Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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.
The offs-season brings change as the Phoenix Coyotes have been rebranded the Arizona Coyotes, but that isn’t the best news. Finally the Coyotes will be able to go through a full off-season without speculation of the future of the club in the desert. This has been quite the distraction in recent years, but is finally gone.
The Coyotes missed the playoffs last year, and as with any team that misses the playoffs, this has brought changes. Gone is Mike Ribeiro who the team bought out, and Radim Vrbata who left for a big contract in Vancouver. In are Sam Gagner and Devan Dubnyk who are hoping that a change of scenery will rejuvenate their careers. Trade deadline acquisition Martin Erat is hoping a full season in the desert will do the same.
The Coyotes followed this all up by having a fantastic NHL draft, and even took LWOS’ honours for the top draft in the NHL, making some great picks to take 7 of our top 70 rated players, including a top 10 ranked player in Brendan Perlini.
Top Arizona Coyotes Prospects
Top Prospect: Max Domi, Centre/Left Wing
Born Mar 2 1995 — Toronto, ONT
Height 5.10 — Weight 194 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Coyotes in the 1st Round, 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft
Max Domi is the son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi, but you wouldn’t know it watching the younger Domi on the ice. Domi is an offensive dynamo who centres the first line for the London Knights, who have been to three straight Memorial Cups during his time on the team. This past season though, they made it because they were the hosts, and not by winning the OHL crown as they had in each of the previous two seasons. Domi had a rough year, and a controversial one as he was not even invited to Canada’s World Junior camp in December making huge headlines as many (this author included) felt he should be on the team.
Domi He has excellent hockey sense and is able to find openings in the offensive zone to unleash a quick and accurate wrist shot. His release is top notch and often fools opposing goaltenders. Domi drives the net and has great hands in tight allowing him to score goals in a number of ways. Domi also has has great anticipation and a great first step which sees him pounce on a ton of loose pucks around the net. He is extremely dangerous with the puck as Domi can beat defenders one on one. He also has excellent vision and passing ability which he uses to create openings for his teammates. Domi was voted the 2nd best playmaker in the OHL’s Western Conference in a recent coaches poll.
Domi is an elite skater who uses his shiftiness and changes of pace to confuse and beat defenders. He has a great first step and top notch acceleration. His top end speed is also well above average, and these skills make Domi a real threat off the rush. His edgework and agility is extremely good, and Domi maintains a low centre of gravity which makes him very difficult to knock off the puck, despite his small size. Domi uses this great balance to win far more board battles and be far more dangerous on the cycle than you’d expect from someone his size. He has a very strong, very powerful lower body.
As should be expected from most players coming out of the Hunter school, and playing for the London Knights, Domi has worked hard over the last two years to develop a defensive game. When he entered the OHL he looked lost in the defensive zone, but Domi has become a lot more effective defensively. He gets back hard and brings good back pressure off the rush. He also works hard down low, helping to contain the cycle despite his size.
Domi does have some aspects of his father’s game though, as he is often right in the middle of scrums, no matter which zone they occur in. He has developed a reputation for getting under his opponents skin, and can be quite the agitator.
This year Domi is in that tweener zone. He has been a key player in the OHL for 3 years now, and a first line centre for 2 years. It is unclear what more he has to learn in junior, but is no lock to make the NHL squad. He could crack the lineup with a good camp, and would earn a full-time spot with a good 9 game tryout, or he could be back in London for a final try at winning the Memorial Cup. A lot will depend on his camp.
Prospect #2: 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
Gormley had a solid second pro season with Portland putting up 7 goals and 36 points in 54 games. He also earned himself a five game look with the Coyotes, getting his feet wet in the NHL. Gormley had a rough time when he first started in the AHL in the 2012-13 season, but by the second half of that year was the best defenceman on his team and making an impact in both ends of the ice. That strong second half play continued this year.
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 and win a job in Coyotes training camp. Yes Phoenix does have some dpth on defence, but the time is now, and Gormley is ready for full-time work in the NHL. Even if he struggles at first, the Coyotes should be patient as he has proven before that he needs time to adjust to the increased speed at the next level, but once he does, he can be a top four defender very quickly.
Prospect #3: Henrik Samuelsson, Right Wing/Centre
Born Feb 7 1994 — Scottsdale, AZ
Height 6.02 — Weight 192 — Shoots Right
Drafted by the Coyotes in the 1st Round, 27th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft
Henrik Samuelsson comes from great bloodlines, he is the son of long time NHLer, and former Stanley Cup Champion Ulf Samuelsson. His brother Philip was a 2009 2nd round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and is moving up their system. Samuelsson reached another level in 2013-14 with 35 goals and 95 points in 65 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He also had a strong playoff and his 4 goals and 8 points in 5 games at the Memorial Cup helped lead the Oil Kings to the championship.
Samuelsson is a big bodied, power forward prospect. He’s versatile as he’s been used at both Centre and Right Wing. Samuelsson uses his size and strength to battle opponents for loose pucks on the boards and to plant himself in front of the net. He has soft hands and a knack for banging in rebounds and tipping shots in close. His huge frame is also an effective screen for opposing goalies. Henrik Samuelsson has a good wrist shot and release, and he’s also good on one-timers. Samuelsson has also shown a creative playmaking side, utilizing great vision, and great tape to tape passing skills to rack up the assists in Edmonton. Henrik doesn’t shy away from traffic or from playing a physical game, and has been known to throw a big hit at times. He’s also shown a bit of his father’s legendary mean streak.
Defensively Samuelsson is a conscientious back checker and strong positionally. He is willing to use his size to be physical and again is often involved in battles for loose pucks. Samuelsson is willing to block shots and understands how to cut down on the passing lanes. As the son of a defensive defenceman, its no surprise that Henrik has that aspect to his game.
Skating wise, Samuelsson has good top end speed for a big man and is very strong and balanced on his skates. He could however use some work on his first step quickness, on his acceleration and on his agility. This is one area of his game that is a work in progress. Like many 18 year olds, Samuelsson will also need some time and work in the weight room bulking up before he is ready for pro hockey. Samuelsson is also a bit of a liability to take undisciplined penalties, once again proving the old adage of like father, like son.
Samuelsson should battle for a job in training camp, but is likely to start his pro career in the AHL. He could see some time in Phoenix if injuries hit the club.
Super Sleeper Prospect: Tobias Rieder, Right Wing/Centre
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
Rieder had his first pro season with the AHL’s Portland Pirates and put up impressive numbers with 28 goals and 48 points in 64 games. He also faced elite level competition representing Germany at the World Championships this spring.
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 played Penalty kill minutes in junior. He hasn’t seen huge penalty kill time in the AHL, but as he was just a rookie that is not unusual. 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. Reider likely needs another year of AHL action to refine his game, but he’s someone who you really shouldn’t overlook.
The Coyotes had a fabulous hall at the 2014 NHL draft and their cupboards are now well stocked. In addition to the new picks, Mark Visentin and Brendan Burke lead the way in goal. On defence, Connor Murphy, Cade Fairchild, and James Melindy provide depth behind Gormley. The forwards also have talent with Lucas Lessio, Brendan Shinnimin, and Laurent Dauphin showing potential. Overall the system is one of the best in the league.
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Main Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images