Coyotes Top 20 prospects

By Jeff Dahlia

Coyotes Top 20 prospects
Before he’s set to graduate, Keith Ballard takes over as the top prospect for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Keith Ballard
2. David LeNeveu
3. Enver Lisin
4. Matt Jones
5. Blake Wheeler
6. Martin Hanzal
7. Logan Stephenson
8. Matthew Spiller
9. Keith Yandle
10. Kevin Porter
11. Daniel Winnik
12. Dmitri Pestunov
13. Olivier Latendresse
14. Joe Callahan
15. Aaron Gagnon
16. Randall Gelech
17. Jakub Koreis
18. Sean Sullivan
19. Pier-Oliver Pelletier
20. Roman Tomanek

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name, and Position

How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (5) Keith Ballard, D
2004 trade with Colorado, 23, 5’11, 205

Making the Coyotes out of training camp, Keith Ballard has been quite a nice addition to the blue line. Still young and with tons a room to grow within the system, Ballard is making a case to be a strong third or fourth defenseman of the future. Given Ballard’s above-average offensive skill and instinct, he makes older veterans expendable.

His -17 through 61 games looks bad, but his 31 points (6 goals, 25 assists) puts him just out of the top 10 in rookie scoring, at 11 overall. Ballard is currently tied for seventh in overall team scoring.

Ballard has a great set of hands and offensive prowess, which is earning him on average about 20 minutes a night and a chance to see action with the top scoring lines. He has occasional flashes where he tries to do too much and forces the play at times. In his own end, he plays a tough game but needs to tighten it up a bit. Overall, his two-way game is shaping up rather nicely.

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

David LeNeveu did a respectable job backing up Curtis Joseph early on in the season, but the young netminder still has a lot to prove. He was sent back to the AHL to backstop San Antonio in December 2005 when Brian Boucher came back from injury. Since then, he’s had encouraging performances even though the Rampage are in the cellar.

Using a quasi-hybrid butterfly style, LeNeveu seems to be a bit of a jitterbug at times and over-commits. He’s still athlete and can move, but he sometimes over-applies the butterfly. Seeing a lot of shots helps to a degree, but more times than not, he’s getting overworked on too many occasions.

LeNeveu progressed this year by all means, but it’s tough to know how he would perform when he’s not facing close to 40 shots a night on average. He’s not leaving the Coyotes top 5 anytime soon, but it seems as if his make-it or break-it moment maybe on the horizon.

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

For a player that has a great set of wheels and a lot of promise, it’s amazing that Enver Lisin is not getting better minutes with Ak Bars in the Russian Super League this season. He’s currently stuck on the lower lines, playing alongside either below average players or prospects. Obviously he’s not an elite scoring prospect, but then again, you can’t develop a skilled player into a scorer when he’s used primarily in a defensive role.

He has tallied 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 40 games played, which matches his entire output for the 2004-05 season. His 24 penalty minutes rank at about the middle of the pack for Kazan.

Hopefully the Coyotes will bring the speedy winger over next season and insert him into their AHL picture. He’d get top minutes and would get the best chances to help inject some life into an offensively lackluster squad. While he’s not that much of a risk on his skates, Lisin needs to play with a bit more fire in his game. It was also be a nice compliment to his overall game if he could continue to develop defensively.

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

By far the biggest addition to the Coyotes young arsenal on the blue line, Matt Jones has made a real splash his first year as a pro. Not quite yet a regular with Phoenix, Jones has seen a couple of call-ups to the show, but he has played the majority of his season in the AHL with San Antonio.

He was an All-Star selection this year in the AHL, but ended up missing the festivities because of an injury. He’s a defensive defenseman, with just 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) in 46 games for the Rampage.

Don’t be surprised if Jones earns the fifth or sixth spot on the Phoenix roster next season. The only reason he’s not with the club now is because it wouldn’t do him any good as a healthy scratch. He’s a no-nonsense type of defender whose intense style and overall skating ability make him a good fit in the up-tempo style of game. He’s a very responsible and a smart player, who keeps himself out of the sin bin. His fresh legs and youthfulness will be welcome next season.

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

With so much firepower at the University of Minnesota, it seems as if Blake Wheeler has gotten lost in the mix. He’s actually been playing on a line with Phil Kessel and Ben Gordon for almost two months now, which makes his lack of scoring even more enigmatic. From Jan. 21 through Feb. 18, the Plymouth, Minnesota native also endured a seven-game scoreless streak.

To some, 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists), in 34 games may not classify as a productive season for a player of his projected caliber. While it will be all about points in the future, Wheeler has made a steady transition at the Division I level minus the points. He’s come along in respect to the level in play from two seasons ago. As he gets comfortable to playing with his newfound size and strength, he’s going to have to start putting everything together. Like any other player, he has the heart and determination, but needs to continue to work hard and rely on his skill, anticipation and prowess.

