature, Mayo has the potential to earn a contract and become a trustworthy option for Arizona.
Maxim Letunov, C, University of Connecticut (Hockey East)
One half of a dynamic duo alongside of Kyle Connor (WPG) with the Youngstown Phantoms, Maxim Letunov is a streaky, lanky forward with a ton of offensive ability. Letunov is a shifty forward, who recently finished a 25 goal, 39 assist season in the USHL. While it’s not one of the powerhouse NCAA schools, the University of Connecticut offers something that other schools may not have been able to, namely playing time. All reports suggest that Letunov will be given every opportunity to shine for an improving Huskies team.
Freshman to Watch
Brendan Warren, LW, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
One player who never wavered from his original hockey plans is Brendan Warren. As a native of Michigan and life-long Wolverine hopeful, Warren will suit up for legendary Head Coach Red Berenson, staying comfortable right in Ann Arbor. Warren doesn’t possess elite skills, but he did put up respectable numbers in the United States Development program, playing in a bottom-six role. Warren is worthy of attention due to his size, instincts, and largely untapped potential.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Hunter Fejes, LW, Colorado College (NCHC)
Looking back at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and Coyotes appeared to have a late-round gem on their hands after taking Shattuck St. Mary’s product Hunter Fejes. With Colorado College, Fejes had a promising freshman season, but things haven’t panned out from there. His sophomore season was wasted due to a horrific injury that forced him to alter the way he plays the game, and although healthy, last year was only a slight improvement from his career numbers. Fejes heads back to Colorado for his senior year, where he will need to be a leader and one of the Tigers go-to scoring options in order to earn a contract.
Jens Looke, RW/LW, Brynas IF (SHL)
One of the top European options available in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jens Looke instantly became the top prospect out of Europe within the Coyotes system. Looke plays with a youthful exuberance that energizes players around him, talents that urged Brynas executives to rely on him not only for SuperElit junior hockey, but 43 games in the SHL. Playing against men who are up to ten years his senior, Looke appeared at ease against more difficult opposition.
The talented Swede is heading back to Brynas for a full season with the SHL team. In addition, Looke should be a shoe-in to make Sweden’s World Junior team, where he will be relied upon as more than just an energy player. His future certainly looks bright, and after this year, Arizona may look to bring Looke over with an entry-level contract.
Anton Karlsson, RW, Frolunda HC (SHL)
The hockey world presented Karlsson with a trio of options, but ultimately a bout of homesickness brought the young Swede back home to Frolunda. After spurning the Erie Otters of the OHL and Frolunda at the beginning of the season, Karlsson opted to try his hand with Skelleftea. There, he performed fine at the junior level as a point-producer, but couldn’t take advantage of minimal icetime in the SHL and opted instead to gain his release and re-join Frolunda, the organization that he grew up in. Karlsson is known as an agitator, and now that he is settled back home, he will be a name to keep an eye on as he adjusts.
Unsigned for 2016-17
David Westlund, D, Karlskrona HK (SHL)
One of the top young defensive defenseman in the SHL, David Westlund has been a reliable option that soaks up icetime. He certainly won’t wow anyone with flashy offensive plays, but his positioning and understanding of the game are drawing rave reviews. After spending the last six years developing with Brynas, Westlund signed a one-year pro contract with newly-promoted Karlskrona. Karlskrona is somewhat undermanned team that potentially may be able to enhance his role and allow him more opportunities to succeed. He has yet to sign an entry-level contract with Arizona however, and if he intends to come to North America, this season will be a true indicator of his talent.