Coyotes Top 20 prospects

By Jeff Dahlia


Top 20 at a Glance

1. David LeNeveu
2. Fredrik Sjostrom
3. Matthew Spiller
4. Enver Lisin
5. Keith Ballard
6. Martin Hanzal
7. Blake Wheeler
8. Zbynek Michalek
9. Matt Jones
10. Randall Gelech
11. Jakub Koreis
12. Logan Stephenson
13. Kevin Porter
14. Kiel McLeod
15. Dmitri Pestunov
16. Joe Callahan
17. Daniel Winnik
18. Aaron Gagnon
19. Lance Monych
20. Pier-Oliver Pelletier

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (1) David LeNeveu, G
2nd Round, 46th – 2002, 22, 6’1, 170

David LeNeveu has done just about everything that has been expected from him since
signing with the Coyotes out of Cornell University two seasons ago. And while his professional statistics might not be indicative of his full potential, Phoenix is still aiming to make him the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.

He has seen a lot of heartbreak over the last two seasons, but LeNeveu doesn’t unravel easy. He has taken everything in stride and continues to develop at a steady rate. He is very solid technically and has the talent to be a starter at the NHL level within a couple of seasons. He’ll be the starting goaltender with the Coyotes new AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, for the 2005-06 season.

2. (2) Fredrik Sjostrom, RW
1st Round, 11th – 2001, 22, 6’0, 198

Fredrik Sjostrom remains the top forward prospect in the Phoenix system. He played the 2004-05 season in the AHL with the Utah Grizzlies and led all prospects on the roster in scoring. Overall, Sjostrom had a great year to take in a full season at the professional level without much interruption
or pressure.

Sjostrom is the best all-around skater in the pool of prospects. While he can use that skating ability to his advantage, he also isn’t afraid to get physical to get things done. He understands the game very well and is a very competent player. His only weakness
is inconsistency. Looking forward, he should be able excel in the new NHL now that the
red line has been removed. The Coyotes shouldn’t really expect him to put up a
lot of points this season, but he is going to have to contribute a significant clip to see meaningful minutes every night.

He is well aware that lofty expectations still remain, and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
He is the most likely prospect to earn a roster spot with the Coyotes for the 2005-06

3. (3) Matthew Spiller, D
2nd Round, 31st – 2001, 22, 6’5, 210

Giving the situation during the 2004-05 season with Utah, Matt Spiller showed a lot of poise for the young and inexperienced squad. So much so, he earned defenseman of the year honors with Grizzlies. He is by far the most qualified defensive prospect to get a crack at the Coyotes roster. He is a great competitor; he doesn’t
succumb to pressure and never took a shift off. His work ethic demonstrates why he was called up to play in Phoenix before the NHL went into hibernation for a full year.

Spiller is a big stay-at-home defenseman whose best work is done from the blue
line in. He has all the intangibles to make him a premier rearguard for the Coyotes in the future. He’s not much of an offensive threat, but he is competent enough to play top unit minutes.

There’s an off chance that Spiller could make the Coyotes out of training
camp. If he does, it would most likely be as a seventh defenseman. At this point in his development,
however, he needs to be playing every night. The more plausible scenario has him starting the season in the AHL, with the Rampage. However,
he will likely earn a couple call-ups throughout the season.

4. (5) Enver Lisin, RW
2nd Round, 50th – 2004, 19, 6’1, 185

Enver Lisin had a productive year with Ak Bars Kazan during the 2004-05 season in the Russian Super League. Playing in most of the
team’s games, Lisin was able to earn ice time on a roster loaded with high-end talent. Lisin also represented Team Russia at the 2005 WJC, where he skated on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin (WAS) and fellow countryman and Coyotes prospect, Dmitri Pestunov.

Lisin put up respectable number given the lack of minutes and remained very effective both with and without the puck. While many key in on Lisin’s skating speed, he also displayed to be a very competent and knowledge stickhandler. He showed an uncanny ability to find his linemates in tight situations as well as work well through traffic himself.

Lisin will remain with Ak Bars for the 2005-06 season. This year should prove to be a big test and gauging of his development over the last two seasons. Now that the NHL is in full swing and many off the all-star caliber players will leave Kazan, his minutes will pick up.

5. (4) Keith Ballard, D
2004 trade with Colorado, 22, 5’11, 205

The talented two-way defenseman spent the 2004-05 season with the Utah Grizzlies. Last year was a mixed bag for Ballard. While he would go
on to lead Utah’s defensemen in scoring as a rookie and even earn a roster spot to the AHL All-Star game, his adjustment wasn’t as smooth as many would have hoped for. He had a hard
time adjusting to the overall speed and intensity of the AHL and it showed because he had the
league’s second worst plus/minus in 2004-05.

