Coyotes Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Jeff Dahlia

After a summer that started with change and restructuring, a new day has dawned for the Phoenix Coyotes. The same holds true for the top rankings this fall as new prospects enter and others move on. New names headline Phoenix’s updated prospect list.

1. Kyle Turris
2. Peter Mueller
3. Martin Hanzal
4. Matt Jones
5. Blake Wheeler
6. Keith Yandle
7. Chris Summers
8. Enver Lisin
9. Logan Stephenson
10. Kevin Porter
11. Bill Thomas
12. Alexei Kaigorodov
13. Jonas Ahnelov
14. Joel Gistedt
15. Dmitri Pestunov
16. Nick Ross
17. Josh Tordjman
18. Sean Sullivan
19. Brett MacLean
20. Alex Leavitt

1. (NR) Kyle Turris, C
1st Round, 3rd  – 2007, 18, 6’2, 170

Turris might have gone third this year at the draft in Columbus, but he goes straight at the top of the Coyotes list. Coming off a monstrous year with the Burnaby Express in the BCHL, where he had 121 points (66 goals, 55 assists) in 53 regular season games. There isn’t much to say about him that already hasn’t been said as he heads to the University of Wisconsin this fall.

Expectations are high for the young pivot, but the consensus is that Turris will handle the collegiate stage of his development with style and poise. He’ll be paired up with a lot of young talent and be directed by Mike Eaves and his excellent coaching staff.

Turris says he’ll be taking college and his development one year at a time. But he will be in the NHL sooner rather than later.

2. (1) Peter Mueller, C
1st Round, 8th – 2006, 19, 6’2, 205

Only getting beat out of the top spot by a hair, Mueller is ready to continue his career at the professional level. After turning in a strong career in junior with the Everett Silvertips, Mueller is poised to head into Coyotes training camp this summer looking to snag a roster spot.

A true competitor with a strong skill set and an ability to create opportunities, there is little doubt that the Bloomington, Minnesota native will have an easy time making the step up. If he can sustain a high level of play and help things click in the desert, expect Mueller to be on a short list of Calder Trophy candidates.

3. (2) Martin Hanzal, LW
1st Round, 17th – 2005, 20, 6’4, 205

After making a swift transition to the North American game last year with Red Deer in the WHL, Hanzal has clearly established himself as one of the Coyotes top prospects since being drafted in 2005.

With his intentions set on joining Mueller this season in Phoenix, Hanzal is another player with a new set of challenges heading into 2007-08 season. A hulking and dominant presence from the blue line in, the 2006-07 WHL rookie scoring leader will look to define himself on a roster that is set to welcome an influx of youth.

There are some worries with Hanzal because his stamina seemed to fade towards the end of last season and his overall effectiveness tapered off as a result. If that becomes the case in Phoenix, expect Hanzal to spend some time with San Antonio in the AHL. But he should stick with the big club because he doesn’t appear to be aloof like a couple of the last few Czech prospects the Coyotes have drafted. That is, he has demonstrated in the last two years — on this side of the pond — that he’s always been up for the challenge and will do what it takes to succeed.

4. (3) Matt Jones, D
3rd Round, 80th – 2002, 24, 6’1, 210

Jones is about to end his run as a prospect here at HF after gravitating to the top of the Phoenix’s talent list. Heading into 2007-08, Jones is set to take a consistent role on one of the Coyotes defensive pairs. Having bounced back and forth between San Antonio and Phoenix last season, Jones finally caught on after a couple of trades and injuries.

He’s a bit under six feet, but he plays as if he’s well over it. The well-conditioned rearguard is not the flashiest of defenders but he plays a very smart physical game that gives the feel that he’s more of a seasoned vet than an aspiring youngster. Don’t expect big offensive numbers, but you can expect Jones to be a big presence as he patrols center ice and protects the Coyotes own end.

5. (7) Blake Wheeler, RW
1st Round, 5th – 2004, 21, 6’3, 185

Big things are on the horizon for Blake Wheeler as he heads into his junior season with the University of Minnesota.  Wheeler will be on the team’s top line and will be expected to help lead the team on the offensive front. There’s also a good chance he could take over the reins as team captain this fall.

Everyone waits in anticipation for Wheeler to establish himself as one the Gophers consistent top talents. He had flashes of greatness last season — what was believed to be only the beginning for the hulking winger. All indications point to Wheeler having a solid season as other forwards have left the program.

He’s going to be good; it’s just going to be a matter of how far and how hard he can bring it this year.

6. (4) Keith Yandle, D

4th Round, 105th – 2005, 20, 6’2, 195

Yandle made his professional debut with the Coyotes to start the 2006-07 season. Shortly after, he was sent down to San Antonio for further development. He spent the majority of his time working on his positioning and defensive game and his offensive numbers dipped as a result. It also didn’t help that the Rampage had less offense for the most part last year.

After spending last season making the adjustment to the pro level and tightening up his overall game, expect the Coyotes to be looking to Yandle to lead the blueliners as the top two-way threat. His offensive explosiveness and instincts will be welcomed as first-year head coach Greg Ireland will be looking to jumpstart the Rampage’s offense. An all hands on deck approach will be needed and Yandle should be the top man on the backend.