Luckily for Wheeler, the Gophers are very young and appear to be destined to be a powerhouse over the next few years. Next year is going to be a big year to see if he’s up to par with his cohorts.

6. (6) Martin Hanzal, C
1st Round, 17th in 2005, 19, 6’4, 198

While Martin Hanzal is ending the 2005-06 season playing with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL, his development story has been a huge drama this year. Because his agents’ attempt to show up the Coyotes and the Regina Pats of the WHL, Hanzal was forced to stay home and play the majority of this season in a limited defensive role for HC Budejovice.

The sad fact is that bad advice left Hanzal out of North America and it cost him the majority of this season. Looking how fast he has come along now, he would have probably been ahead of the curve if he had a full season to adjust. He’s tallied 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) and is a +8 in 14 games played to date.

Having a little more than a month with the Lancers, he’s catching on rather quickly. According to Omaha’s General Manager and Head Coach Mike Hastings, Hanzal’s work ethic is unquestionable, he’s determined and he understands the game well.

Whether he stays in Omaha next season or moves on for 2006-07, hopefully the next move is a beneficial one and doesn’t delay him any further.

7. (12) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 20, 6’2, 185

With the departure of key defensemen Clayton Stoner (MIN) and Shawn Belle (DAL), Stephenson was thrust into the lead position on the blue line for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. The self-proclaimed defensive defenseman is having a productive year, especially at the offensive end of the ice.

The captain is turning in a career offensive season with 50 points (9 goals, 41 assists) in 66 games and is a +5. He is among the league leaders in ice time and his 154 penalty minutes are a personal high and rank him 13th overall in the WHL. Though he plays a punishing game, the majority of his penalties have been obstruction calls. It has been suggested that he needs to improve his overall skating, and this would certainly help.

Because of Stephenson’s improved play, he was the last cut from the Canada’s WJC team this year. There is no doubt that Stephenson is continuing down the right path and is catching the eyes of the Coyotes front office. He’ll get his chance to make a bigger impression because he’ll be headed to Phoenix this fall for camp.

8. (3) Matthew Spiller, D
2nd Round, 31st in 2001, 23, 6’5, 210

Not much has changed for Matt Spiller since the calendar flipped to 2006. Playing mainly with San Antonio this season, he is still a young leader in the making. He’s getting his share of experience to know what it takes to get to the next level. He has been called up twice, once in January and once in February.

Spiller is yet another defensive defenseman. In San Antonio, he’s registered a total of eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 59 games played. He also leads all Phoenix prospects with a -18, while his 116 penalty minutes are tied for second on the team.

He’s had quite the time making adjustments to the new style and tempo of the game. Given his size and good skating ability, Spiller has not had a problem delivering his signature in-your-face style of game in the past. With the increased scrutiny over obstruction and the need to open the game up, he’s been searching for the right balance.

9. (NR) Keith Yandle, D
4th Round, 105th in 2005, 19, 6’2, 205

Keith Yandle makes the biggest rise on the new top 20. If there were some questions of how Yandle was going to respond to playing in the QMJHL, it’s pretty safe to say he’s erased a lot of doubt.

The impressive blueliner jumped out from day one with the Moncton Wildcats and hasn’t looked back. His 74 points (23 goals, 51 assists) in 59 games played is third on his team in scoring, but it’s good enough to lead all defensemen in the Q for scoring. He’s also in managing a +45, which leads his team and ranks fifth overall in the league. The New Englander has earned defensive player of the week honors twice in November and once in January. He was also named defensive player for the month of November.

Yandle has excelled quickly after spending the last two seasons at the Cushing Academy. The bottom line is that he’s a high-risk, high-reward type of player. As long as he stays focused both on and off the ice and continues to mature as an individual, it won’t be long before he starts making his way up the ranks.

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

While the Michigan Wolverines have had their highs and lows throughout the 2005-06 season, forward Kevin Porter has been productive, developing into a solid two-way player. Playing on the top scoring line with T.J. Hensick (COL), Porter has seen his chances on the attack increase tenfold. Not only has he seen success back in Ann Arbor, but Porter was also selected to Team USA’s WJC team for the second consecutive year.

Turning in a total of 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in as many games played for the maize and blue, Porter has been atop the charts for the majority of the season. His points were good enough to land him into a tie with four other skaters for 11th overall in scoring in the CCHA, and helped fuel Michigan’s offense, which is the most potent in the league.

Porter has a good understanding and respect for the game, he’s been known to be a team-first guy who will make the sacrifices for the betterment of his line and his team. In 2004-05 he impressed as a freshman and came back this season and impressed again. Porter is a player who’s constantly looking for ways to improve himself. He’s strong on all fronts but he needs to be a tad more reliable defensively and needs to finish his chances offensively.

