Phoenix Coyotes got little return from high picks in 2007 draft

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Drafted 32nd overall, Brett MacLean is one of only two players drafted by the Coyotes in 2007 to see time in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

In his first major task as the new GM of the club, the recently hired Don Maloney was at the helm, and with the third overall pick in the draft he decided on a forward who was playing in the BCHL.

While that pick didn’t pan out for the Coyotes, it fails in comparison to some of the other poor picks that Maloney made in his first draft as a general manager. Four of the seven picks are likely to never play in the NHL regularly, with two of them already being completely written off in the minor league system.

Although Maloney has done a tremendous job in putting together a playoff contending team through free agent signings and trades, his career got off to an inauspicious start at the 2007 NHL Draft.

Kyle Turris, C, Burnaby Express (BCHL) – 1st round, 3rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 156

When the Phoenix Coyotes selected him as the third-overall pick in 2007, Kyle Turris became the highest drafted player ever to come out of the British Columbia Hockey League. Deciding to play in the league (a step below the WHL) before enrolling at the University of Wisconsin, Turris was a scoring sensation with the Burnaby Express. Scoring 66 goals and totaling 121 points in his draft year, the scouts saw enough talent in Turris to overlook the fact that he wasn’t facing as stiff of competition as someone playing in the WHL would face.

As expected, Patrick Kane (Chicago) and James Van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia) were the first two players taken, and they were followed by Turris whom the Coyotes selected as the third-overall pick.

A year later (2007-08) Turris played his first and only season at the University of Wisconsin and in that same year he even made his NHL debut playing in three games for Phoenix.

In 2008-09 Turris played in what was his official rookie season in the NHL. Playing alongside fellow rookies and high draft picks Mikael Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov, the decision to keep all three youngsters in the NHL was one that became heavily criticized, as most felt they should have been allowed to develop more in the AHL.

With a slight and almost frail build, Turris struggled to adjust to the NHL game in his rookie year and the following year he didn’t see a single NHL game. Spending the season on the farm in San Antonio, Turris’ confidence was shot and questions regarding the way the Coyotes were handling his development continued to be raised.

He returned to the big club in 2010-11 posting a modest 25 in 65 points but as such a high draft pick, Turris was beginning to hear the label that no one wants to hear: NHL bust.

Unable to come to terms with Phoenix on a new contract, Turris sat out training camp and missed a handful of games early in the current season. Upon inking a new deal and playing in six games, the Coyotes saw an opportunity to get something in return for Turris, while giving him a fresh start at the same time. They sent him to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for promising young defenseman David Rundblad, ending the Kyle Turris era in Phoenix.

Since joining the Senators, Turris has 13 points in 19 games and a plus-11 rating, playing in a second-line role.

Nick Ross, D, Regina Pats (WHL) – 1st round, 30th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After going the route of a forward with their third-overall pick, the Coyotes decided to go with a defenseman with their second first-round selection.

Maloney tabbed Nick Ross, a sturdy blueliner from the Regina Pats with the 30th overall pick and unfortunately things haven’t worked out well for the Coyotes or for Ross.

During his five year career in the WHL, Ross was never a player who figured to have much offensive upside but he was considered a very good two-way defender who was a strong skater and could play a physical game as well.

When his junior career ended in 2009, Phoenix expected their first-round pick to make an immediate impact in the AHL with San Antonio, but that never happened, and Ross has spent the last three years being moved from the AHL to the ECHL.

His inability to make progress in his development has caused the other defensive prospects in the Phoenix system to move ahead of him on the depth chart, to the point where it’s beginning to look as if Ross will be a career minor-leaguer with no real hope of ever playing in the NHL.

Brett MacLean, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – 2nd round, 32nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 18

After selecting Ross at 30th overall, Maloney didn’t have to wait long for his next pick as the Coyotes were again on the clock as they held the 32nd overall pick.

He went with Brett MacLean, an elite goal scorer from the OHL‘s Oshawa Generals who had been piling up goals, thanks largely in part to playing with a future first-overall pick John Tavares. In his draft year, MacLean, a left-winger with good size, scored 47 goals and totaled 100 points. His excellent shot and knack for scoring goals is what moved MacLean up the draft board despite being considered to not be the greatest of skaters.

