The Phoenix Coyotes started off the 2006 NHL Entry Draft just as they have with their three previous, by taking a big, talented, skating forward.
Phoenix made several trades which moved their draft position either up or down. The biggest move came at the end of the first round, when Phoenix shopped their two second-round picks to Detroit for the Red Wings’ first overall selection at the 29th spot.
The Coyotes would go on to trade their two fourth round selections (115th and 119th) for the New York Islanders’ third round pick (88th overall). In their final draft-day transaction, they traded their sixth round pick (161st overall) for Toronto’s two seventh round picks (188th and 196th overall).
Management and the scouting staff held true to form at the table this year. They went after swift-skating players, a testament they are developing a franchise that can effectively compete in today’s NHL. They continued to draft heavily out of the North American. They also went after a Swede, something they haven’t done in over three years.
Altogether, they selected three forwards, four defensemen and one goalie.
When the Islanders did not select Peter Mueller with the seventh overall pick, the Coyotes wasted no time taking the WHL’s top-ranked prospect. Mueller was expected to go pretty high, but when he heard Coyotes managing partner and head coach Wayne Gretzky call his name, he was beside himself.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mueller told Hockey’s Future after taking his place at the podium with Gretzky and other members of the Coyotes management and scouting staff. “It’s pretty hard to believe that he’s calling your name. I couldn’t say anything to him. The cat got my tongue.”
Mueller turned in a solid season, scoring 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 52 games for the Silvertips. He also went on to capture the league’s rookie of the year award at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season.
Not only was he satisfied with his offensive output this past season, but he also relished at the opportunity Silvertips Head Coach Kevin Constantine gave him to become a complete player.
“I got to know the NHL route and the major junior route,” Mueller explained about his first year in Everett with Constantine. “He’s a great guy, and he cares more about you than just as a player. He taught me how to play the game both ways and be a better defensive player, so I give him a lot of credit.”
Prior to joining to the ‘Tips, the Bloomington, Minnesota native played in the U.S. National Team Development Program on what will probably go down as one of the programs best-assembled crop of players to date. He has also represented the U.S. for the past few years in international competition. He was a member of this year’s World Junior Championship squad, where he was the youngest player on the team.
“It’s cool,” he said about having the opportunity to possible suit up with his past teammates. “When I was back in the national program, Chad used to give me rides to school every day, so we kind of have some history going. It’s exciting to see all the names the Coyotes have and people I know.”
“I played with Blake back in high school at Breck,” he said. “We go back a couple years. I don’t know much about Hanzal, though I played against him when I was with the U-18’s. He’s a great player too.”
Mueller has developed into a big, skilled, fleet-footed centerman. He’s had a lot of diverse development over the last few years, which has increased his ability to adapt and adjust to the NHL style of game.
Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett on what he thought when Mueller was available at the eighth spot: “Considering where we were picking at the eight spot, to get Mueller was a home run. We didn’t expect to have that type of quality player available, but when he was there it boils down to good fortune.
“When we got to the seventh pick and the Islanders were up, we thought, ‘Well it’s going to fall the way everyone expected it, Mueller will be gone and some of the other guys we had rated high would be gone.’ Thankfully that team liked another player and Mueller was there. It didn’t take 10 seconds to announce who our selection was.”
Barnett on whether Mueller will emerge in the Coyotes immediate picture come this summer: “Well, you can’t rush players too much as it is. We certainly don’t want to do that with him. He’s got an important year of major junior under his belt with great coaching. We’re going to take it month-to-month and see. He’s going to have to put in a hard summer because there’s another level of challenge to get through an NHL training camp, try not to be embarrassed and try to hold your own. If he’s successful in doing that, then anything can happen.“
Chris Summers was the Coyotes other first round pick, courtesy of the team’s first draft day selection swap. Summers was elated to find an NHL home rather quickly.
“There’s a lot of nerves coming into this because you don’t know who’s going to pick you,” Summers explained about the tension building up until he heard his name called. “It’s funny because it’s just my dad and I sitting here. He heard my name called, and I think he jumped up higher than I did. I gave him a big hug, and it was a lot of fun being here with him for the weekend.”
Summers, like Mueller, also spent time with the development program, playing for both the U-17 and U-18 teams. In 59 games, Summers scored a total of 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists). Because his overall skill and ability, he was moved up to play forward towards the end of last season. He’s staying home to play collegiate hockey for Red Berenson as a defenseman at the University of Michigan.
“I’m going to be a defenseman,” Summers said as he started to joke with reporters. “I heard rumors I was going to play goalie, so we’ll see what happens (laughing).”
Going to Michigan also gives Summers a chance to play alongside a lot of fellow NTDP graduates, most notably, Porter and Kolarik. However, regardless of who he’s slotted to skate with on any day, he just wants to make things happen from Day 1.
“I hope to be a team guy,” he explained. “Coach Berenson has already given me my role, and I hope to fulfill that role. I think we have a great chance at going for a national championship.”
Summers is another big mobile defenseman who skates effortlessly and who can move the puck effectively.
