Professional players dominate Phoenix Coyotes mid-season Top 20 ranking

By Mitchell Brandner

Brandon Gormley - Portland Pirates

Photo: Portland Pirates defenseman Brandon Gormley, who scored 29 points as an AHL rookie, maintains his place atop the Coyotes prospect pool (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The Phoenix Coyotes prospect pool is loaded with players who are already playing professional hockey. Most of these players are playing for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate team, the Portland Pirates. With the Pirates recently clinching a playoff spot, these prospects will gain valuable post-season experience early on in their careers.

The Coyotes lack a forward with superstar potential, but they have an abundance of role players who possess a strong work ethic.

1. (1) Brandon Gormley, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2010

In his first professional season, Brandon Gormley is adjusting quickly to the speed of the game. With 29 points in 68 games, Gormley’s skill really shows when he is breaking out of his zone. He is a smart defenseman who rarely turns the puck over. At the beginning of the season he struggled with positioning in his own end, which was rare to see when he was playing in the QMJHL. He is now back to his old self and is being counted on to not only shutdown opposing forwards, but chip in on offense as well.

Gormley has junior hockey playoff experience under his belt, including a Memorial Cup. When Gormley was drafted it was thought that he had the potential to be a top defenseman in the NHL. As Gormley gets stronger and faster, his offensive output will increase and he will be counted on to be a powerplay quarterback. He might be one more season away from full-time NHL duty. The Coyotes have a deep defense core which gives them the luxury of taking their time with the defense prospects in the system.

2. (2) David Rundblad, D, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with Ottawa Senators, December 17, 2011

When David Rundblad came to North America, the major question mark in his game was his defensive play. There is no doubt that Rundblad has the ability to be an offensive threat, regardless of what league he plays in, but his defensive shortcomings were on full display when he first came over the pond. Rundblad has yet to stick in the NHL but he continues to have success with the Portland Pirates as he works on his play in his own zone. If Rundblad can get his defensive play up to a level that Coyotes’ head coach Dave Tippett feels comfortable with, he will be an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL sooner rather than later.

3. (7) Henrik Samuelsson, C, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2012

Leaving Sweden for the WHL might be the smartest decision Henrik Samuelsson has made in his hockey career. Samuelsson plays a major role for the Edmonton Oil Kings, gets the opportunity to play a bunch of minutes every night, and makes the most of them. After 23 points in 28 games last season, Samuelsson finished the regular season with 80 points in 69 games this year.

Samuelsson does a little bit of everything. He can score goals, set up plays and he can play the pest role very well. He possesses a big frame, listed at 6’3 and 208 pounds, and he uses his size effectively to crash the net and cause havoc in front of opposing goalies. The Coyotes hope that Samuelsson will be able to add some skill and grit to their top-six in the near future.

4. (6) Lucas Lessio, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2011

It did not take long for Lucas Lessio to chip in offensively in the AHL. After getting 34 points in 35 games for the Oshawa Generals, Lessio got his first professional goal in his second AHL game. Lessio missed most of the season with an injury to his hand which required surgery. Before the injury, he was all but a lock to make the Canadian World Junior Championship team.

Lessio’s best asset is his speed and he continues to get better and better each season. He has the potential to be a top-six forward and add some much needed offensive skill to the Coyotes lineup.

5. (4) Michael Stone, D, 7.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2008

After battling for the seventh defensive spot for most of the season, Michael Stone has finally solidified himself as a regular on the Phoenix Coyotes blue line. He trails only Keith Yandle in goals by defensemen on the team and he can be counted on to be solid in his own zone as well. His skating and defensive positioning has improved immensely this season. While he may never be a flashy offensive defenseman, it looks like he will be a solid part of the Coyotes defensive corps for years to come.

6. (3) Connor Murphy, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2011

Connor Murphy has played a combined 130 games in the last four years. Clearly injuries are a concern. When he is healthy, Murphy has the ability to be a calming presence on the ice. He usually makes the right play and is almost never caught out of position. He has a terrific first pass out of the zone and he has a big body which he uses effectively. He just cannot stay healthy. He is losing valuable development time by missing so many games in these crucial years. Next year will be an important year for Murphy and staying healthy will be vital.

7. (12) Chris Brown, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2009

Playing in his first season as a professional, Chris Brown is showing how effective he can be as an offensive weapon. He led all AHL rookies with 29 goals this season. Brown possesses a lethal shot and plays like a bull. He plays a physical game and is a good skater as well. He earned the chance to play a handful of games for the Coyotes this season and it was evident he needs to work on his timing. Like most young players first entering the NHL, Brown needs to make quicker decisions. If he can do that he will be a good power forward who can cause havoc and chip in on offense.

8. (NR) Tobias Rieder, RW, 7.5D
Acquired via trade with Edmonton Oilers, March 29, 2013

The newest addition to the Coyotes prospect pool, Tobias Rieder, possesses great offensive skill. He has great hands and great vision. The knock against Rieder is his size. For small guys to have success in the NHL they have to willing to go to the dirty areas and stay strong on their skates. Unfortunately, Rieder has the tendency to play on the outside from time to time. He is a good two-way player but needs to work on getting involved in the play every shift. If Rieder can get his consistency issues sorted out he could become a highly-skilled offensive winger for the Coyotes. Rieder will play his first professional season next year and it will be interesting to see if he can adjust despite his size.