Like the rest of the Grizzlies, Ballard endured a long season that had a lot more valleys than peaks. He is still a year or so out
from making the Coyotes on a full-time basis, where he is currently slotted to Phoenix’s quarterback of the future.

Ballard will be headed to San Antonio for the 2005-06 season to continue his development. During the next season, he is going to have to show that he can make the proper adjustments. This would also include making the right or safe play, rather than taking
the high risk route. And most of all, he is going to have to find confidence in his teammates and not always try to take matters into his own hands. Before he went down with an ankle injury, Ballard started to show a lot of progress and promise. Hopefully he can take that momentum with him for the upcoming year.

6. (NR) Martin Hanzal, C
1st Round, 17th – 2005, 18, 6’4, 198

Going into this year’s draft, Martin Hanzal was a consensus top pick. After Phoenix picked him up with the 17th overall pick, the elite prospect is making a solid debut on the Coyotes Top 20.

He spent the majority of the 2004-05 season with the Ceske Budejovice junior team, where he was the best player in the league. He also played with the senior club,
where he was able to handle his own. Hanzal also added a solid performance at the 2005 IIHF World U-18 Championships. He was the team’s top scorer and showed when it mattered most that he could be the team’s go-to guy.

Hanzal is a big, skilled forward who has the ability to create and finish with consistency. A true competitor, Hanzal can play in all situations and is not afraid to get
his nose dirty to get the job done. He has good hands and good vision.

The Coyotes would have loved to get Hanzal playing in North America this year, but the highly skilled forward will remain in the Czech Republic and continue to develop during the 2005-06 in the elite league. He is also
a shoo-in for the 2006 Czech U20 squad.

7. (8) Blake Wheeler, RW
1st Round, 5th – 2004, 19, 6’3, 185

While playing in the USHL last year, Blake Wheeler turned in an above average year on sub-par Green Bay Gamblers team. He
was given a big role on the team. It did take him a while to adjust to a higher level of competition, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t
handle. Wheeler was named to the USHL All-Star game last season.

Wheeler is a big forward who should start to show much upside once he settles in
at the University of Minnesota. He’s big, skilled and very competitive. His skating has to improve and he is still
raw, something that will be addressed over the next few years. He has spent the summer preparing for his freshman season and the possibility of earning a roster spot on Team USA’s 2006 WJC roster. The Gophers are stacked with a lot of talented, hardworking players. He is going to be pushed
every day to give a little bit more. The environment is ripe for Wheeler to blossom into the player the Coyotes envisioned last year at draft day.

8. (NR) Zbynek Michalek, D
2005 trade with Minnesota, 22, 6’1, 200

Newcomer Zbynek Michalek joins the Coyotes after spending the 2004-05 season with the Houston Aeros of the AHL, where the two-way defenseman put decent numbers. Having gone undrafted out the QMJHL, Michalek signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Wild in September
2001. The “late bloomer” has been a prospect in their system, leading up to the trade with Phoenix.

Prior to the lockout, the Czech rearguard reached the NHL on a semi-temporary basis. Over a three-month period (January 2004 to March 2004), he was recalled three separate times. The last call up, which occurred on the 9th of March, landed him with the club for the remainder of the season. He would go onto see action in the NHL with Wild for 22 games during that span.

9. (7) Matt Jones, D
3rd Round, 80th – 2002, 22, 6’1, 210

Matt Jones wrapped up his tenure at the University of North Dakota this past spring. He was one of the integral players, who helped the Fighting Sioux into the postseason and into the NCAA
finals. Even though he didn’t match his offensive output from the 2003-04 season, Jones still
had a very good year. Paired with Matt Greene (EDM) for the entire season, the two were one of the most highly regarded defensive duos in all of college hockey.

Jones should be considered as a defensive defenseman, who has some decent offensive flair. He had a little more wiggle room when it came to offense because he was paired with Greene. Overall, he is a positionally sound
player who is very responsible and sticks to his assignments. He has good
vision, good hands and is effective in all situations. Even though he currently has a good height to weight ratio, expect a little more muscle over the year.

Jones will make his professional debut during the 2005-06 season, one he should spend with San Antonio in the AHL.

10. (6) Randall Gelech, LW
7th Round, 208th – 2003, 21, 6’1, 195

Randall Gelech is the epitome of why NHL GM’s love to draft out of the WHL. Having used the experience of playing with Kelowna, coupled with his ultra competitive nature, Gelech made a seamless transition into professional hockey last season. He put up respective numbers in his rookie season, while playing most of his time on the energy line with the Grizzlies in the AHL.

Although he slid down two spots on this installment of the Coyotes’ top 20, Gelech had his stock rise greatly this past year in the franchise. He’s defensively sound with a great work ethic; the hard-nosed prospect has the intangibles that could make him a checking-line winger at the NHL level. He’ll be back in the AHL with the Rampage for the 2005-06 season.

