Coyotes 2001 draft evaluation

By Jeff Dahlia

The Phoenix Coyotes had eight selections at the 2001 Entry Draft. Of the group, only former first round pick Fredrik Sjostrom is currently on the team’s NHL roster. Other than Sjostrom, defenseman Matthew Spiller is the only other prospect to see time in the NHL. And after the two, there is a significant drop off within that draft year, which was headed up by now former Director of Scouting, Vaughn Karpan.

The eight picks have totaled 191 NHL games for an average of 24 NHL games per pick.

Fredrik Sjostrom, RW (1st Round, 11th overall, Vastra Frolunda – SEL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games: 132

The Coyotes were happy to land the slick-skating Swede at the 11th spot, especially when they thought he would have already been taken. He came to Phoenix with a lot of praise from scouts because of his work ethic, skill, hands and stick-handling ability, especially through traffic.

Subsequent to getting drafted by the Coyotes, Sjostrom made the jump to North America, honoring his 2001 CHL Import selection by the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. After spending two encouraging seasons with the Hitmen, he worked his way up through the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate. He made his NHL debut during the 2003-04 season. He would have started the 2004-05 season with Phoenix but for the lockout. To his credit, he stayed in North America for the 2004-05 campaign, while playing with the Coyotes AHL affiliate.

Sjostrom returned to the Coyotes during the 2005-06 season, where he continued to progress, playing the entire year with the club. He has the skill, ability and the physical edge to play in the NHL. If he works on his consistency in the offensive zone, he could quite possibly have a breakout year because everything else is there.

Matthew Spiller, D (2nd round, 31st overall, Seattle Thunderbirds – WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 59

The Coyotes scooped up Matthew Spiller after he already had two stellar seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. The franchise was ecstatic to land a pure stay-at-home defenseman, listed at 6’5, 210 pounds heading into the draft, who was a good skater, and who played a punishing, yet simple game.

Spiller went into the Coyotes 2003-04 training camp and ended up securing a roster spot on Phoenix’s opening day roster. He spent the majority of the season with the Coyotes in his rookie season. He was sent down to the team’s then AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, twice towards the end of the year.
The Daysland, Alberta native has spent the last two seasons in the AHL for the Coyotes. He missed making the club for 2005-06 season because he’s had quite the time making adjustments to the new style and tempo of the game. There also happens to be a traffic jam of mobile swift-skating defensmen ahead of him, such as rookies Zbynek Michalek and Keith Ballard.

Martin Podlesak, C (2nd round, 45th overall, Lethbridge Hurricanes – WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 0

The Coyotes were very happy to pick up Martin Podlesak up in the second round, especially when then head coach Don Hay had the inside scoop on him. Podlesak made the jump to North America for his draft year, where he started the 2000-01 season Tri-City Americans and where Hay happened to coach. However, he was traded that year to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Going back to the 2002-03 season (his last in junior) Podlesak has missed subsequent time due to injuries and has been one of the club’s bigger headaches over the last years. The Coyotes still seem to believe in his ability and potential, but have been frustrated the Czech can’t stay healthy. Over the last four years, he’s missed three seasons all due to injury, another sign that his future is pretty much in jeopardy.

The Coyotes seem eager enough to give him at least one more year to see if there is anything left. If the brittle Podlesak can come back in top form, expect him to bring his 6’6 frame a little more filled out. He has never had a problem producing as he’s always been noted for his playmaking ability, is good down low, in tight quarters and because he will always try to find ways to generate offense.

Beat-Schiess Forster, D (3rd round, 78h overall, HC Davos – Swiss)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

At the time of the draft, the Coyotes were billing the young Forster as a sleeper of the likes of Scott Stevens. Convinced he could live up to their expectations, Phoenix actually traded up to obtain the rugged two-way blueliner.

Even though he came over one summer and impressed the Coyotes brass during the 2003 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament, that is about as close as the club would get to Forster playing for them over in North America.

A fierce competitor who has represented his country in the international forum for the last seven years on all levels, Forster seems to be more comfortable close to home in Switzerland, where he can also make great money as one of the league’s better defenseman. Even more indication he’s probably not coming over, he just played the first year of a multi-year deal with Zurich last season.

David Klema, C (5th round, 148th overall, Des Monies Buccaneers – USHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

After catching the eyes of the Coyotes playing with the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL as a 19-year-old, Phoenix selected David Klema, who was headed to Boston University in the fall of 2001.

He was noted as a high-skill, low-maintenance player but something went awry because before the 2004-05 season. Head Coach Jack Parker decided to dismiss senior prospect from the team. Past criticism circled around Klema’s work ethic and commitment to the team. He hasn’t surfaced to date, which is indicative that his career is more than likely over.

Scott Polaski, RW (6th round, 180th overall, Sioux City Musketeers – USHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

When the Coyotes selected Scott Polaski in the sixth round, they saw a player who was a bit raw but who could thrive on his skating and his overall abilities. The consensus opinion at the time was that Polaski might have been on the cusp of becoming a complete player and who could also end up being another late round steal. Before he moved onto the college, Polaski had consecutive productive years under Dean Hakstol at Sioux City in the USHL.

The Colorado Springs native went out his collegiate hockey at Colorado College. He became a solid two-way player for the Tigers, but after his senior season and an amateur tryout with the Coyotes AHL affiliate last year, the club decided not to sign him.

As a free agent, Polaski played the 2005-06 season for the Colorado Eagles in the CHL.

Steve Belanger, G (7th round, 210th overall, Kamloops Blazers – WHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Steve Belanger came onto the Coyotes radar after former Phoenix Director of Player Development Gordie Roberts recommended him to the team. Belanger was compared to the likes of Robert Esche, but his career never materialized past the junior ranks.

Frank Lukes, LW (8th round, 243rd overall, St. Michael’s Majors – OHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Frank Lukes was a low-risk high-reward draft pick coming out of the OHL. He made a good name for himself because he was a gritty, puck hungry playmaker who battled night after night despite being 5’10 and 174 pounds heading into his draft year.

The Czech native made the jump from junior after the 2002-03 season where he has been playing in the minor leagues. Even though his most productive year in the AHL was his rookie season, he has suffered from confidence and consistency issues to date. He has also played in the ECHL and CHL, where he seems to be a better fit.

Severin Blindenbacher, D (9th round, 273rd overall, Kloten – Swiss)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

With their last pick, the Coyotes took rearguard Severin Blindenbacher out of the Swiss league. After spending his entire in the Kloten program, Blindenbacher signed on with the Zurich Lions for the 2005-06 season, where he plays with fellow Coyotes prospect Beat Forster. He has also represented Switzerland five of the last six years internationally on many levels. Making a competitive salary and staying close to home, it is obvious that Blindenbacher (like Forster) is in no hurry to come over to play in North America.

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