Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 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 2013-14 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 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 (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
The best news to come out of Phoenix this season, happened just a few days ago as after what has seemed like an exhausting process, the ownership situation is finally solved. After four years of being under NHL control, Coyotes fans can finally look forward to an end to the constant speculation about the future of the team. They will soon be known as the Arizona Coyotes, but the future in Glendale is secure, for at least the next five seasons.
During their time in charge of the team, the NHL has put a strong management and coaching team in place. Despite the fact the Coyotes missed the 2013 Playoffs, there are few who can say that Don Maloney and Dave Tippett have not done a great job with the team. The Coyotes have achieved over and above their expectations and budget for several years now. This comes from strong system play, and developping good young players who buy into that system. The Coyotes continue to draft well, and again had a fine day at the 2013 Draft picking up London Knights centre Max Domi with their first round pick. With a strong stable of young defencemen either already on the team or knocking at the door, Domi adds an element of scoring punch up front that the Coyotes lacked. Second rounder Laurent Dauphin was another quality selection to add offence.
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 made the full-time jump to the AHL this season after capping off a a stellar junior career in style, winning the 2012 Memorial Cup, and being named to the tournament all-star team while playing with the Shawinigan Cataractes. 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.
The transition to the pro game was difficult for Gormley at first as he struggled early in adjusting to the increased speed and physicality of the professional game. This is something that can be issue for many 20-year-olds making the jump from the CHL to the pros, and Gormley quickly got past it. By the second half of the season he was a force at the defensive end and adding points at the offensive end for the Portland Pirates. The early season struggles seem to be completely behind him.
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 to pass or shoot. 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 something that cannot be taught and will lead to him having a long and successful NHL career.
Offensively he has a very good slapshot, and an excellent one timer. It is hard, and accurate. Gormley gets his shot through and keeps it low allowing teammates to create screens, tip-ins and pounce on rebound opportunities. He can quarterback the powerplay as he has excellent on-ice vision and makes crisp, accurate passes. In transition, he doesn’t often lead the rush, but he makes a good first pass out of his own zone leading to a quick transition. He also has the ability to sneak in as the trailer on the play and can also unleash an acurate wrist shot with a quick release.
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 the AHL, my prediction is that he’ll end up in Phoenix before the end of the 2013-14 season, as he’s getting very close to being NHL ready.
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
David Rundblad continues to be on the cusp of an NHL career, but unable to crack the Coyotes lineup full-time. He played in eight games this season, but was unable to earn a full-time job on a good young blueline.
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. A strong first pass out of the zone starts the transition game and leads to offence for his team. Rundblad is particularly adept at the long stretch pass. He is a natural powerplay quarterback with the poise and patience to control the play and wait for openings. Rundblad also has a strong and powerful slapshot which he keeps low and gets on net, creating opportunities for teammates with rebounds and deflections.http://lastwordonsports.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Defensively Rundblad’s game has really improved over the last year. Previously he was a riverboat gambler, who didn’t understand when it was time to make a risky play and when he should play it safe. He’s certainly become smarter with the puck this season, leading to less giveaways and odd man rushes against. This improvement was necessary for Rundblad to earn coaches’ trust and to get more ice time. As a result he’s been getting bigger minutes in Portland and more responsibility. While he’s not perfect yet, and still makes some risky plays, with his offensive potential he didn’t need to get this out of his game entirely, just learn that there is a time and a place for these types of plays.
If there is an aspect Rundblad’ can still work on, its his pivots and agility. He’s below average on his pivots and thus is susceptible to being beaten to the outside when defending against the rush. Over the last year he has improved his positioning and uses a quick stick to try and minimize this, but could use some work with a good skating coach this summer. 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, and he has greatly improved his defensive game over the last year. He will attempt to make the Coyotes out of training camp, and like Gormley is extremely close to being NHL ready. He may need just a little more AHL time to brush up on the defensive game a little more, but the improvements he’s made since this time last year should be greatly encouraging to Coyotes’ management and fans.
Super Sleeper Tobias Rieder, Centre/Wing
Born Jan 10 1993 — Landshut, Germany
Height 5’10” — Weight 179 lbs — Shoots Left
Selected by Edmonton Oilers round 4 #114 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Phoenix Coyotes March 2013
After a monster season in 2011-12 Rieder’s numbers were down in 2012-13. This seemed to be a problem with a number of players on the Kitchener Rangers as the team failed to live up to the lofty expectations that came with the club’s 50th anniversary season. It wasn’t all bad though as even with the slight downturn, he still finished as a better than point per game player with 27 goals and 56 points in 52 games. He missed time throughout the year, first with a foot injury in December, and then after being involved in a car accident where he suffered minor injuries after being rear-ended. Rieder also played for Germany at the World Juniors and was the team’s best player, putting up 5 points in 6 games. There was also an adjustment for Rieder this year as he spent more time at centre, where in previous years he was exclusively a winger.
Rieder is offensively talented with a very good wrist shot, a powerful snap shot, a good slapshot and an excellent one timer. This good arsenal of shots keeps goalies guessing and is an advantage for Rieder. He also has an excellent release which can also fool goaltenders. Rieder also has good vision and strong passing skills and can play the role of play maker even when he is playing on the wing. He is a good skater, with a strong top gear, and good edgework, agility and balance.
Rieder also a good defensive player who back checks hard and plays on the Rangers PK. He has become adept in the faceoff circle despite the limited work at centre until this season. Rieder is a willing shot blocker and he anticipates plays well to create turnovers and start the transition game.
The knock on Rieder is that he’s undersized at 5’10″ and less than 180lbs. He is not afraid of the dirty areas of the ice, but he must bulk up to be successful in board battles and in front of the net at the NHL level. He has talent to score points which can not be taught, and a good defensive game. I felt that the Coyotes got a real steal from the Oilers, only giving up Kale Kessy to get Rieder. Rieder has signed an entry level contract with the Coyotes and should make his AHL debut this season. He’s likely a couple of years away from being NHL ready, but he’s someone who you really shouldn’t overlook.
Rundblad and Gormley join a young Phoenix defence core that already includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, and Michael Stone at the NHL level. Also coming along in the minors are Connor Murphy, and James Melindy. The group should give Dave Tippett a deep, mobile group of two-way defenders to work with for a very long-time. Up front the Coyotes focused their attention on adding offence in the 2013 draft, and also have Reider, 2013 first rounder Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, and free agent signee Andy Miele competing for spots going forward. In goal, Mark Visentin is a few years away, but is progressing well as a goaltending prospect. The group could use even more forwards, but overall its a deep group that should provide a strong future for Phoenix.
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