He’s about a season and a half away from making the big league.

11. (11) Jakub Koreis, C
1st Round, 19th – 2002, 21, 6’2, 205

The 2004-05 season was only Jakub Koreis’ second season in North America. After spending the 2003-04 season in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, Koreis made his professional debut last year with the Utah Grizzlies in the AHL. While he wasn’t a key contributor, he did gain valuable experience playing on Utah’s depth lines, showing gradual improvement as he continued to adjust.

He’s a very talented prospect who has had a lot to digest over the last two seasons. He’s been on one continent, two countries and
dozens of cities in little under two years. While it is no different from any other aspiring European import,
it might explain why there has been a stunt in his overall production.

When looking at Koreis, his ultimate upside would be a Bobby Holik type of player. While he is far off from hitting that plateau, his approach, willingness and overall development has been a blessing. He made great strides since coming to North America and he will continue to develop with San Antonio in the AHL, for the 2005-06 season.

12. (10) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 19, 6’2, 185

Logan Stephenson turned in another successful campaign with the Tri-City Americans
in the 2004-05 season. While the Americans didn’t fare that well last season, Stephenson still found ways to improve. He had a spike in his offensive production, but don’t be fooled. While he welcomed the points,
he projects as a defensive defenseman.

Stephenson is a above average positional player, who doesn’t complicate things. He
is extremely responsible defending his own zone. He reads the attack very well and seldom gets caught on his heels. He is an aggressive skater who likes to take the fight to the offense. He is very effective rubbing out forwards, disrupting the flow and getting himself
in between the puck and the goal. He’s a vocal player, who does a great job of stepping up all the time and when it is needed most.

Stephenson was headed back to the Americans in the WHL for the 2005-06 season. He will be playing on a very young and inexperienced team. Except him to see top minutes and be one of the key leaders on this year’s squad.

13. (14) Kevin Porter, C
4th Round, 119th – 2004, 19, 5’11, 194

Porter played every last minute during the 2004-05 season. As a freshman at the University of Michigan last year, he played the entire season on the top two lines,
showed immediate chemistry with his new linemates and put up respectable numbers. He also went onto earn a roster spot on Team USA’s U20 WJC team. And even though Phil Kessel (2006
eligible) stole the spotlight for the Americans, Porter was the team’s most complete player.

Porter is a strong two-way centerman, and a very unselfish player. He has a good all-around game, he’s a strong skater who plays both ends of the ice with
balance. He also has a good physical edge or approach, which makes him effective on the forecheck. Most of all, Porter has a keen understanding of the game, he show great anticipation and has great puck presence. All these intangibles proved it was hard to keep him off the ice as freshman,
even in tough situations.

Porter is back at the University of Michigan this fall. With the departure of key talent
up front, expect the sophomore Wolverine to see an expanded role for the head coach Red Berenson.

14. (9) Kiel McLeod, C
Signed as Free Agent – 2003, 22, 6’5, 216

Kiel McLeod spent the 2004-05 season in the AHL with the Utah Grizzlies. He put up decent numbers considering how anemic and streaky Utah’s
offense was last year. McLeod spent the entire season on the scoring lines and on the top power play unit.

McLeod’s size is one of the key reasons he will compete for an NHL in the near future. He has
a build and a comparable game to that of a Keith Primeau or a John LeClair type of player. He’s an average
skater who is effective in the slot and soft hands that help him to capitalize on scoring chances in close.

He’s set to play for San Antonio for the 2005-06 season. McLeod is a very intriguing prospect, one that needs to improve his offensive totals next year to stick with the franchise beyond his current contract.

15. (12) Joe Callahan, D
3rd Round, 70th – 2002, 21, 6’2, 200

Joe Callahan made his first full season debut in the professional ranks last year with the Utah Grizzlies. He had a pretty rough year, where he
had the league’s worst plus/minus rating. While it appears that he was
largely a victim of circumstance, Callahan did make some honest progress during the 2004-05 season.

He is a versatile defenseman who will be asked to bring his physical edge to the arena every
night. He is going to have to work on his positional game and his overall patience. He is a very competent rearguard who needs to relax and trust his instinct. Callahan is a couple of seasons off from reaching his full potential. He has a lot of tools; he just needs to
find how to use them together.

Callahan is a safe bet to start the 2005-06 season with the Rampage.

16. (15) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 20, 5’9, 196

Dmitri Pestunov started the 2004-05 season with Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the Russian Super
League. Almost two-thirds through the regular season, he was traded to Moscow Spartak to make room for newly acquired Fedor Federov (VAN). Last season, he was also selected to Russia’s U20 team for the 2005 WJC. He anchored the top line with fellow prospects Enver Lisin and Alexander Ovechkin. Overall, he had a good year and continued to make great progress.

