The Arizona Coyotes spring Top 20 was chock-full of players excelling in the junior hockey ranks, with a few young pros added in for good measure. Many of the honorable mentions – the players just outside the Top 20 – are playing college hockey or pro hockey in Europe. A few long-term projects may not pan out as professional players, but others are on track for a role with the Coyotes if all goes well. With playoffs right ahead, here is a look at what the college and European group has accomplished in 2015-16 so far.
Erik Källgren, G, IK Oskarshamn (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 7th round, 183rd overall, 2015
Källgren spent the 2015-16 season in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier pro league. He was on loan from Linköping, the SHL team that currently holds his rights. While he got a reasonable amount of work as the backup to former Bemidji State standout Dan Bakala, Källgren put up a middling .897 save percentage in those 20 games. Bakala by contrast had a .923 mark. Källgren was better against his age group and was named to Team Sweden’s u20 squad, although as the third keeper he did not get the opportunity for a game in the World Juniors. It remains to be seen whether he gets the chance for a backup role with Linköping next season or has to find some other place to continue his development.
Jens Lööke, RW, Almtuna IS (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2015
Lööke had a tremendous draft season, playing 43 SHL games with Brynäs and finding some success and making Team Sweden’s u20 squad as a 17-year-old. He did return for the 2016 World Juniors and played a role (four points in seven games), but his professional career has gone just a little sideways. He spent the majority of the season on loan or in the junior ranks, and while the production in both was mostly solid, it is a bit disappointing that he could not solidify his roster spot in the SHL. Still, Lööke does not turn 19 for another month, and he has plenty of time to continue working on his skating and strength and building on his successes.
Anton Karlsson, LW, Leksands IF (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2014
Karlsson played all over during the 2015-16 season. A Frölunda product, Karlsson managed some SHL time this season with the club but only got into nine games of five minutes or more. After putting in some time with the u20 squad, he was assigned on loan to two separate Allsvenskan squads: Leksands and Karlskroga, though he spent just three games with the latter. Among all this time, he was also part of Team Sweden at the World Juniors, managing just one point in the tournament from his depth role.
Frölunda has proven to be a strong squad, so it should not come as much surprise that Karlsson has had a tough time cracking the regular lineup. His physical attributes might give him the look of a pro-ready player, but he needs a bit more seasoning. The next campaign should offer more opportunity for Karlsson to play his game, gain some experience and prepare for the next step in his career.
David Westlund, D, Karlskrona IK (SHL)
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, 2014
Westlund was a limited-viewing type this season, after having played nearly a full slate of 53 games with Brynäs last season. The big defenseman did not bring much offense at the men’s level, as he did in junior, but nonetheless hung tough and played a simple style.
Deciding to leave Brynäs for a chance at more playing-time with Karlskrona looks like a very bad decision at this point. Though he started off in fine style with the SHL’s cellar-dwellers, hitting middle-pairing minutes, his time soon declined. By the time his club faced Växjö in early October, he was an apparently healthy scratch and would appear just once more for Karlskrona, skating just over three minutes against HV71 on October 21. Though he officially played nine games, he registered zero minutes in two of those. Somehow, he ended up with just five games at the J20 level as well. The lack of playing time and production do not bode well for this prospect, and it is certainly something the Coyotes will have to address if he is to have a place in their plans.
Jedd Soleway, C/RW, Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2013
Soleway had his best year by the numbers, despite going almost three calendar months without registering a point. Wisconsin is slowly climbing out of the depression created by the worst team performance in school history, but the Badgers are not yet at full strength. Soleway has been a steady presence during this time, but he is not a big contributor to the scoring. He also managed a -21 rating for the second consecutive season.
After serving a one-game suspension for a dangerous check last weekend, Soleway might return to duties as the center for star freshman Luke Kunin (2016) and team scoring leader Grant Besse (ANA) in the hopes of a Big Ten Tournament upset. The team will need him to be at his physical best in what is a winnable game against Penn State.