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

After turning in a solid 2004-05 season for the University of New Hampshire, the hope was that Daniel Winnik would continue in the right direction this year. The junior pivot heeded the call. Playing alongside fellow juniors Jacob Micflikier and Brett Hemingway (COL), he has helped the Wildcats remain in the hunt for a postseason berth coming out of Hockey East.

The Mississauga, Ontario native has led the team in scoring for the majority of the season. While Micflikier works on closing the scoring gap, Winnik’s 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) is tied with Hemingway for team lead in scoring. Winnik is also tied with Hemingway and Greg Moore (CGY) for fourth in overall scoring in Hockey East.

At 6’2, 205, the forward has progressed at a good clip and has become one of the New Hampshire’s visible leaders on the ice. He’s a good skater and effective forechecker who does a great job creating space down low and in the corners. Though a rough and rugged forward, Winnik also has a nice set of hands and feel for the game. He’s a competent defensively and works hard every shift.

Still a pleasant surprise for the Coyotes having been drafted in the ninth round two years ago, Winnik’s door to a bright future continues to grow.

12. (16) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 21, 5’9, 196

Dmitri Pestunov and Magnitogorsk Metallurg are having a stellar year in the RSL. While Metallurg is head and shoulders above the rest of the league in the standings, the Coyotes former third round pick is having a breakout year. He’s been anchoring lines around established players and it seems to be paying off.

Pestunov has also seen an increase in his offensive production this year as well. He’s earned 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in 46 games, is a +17 and he has logged 56 penalty minutes, all of which are personal bests for him in the RSL.

Still standing a few inches below six feet tall, the speedy center is just one of many prospects who are talented and who also don’t let their lack of size inhibit their approach to the game. He’s really started to establish himself as a consistent player on both ends of the ice.

13. (NR) Olivier Latendresse, C
Signed as Free Agent – 2004, 20, 5’10, 190

Playing on a below average Val-d’Or squad in the QMJHL, Olivier Latendresse is closing out what has been a progressively stronger and stronger campaign. Even though he would have liked to see the Foreurs find more success in the ‘W’ column, it’s hard to ignore that he’s had a healthy amount of success as an individual for the fourth consecutive year.

Even though he leads his team in scoring over the last three seasons, this is a special year for Latendresse. He cracked the 100-point plateau and currently leads the Foreurs with 112 points (37 goals, 75 assists), which is good for fourth overall in the league.

Latendresse is a relentless forechecker who loves to pass first and shoot second. While he can score, his toughness down low and increased ability to setup his linemates makes him a constant threat. Aware of his responsibilities on the defensive front, Latendresse is a pretty good two-way player. What puts him over top is his overall commitment to structure and the team concept. He leads by example and isn’t caught taking shifts off.

14. (15) Joe Callahan, D
3rd Round, 70th – 2002, 22, 6’2, 200

Coming into the Coyotes system fresh out of Yale University two seasons ago, Joe Callahan was on the up and up. Somewhere between the Phoenix’s affiliation swap from the Springfield Falcons to the Utah Grizzlies for the 2004-05 season, Callahan’s development went a step or two backwards. Starting off slowly, Callahan struggled to play at the next level. It took him a little more than half of last season to get his feet under him. By the end of the season, head coach Pat Conacher said that was the team’s most consistent player.

Even though his stats aren’t much to write home about, Callahan is still making steady progress. He’s been a lot more consistent and reliable with his play. His main focus, as it should be, is as a stay-at-home defender. He needs to pick his tempo up, especially when he’s moving the puck up ice. Through 59 games, he logged one point (a lone assist), is a -14 and has 60 penalty minutes. He’s not quite ready to step onto the Coyotes, but at 22, it appears as if he’s about a season and a half away from challenging.

15. (18) Aaron Gagnon, C
8th Round, 240th – 2004, 19, 5’10, 185

What started off as a slow and unpredictable 2005-06 season for Aaron Gagnon has actually turned into a productive one for the Seattle Thunderbirds captain and top centerman. Hampered by an injured hand early on, Gagnon has battled back to help push the Thunderbirds once again after they sputtered out of the gate. He’s anchoring the T-Bird’s top line and playing with other skilled prospects in Ladislav Scurko (PHI) and Roman Tomanek (PHO). Aside from his duties in Seattle, Gagnon also represented the WHL in the 2005 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was also on Hockey Canada’s radar for a 2006 WJC roster spot, but didn’t make the team.

Regardless of the injury, Gagnon has been a constant producer for Seattle and his 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists) are good for second on the team in scoring. His 21 goals lead the team and his +6 rating is tied for second.

