Welcome to the 2015 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2015 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 2015 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 2015-16 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.
It can be argued that no team was hurt more by the results of the NHL Draft Lottery than the Arizona Coyotes. Finishing second last in the NHL, in a year where there were two possibly generational talents available in the draft, the Coyotes saw their draft pick slip to third when the Oilers won the right to draft Connor McDavid. This isn’t to take a shot at Dylan Strome who was #3 on our pre-draft rankings, and is a great prospect, but he just wasn’t at McDavid and Eichel’s level.
The Coyotes improved their prospect pool in other ways this year though, picking up extra draft picks and a top prospect in Anthony Duclair in exchange for Keith Yandle; Klas Dahlback and picks in a trade for Antoine Vermette; and Max Letunov in a trade for Zybanek Michalek. They also added additional picks in a trade for Devan Dubnyk. Overall the Coyotes did well to add depth to the organization in what was a tough year.
Players Drafted: Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley, Christian Fischer, Kyle Capobianco, Adin Hill, Brendan Warren, Jens Looke, Conor Garland, Erik Kallgren
Graduates – Tobias Reider, Connor Murphy, Craig Cunningham,
Arizona Coyotes Top 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 for the London Knights, who were rebuilding this year, but previously went to three straight Memorial Cups during his time on the team. This past season, Domi was one of the best offensive players in the OHL. He also played for Team Canada in the World Juniors and had Montreal’s Bell Centre screaming “Domi, Domi, Domi,” something that would have been unthinkable for his father. Overall he had 5 goals and 10 points in the tournament, and was named the Tournament’s Best Forward in helping Team Canada to a gold medal.
Domi 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 best shot, and best shootout shooter 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 are 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. He was named the second best skater in the OHL’s Western Conference Coaches’ Poll, behind only Connor McDavid.
As should be expected from most players coming out of the Hunter school, and playing for the London Knights, Domi has worked hard 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.
Domi could crack the Coyotes lineup with a good camp, but may also need some time in the AHL to adjust to the bigger bodies he will face in the pro game. It really could go either way, and so he’s one to watch when Coyotes camp opens in the fall.
#2 Prospect: Brendan Perlini, Left Wing
Born Apr 27 1996 — Guildford, England
Height 6.02 — Weight 212 [188 cm/96 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by Arizona Coyotes – round 1 #12 overall 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Injuries limited the Coyotes top pick in the 2014 NHL draft to just 43 OHL games last season. When he did play he was explosive though, scoring 26 goals and adding 60 points. He would also score 7 goals and 12 points in 11 OHL playoff games, before joining the Portland Pirates where he picked up his first professional goal in the AHL playoffs.
Brendan Perlini is a very good skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He couples this with very good agility to be deadly off the rush. He is extremely hard to stop one-on-one. Add to that the good balance and power to be able to fight through checks and you have a lot of offensive potential here.
In the offensive zone, Perlini possesses very good hockey sense, good creativity and excellent vision to be a dynamic playmaker with the puck on his stick. He has good stickhandling, and the puck protection skills needed to extend plays and give his linemates time to get open. He is very good in the cycle game. Perlini has shown off a much improved shot and release this season, and this is the biggest change in his offensive game. He has a great wrist shot, and also has a very good one-timer. While Perlini has great height, he could stand to put on more muscle and play a more physical game going forward.
Perlini has also shown great improvement in his play away from the puck, and the change in his game extends to all three zones. He is also showing off good defensive instincts, including being very strong in reading the play and in cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He backchecks hard, and covers his man extremely well. Perlini has very good hockey IQ and you can see how he always makes sure to get the puck out of the zone when it comes near his side of the ice.
It seems likely that Perlini will be back with the Niagara Ice Dogs next season, trying for one more kick at the proverbial can in Junior hockey. He would need to dazzle in training camp for the team to keep him up in the NHL, but he will likely get a good look.
#3 Prospect: Anthony Duclair, Left Wing/Right Wing
Born Aug 26 1995 — Pointe-Claire, PQ
Height 5.11 — Weight 185 [180 cm/84 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted 80th Overall by the New York Rangers in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Traded to the Arizona Coyotes in March 2015.
