Phoenix Coyotes Top 20 filled with first round picks poised to emerge

By Pat Paeplow

Brandon Gormley - Portland Pirates

Photo: Coming off a strong rookie season for AHL Portland, defenseman Brandon Gormley remains the top prospect in the Coyotes organization (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

In 1995, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi knocked New York Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson unconscious with a sucker punch that is still considered one of the dirtiest plays in recent NHL history. This year, their sons could be the ones connecting, on scoring plays rather than right hooks.

Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson, the Phoenix Coyotes two most recent first round picks, are the two best forwards in their prospect pool and both have a legitimate shot at making Phoenix's NHL roster in 2013-14.

With ownership issues finally resolved, Coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney have been signed to long-term deals. Now the focus shifts to the organization's breakdown of talent, which has developed unevenly, lopsided with defensemen, because of ownership uncertainty handcuffing the Coyotes ability to execute roster moves.

The lack of forward depth leaves the door wide open for prospects like Domi, Samuelsson, or even Andy Miele to step in. On the other hand, Maloney could easily trade away surplus defensemen for proven NHL forwards, reshuffling the depth chart with a single pull of the trigger.

Another noteworthy factor which could impact prospect development going into 2013-14 is the unsettled lease agreement between Phoenix's AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, and the Cumberland County Civic Center, that team's home arena in Maine. While the lease is being squabbled over in local court, the Pirates must make do in an antiquated rink in Lewiston for the foreseeable future.

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

Brandon Gormley would be playing NHL hockey for a lot of organizations in 2013-14. In Phoenix, where nine defensemen are signed to one-way deals, this will not be the case. He will start the season for their AHL affiliate in Portland, playing over 25 minutes a night, hoarding power play and penalty killing shifts. This will be a good opportunity for Gormley. He should display the ability to dictate the flow of an AHL game. Gormley should receive an extended NHL audition sometime in 2013-14. Of course this depends on roster space opening up either because of injuries or Maloney trading away a defenseman or two.

Gormley has been a blue chip prospect since his days in the QMJHL. With decent size and good skating ability he features a legitimate all-around game, playing assertively in all three zones. Since turning pro, his offensive skills have really flourished, most notably on the power play where his skating and passing become the most evident.

2. (NR) Max Domi, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2013

Max Domi was not drafted in the first round to be a tough guy like his father. Although his tenacity and scrappiness are reminiscent of Tie Domi, Max's ridiculous stickhandling and skating ability ensure he will never have to drop the gloves to draw an NHL salary. Coming from the London Knights in the OHL, Domi's biggest drawback so far is that, being so much more skilled than his competition, he has not needed to rely on discipline to be successful.

Despite being a teenager, Domi has a legitimate shot at playing NHL hockey for the Coyotes in 2013-14. With their lack of forward depth, Phoenix will probably keep him up for evaluation through the nine-game grace period. Returning to London would not be terrible for Domi. His game may require some maturing, especially since he is slightly undersized for the NHL. He would get to play another season under Dale Hunter, who has quietly built the Knights into one of the most dependable professional development programs in amateur hockey. They will host the Memorial Cup in 2013-14 and Domi would be a shoe-in for the Canadian roster at the World Junior Championships.

3. (3) Henrik Samuelsson, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2012

If Phoenix decides to keep a young forward up for the season, Henrik Samuelsson may make more sense. Samuelsson is a big, two-way forward who fits Dave Tippett's physical defensive approach. He can play wing or center which, along with his size, allows him to be deployed virtually anywhere in the forward line-up. The big question about Samuelsson is the same one asked about any power forward prospect: Can he skate? If his skating develops and holds up in the NHL, Samuelsson could prove to be that rarest of commodities, a big angry forward who can put the puck in the net.

Samuelsson has already gotten a taste of playing among men, logging 15 games for Modo in what was then the Swedish Elite League in 2011-12 when he was only 17. Midway through that season, he returned to North America, joining the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL. Samuelsson imposed his will in the dirty areas while scoring consistently for Edmonton through the 2012-13 season.