The Armstrong, B.C., native is by far the most complete player on the Thunderbirds squad and among the better all-around forwards in the league. Of all the intangibles, Gagnon’s skating, speed and presence on and away from the puck are among core competencies that stand out on a daily basis. A smart player with good hands and vision, Gagnon doesn’t let his size inhibit his ability to produce. He’s definitely a dark horse draft pick, but his overall game and consistency keeps him in the mix.

16. (10) Randall Gelech, LW
7th Round, 208th – 2003, 22, 6’1, 195

Playing with San Antonio for the 2005-06, Randall Gelech is still out there working hard and getting his job done. He’s not the flashy type, so more times than not, you’ll rarely notice him on the ice. He’s a grinder or energy guy and plays that role really well. Playing in 57 of the Rampage’s 60 games, Gelech has a total of 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists), is a -24 and has accumulated 31 penalty minutes.

If he were to get a chance in the bigs, Gelech is going to have to stick to his assigned role. He’s a smart player, a good skater and hard worker. Good players like to be surrounded by good guys and Gelech fits that bill. He’s constantly looking for ways to help and still remains a constant professional.

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

Jakub Koreis has been stuck in neutral in the AHL for the second straight year under the Coyotes watch. In his draft year, some had him projected to be second line power center with Bobby Holik-like capabilities. But Koreis has yet to show anything remotely close to being even a quality third or fourth line centerman at the moment.

While the Czech native may have become a better technical player over the last two years, he has failed to live up to the sort of expectations that tend to follow first round draft selections. So far this season, he’s had two significant scoring droughts. The first lasted 32 games, which encompassed two and a half months. The second stretch went well over a month a lasted a total of 13 games. In the end, Koreis has scored a total of five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in only five of the 59 games he has suited up for this season.

It’s no secret that the Coyotes AHL experience pretty much failed to launch for the third consecutive season in a row. And, it’s also no secret that some prospects stop being prospects and stop developing. No matter the reason, if Koreis flops, the Coyotes entire 2002 first round is one they’ll want to forget rather quickly.

18. (NR) Sean Sullivan, D
9th Round, 272nd – 2003, 21, 6’0, 190

Playing on the hottest team in all of NCAA Division I hockey, Sean Sullivan has a lot to be proud of. Not only is the offense hitting on all cylinders, but Boston University’s defense has also been just as big a factor in their 14-1-2 run over the last 17 games.

These days, Sullivan is patrolling the left side of the blue line paired with Kevin Schaeffer (NAS). Sullivan is a good skater and reads the game very well. He knows when to apply pressure and when to lay off. He is competent in the offensive zone, but he’s still the classic stay-at-home defender he ever was. He’s not your highlight type of defenseman because his greatest skill is shutting down the opposition and playing a sound positional game in his own end. He’s not only been a great asset for Jack Parker and the Terriers, but one of the better defenders in all of Hockey East.

The 2005-06 season is far from over for Sullivan and the Terriers, and chances are he’ll return to BU to finish out his collegiate career.

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

Pier-Olivier Pelletier started off the 2005-06 season for the Drummondville Voltigeurs with a nagging hip injury that wouldn’t heal. While the Voltigeurs and the Coyotes anticipated that he would have surgery come this summer, doctors suggested otherwise. Pelletier learned that further stress or harm to his labrum could cause permanent damage and quite possibly jeopardize his career. He went on to have season-ending arthroscopic surgery to fix the hip.

Last summer Pelletier was an invite to Hockey Canada’s WJC evaluation camp. Before that, he backstopped Team QMJHL to two wins against Team Russia in the 2005 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge.

His numbers with Drummondville during the regular season were sub-par, evidence of the fact that he was trying to fight through the ailment. During his time in net with the Voltigeurs, he posted a 12-10-0 record with a .849 save percentage and a 4.05 goals against average in 22 games played.

Currently in rehab, Pelletier should be ready to by the summer, if the netminder chooses to play for the Coyotes in the 2006 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament. Until then, he’ll continue to work his hip in order to build up more strength and more flexibility.

20. (NR) Roman Tomanek, LW
4th Round, 103rd – 2004, 20, 6’0, 175

Roman Tomanek’s development was sidelined last season with the Calgary Hitmen when he was lost after 19 games with a shoulder injury. Back for the 2005-06 season and traded to Seattle in the preseason, the Czech left winger has emerged as one the go-to guys on his new squad and is back on the Coyotes top 20.

Playing on the top unit with Scurko and Gagnon, he’s leading the team in scoring with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists). His assists rank first and his +6 is tied for second with the T-Birds.

Tomanek is a crafty forward who can operate well at top speed. He’s a good offensive threat, but needs to learn when to pour it on and hold it back at times. He’s a good overall skater with good instincts, but he’s still raw and has a lot of undeveloped talent.

Tomanek was suspended today for the rest of the season (playoffs included) for violating team rules. The incident could have a negative impact on his future.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.