It was a magnificent season for Anthony Duclair. He made the New York Rangers out of training camp and scored one goal and seven points before being sent down to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Once there, he dazzled crowds, and put up four goals and eight points in seven games, playing on the first line with Max Domi and helping Canada to the Gold Medal. Back in juniors with Quebec, he would put up 34 points in 26 regular season games and 26 points in 22 playoff games as the Remparts fell just short of the QMJHL title, and again fell short as hosts in the Memorial Cup.
Duclair is a fantastic skater, who has a ton of top end speed and great acceleration. He is able to stick handle at top speed which forces defenders to back up on him on the rush. He is able to go wide and cut to the net if they don’t respect his speed and skating ability. He also has a tremendous ability to change gears and beat defenders that way. Add to that fantastic agility and great edgework and Duclair proves the old addage that speed kills when he gets the opportunity in the transtion game.
Duclair is able to take advantage of the extra space that his skating provides him, by using a heavy and very accurate wrist shot with a good release. He is a pure goal scorer, who can drive the net and has soft hands in tight. While he does have good vision and passing skills he has sometimes been criticized for using his shot a little bit too often. Duclair is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and he battles along the boards and in front of the net, however he could use a little more muscle if he is going to play that way at the NHL level.
Duclair’s defensive game is a work in progress. Some nights he is aggressive on puck carriers, makes smart reads, gets heavily involved in the back check, and keeps his feet moving at all times in the defensive zone. Other nights, its like watching a totally different player, as he seems lost, and stops moving his feet, leading to missed assignments and bad penalties. He has improved his consistency over time, and there were less and less of those bad nights this past season, its still an area that can crop up as a concern from time to time.
Duclair will head to training camp trying to earn a spot in the NHL as he did last year in New York. It wont be easy though, as the Coyotes have been very patient with prospects over the last several years. Expect to see him put on a line with Max Domi at some point, as the Coyotes will likely want to see if they can recreate the magic of their World Junior Line.
Super Sleeper, Michael Bunting, Left Wing
Born Sep 17 1995 — Toronto, ON
Height 6.00 — Weight 178 [183 cm/81 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by Arizona Coyotes in round 4 #117 overall 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Michael Bunting is one of those players who rarely seems to wow you, but really does everything well. He is an extremely hard worker who never stops moving his feet and shows grit and tenacity at both ends of the ice. Willing to use his body and play physical, he will be even better when he adds some more muscle to his frame. While the stats don’t show it, I see Bunting as more of a goal scorer than a playmaker. He has a very, very good release on a strong and accurate wrist shot. He is also unafraid to get to the front of the net and works at banging in rebounds and scoring from the dirty areas of the ice. He doesn’t throw big hits, but is willing to get involved in battles for the puck anywhere on the ice. With the puck on his stick, he’s also able to get past defenders and go to the net. That said he also has decent vision and passing skill. His positional play, anticipation and just general hockey IQ are excellent, as he almost always makes the right play with the puck, and can find the openings in the defence.
In terms of skating, Bunting can improve his first step and acceleration, but when he gets up to speed does have decent top end speed. He is also agile, able to be shifty on his skates to elude defenders off the rush. He could stand to be stronger on the puck and improve his balance, though again this is something that should come with more muscle.
A committed back checker, Bunting is the type of player who coaches will love for his well-rounded two way game. He supports defenders with very good back pressure and gap control. He reads plays well, and again shows the impressive hockey IQ leading to turnovers, and quick transitions. Overall, Bunting showed commitment being willing to block shots, and do whatever it takes to win. Its rare to see an 18 year old in the OHL with such a well-rounded game, but Bunting brings that.
Due to his late birthday, Bunting is eligible to head to the AHL this season. Its likely that he will spend the year acclimatizing to the pro game, before making a real run at a roster spot in 2016.
The Coyotes have had a fabulous haul in each of the last two drafts and their cupboards are now well stocked. In addition to the new picks, they have a solid foundation with Louis Dominique in goal. On defence, Brandon Gormley heads to camp needing to make the hockey team. Due to NHL waiver rules, its likely his last shot in Arizona. Philip Samuelsson, Dysin Mayo, Klas Dhalback and James Melindy provide depth behind Gormley. The forwards also have talent with Christian Dvorak, Anton Karlsson, Lucas Lessio, Brendan Shinnimin, and Laurent Dauphin showing potential. Overall the system is one of the best in the league.
MONTREAL, QC – DECEMBER 27: Max Domi #16 of Team Canada is stopped by Kevin Reich #30 of Team Germany on a breakaway during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game at the Bell Centre on December 27, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)