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

Michael Stone played the entire lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with Phoenix. Don Maloney rewarded his effort with a three-year, one-way contract over the summer which virtually guarantees that the rangy defenseman is on the Coyotes roster to stay. The challenge for Stone, with nine one-way defenseman contracts in Phoenix, is to secure a spot in the bottom-pairing rather than watching from the press box every night.

At the NHL level, Stone has been steady and disciplined in his own zone which is exactly what is expected out of a bottom-pairing defenseman. He was actually a consistent point producer in Major Junior and the AHL but this did not translate to his NHL game in 2012-13. It is unlikely to show up in 2013-14, either. Stone will not be on the Coyotes power play and is unlikely to be deployed in offensively opportune situations.

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

David Rundblad was the main piece coming back when Don Maloney dealt Kyle Turris to Ottawa. Like Michael Stone, Rundblad received a one-way contract in the summer of 2013. However, Maloney was not willing to make as big a commitment, in term or dollars, to Rundblad as he did to Stone.

Rundblad is a highly skilled, offensive-minded defenseman who may have the most upside of all Phoenix's defensive prospects. The problem is his defensive game has not developed as quickly as his puck-moving abilities, which is not ideal for a player likely to be slotted into a bottom-pairing. Since it is unlikely he unseats Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Keith Yandle on the power play, Rundblad must commit himself to rounding out his game. If not, his cap-friendly contract may make him the perfect piece of trade bait for GM Don Maloney, who will be looking to even out his roster with an impact forward.

6. (4) Lucas Lessio, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2011

Lucas Lessio should be getting talked about as the prime candidate to fill a forward slot for Phoenix in 2013-14. Unfortunately for him, he was injured for half of 2012-13. He lost the opportunity to build on a strong 2011-12 in Oshawa as well as the exposure that would have come with representing Canada at the World Junior Championships.

The 2013-14 season will reveal what kind of pro Lessio can be. He has the frame, size. and speed of a top-six NHL power forward. If he plays as expected in Portland, Lessio will probably be playing big league hockey in the NHL sometime in 2013-14.

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

Connor Murphy, a big and mobile defenseman, signed a three-year entry level deal in the summer of 2011 but spent the next two seasons in the CHL. He will start off the season in Portland and it is likely he will be in the AHL the entire season acclimating himself to Phoenix's tight-checking organizational style. This will be a change of pace from Sarnia in the OHL where, despite being their best defenseman, he was prone to lapses in his own zone on a team with a wide open, run-and-gun approach.

Murphy's last two years have been plagued by injury. He is a very talented two-way prospect, but in order to stand out amongst Phoenix's stockpile of defensemen prospects, he must find a way to stay on the ice.

8. (NR) Laurent Dauphin, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2013

Dauphin has only a single season of Major Junior under his belt. In 2012-13, he featured a disciplined, three-zone game playing for Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. Dauphin will return to their club for 2013-14 following Phoenix's rookie camp. This will provide him with an opportunity to expand his role and add some desperately-needed muscle.

Dauphin's game combines marvelous stickhandling and skating ability with tenacious forechecking. More strength will prevent him from getting knocked off the puck so much but lack of size has not hampered Dauphin's ability to deliver in the clutch. As a last minute throw-in to the CHL Top Prospects game, he scored a goal, added an assist, and walked off with the MVP. In the gold medal game of the 2013 U18 World Junior Championships, he was Canada's best player, notching a goal and assist against a deep United States squad.

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

Chris Brown turned in a very solid season for the Portland Pirates in 2012-13. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Brown was coming off three seasons in the NCAA with the Michigan Wolverines. Facemask or not, he showed little need for the learning curve most college players require. In Portland, he combined his physical, tenacious style with 29 goals which caught the eye of Don Maloney and earned him a five-game audition in Phoenix. If Brown takes another great leap forward this season, he will get an extended stay in Phoenix in 2013-14.