Yandle should be spending the majority of the 2007-08 season in the AHL with San Antonio, which is not a bad thing, as this should prove to be the best place for him at this stage in his career and development.

7. (11) Chris Summers, D
1st Round, 29th – 2006, 19, 6’1, 180

After playing both defense and wing during the 2006-07 season as a freshman for the University of Michigan, it probably left head coach Red Berenson wondering if Summers could have filled in at goalie too. He’s going to have a big impact this season in any case.

Summers’ overall skating ability is the foundation of his game and it will prove to the continued cornerstone of his future success. With some subtractions on the blue line, expect him to take on a top role.

8. (6) Enver Lisin, RW
2nd Round, 50th – 2004, 21, 6’1, 185

Lisin departed the States early last season when the Coyotes wanted to ship him to San Antonio to further his development. Not particularly happy with that decision, he went back to Russia and laced up for Ak Bars Kazan.

After discovering the grass wasn’t greener on the other side this time, he has committed to Phoenix for the 2007-08 season. This also includes a full commitment to report to the Rampage if need be. Lisin is full of talent and speed, which continues to make him such an intriguing prospect.

There is no denying his skill set and offensive prowess, but as shown last year with his minus-19 rating in 21 games, his overall game needs work. He’ll be flashy on the ice if he makes the transition here in North America or simply just another flash in the pan if he doesn’t.

9. (12) Logan Stephenson, D
2nd Round, 35th – 2004, 21, 6’3, 197

After turning in consecutive solid years while in junior up until last year, his first in pro, Stephenson is on his way to becoming the Coyotes next best defensive-defenseman. He’s an all-out defender who never takes a shift off. While he continues to build his game this year, expect him to also prosper in a leadership capacity. His determination, team play, and infectious attitude will be welcomed as the Rampage look to turn things around.

There’s an outside chance he could see some brief stints in Phoenix, but expect him to get top minutes on San Antonio’s blue line.

10. (8) Kevin Porter, C
4th Round, 119th – 2004, 21, 5’11, 194

Kevin Porter is coming off an impressive 2006-07 season where he had a breakout year as a junior playing on the University of Michigan’s top line. He finished the season ranked third in the nation in scoring and second in team scoring with 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 41 games. He was tied for the team lead in goals, was tied for second in team power-play goals and led all skaters in Ann Arbor in game-winning goals (4). He was named All-CCHA second team during the regular season and made the CCHA All-Tournament team.

Porter heads into his senior year at the University of Michigan where he’ll be depended on to help fill the void left behind after TJ Hensick graduated. It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach Berenson reshuffles the deck after other key departures. As for the captain of the maize and blue, you can expect him to have a top role on the team’s top offensive unit. And it’s absolutely plausible that he’ll be leading in more than one column.

11. (10) Bill Thomas, RW
Signed as Free Agent – 2006, 24, 6’1, 185

Thomas started the 2006-07 season with the Rampage. He was one of the team’s consistent offensive forces before earning a call-up to Phoenix during the second half of the season. He remained with the Coyotes for the rest of the year. In 24 games, he earned 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists).

Virtually unknown until his days at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Thomas has continued to excel and display an innate ability to score goals. He’s a blue-collar type of player with a nice touch. He should make the Coyotes out of camp this season and be a part of the young core that should start to mold and define the future team.

12. (5) Alexei Kaigorodov, C
Trade with Ottawa – 2006, 24, 6’1, 181

All indications from the Coyotes are that Kaigorodov will remain in Russia and play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the RSL. While he’s listed here like any other prospect, he slips due to the fact a prospect is rated on talent when and where it would be applied to an NHL setting. Since he has little to no interest joining the Coyotes this year and he’s about to graduate as a prospect here at HF, there is no conceivable reason why he should be rewarded with a higher ranking for giving the NHL a cold shoulder.

Needless to say, if he had an epiphany and finally decided to return, he should be on the list due to the impact he could have. Until then, the Coyotes acquisition for the young centerman last year will serve as a reminder of just a bad trade.

13. (NR) Jonas Ahnelov, D
3rd Round, 88th – 2006, 19, 6’3, 205

After getting a taste for the SEL during his draft year with the Frolunda Indians, Ahnelov returned for the 2006-07 season and made quite the impression. In 46 games, he registered four points (1 goal, 3 assists) for a plus-4 rating, which also included 20 penalty minutes. His success at the pro level also earned him a roster spot on Sweden’s 2007 WJC team.

Ahnelov’s development is headed in the right direction. The blueliner is going to be a one of the Indians’ top rearguards this season. His playing time is going to increase, but don’t expect his offensive numbers to skyrocket. It’s his overall game that’s going to keep him an attractive prospect.