The following year, MacLean had a season to remember as he led the OHL with a whopping 61 goals and finished second with 119 points; one point ahead of Tavares.

That season quickly made MacLean one of the organization’s top forward prospects, and in the three seasons since, he has arguably been the Coyotes best minor-league player.

Last year, the London, Ontario native saw his first NHL action appearing in 13 games with Phoenix. Despite playing well for the most part, the club decided to place him on waivers at the start of the current season and he was quickly scooped up by the Winnipeg Jets. However, he would only play five games before being placed on waivers again where he was re-claimed by Phoenix.

Now with Portland, the 23-year-old is again proving himself to be an elite offensive player in the AHL, but his lack of speed continues to hold him back from becoming a full-time NHL player.

Joel Gistedt, G, Frolunda HC (SEL) – 2nd round, 36th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With a fourth pick within the draft’s first 36 picks, the Coyotes decided to go the way of a goaltender by selecting Swedish netminder Joel Gistedt. Playing his draft year with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League, Gistedt had an excellent season with the club in 2007.

A small goalie at 5’11 and 176 pounds, Gsitedt was Frolunda’s number one goalie as a 20-year-old, allowing NHL scouts to get a good look at what they thought was a future NHL player.

Gistedt played one more year in Sweden before coming to North America for the 2008-09 season. However, he failed to grab a spot on either the AHL or ECHL rosters and found himself playing with the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League.

The following year he was able to catch on with the Las Vegas Wranglers but played poorly in 20 games and likely ended his quest at playing in the NHL. Returning to Sweden this past year, Gistedt never came close to reaching his expectations as a second-round pick and was one of the more disappointing selections in the 2007 NHL Draft; especially given some of the players that were passed up in his favor.

Vladimir Ruzicka, C, Slavia Praha (Czech) – 4th round. 103rd overall
Status: Bust
Games Played: 0

With no third round pick, the Coyotes had to wait until the fourth round to make their fifth pick of the draft where they selected Czech forward Vladimir Ruzicka. The son of the former NHL player of the same name, the younger Ruzicka had been playing in the Czech Extraliga as a 16-year-old but spent the majority of his draft year playing with the club’s Under-20 team.

A good-sized center, Ruzicka continues to play for the Czech team to this day and is in the midst of his finest season to date. Having already established career-highs in every major statistical category, Ruzicka leads Slavia with 11 goals, 13 assists and 24 points in 42 games.

His fine season will certainly raise the hope of Ruzicka making the jump to North American next year, but at this point it still appears as if he his quite comfortable playing in his home country.

Maxim Goncharov, D, CSKA Moscow (KHL) – 5th round, 123rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

While a handful of their earlier picks haven’t quite turned out the way GM Don Maloney and his staff at the time envisioned, they did however land on a bit of a steal with their fifth round selection.

As the 123rd overall pick in 2007, Russian defenseman Maxim Goncharov slipped down the draft ladder mainly due to the fact that he was under contract with the KHL. A member of CSKA Moscow and the Russian National Team, Goncharov possessed the talent and potential of a much higher selection which he is now starting to reach.

At 6’4 and a solid 215 pounds, Goncharov has become a steady defensive-defenseman at the AHL level in just a year and a half in the league. His strong skating and physicality has moved him up the depth chart to where he is now one of the Coyotes top minor league blueliners, and just days ago he received his first ever call-up the big club.

Still looking to play in that coveted first NHL game, the 22-year-old Goncharov is one of only two players selected in 2007 that remains a legitimate NHL prospect for Phoenix.

Scott Darling, G, North Iowa Outlaws (NAHL) – 6th round, 153rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With their final pick in the 2007 draft, Phoenix elected on taking their second goalie of the draft and unfortunately that pick has turned out just like a majority of the previous picks did. Towering Scott Darling was a project at the time of the draft and one that never really got off the ground in terms of his pro career.

Playing his draft year in the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Darling’s size was likely the only reason why he was drafted. After one year in the USHL, Darling had an up and down two-year career at the University of Maine and in the past two seasons he has spent most his time playing in the SPHL.

The highest level he ever reached was the ECHL where he played one game with the Florida Everblades in 2011-12.

No longer property of the Coyotes, Darling continues to play in the lower minor-leagues and has split the current season between the SPHL and CHL.