9. (5) Mark Visentin, G, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2010

In his first professional season, Mark Visentin has been splitting time with Chad Johnson and Mike Lee for the Portland Pirates. After getting better with each passing season in the OHL, Visentin has adjusted well to the professional game. His two best assets are his lateral mobility and his rebound control. Consistency can be an issue with Visentin, but that is true of most young goalies when they enter professional hockey. The Coyotes have high hopes for Visentin and they hope that he proves drafting him was the right decision.

10. (9) Andy Miele, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent on April 2, 2011

Playing big minutes for the Portland Pirates, Andy Miele continues to prove he can score at the AHL level. He has great offensive instincts and the only thing holding Miele back is his size. His compete level is high and his skill level is even higher. The former Hobey Baker Award winner has yet to stick with the Coyotes but if he continues to get stronger on his skates and develops a good two-way game he will be a regular in the NHL.

11. (8) Chris Summers, D, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2006

Earlier this season, Summers lost out on the battle for the seventh defensive spot on the Coyotes roster. While he has great speed and agility, Summers is still raw in all the other areas of the game. While he is not terrible at any particular area of his game, he also is not great at anything, aside from his skating. He needs to continue to round out his game and get stronger in all areas if he hopes to finally stick in the NHL in the next few years.

12. (15) Jordan Szwarz, RW, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2009

Like most of the other forwards in the Coyotes system, Jordan Szwarz is a good two-way player. He has a great work ethic and is responsible in his own end while still being able to chip in some offense. He is a quick skater with good hands and his solid AHL season has him slowly climbing the depth chart. As a former OHL captain, Szwarz is a player that leads by example by never quitting on the puck. If he continues to develop at this pace, he could see some injury call-up time as soon as next season.

13. (16) Brendan Shinnimin, C, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent on March 2, 2012

Yet another small forward with offensive ability in the Coyotes system, Brendan Shinnimin took some time to get adjusted to the professional level. Although he is a little undersized, Shinnimin plays with an edge to his game which can make him an effective player even when he is not scoring. He plays a solid two-way game and needs to continue to work on translating his WHL offensive success to the pro game.

14. (14) Jordan Martinook, C, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2012

Another forward playing in his first professional season, Jordan Martinook has not been able to provide much offense for the Portland Pirates after putting up 40 goals in the WHL last year. Martinook is a power forward with a solid frame. He is willing to crash the net and has the strength which allows him to win puck battles along the boards. He could develop into a physical bottom-six player for the Coyotes.

15. (13) Philip Lane, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2010

After dealing with some concussion issues in the OHL, Phil Lane is starting to find his grove in the AHL. Lane struggled in the first half of the season but has really started to heat up in the latter stages of the season. He provides solid two-way play like most of the young forwards on the Portland Pirates and plays with some physicality in his game as well. If he can build on his second half of the season, Lane will be counted on to provide consistent offense next season in the AHL.

16. (NR) Ethan Werek, C/LW, 6.5D
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers, May 8, 2011

In order for Ethan Werek to ever have a shot of playing in the NHL, he will need to drastically improve his skating. His work ethic is top notch and his defensive play is good, but if his skating does not improve, Werek will continue to fall down the depth chart. While his offensive game has not translated to the AHL, he still has time to work out all the kinks in his game.

17. (NR) Mike Lee, G, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2009

After starting the season in the ECHL, injuries have given Mike Lee an opportunity to showcase his skills at the AHL. He has made the most of his opportunity. After a solid NCAA career, Lee has posted good numbers in both the ECHL and AHL this season and is making a case to be a full-time starter for the Portland Pirates next season. The healthy competition between Lee and Visentin for that position next season could do wonders for their development. Lee’s positioning needs work, but his tremendous athleticism helps hide that weakness.

18. (20) James Melindy, D, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2012

After a solid season a year ago, Melindy struggled with consistency this season in the QMJHL. He was counted on to be the number-one defenseman for the Moncton Wildcats this season, but the team had their share of struggles this season and Melindy was one of the reasons why. When he is on his game, Melindy has the ability to provide offense as well as be a reliable defender in his own zone. Unfortunately he has the tendency to take nights off and turn the puck over.

19. (19) Louis Domingue, G, 6.0D
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2010

The last of the three rookie professional goalies, Louis Domingue has had a decent start to his professional career. Spending most of his time in the ECHL, Domingue is that starting goalie for the Gwinnett Gladiators during their playoff run, earning a 6-2-0 record through eight post-season games. He plays a sound positional game and has great athleticism to go with it. He is the least developed of the three goaltenders but has just as much raw skill as Lee and Visentin.

20. (NR) Samuel Fejes, LW, 6.0D
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2012

The only NCAA player to make the list, Samuel Fejes had a decent freshman year at Colorado College. With 14 points in 41 games Fejes uses his great skating ability to his advantage. While he did not produce stellar offensive numbers, he will continue to get better as he physically matures and adapts to the NCAA style of play. He possesses good hockey sense  which is always a big plus.