Brendan Warren, LW, Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd round, 81st overall, 2015
Michigan has had enormous hype this season over freshman Kyle Connor, who leads the nation in scoring, but other freshmen have performed well for the Wolverines this season. Warren is among them, displaying at times a high level of skill as he grew more used to the competition. The winger has been consistently on the team’s third line, and played in all 34 games so far. With 17 points, Warren did about as much as he could given his limited ice-time, and got about 2.5 shots per game on average. In all, he was overshadowed but has had a solid developmental season while showing the potential to break out as a sophomore.
Hunter Fejes, LW, Colorado College (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2012
Fejes wrapped up a four-year career at Colorado College last weekend. He appeared in 138 games over four seasons, and this season’s 13 goals and 22 points – he led the team in both categories, as well as in shots on goal – were his highest single-season total. Fejes was a bit unlucky in his timing, as Colorado College experienced one of the school’s most difficult four-season runs during his tenure. Colorado College can present a recruitment challenge for head coach Mike Haviland, in part because of its unusual curriculum and high academic standards, but it also has a decent record of producing pros. Fejes is just the latest, having signed an amateur try-out with the Springfield Falcons. He has a few assets as a player that the stats might not indicated, but the All-Academic economics major also brings some character with him.
Jared Fiegl, C/LW, Cornell (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 191st overall, 2014
Three points in 56 career games so far probably won’t register on many followers’ radars, even though Fiegl has other attributes to his game. The sophomore forward brings some physicality to a team that needed to play a shutdown style most of the season but had success with it. Cornell looks like it will return to the NCAA Tournament. As the checking gets tighter and games get more physical, a player like Fiegl is crucial for success. The lack of offense still suggests a long-shot player, but Fiegl has moved into a more responsible role.
Maxim Letunov, C, Connecticut (Hockey East)
Acquired via trade with St. Louis Blues
Connecticut’s season ended with a couple of tournament losses to Vermont, but there were bright spots for the Huskies, namely the play of freshmen Letunov and Tage Thompson (2016). While Thompson did most of his damage on the power play, Letunov was able to use a very high shooting percentage to generate 16 goals (only three with the extra skater). Letunov ended up leading the team by eight points, with 40 in 36 games – the same amount as first-round picks Colin White, Mark Jankowski and Nick Schmaltz and about 30th overall. In all, it was an excellent season for the 2014 second-rounder, who could use another college season at least to build on his frame.
Rhett Holland, D, Michigan State (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2012
The Spartans program has been in a funk for several seasons, with its last NCAA Tournament appearance in the 2011-12 season. Despite that, the team has been a hardworking group, and Holland is something of an example. A big, physical defender without a lot of puck play in his tools, Holland likes to hit and brings that aspect most nights. He was an effective defender again this season, and while he has just one dimension, he plays a fairly pro-ready style. The junior will likely return for one final season in East Lansing, giving the Coyotes another year of development at no cost and the Spartans an inspirational presence.
Connor Clifton, D, Quinnipiac (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2013
Clifton sits third on the team in defense scoring for the Bobcats, behind Devon Toews (NYI) and standout freshman Chase Priskie (2016), but he has had a breakout season for one of the nation’s top teams. After an eye-popping freshman season in which he racked up 106 penalty minutes, Clifton has slowed the game down some without losing his ability to play a physical style. He is one of the team’s top options, and although his size is average by pro standards, he has grown in strength in his three seasons. The right-hander has grown in confidence in the offensive zone and picked up his play even more lately. Quinnipiac still has a lot of hockey ahead this season, and will look to the junior to continue providing pace and leadership in search of a title.
Prospect of the Month
The transition from junior hockey to the pros can be a shock for every player, but it seems to be the case especially when a player had to do everything for a team at a lower level. Part of becoming a solid pro is knowing what not to do in a given situation and developing an understanding of one’s limitations without limiting one’s abilities. For Laurent Dauphin, the former captain and leading scorer of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the 2015-16 season has been all about those adjustments. He had a taste of the pros last season, and got a three-game look at the NHL around the new year, but Dauphin has most spent this season adjusting. It seems to be paying off. He has been hot to start March, with six points in five games, including back-to-back two-point games. His experience this season is making him a more effective player. His ability to help the next group of young Coyotes talent make the same leap will go some ways toward determining how successful the team is over the next few seasons.