Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” – a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today, as I continue my alphabetical journey through the NHL I bring you a look at the Phoenix Coyotes. As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Top Prospect: Brandon Gormley, Defence
Born Feb 18 1992 — Murray River, PEI
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in round 1 #13 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Brandon Gormley capped off a stellar junior career in style, winning the 2012 Memorial Cup with the Shawinigan Cataractes. Gormley was also named to the Memorial Cup all-star team. This came after a mid-season trade from the Moncton Wildcats where Gormley had spent most of his junior career. Gormley and the Wildcats had won the 2010 QMJHL title. Gormley was part of Team Canada’s 2012 Bronze medal winning World Junior squad. He had an excellent showing with 3 goals and 6 points in 6 games, and was named the top defencemen of the tournament. It was just one more award in a trophy case that is already filled to the brim for the young defender.
Gormley’s biggest asset is his tremendous hockey sense. He uses this to his advantage at both ends of the ice, and is an excellent two way player as a result. Gormley understands the play very well, and always seems to make the smart play in the offensive zone. He understands when to join the rush, when to pinch at the blue line, where his teammates are on the ice, and whether the smart play is a pass or a shot. Gormley also has excellent grasp of the game in the defensive end of the ice. He creates turnovers and starts the transition game due to his good reads, smart positioning and excellent anticipation. Gormley’s hockey instincts are very good, and are just something that cannot be taught.
Offensively he has a very good slapshot, and an excellent one timer. It is hard, and accurate. Gormley understands how to get his shot through and to keep it low and on net for maximum effectiveness. His playmaking ability is also very good as he has excellent on ice vision and crisp passing abilities. In transition, he doesn’t often lead the rush, but he makes a good first pass out of his own zone which leads to a quick transition. He also has the ability to sneak in as the trailer on the play.
If there is a criticism of Gormley, its that I’d like to see him add some bulk to his frame and become a more physical defender. While he is a good defender positionally, and makes good use of his long stick and good reach, it would be nice if he could occasionally through the big hit.
Overall Gormley is one of the top defensive prospects outside the NHL, and the Coyotes got an absolute steal when he fell on draft day 2010. Gormley should push for a job in Coyotes training camp, but he will face some stiff competition, and may end up in the AHL to start the year. Even if he does start in San Antonio, my prediction is that he’ll end up in Phoenix, either by the end of the season as an injury callup, or for the start of the 2013-14 season.
Top Prospect #2; David Rundblad, Defence
Born Oct 8 1990 — Lycksele, Sweden
Height 6.02 — Weight 189
Selected by the St. Louis Blues in round 1 #17 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Ottawa Senators at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in December 2011
After an outstanding 2010-11 campaign in Sweden which saw Rundblad led the Elitserien in scoring by a defenceman, and win the Borje Salming trophy as top defenceman in the league, he made his way to full time pro hockey in North America last summer. A member of the Ottawa Senators organization at the time, things did not go as expected for Rundblad. He made the Senators team and even played 24 games for the club, scoring his first NHL goal. In December Rundblad and a 2nd round pick were traded to Phoenix in a move for Kyle Turris. Rundblad would spend the rest of the season on a permanent yo-yo between the AHL and NHL, only appearing in 6 games for the Coyotes.
Offensively Rundblad is extremely skilled. He has excellent vision and outstanding passing ability, putting the puck through the tightest of openings to set up teammates. His first pass out of the zone starts the transition game and leads to offence for his team. He is particularly adept at the long stretch pass. On the powerplay he is a natural quarterback and should be able to one day play that role in the NHL. He also has a strong and powerful slapshot which he keeps low and gets on net. His shot creates tip ins and rebounds.
Defensively Rundblad’s game needs a lot of work. He is a riverboat gambler, and while he’s offensively skilled he needs to learn when to dial it back a little. Some of the plays he tries are quite simply not going to work at the NHL level. He pinches too often and gets caught, leading to odd man rushes the other way. He needs to learn when to pick his spots, and that taking care of his own end of the ice is important as well.
