As the 2004-05 NHL season gets underway, Coyotes prospects David LeNeveu, Zbynek Michalek, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Ballard are currently listed on Phoenix’s 23-man roster.
On their first mini road trip to kick off the 2005-06 season, the Coyotes opened up the year this past Wednesday in Vancouver against the Canucks. They wrapped up the trip the following night against the Kings down in Los Angeles. Although they were on the losing end of both contests, three of the four prospects have already seen action while the fourth is still waiting to make his debut for the season.
Patrolling the crease with LeNeveu
After four years of solid development at the NCAA and AHL level, David LeNeveu finally earned his first NHL start against the Los Angeles Kings earlier this
week due to injury to Brian Boucher. And even though he would fall victim to a persistent and effective Kings power play, LeNeveu looked like a seasoned vet and played exceptionally well, all things considered.
“It was definitely exciting day,” he said about making his NHL debut. “It was a tough day at the same time because you always dream about starting your first NHL game and getting that big win.”
The Fernie, British Columbia native played a very solid 60 minutes. He was extremely poised, positionally sound and he didn’t unravel in the toughest of moments.
“You prepare yourself for moments like this,” he offered about the progressing throughout the Coyotes system. “I hope this is just the first of many for me. I was happy with my performance. I felt I battled hard and I was calm and composed. I feel in order to progress at this level you have to keep your emotions under control and just do the job. I feel tonight was a good step in the right direction.”
When asked about the style and tempo, LeNeveu was quick to key in on the speed and high skill level a lot of the players possess.
“The players have some amazing skills and they can do some amazing things with the puck,” LeNeveu added. “You have to be ready for everything and anything. You can’t depend on the puck leaving the ice and just coming right to you because these guys knock shots and rebounds out of the air. You have to adjust your game and be on top of it to make those challenging saves.”
Aware that his starts are dependent upon his work between the pipes, he is also thankful for all the guidance and support he has from his team and coaching staff.
“They have so much experience in this league and a lot of talent,” he said about the veteran players. “To top it off, look at the coaching staff. Combined, they have made the adjustment a lot less complex for a player like myself. You have a lot of different people to go to if you have questions. It’s nice because
they have the answers for you.”
He was appreciative to get the nod from the coaching staff, but at the same time, he doesn’t forget what it has taken him to make it this far in his young career.
“The last two years have been two big years of my life having moved up to the pro level,” he reflected about turning pro after his record-setting 2002-03 season at Cornell University.
And even though many will recall the long nights in the “A” over the last two seasons, LeNeveu actually found a lot of positives out of the situation.
“Being on teams where I faced a lot of shots has actually worked to my advantage,” the rookie netminder explained about a big key to his development in the AHL up to now. “It really helped last year in the AHL was a really good league because of the lockout. It helped me further develop my game and helped me prepare myself for this season.”
This is only one step, but he’s ready for the future and he’s far from being complacent.
“This is just the first step, the first game,” he summarized. “I know the L.A. game didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, but I know there are many more in the future to come. Overall, it was a hard-fought battle and as a team, we’ll have even more battles to come. Hopefully next time, I’ll finish with the win.”
Michalek joins club; makes good first impression
In a move to bolster their defensive core with mobile, puck-moving blueliners, the Coyotes traded depth players Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood to the Minnesota
Wild for prospect Zbynek Michalek.
Already set to join the Wild, Michalek got the news just about a week before camp was set to open. Before he could settle in, he was already packing his bags and heading out to join the Coyotes.
“Heading into Minnesota’s camp, I had no idea I was going to get traded,” Michalek reflected. “I felt I had a good season last year in Houston (AHL) and I thought I could take that into Minnesota’s camp this year and possibly earn a spot on their roster. All of a sudden, it was the end of the summer and I got traded.”
Not wanting to waste any time, the Czech Republic native hit the ground running with Phoenix.
“It happened so fast,” he added about the move. “I came into camp with Phoenix and I saw a lot of opportunity to make the team. I thought I had a good chance and I was going to do my best and hope for good things.”