14. (NR) Joel Gistedt, G
2nd Round, 36th overall – 2007, 19, 5’11, 175

When it comes to the draft, Joel Gistedt was the European version of David Perron this year. Passed over at the 2006 draft in Vancouver, Gistedt turned heads last season to put his name back on the radar with all 30 NHL teams en route to Columbus for the 2007 draft. Perron tore up the QMJHL, while Gistedt made a name for himself in the SEL. He split netminding duties with — and at times outplayed — former NHL veteran Tommy Salo. It’s anticipated that Gistedt will take over the starting duties this season.

If history repeats itself – al la Henrik Lundqvist – expect the young netminder to master the SEL before heading to the desert to compete for the starting job.

15. (13) Dmitri Pestunov, C
3rd Round, 80th – 2003, 22, 5’9, 196

Pestunov turned in another productive year for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. For the second straight season, played the majority of the season with well-established wingers in Ed Kudermetov and Ravil Gusmanov. He was the team’s fifth leading scorer in 53 regular season games with 23 points (5 goals, 18 assists).

The diminutive pivot continues to play exceptionally well in the RSL. His game has matured with his age and he is poised to be an established player. Pestunov has been very effective against top talent at numerous levels and it would be useful to see him try his luck here in North America. However, unless the pot is sweetened for the young center, it looks as if he’s going to remain in a comfortable position back home.

16. (NR) Nick Ross, D
2nd Round, 30th – 2007, 18, 6’0, 195

Ross was perhaps the top prospect from a Regina Pats roster that, while young, probably underachieved during the 2006-07 season. The versatile native of Lethbridge, Alberta scored seven goals and added 24 assists in 70 games.  He patrolled the Pats’ blue line this season, often with Logan Pyett (DET), and also saw time at forward as the Pats searched for consistent offensive production early in the season.

The Coyotes thought enough of the young rearguard to move up and nab him with the last pick in the first round at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a punishing style of defender who’s not afraid to distribute the big hit when need be.

Ross will be headed back to the Pats where he is expected to elevate his overall game.

17. (14) Josh Tordjman, G
Signed as Free Agent – 2005, 22, 6’1, 165

Josh Tordjman has been one of the Coyotes better finds outside the draft in recent years. After playing lights out in his final season in the QMJHL two years ago, he made his professional debut last year and exceeded a lot of expectations. He started the season with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the ECHL and made the jump to the AHL when the Coyotes reshuffled their goalies.

Tordjman was the starting goalie for San Antonio when David LeNeveu was called up with the Coyotes. He did an excellent job and even outplayed LeNeveu some nights. For a first year in pro, his stats speak volumes of his potential. As a rookie, he turned in a 15-18-2-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage. Given the situation in San Antonio, those numbers are very good.

It’s hard not to like Tordjman and his drive and determination. Even though he’s the consummate underdog prospect in the Coyotes system, he’s got a lot of people’s attention as he returns to San Antonio looking to be a big factor for the Rampage between the pipes.

18. (17) Sean Sullivan, D
9th Round, 272nd – 2003, 23, 6’0, 190

Upon his exit, Sean Sullivan (who was Boston University’s team captain), was named to Hockey East’s first team and earned the league’s best defensive-defenseman award. For his entire career at BU, Sullivan has been a silent hero for the Terriers. At the collegiate level these past years, there are few other defensemen who can play with such smarts, poise and tenacity while protecting their own zone.

It’s really not fair that Sully gets lost in such a mix of defensemen, but he’ll look to prove himself as he takes the next big step in his development. He got a sniff of AHL competition towards the end of last year, but expect him to make his presence felt immediately as his focus turns to the 2007-08 season.

He’s another hard-nosed defensive defenseman who’s a great athlete with strong poise. The keys for Sullivan this year will be adjusting to the speed of the game and fitting in with his new teammates.

19. (NR) Brett MacLean, LW
2nd Round, 32nd – 2007, 18, 6’1, 195

MacLean is the final 2007 draftee to make the Coyotes top list this time around. A great pick-up in the second round in Columbus, the young left winger is set to return to the Oshawa Generals in the OHL where he’ll be playing with phenom John Tavares. It’s no secret that a lot of MacLean’s success came on the heels of skating with the wunderkind, but he’s been  impressive putting up 47 goals in 68 games.

As the 2007-08 season in Oshawa gets set to begin, look to MacLean to elevate his overall game and presence on the ice. The numbers are going to be there for the young winger; so it’s time to build and develop the whole package.

20. (NR) Alex Leavitt, C
Signed as Free Agent 2007, 23, 6’2, 185

Leavitt’s resume is impressive. After earning Rookie of the Year honors having led the ECHL in scoring during the 2005-06 season, he caught on with the Minnesota Wild development program last year. After bouncing around between the ECHL and the AHL, the Coyotes finally received him on loan for the remainder of the 2006-07 season. He would go on to tear up the competition while in a Rampage jersey, scoring 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 16 games. After making such an impression, the Coyotes signed Leavitt to a two-year contract (effective this year).

Leavitt has a fiery streak and is a true competitor. He’s a savvy playmaking centerman, who has shown his ability to play with the top talent at each level as he has played over the last few years. He’s truly a wildcard in the Coyotes equation, but if he continues to stay focused and plays well this year, Phoenix could give him some consideration down the road.

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