Rundblad’s skating ability also hurts his defensive game. He does not pivot as well as he should and thus is susceptible to being beaten to the outside when defending against the rush. He tries to make up for this with his positioning and a quick stick, but he still needs work. He also needs to be stronger and more physical as he struggles to win board battles or to keep the front of the net clear.
Overall Rundblad has the tools to be a great offensive defenceman in the NHL, but his defensive game needs a lot of work. He will attempt to make the Coyotes out of training camp, however I feel that he would be best served by heading back to the AHL and further refining his game. If he can work on that defence and even become just an average defender, he’ll be a hugely valuable NHL player. If he can’t, he’ll end up a powerplay specialist who will drive coaches crazy with his defending. There is a ton of potential here though, and that keeps him high on the list of Coyotes prospects.
Sleeper pick and Top Prospect #3; Max Goncharov, Defence
Born Jun 15 1989 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.04 — Weight 215 — Shoots Right
Selected by Phoenix Coyotes in round 5 #123 overall, at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft
After leaving CSKA Moscow and the KHL in the spring of 2010, Goncharov has spent the last two seasons playing for Phoenix’s AHL affiliates (San Antonio in 2010-11 and Portland in 2011-12). He was another defenceman who seemed to constantly be being called up and sent down again by the Coyotes last year, but despite a lot of time on the Coyotes Roster, he did not actually play in an NHL game.
Goncharov is a talented skater. His top end speed and acceleration are good. His agility, edgework, and pivots allow him to be mobile in all directions and help him to create offense off the rush, to walk the line to set up his shot in the offensive zone, and to handle his duties in the defensive zone both off the rush and in his own end. His quick foot work allows him to close gaps quickly and he loves to throw the big hit. Defensively Goncharov uses his size and strength to win battles on the boards and to keep the front of the net clear.
Offensively, Goncharov is a good stickhandler who can lead the rush, and beat defenders one on one. He also has a good wrist shot and slap shot and joins the rush as a trailer as well. On the powerplay he has a great one timer from the point that is both powerful and accurate. However he lacks the playmaking skills to be a true quarterback, and is more likely to end up the triggerman on the powerplay.
Goncharov is a player with all the tools to suceed as a top 4 defenceman in the NHL, his challenge will be taking those tools and putting them all together into a package as a complete player. He is prone to mistakes such as bad giveaways in his own zone, bad pinches in the offensive zone, and getting caught out of position looking for the big hit. If he can cut those down, he’s got what it takes to be a solid player.
Goncharov will head to training camp looking to make the Coyotes Roster, and make his NHL debut. At 23 years old and in the final year of his Entry Level Deal, the time is fast approaching where the Coyotes will have no choice but to give him his chance and see what he can do. With the depth on Defence on the Coyotes squad and in their prospect ranks, he’s nearing the point of no return where the team must decide if he has a future with the club, or allow him to move on, either by trading his rights to another NHL club, or potentially seeing him head back to the KHL where he can earn a lot more money than he can in the AHL.
The Coyotes are certainly building their team around the defence as seen by excellent young defenders Keith Yandle, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the big squad, and the plentiful young defenders in the system. In addition to the three profiled here, the Coyotes also have Connor Muphy, a first round pick and talented puck mover who needs to stay healthy; Mike Stone, a solid defensive defenceman who is developing a two way game in Portland, and Chris Summers, a smooth skating defender and 2006 draftee who is entering a make or break season as well. The Coyotes also have goaltending depth as this year’s revelation, Mike Smith, is still young. In the pipeline Mark Visentin, Mike Lee, and Louis Dominigue give them a trio of talented prospects. The Coyotes could use a lot of help at forward and in drafting Samuelsson and Martinook with their first two picks and signing Andy Miele last year, they have started to address this area. However future acquisitions and drafts must continue to focus on building depth at all 3 forward positions.
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