It feels like the Arizona Coyotes have been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent years. Relocation worries, arena concerns, wrangling around leases, and city council disputes have tended to overshadow the good work done by General Manager Don Maloney and his organization in building the best prospect group in the league. This season, led once again by one of the NHL’s best coaches in Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have been better than expected as they develop toward a contending squad. Part of that success is owed to the development of its rookie prospects.
Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have both popped up in early Calder Trophy discussions, and a strong second half from Louis Domingue might garner him some votes as well. Strong drafting, developmental patience, some savvy trades, and strict attention to hockey fundamentals have helped the Coyotes into a position to push for the playoffs. Whether they make it in or not, the process gives cause for optimism.
Laurent Dauphin, C, 20
Laurent Dauphin made his NHL debut this season, an understated affair much like his junior career in one of the QMJHL‘s smaller markets. Far and away the most important player for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in his final junior season, Dauphin has adjusted well to being a rookie player in a complementary role. A player who possesses a well-rounded game and projects as a good second-pairing center, he stuck around for three NHL games playing a true center role and getting his first NHL goal in impressive fashion. Dauphin will nonetheless have to show continued growth this season to stay in the conversation for this team that is loaded with promise.
The Coyotes’ new AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, is not really a fully-committed developmental organization this season. It has a veteran-heavy and older lineup, which allows for less pressure on its younger rookies but also limits their opportunities for ice-time and responsibility. Dauphin sits just outside the top ten in scoring, but has been a lineup regular outside of his NHL time and been able to to create scoring chances consistently. There is plenty of reason to think the Coyotes will rely on prospects like Dauphin next season, and he is one player who might be able to handle some of that difficult challenge.
Anthony Duclair, LW, 20
Although he is graduated from prospect status, Duclair is still in the learning phase of his development. His lethal speed remains to be deployed on a regular basis, but his confidence is growing along with his understanding of the NHL game. His defensive game is about average for a rookie, but he has been a positive corsi player during his average of 14 minutes a night, and only Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tobias Rieder are up there with him. Part of that is his usage, but there is no harm in being a threat to score. Duclair has speed, the ability to get open, and the ability to shoot on goal. He hasn’t put up the scoring numbers Domi has, but remains one of the better acquisitions Don Maloney has made.
Max Domi, LW, 20
Domi provided the Arizona faithful with a glimpse of his potential in the first weeks of the season, and would be a shoo-in for a Calder nomination if not for the truly extraordinary rookie crop in competition for that honor. He is already one of the better puck-handlers in the league, with a creative and aggressive offensive mindset on display whenever he has possession. Domi finds ways to score, but of course struggles to be a consistent performer. As he gains experience, and the team improves around him, he will likely have more opportunities to demonstrate that high level of technical skill. In the meantime, he has to refine his positioning and continue to engage as a player forced into the somewhat unfamiliar role of playing a defensive role. Regardless of his presence at any award ceremony this season, it has already been a noteworthy debut for Domi, a player whose skill and energy make for an enjoyable viewing experience most nights.
Tyler Gaudet, C, 22
Gaudet was a standout defensive player during his time in the OHL. While it would be a lot to ask him to replace the likes of Boyd Gordon or Kyle Chipchura next season, he is a player in that mold and the opportunity exists. Gaudet brings good positioning and strength on each shift, and fits the program. Though he has played just five NHL games this season, he has been recalled again to Arizona. If he can absorb some of the wisdom of elite defensive centers like Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal, and Gordon, Gaudet could earn a second contract. There is a definite need for a player of his skills in the system, he just has to prove able to handle an accelerated push.
Jordan Martinook, LW, 23
Martinook, a second-rounder back in 2012, is just a handful of NHL games from graduating from Hockey’s Future prospect status. With 182 AHL games on his resume as well, Martinook might be practically a grizzled veteran on next season’s Coyotes roster. Earning around 15 minutes a night in his second season, Martinook’s growth is a little-noticed aspect of the Coyotes’ team-building over the last few seasons. Martinook takes on defensive zone assignments on a regular basis and has handled it fairly well as a rookie. With 19 points already on the season, he deserves some credit for finding ways to make a difference. While Martinook may not score 30 points every season, having a hard-working player in the group who is capable of it gives the Coyotes a lot of options.
Christian Thomas, LW, 23
Don Maloney’s connections to the New York Rangers run deep, and this season’s acquisition of Christian Thomas makes yet another. The Rangers’ 2010 second-rounder has now been traded for Danny Kristo and Lucas Lessio. Thomas finished his OHL career at a point-per-game and has been just under half a point-per-game in the AHL, despite playing for three different organizations.