10. (8) Tobias Rieder, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2011

The German Rieder was a fan favorite for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. In 2012-13, he was their assistant captain, known for his timely scoring and willingness to get his nose dirty. In 2011-12, he led his country in scoring at the Division 1A World Junior Championships as Germany claimed the gold and secured promotion. Rieder will have the opportunity to prove his intangibles translate to the professional game in 2013-14, playing for Portland where he must show his body can endure the grind at that level. He should have made his debut for the Pirates in 2012-13 but his season ended early when he broke his hand in the OHL playoffs.

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

Mark Visentin was one of the best goalies in the world throughout the two seasons leading up to his professional debut. He was selected to the Canadian World Junior Championship team in both 2011 and 2012. He was also an OHL First Team All-Star and was named that league's Goaltender of the Year playing for the Niagara Ice Dogs in 2010-11.

In 2012-13, his first professional season in AHL Portland was, at times, a rough transition but an overall success. Visentin will continue to split time for the Pirates through 2013-14. Although most goalies tend to crack sooner or later, Mike Smith still appears to be one of the best in the world so there is no need to rush Visentin at this point.

12. (10) Andy Miele, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent in April, 2011

Andy Miele is a feast or famine prospect. Already 25 years old, it would not be a surprise to see Miele playing in an NHL All-Star game in a couple years but it is more likely he will be out of hockey or a career minor-league player. He may be the best pure playmaker in the entire Phoenix organization. Coming off a dominant NCAA career which culminated with a Hobey Baker Award, Miele went on to the AHL where he led the Portland Pirates in scoring in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Unfortunately, he has seen numerous other prospects pass him by. Despite his scrappiness, he is too small and weak to win puck battles in the NHL. Plus, Miele has never shown any proficiency at a forward position other than center. This means that Miele cannot simply battle his way onto the fourth line or into a vacant slot on the wing, and that Don Maloney will not call him up unless he needs a replacement for Mike Ribeiro, Martin Hanzal, or Antoine Vermette. Basically, unless the Coyotes run into an injury bug, the best Miele can hope for is a short four or five game audition where he must produce offensively in order to keep his NHL hopes alive.

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

Like Miele, Brendan Shinnimin is another undrafted and undersized playmaker. Shinnimin has a little extra scrappiness than Miele, bordering on downright nasty. He made the tough transition into pro hockey in 2012-13, managing 33 points in 74 games for AHL Portland. He will look to earn himself a larger role for the Pirates this season and would benefit greatly if Miele somehow catches on with the Coyotes.

In 2011-12, in the WHL, Shinnimin tallied a mind-boggling 134 points in 69 games for the Tri-City Americans, leading the entire CHL in scoring. Shinnimin won the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Player of the Year. Playing on a line with fellow overagers Patrick Holland (MTL) and Adam Hughesman, his scoring continued in the WHL playoffs, registering 23 points in 15 games as the Americans rode to the WHL semifinals.

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

Jordan Martinook has the potential to play on a gritty energy line someday in the NHL. Martinook was a prolific scorer in the WHL, scoring 40 goals for the Vancouver Giants in 2011-12. His scoring dropped off the table in AHL Portland in 2012-13. There is a chance he was enduring a transition and may reclaim his touch this year but his size and tenacity in the corners will probably put an end to his days of picking the corners. Other prospects with better scoring touch will get slotted into scoring lines and reap the benefits of power play minutes. Martinook is destined to do the dirty work for the Pirates and, if he has enough game, in Phoenix.

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

Philip Lane was somewhat of a surprise for Portland in 2012-13, his first professional season. He did not stand out above the rest or score buckets of goals yet he did manage to play a solid and disciplined game, skating his lane on the wing.

