The Phoenix Coyotes surprising run to the Western Conference Finals may have dropped them a few places in this year's NHL Draft, but you certainly won't hear them complaining. The Coyotes hold the 27h overall pick in the draft and will be selecting outside of the top 10 for the third straight year-proving the club's success over that span.
Top 10 Prospects:
In terms of their prospects, the Coyotes have done an excellent job in building a pool that is solid in pretty much all areas. However, despite making an effort to add offensive talent to their tremendous defensive depth, the team is still lacking elite, goal-scoring and point-producing forwards.
With players such as Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Taylor Pyatt, and Daymond Langkow all unrestricted free agents, there is a strong possibility that there will be some holes among the top 12 forwards. The most glaring name on that list is the 40-year-old Whitney who is coming off a marvelous season in which he led the team in scoring. It is a big question mark if he will re-sign with Phoenix and should he indeed look to move elsewhere then the Coyotes will be without a major part of their offense.
There is some promise among the prospects at forward such as Andy Miele, Lucas Lessio, Alexander Ruuttu, and Chris Brown but none of those players project to be the dynamic, game-breaking type player that the Coyotes have lacked. They have continued to be successful without that type of player and it will be hard to find one with their draft position this year, but General Manager Don Maloney will certainly need to address his teams offensive exploits before long.
For the past few seasons the strength of the Coyotes prospect pool has been their defense, and that strength has only continued to grow. On top of young players such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Schlemko who have seen extended time with the big club, the Coyotes have an impressive list of NHL quality rearguards. David Rundblad and Brandon Gormley are considered two of the best defensive prospects in hockey and could both make impacts as early as next year.
Veteran defensemen Adrian Aucoin and Michael Rozsival are both unrestricted free agents and the departure of either or both could allow Rundblad and Gormley to slot in a full time basis next year. They will however be challenged by fellow prospects Michael Stone and Chris Summers-both of whom played a handful of games with Phoenix this year. Even with all of these NHL-ready blueliners, the Coyotes defensive pipeline doesn't end there. 2011 first-round selection Connor Murphy is coming off an injury shortened first season in the OHL, but has all the tools to be every bit as good as the likes of Rundblad and Gormley.
The team has also made a concentrated effort on stockpiling wingers whose style reflects the way head coach Dave Tippett likes his team to play. Although there is no one among the group of wingers that projects to be much of an offensive threat outside of the junior aged Lucas Lessio, the Coyotes have an abundance of two-way wingers who are all very responsible and provide both energy and physicality.
The biggest weakness for the Coyotes is their lack of sure-fire NHL centermen. The club has opted to rely on the free agent market to pluck their NHL centers rather than draft and develop them. Martin Hanzal is the only center on the roster that Phoenix drafted, while the likes of Antoine Vermette, Daymond Langkow, Gilbert Brule, and Kyle Chipchura were all acquired to shore up the position for this season's playoff run.
In the system, the Coyotes top two prospects down the middle are two undrafted free agents. Andy Miele and Brendan Shinnimin are two small, high-scoring players that have had a great deal of success in college and in junior, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to contribute in the NHL.
Another area that has become a concern for the organization is in goal. Mike Smith appears to being developing into a star, but behind him things get very thin. 2010 first-round pick Mark Visentin is the top goaltending prospect and has enjoyed a stellar OHL career, but is still not considered to be a definite future number one netminder.
Defensemen, defensemen, defensemen. That has been the theme for the Coyotes on draft day for the past few years, particularly in the first round. GM Don Maloney has elected to build on the team's success as a defense-oriented team by drafting elite-level blueliners that he hopes will anchor the team for years to come. Maloney has taken a defenseman in the first round in each of the past three years, selecting budding star Oliver Ekman-Larsson sixth-overall in 2009, Brandon Gormley at 13th overall in 2010, and made Connor Murphy his first choice in 2011 at 20th overall.
Staying the course, the Coyotes have followed up their stud defensemen by drafting grinding two-way forwards, many of which fit the mold of power forwards. Chris Brown, Phil Lane, Alexander Ruuttu, and Lucas Lessio were all second-round selections in the past three drafts and are all good sized wingers who can play a big man's game up and down the wing.
Maloney has also shown a strong liking of Canadian Hockey League players and has used many of his mid and late-round picks on players from the OHL, QMJHL, or WHL. Since 2009, 12 of the club's 19 total picks have come from the CHL, and are the same speedy, physical, in-your-face type players that have become customary for head coach Dave Tippett to use on his third and fourth lines.
The Coyotes will have the 25th, 58th, 81st, 88th, 102nd, 148th, 178th, 184th, 208th picks of the draft.
No. 25: Stefan Matteau, C/W, U.S National Development Team
By simply being a center, Matteau gives the Coyotes something they haven't been keen on drafting in recent years. A two-way center with impressive size and strength, Matteau is a gritty player with a developing skill-set. Although not blessed with great foot speed, he possesses a strong skating stride and is very effective as a forechecker and a finisher around net. With some aging players among the team's current forwards, Matteau will give the Coyotes a dependable option down the middle in the future.