Coyotes host first ever prospects conditioning camp

By Jeff Dahlia

Even though the Phoenix Coyotes have been in the heart of the Sonoran Desert for a decade now, the team still showed it has the ability to pull off a franchise first. There are 26 prospects in attendance at this year’s inaugural conditioning camp. Blake Wheeler, Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, and Chris Summers, all former first round picks, are in town and have been the center the buzz in the valley.

The franchise is excited to have all their recent first rounders in town, but the bigger story revolves around the depth and talent that has been skating under the Coyotes banner for the past week.

“We have had 26 guys here and we have had some good surprises,” said Eddie Mio, Coyotes Director of Player Development. “We knew they all had talent and now they’re showing it to us. Overall, we’re really happy about this week.”

The list of attendees shows the Coyotes have really reached out to all of their prospects.

“We’re trying to build our system all the way from the top down to our farm team,” Mio explained. “It also goes a bit further with all our prospects playing in college, junior or overseas.”

The roster boasts seasoned prospects in Joel Perrault, Joe Callahan and Randall Gelech, recently signed players in Bill Thomas, Daniel Winnik, Logan Stephenson and Keith Yandle, college prospects in Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, and Sean Sullivan, and even Swedish prospect Liam Lindstrom, just to name a few.

Altogether, Mio is very pleased with the level of intensity and the level of commitment all the prospects are delivering. He also believes the camp itself reciprocates a level of commitment from the organization to the entire group.

“We didn’t just draft or sign them, want them to develop on their own and then come out here in a few years and try to make the club,” Mio explained about bringing the prospects in. “By bringing them here, it shows that the organization is committed to them.”

Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett couldn’t agree more.

“The most important thing is that the guys come away feeling as if they are a part of the Phoenix Coyotes organization,” he reiterated. “It also helps the prospects so they can get an understanding what the expectations are and what they need to do to continue their development, so hopefully one day, they can play at the NHL level.”

While the camp is helping the prospects, it also helps the franchise gauge where their future pieces are in their own development.

“It’s good because they can get on the ice with one or more of our coaches so we can get a bit of a reading on them,” Barnett explained. “It’s primarily a chance to get a read where they’re at individually. At the conclusion, we’re going to sit down with the players and discuss what we think they need to work on.”

For Mio, it gives him more of an idea what areas he needs to focus on when he’s out in the field evaluating the prospects individually during the 2006-7 season.

“I’ll make my notes, so when I go out there to evaluate them, I can see if they’re accomplishing things or see if they need further help,” Mio stated.

As the camp is set to wrap up, Barnett is happy to say it’s been a success from day one.

“This camp has been a success because the coaches have pushed the prospects to an extreme level,” he said. “Barry Smith was mentioning to me that he told the guys just how proud he was of them because they have held up to the rigors of how hard he and the coaching staff have pushed them.”

“Q” free agent netminder Tordjman signed

A day before camp was set to open, the franchise came to terms with goalie Josh Tordjman, who split time between Victoriaville and Moncton last season.

“We’ve had Josh tracked for a while,” stated Mio. “Last year, I happened to see him when he was playing in the QMJHL.”

An undrafted free agent, the signing didn’t cost the Coyotes anything but the money and it continues to add depth at the position.

“We need more goalies,” Mio added. “We have places for them to develop. We’re happy for Josh and glad he’s in the mix, so hopefully he shows us something in the next two to three years.”

Pelletier back after injury

With Tordjman and the Coyotes other prospect netminder Jeff Pietrasiak trying to make names for themselves, Coyotes second round 2005 draft pick, goalie Pier-Olivier Pelletier, was back on the ice after missing the majority of the 2005-06 season with a torn labrum.

“It feels great,” Pelletier said about being back in action. “These were my first full sessions on the ice and I got a couple butterflies. It’s a long week, but I feel good.”

The camp happens to be the first time he has skated in seven months.

“It was very hard,” he added about missing significant time to rehab. “It was a tough year, but hopefully this one will be better.”

Pelletier is said he’s happy to resume his role in Drummondville and also hopes to make Canada’s WJC team. But first and foremost he just glad he’s healthy.

When asked whether he was 100 percent, Pelletier stated, “For sure, especially my reflexes and the hip. The doctor told me that we have three years to make a complete recovery, but I at least I can still play hockey.”

Prospects on back order

The franchise anticipated Enver Lisin and Dmitri Pestunov, both Russian prospects, to be available for the camp. The two didn’t make it due to visa issues. According to Barnett, “they were at the behest of the Russian government for whatever reasons they told them they couldn’t get them.”

A third prospect, recently drafted Czech winger, Martin Latal, was also unable to receive a visa in such a short turn around from the draft in Vancouver.

All three prospects are expected to be in uniform for the Coyotes at the 2006 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament in September.

“We’ll lose our college players because of NCAA rules, they’re not allowed to compete in a tournament like this,” Barnett explained in relation to the upcoming rookie tournament, while also eluding to Lisin, Pestunov and Latal will be ready for their North American debut. “We’ll gain three of our European prospects who couldn’t get visas arranged in time to make it to this camp.”

The Los Angeles Kings will host the round robin style tournament this year the Toyota Training Center in El Segundo, California.

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