One of the things about playoff pushes is how the management digs deep to find whatever spark they can for their team. Very often, the solution is in house. Much like the MLB, the NHL frequently sees late season call ups with young, budding players to give them a taste of the big leagues. Such a taste is as much an audition as it is a developmental tool. Nothing motivates a player more than a desire to return to the Promised Land.
Some players capitalize on this opportunity. Take a look at Boston’s Torey Krug. 2013-14 is technically his rookie year, but he was on the Bruins’ roster when they made their Stanley Cup push. He notably scored four goals in four games against the New York Rangers in the Conference Quarterfinals, and has now established himself as a promising young player on the Bruins’ blue line.
Some of league’s best pundits can smell guys like Krug from a mile away. So, in an exercise of sorts, I am going to examine the Coyotes’ farm system and prognosticate their road to the NHL squad, as well as an NHL comparable. Some have more difficult roads then others, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.
Phoenix’s most exciting offensive prospect, Max Domi was a legitimate threat to crack the Opening Day lineup in his first year with the organization. Drafted 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Domi brings a style of play that directly contrasts with that of his father, long time NHL enforcer Tie Domi. Where Tie was a big hit, body-checking kind of player, Max has an exciting offensive skill set. Take this pass for example. It is this kind of skill that Coyotes fans should be excited about.
After missing out on the Coyotes’ roster out of camp, Domi was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League to continue his development. After notching 39 goals and 48 assists with a plus-33 in 64 games in 2012-13, Domi has only gotten better, with 30 goals and 53 assists in 54 games so far in 2013-14. Because he has already signed a contract, Domi may not be off the roster for too much longer. I just don’t think it will be this season.
Comparable pro: Pavel Datsyuk with a little less defensive responsibility
Call up chance: 15%
Another young player with some pedigree, Henrik is the son of long time NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. He has developed a good scoring touch, with 30 goals and 51 assists in 55 games with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings. He does have 85 penalty minutes, though, one big critique in his otherwise solid all-around game.
Phoenix has been very careful with Henrik’s development, giving him plenty of time to mature physically and fine tune his game. With a couple extra pounds, Samuelsson can become a Shane Doan-type player, boasting an impressive two-way game built on physical presence and positional play. But until then, Phoenix is in no hurry to get him to the NHL roster.
Comparable pro: Shane Doan
Call up chance: 20%
After three productive years with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, the Phoenix Coyotes signed Lessio to an entry level contract in September 2012, after drafting him the year before. Since then, Lessio has been posting incredible numbers, including 18 goals and 17 assists in 46 games with the AHL-Pirates.
As far as pure potential goes, Lessio’s ceiling is pretty high. He has the potential to be above average in several aspects; a fast skater who can check as well as he can finish. Whether or not he puts it all together remains to be seen, but Lessio teamed up with Gormley, Samuelsson and Domi comprises an exciting young core for the Coyotes going forward. Because he was able to crack the starting roster coming out of camp, he figures to be first in line if anyone gets called up.
Comparable pro: Max Pacioretty
Call up chance: 45%
Every bit as talented as the other three forward prospects, Tobias Rieder is a hard prospect to evaluate. He is skilled, competes and isn’t afraid to throw the body around, but listed at 5-foot-11, Rieder suffers from the “lacks prototypical size” label. Nevertheless, Rieder has produced at every level he has been to thus far and displays great leadership qualities. He was an assistant captain for his OHL team as well as the German Under-20 team in the World Juniors. In 46 games with AHL affiliate Portland, the winger has amassed 18 goals with 13 assists.
With the other forwards in the Coyotes system, it’s easy for Rieder to get lost in the shuffle. But like the Coyotes demonstrated with Jordan Szwarz, there is a place for hard-nosed, gritty players on the third and fourth lines, where Rieder seems destined.
Comparable pro: Mike Fisher
Call up chance: 33%
With the exception of maybe Domi, Brandon Gormley is the best prospect in the Phoenix Coyotes’ farm. Displaying strength, production, leadership and lethal power-play skills, Gormley is the complete package at the defenseman position. Taken 13th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (after Cam Fowler and Tyler Seguin, but before Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk), Gormley has steadily risen in the Coyotes system. With almost two seasons at Portland under his belt, Gormley’s time may be sooner rather than later.
Really, Brandon Gormley figures to be a perfect antithesis to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Where Ekman-Larsson is an elite offensive talent with a fine-tuned defensive game, Gormley is instinctually strong in the defensive zone with an offensive game starting to develop. Like Ekman-Larsson, though, no real weaknesses can be found in his game. If he reaches that ceiling, Phoenix’s blue line will be a scary unit for years to come.
Comparable pro: Kevin Shattenkirk
Call up chance: 25%
Connor Murphy has already zigzagged between the NHL roster and Portland, showing a great feel for the game in his time with Phoenix. A very mobile skater, Murphy still has a propensity to pinch too aggressively, but makes enough heads-up plays to display the potential as an NHL regular.
In 26 NHL games, Murphy has a respectable eight points and a plus-four, including a goal in his first NHL game.
Comparable pro: Jay Bouwmeester
Call up chance: 80%
Rundblad’s offensive potential is very similar to that of Keith Yandle’s. The only problem: the Coyotes already have Yandle, giving Rundblad no real spot on the NHL roster. Rundblad was recently sent to AHL-Portland for a conditioning assignment, where he promises to see much more ice time than he would in Phoenix. He has only played 12 games for the Coyotes this season, despite being on the roster since Opening Day.
Comparable pro: Keith Yandle
Call up chance: 75%
With Mike Smith and Thomas Greiss entrenched on the NHL roster, Visentin has no clear path to the Coyotes roster any time soon. His play in AHL so far hasn’t really warranted a promotion either, as he has been incredibly inconsistent in his time with the Pirates. The talent that made the Coyotes draft him in the first round of the 2010 draft is there, though, and with Smith the guy in Phoenix for the foreseeable future, Visentin has plenty of time to make the adjustments.
Comparable pro: Braden Holtby
Call up chance: <5%
Special thanks to www.hockeysfuture.com for information.