“I think I’m more of a stay-at-home defenseman, but I do have the ability to be that fourth forward and jump up in the rush,” Summers explained about his versatility. “I feel that my skating is one of my best skills, and I hope I can use that and play in the NHL one day.”
On step at a time, he’s just happy to be moving ten minutes down the road this fall.
“It’s a great experience and honor to be taken in the first round,” Summers finally added. “I know I still have a lot work to do. I’m still going to Michigan and that’s my focus right now. When the time comes, I’m going to pursue my goal.”
Barnett on giving up the Coyotes pair of second round picks to get Summers: ”It was a no brainer. We were trying to make that move around the 19th pick, but no one was willing. Then we found Detroit was willing to do it.
“For a defenseman to be able to skate like that, likes to bang and has the size, we had to work to get him. He’s a character player, who’s always been a captain or assistant captain wherever he’s been. He was well worth giving up two seconds in my mind.”
On Summers’ immediate outlook: “He’s an elite player who’s headed to the University of Michigan, which is a big plus.”
Jonas Ahnelov was the Coyotes first European selection of the draft, coming in the third round. Ahnelov is the first Swede drafted by the Coyotes in over three years, the last being Fredrick Sjostrom in 2001.
Ahnelov was among the top defensemen in the Swedish juniors this past season scoring 15 points in 29 games for Frolunda. He also made his SEL debut, but was held scoreless in 15 games.
The young defenseman combines speed and passing skills with a pretty nasty physical game. He likes to play the body and has good timing on his hits. Ahnelov is offensive-minded and likes to follow the rush. Usually he is very effective and difficult to stop when he reaches full speed, as he is a very capable skater. His passing game is above average and overall his offensive skills are exciting. On the downside, he makes quite a few mistakes defensively. He overcommits and tries to be everywhere, which has a negative effect on his defensive game.
Ahnelov has a SEL contract with one of the top teams in the league, Frolunda, next season. At best, he will be the seventh or eighth defenseman on that roster. That could hurt his development unless he is sent on loan to the second tier league, something Frolunda has been reluctant to do in the past with their prospects.
The Coyotes were pleased to select netminder Brett Bennett from the U.S. NTDP. The Buffalo, New York native missed most of the 2005-06 season due to a separated shoulder. The injury required surgery, but Bennett was able to get back out on the ice towards the end of the year. He saw action in five games for the U-18 squad, while posting a 1.26 goals against average and a .960 save percentage.
Prior to that, Bennett played the 2004-05 season for the U-17 team. He played 37 games and finished with a 20-12-2-1 record, 2.71 goals against average and .913 save percentage.
He’s made a healthy recovery and is expected to return to form. Bennett will definitely need his “A” game, because he’s headed to play in the college ranks for Jack Parker and Boston University in Hockey East.
Coyotes Director of Player Personnel Tom Kurvers on what the scouting staff saw in the goalie: “Bennett was a goalie who played for the U.S. development program last season. He didn’t see a lot of action because he suffered an injury, but we liked a lot of what we saw when he played. We are confident that he’ll progress at BU because it’s a world-class organization.”
Martin Latal is the Coyotes only other European prospect selected this year. He spent the 2005-06 season playing with Klando in the Czech league. He put up good numbers, scoring 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) in 30 games played.
Latal has a speed and overall offensive talent, however, he’s going to need to tighten up his defensive game, something that sounds all to familiar with the Coyotes 2004 draft pick, Roman Tomanek. Latal is dedicated to his development and will be available for the 2006 CHL Import Draft, later this week.
Coyotes European Scout Evzen Slansky on Latal’s play last year and what the future holds: “He was one of the elite skaters on his team last and has a lot of upside. Martin will be coming over here and playing in junior in North American next season. He wants to come here and play the North American game.”
Jordan Bendfeld was the last of three fifth rounders for the Coyotes. He joined Medicine Hat in the WHL about the midway point of the 2004-05 season, seeing action 16 games. He spent the 2005-06 season on the blue line for the Tigers, registering 12 points (2 goals, 12 assists) and 92 penalty minutes in 65 games played for the Tigers.
Chris Frank is an ‘86 and the oldest drafted by the Coyotes at 20 years old. A Washington state native, Frank played with the Cowichan Valley Capitals before joining the University of Western Michigan this past season.
Frank is known around the CCHA as a tough defensive-defenseman who loves contact. He played in 38 contests for the Broncos, while scoring 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) and racking up a team-high 127 penalty minutes. He played most of the season on the left side, paired with Ryan Mahrle.
A Boston, Massachusetts native, Benn Ferriero plays down the road at Boston College. The 2005-06 season was his first for BC and it was quite a fruitful one. He played a little right wing for the Eagles, but he spent most of his time anchoring a line with Joe Rooney and Dan Bertram (CHI) on the wings. He finished the last season with 17 points (11 goals, 6 assists) and 28 penalty minutes in 34 games played, which also helped him earn All-Rookie Team honors for Hockey East.
Prior to joining to the Eagles, Ferriero skated for the Governor Dummer Academy where he was a standout athlete. He also has represented the U.S., having played with the U-17 and U-18 Selects over the few years. Ferriero was also a member on the U-18 U.S. National team for the U-18 tournament in 2005.
Johan Nilsson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.