Coming out of junior, Lane was a tough prospect to judge. In 2011-12, he played for the Brampton Battalion, one of the worst teams in the OHL. In retrospect, managing nearly a point-per-game for an outfit like the Battalion should have probably warranted a second look. As it stands, he slipped into Phoenix's hands and it will be intriguing to observe how Lane continues to develop in a professional environment in Portland.

16. (NR) Yan-Pavel Laplante, C, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2013

Laplante's combination of relentless energy and lack of top-end skill translate into him being a rabid fourth-line player if he can ever manage a leap into the NHL. The 2013-14 season will be his first taste of professional hockey. In Portland, if he is able to impose his intense physicality on the rest of the AHL, he just might be onto a future.

Laplante played for the PEI Rocket in the QMJHL in 2011-12. He injured his shoulder in the summer of 2012 at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, yet in a testament to his character, he returned to the Rocket line-up at the tail end of 2012-13 with his trademark intensity and mean streak still in tow. Laplante was one of the Rocket's best players and their emotional sparkplug in the QMJHL playoffs. He will return to the squad, now the Charlottetown Islanders, for the 2013-14 season.

17. (16) Ethan Werek, C, 6.5D
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers in May, 2011

Ethan Werek must find a way to establish his game if he does not want to get lost in Phoenix's mile-long depth chart of centers. Werek is a hard worker with great hockey sense. His problem is that he has not shown the offensive flair of an Andy Miele or Brendan Shinnimin and does not appear to have the willful disregard for his own body marketed by Jordan Martinook or Yan-Pavel Laplante.

In 2011-12 and 2012-13, playing for Portland in the AHL, he was never able to establish himself as a scoring threat. Portland has not achieved much team success in the AHL in the last two seasons, so the key for Werek may be simply to help Portland turn around into a deep playoff team in the AHL. Astute situational play typically resonates more on winning teams.

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

Jordan Szwarz's stock dropped over the past season. He only scored 20 points in 58 games for Portland in 2011-12 but that was understandable since it was his first real dose of professional hockey. He should have followed up in 2012-13 with a strong showing. He should have wrestled away a top-six slot for himself but he did not. Szwarz floundered with a 33-point campaign in 60 games.

Szwarz does not have overwhelming measurables. He is a player who contributes grittiness and leadership and, in this context, he delivered. Szwarz was named Portland's assistant captain in 2012-13. However, leadership qualities alone will not get anybody into the NHL. If Swarz does not diversify his game over the course of this season, he may be better utilized in a perpetual leadership role in Portland for other prospects coming through the pipeline.

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

Mike Lee made huge strides in 2012-13. The season got off to a heady start for Lee, making his leap into professional hockey. He split time between Portland and the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL. He put up solid enough numbers with Gwinnett to earn himself a call-up to the AHL. He continued to play well for the Pirates which must have contributed to Don Maloney letting Chad Johnson walk in the summer of 2013.

He will start 2013-14 for Portland in the AHL, at the doorstep of the NHL. As it stands, Mark Visentin is Phoenix's top goalie prospect but, in a production business, goalie is the streakiest, most fluid position in hockey. Much crazier things have happened than Mike Lee finding himself between the pipes for Phoenix for a stint in 2013-14.

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

James Melindy is another talented defenseman who tends to get overlooked in this organization because of the Coyotes ridiculous backlog of blue line talent. In 2012-13, he was the best defenseman for Moncton in the QMJHL. Following his junior season, Melindy got a brief taste of AHL hockey in a two-game stint with Portland.

Melindy is a strong defenseman with some puck-moving ability. However, in 2013-14 he will not see much power play time. He will start out playing mostly bottom pairing minutes. In Portland, Melindy should move the puck out of his own zone efficiently, like he did in Moncton, if he is transitioning into the professional ranks successfully. As long as his development does not plateau and provided Maloney deals a few defenders sometime in 2013-14, Melindy could be logging top-four minutes along with special teams exposure for the Pirates by the end of the season.