There is certainly a chance for him to be a productive player for the Arizona Coyotes, a fast team that emphasizes the forecheck. There are questions about Thomas’s physical readiness for a full-time NHL role, but a more open game presents an opportunity for a player who is a consistent AHL scoring threat and has NHL speed.
Louis Domingue, G, 23
Domingue is at risk of losing confidence, having lost his last three starts, but he has shown some promise as an NHL goalie. One of the hardest things to learn for younger goalies in the NHL is when to play the puck, but the speed of shots and the guile of scorers also present their own challenges. Still holding a .915 save percentage (compared to Anders Lindback’s .894), he has yet to lose the backup role he is likely to inherit next season. The Coyotes also have yet to re-sign the restricted free agent but he seems to be a solid option.
Jarred Tinordi, D, 23
John Scott may have the spotlight for now, but Jarred Tinordi was already an uncommonly famous prospect before being involved in the now-infamous trade. The 22nd pick of the 2010 Draft has taken some time getting ready for full-time NHL duties, but many others from that class – including Arizona’s own first-rounder Brandon Gormley – did not develop as projected. Tinordi may not be a top-pairing defenseman in his career but with his intimidating size and strength he can still play an important role for a team. There is also the fact that despite the stops and starts of his career with the Montreal organization, Tinordi has been a positive corsi player in his career. With only two NHL defensemen signed for next season, Arizona will have some hard decisions to make. Tinordi’s pedigree is excellent, but he will have to show the team a capacity for playing a smart and effective game that helps produce wins.
Philip Samuelsson, D, 24
Like Tinordi, Samuelsson started his career in the shadow of a famous father. Also like Tinordi, Samuelsson is on his second organization and playing for a second contract. With less NHL experience, Samuelsson may come out the worse in comparison. However, he has had a good season with Springfield, amassing 21 points for the Falcons in 40 games and taking on a leadership role. Just three games with the Coyotes may be telling, but his deployments have been almost identical to Tinordi’s. The Coyotes went out of their way to acquire him, but his future may now hinge on factors beyond his control.
Klas Dahlbeck, D, 24
Dahlbeck is yet another restricted free agent at the end of the season and the Coyotes face a difficult decision. While not cast as an offensive talent, Dahlbeck scored 35 points in the AHL in 2013-14. He plays a smart and tough brand of hockey, yet by the underlying numbers Dahlbeck does not help to drive the offense. Thus, he has been a healthy scratch lately, as the team attempts to figure out which free agents to be will merit a raise and a roster spot next season. He has graduated from prospect status, but that does not always mean that a player has established himself in the NHL. Dahlbeck is a useful player, one who probably fits in better once the Coyotes have improved the depth around him.
2016 World Juniors
The Coyotes sent a total of seven prospects to the 2016 World Juniors. Although only two ended up medalling, it is a testament to the strength of the pool to be so well-represented by the best (or close to it) that these nations have to offer in the age group.
Christian Dvorak continued the strong play that makes him one of the system’s most promising players, totaling eight points in Team USA’s bronze-medal performance at the tournament. It was a top-heavy affair for Ron Wilson and his staff, but Ryan MacInnis was deployed as a responsible checker and showed a lot of capability in that role.
This was one of Canada’s weaker entries in recent years, though of course the addition of an eligible player like say, Connor McDavid, might have helped turned the tide in favor of the maple leaf. Nonetheless, the Coyotes’ number one prospect, Dylan Strome, played a top-line role for Team Canada. Strome paced the squad alongside Mitch Marner, but neither could overcome the bad penalties and lack of cohesion that doomed the team eventually. Unfortunately, Brendan Perlini was one of several former first-round picks who was held without a goal, and Perlini in fact failed to score any points at all.
Fourth-place finishers Team Sweden had three Coyotes prospects: wingers Anton Karlsson and Jens Looke, and goaltender Erik Kallgren. Looke ended up as the highest scorer of those three, playing in a somewhat minor complementary role but amassing four points. Karlsson saw even more limited duty, but still managed to impress with a well-rounded game, despite getting just a single goal. Kallgren did not see game action, despite an impressive resume with Team Sweden in other international competition.
Prospect of the Month
Last season’s QMJHL scoring leader Conor Garland is at it again. The Moncton Wildcats star who racked up 129 points last season (tied with Dylan Strome for most in the CHL), plus 25 more in 16 playoff games, already sits at 107 points in 48 games played – almost 30 points ahead of number two. This break-neck pace did not suffice to earn him a spot on Team USA for the World Juniors, but the Coyotes saw fit to sign Garland to an entry-level contract in December regardless. Garland has not yet become a hulk, but his shifty skating ability often keeps him away from heavy contact. His eventual transition to an NHL star in the style of Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, or Artemi Panarin of course remains a matter of exciting speculation. But having proven to be an elite junior talent, Garland’s future is a positive one.