Pestunov has been blessed with tons of skill, just not height. Given the fact that
smaller players silenced a lot of critics during the 2003-04 season, keeping a player like Pestunov in the mix seem a lot more plausible than it would
have a few years ago. He has a lot of intangibles that would help him thrive in the NHL’s ‘new game.’ He is a good,
clean player who can operate at full speed. He’s got the hands and the sense to make things happen and is very creative with the puck. He works hard and gets things done.

Pestunov is rather far from making the jump to North America and will continue to develop in the Russian Super League with Moscow Spartak for the 2005-06 season.

17. (NR) Daniel Winnik, C
9th Round, 265th – 2004, 20, 6’2, 210

Daniel Winnik makes his debut on the Coyotes Top 20 after a very productive year at the University of New Hampshire. After choosing not to opt-in for the 2003 draft and getting selected late in the 2004 draft, Winnik has been an quite a surprise for the Coyotes. During the 2004-05 season, he was about the most dominant forward for the sophomore class at New Hampshire. He played on very talented team and handled his own at both ends of the ice.

Heading into his junior year, expect head coach Dick Umile to give Winnik an expanded role for the Wildcats. He has a great blend of size and skill. He is not a stranger around the net and loves to put the pressure on down low and in the corners. His overall versatility in the offensive zone and dependability on the backcheck will make him valuable to the Wildcats for the 2005-06 campaign. Expect him to get the nod to anchor UNH’s top line
this fall.

18. (18) Aaron Gagnon, C
8th Round, 240th – 2004, 18, 5’10, 185

Aaron Gagnon worked himself onto the Seattle Thunderbirds top line for the 2004-05 season and impressed all season long. Not only did he play well at even strength, but he also remained one of the team’s best players on special teams. He was
one the team’s best penalty killers and his ten power play goals led the team. He continued to lead the team in points, goals and tied for first in assists.
Gagnon also ranked within the top percentile of players in the WHL in overall points, goals, game-winning goals and plus/minus. His strong play last season also earned him an invitation to Team Canada’s evaluation camp for the 2006 WJC squad this past August.

Gagnon is an all-around centerman that has the puck on his stick often. He plays a lot bigger than he is listed and is solid on his feet. Regardless if he doesn’t make the 2006 U20 for Canada, he stills return to the Thunderbirds for the 2005-06 season. He should be poised to remain as one of the top players on Seattle’s roster as well as in all of the U.S. Division of the WHL. Gagnon is proving to be a great late round pick up and is someone to keep an eye on down the road.

19. (17) Lance Monych, RW
4th Round, 97th – 2002, 21, 6’1, 200

The Winnipeg native had an outstanding year as an overager on a very stacked Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. He was among the tops in scoring on the team and in the league. He helped Brandon go deep into the playoffs, leading the team in scoring during the post season. He ended his junior career on a sour note, when his Wheat Kings lost to the Kelowna Rockets for the WHL crown, thus ending their quest for the Memorial Cup.

The 2005-06 season begins a new chapter for the talented winger’s career. Monych is going to have to step it up now and show he can manage in the AHL for the Coyotes. He has the size and the
skill, and hopes to bring that no-quit attitude that helped him flourish with the Wheat Kings last season.

20. (NR) Pier-Olivier Pelletier, G
2nd Round, 59th – 2005, 18, 6’1, 175

The Coyotes were so high on Pier-Olivier Pelletier that they traded their 2005 fourth round pick (119th overall) and 2006 second round pick to Philadelphia to get him late in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Looking back over Pelletier’s stats from last year, they do not tell the entire truth about the young netminder from QMJHL, who played for the Drummondville Voltiguers. He stepped in and out-played the
team’s other goalies and earned the starting job. He was also the backup to Carey Price on Team Canada’s U-18 squad this past year at the IIHF World U-18 Championships. He is among to the top goaltenders coming out of Canada, and he will be in contention for a roster spot for Canada’s 2006 WJC team come this winter.

He will be headed back to Drummondville, where he should assume the starting role on a full-time basis.

Missing the cut

Frantisek Lukes, LW
8th Round, 243rd – 2001, 22, 5’10, 170

It took Frank Lukes longer than expected to get things going in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads during the 2004-05 season. When he hit on all cylinders, he was the Steelheads’ most explosive player. He saw limited action with the Utah
Grizzlies as well.

Lukes has all the tools you need in a crafty scoring winger. However, consistency and confidence have been key issues with him over the last two seasons. Going into his third professional season in North America, he’s got to make an immediate imprint to earn the trust of the coaching staff and the franchise. If he starts the 2005-06 season where he left off last season with Idaho, chances are he could get back on track and back in the minds of the Coyotes front office personnel.

Ryan Garner contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.