Coyotes 2005 draft preview

By Jeff Dahlia

Coyotes Top 10 Prospects

1. David LeNeveu, G
2. Fredrik Sjostrom, RW
3. Matthew Spiller, D
4. Keith Ballard, D
5. Enver Lisin, RW
6. Randall Gelech, LW
7. Matt Jones, D
8. Blake Wheeler, RW
9. Kiel McLeod, C
10. Logan Stephenson, D

Team Needs

Through trades and a couple key free agent signings directly preceding the lockout, GM Mike Barnett has skillfully sprinkled veteran leaders like Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Sean O’Donnell and Mike Ricci, around a skillful blend of younger players led by Oleg Saprykin, Mike Comrie and Ladislav Nagy. Stocking the team’s roster up front will allow the prospect core time for further growth and seasoning. With almost a full roster already under contract, the Coyotes have few needs heading into free agency and the draft. In net, Brian Boucher is currently a restricted free agent, while the future is very cloudy for Brent Johnson and oft-injured Zac Bierk.

Organizational Strengths

Phoenix has a good blend of prospect defensemen, some of whom could be ready for a roster spot with the parent club when play resumes. The Coyotes have added considerable depth with two-way specialists such as Keith Ballard, Matt Jones and Igor Knyazev. They have also been able to wrangle some good defensive-defensemen in Matthew Spiller, Joe Callahan and Logan Stephenson. All show a considerable amount of potential and the Coyotes expect each of them to step into an expanded role in the NHL within the next few years.

Looking up front and towards the distant future, the Coyotes have a considerable amount of depth at the center position. They also have stockpiled many forwards generally, who project to be everyday third or fourth line players. While you might find a prospect like a Daniel Winnik or a Roman Tomanek conceivably playing themselves onto the top two lines in the distant future, reality suggests that most of the pool would lineup on the bottom two lines if they were to make the club in years to come.

Organizational Weaknesses

Phoenix’s prospect core could use a couple top-end players on offense. While it appears that only prospect Fredrik Sjostrom will project to be a top line winger, other larger profile prospects like Blake Wheeler and Enver Lisin are less certain. Former 2002 first round selection, Jakub Koreis is slated to become a top two-way centerman, but will not be looked upon to put up superstar caliber numbers. Having a lack of quality top six type forwards in the system will force the franchise to seek this talent via the free agent market, which could come at a premium.

More specifically, Phoenix is extremely lean on the wings. Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter are a couple prospects who have been alternating between the center position and the wing positions over the last season. However, the rest of their centermen maintain certain attributes that make them more valuable up the middle.

The other obvious move would be to add another goalie prospect, if they don’t sign Frank Doyle. Doyle was the goalie who the Coyotes sought out to play for their 2004-05 ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads. He went on to become a league All-Star, and a top ranked netminder in his rookie season in the ECHL. Given the right opportunity, the ex-Maine Black Bear could be a strong prospect.

While David LeNeveu is poised to be the future for the Coyotes, the options after him are really limited. Going into his senior season with the University of New Hampshire, Jeff Pietrasiak has some potential and decent upside, but he doesn’t appear to be in the picture for Phoenix right now.

Although the Coyotes have done a good job of stocking their system with prospects, the overall group is extremely young, inexperienced and will need a long time to develop. There only appears to a handful of prospects who will have the ability to make the team’s roster on a semi-temporary basis, in the next few years to come.

Draft Tendencies

Under the direction of GM Barnett, the Coyotes have had only two first round picks in 2002 (Jakub Koreis) and 2004 (Blake Wheeler) over the last three drafts. In 2003, they selected Tyler Redenbach 77th overall with their first pick, which came in the third round. While they have become unpredictable in the first round, they have continued to identify quality prospects in the second round and third rounds. At last year’s draft, the Coyotes did an excellent job at obtaining quality talent later in the process. It is speculated that the success came from Coyotes Vice President of Scouting and Player Personnel Dave Draper’s ability to identify “sleeper” picks with hidden potential, with a shorter draft it will be interesting how they will fare going forward.

By the numbers, many would suggest that the Coyotes have started to favor drafting out of the WHL over the last three drafts. But in fact, 41 percent of their draft picks actually went onto NCAA schools and teams. They have relied heavily on Northern American players, selecting a total 22 prospects or 80 percent of their total picks they have had over the last three years.

Phoenix has gotten away from the OHL, a league where the organization had drafted up to 12 percent of their prospects from 1996 to 2001. Now, only two players have been selected over the past three years, both in 2002.

Though the Coyotes picked up Liam Lindstrom in 2003, they have generally neglected the Scandinavian region over the last three years. They have failed to draft a legitimate prospect out of either Sweden or Finland since the franchise selected Fredrik Sjostrom (SEL-Frolunda) back in 2001.

Although the Coyotes are looking to stockpile talent overall, the top need will be adding a couple high-end offensive threats. With this in mind, they should be looking for a No. 1 centerman or a skilled, goal-scoring winger up front, with their first two picks.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Ryan Stoa, C, USNTDP

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