With just about a week of lead-time, Michalek was able to at least put a couple faces with names, but once camp started he was all business. For a second, he felt like the odd man out, but he
knew a little hard work and a lot of determination would soon win over his new teammates.
“Everything and everybody was new to me,” he stated about getting assimilated. “It’s huge to make a good impression. I just played my game and gave it my best effort.”
It wouldn’t take the coaching staff a lot of time before they noticed Michalek’s full
capability and he made the 23-man roster. As it would end up, he would go on to to start the season in the Coyotes first game against the Canucks, at GM Place.
Although he had prior NHL experience playing with the Wild in 22 contests during the 2003-04 season, he still caught a case of butterflies heading into the Canucks game this year.
“I was a bit nervous against Vancouver because it was the first game of the season,” Michalek explained about his opening day jitters. “The media and all the hype in Vancouver was something else. I got a little nervous. As the game against the Canucks went on I felt better.”
As the scene shifted to Los Angeles the next night, he found himself in back-to-back games right off the bat.
“I felt a lot better against Los Angeles,” he added about playing against the Kings. “It was nice to see the coaches trust me and put me out in a lot of situations.”
Michalek reiterated that he’s pleased to be up with his new club and hopes he can remain with the Coyotes for the majority of the season.
“I’m just trying to keep things simple and have a good year,” he explained. “I’m going to continue to work hard and hope that everything works out well.”
An errant pencil snubs Sjostrom
Coyotes prospect Fredrik Sjostrom is no stranger to the NHL either. Before the league went into its self-imposed hibernation, he saw action in 57 games with the
Coyotes in 2003-04.
Armed with the knowledge and mindset to get back to the NHL, Sjostrom used this summer to prepare himself for what he anticipated would be a bright future with the Coyotes this season.
“I was really looking forward to this season from day one because I want to have a big year,” Sjostrom explained after recalling an all-around peculiar 2004-05 season in the AHL with Utah Grizzlies. “I worked hard the whole summer back at home before I came into camp.”
Eager to get camp started, Sjostrom was ready to get back to work and show his teammates and management just how committed he was. He had very strong camp and really impressed in the preseason games he participated in.
“It was great,” the Swedish winger said about getting back in the mix and finding success and chemistry early on in camp. “Anytime you can play with talented, strong and skilled guys like we have here, it pushes you to come out and do that much more. It was very important because it was camp and we had a season waiting for us. Like I said, I’ve been eager from day one, so I have gone out
every day and gone hard. Good things happen when you work hard.”
All would hold true, as Sjostrom would get the nod to start against Los Angeles earlier this week.
He was pumped and ready to go, but luck was not on his side that night. After examining the Coyotes lineup a couple minutes into the match, it was discovered by on-ice officials that Sjostrom was not on the list, but was penciled in as a scratch. In his place and by mistake, Petr Nedved was listed on the lineup, when he should have been the scratch.
“It’s just a case of bad luck,” he said with a little frustration. “I was mad but what are you going to do? There’s always tomorrow.”
He would have loved to play, but he’s not worried about the minor mistake; instead he looked to what the future could have in store.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and hopefully earn that regular spot with the team,” he explained with a wide smile. “I want to be with the Coyotes and help take the team to the playoffs. Anything’s possible in the postseason and we’ve seen anything is possible with hard work. I just want to be a part of that.”
Ballard steps it up and begins to shine
Keith Ballard is another prospect who
has been waiting what might have seemed as an eternity to play in the NHL. He got his shot in Coyotes opener against the
Canucks. Not only did he show that is able to play an important role with the team this early, he also notched his first career goal, beating Dan Cloutier for a maker in the Coyotes 3-2 loss to the Canucks.
He went on to play the next night in Los Angeles, proving to be just as effective as the night before. He wasn’t as lucky and didn’t register a point, but Ballard displayed why Coyotes management was so eager to trade for
him a couple of years ago from the Colorado Avalanche.
Ballard continued to showcase his elite skating ability. He’s a mobile defenseman who can work the puck up and out of his zone. He was effective in many situations and even showed his offensive prowess. He’s definitely the Coyotes two-way defensive threat of the future.
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