By: Jeff Dahlia
After spending countless hours eval uating young talent this past year, the Phoenix Coyotes' management and scouts are getting ready to converge on Vancouver, B.C. for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Like the rest of the league's other 29 teams, Phoenix anxiously awaits the chance to hit the floor of GM Place to add quality prospects to the franchise. Armed with the 8th overall pick in the first round, and a total of eight draft selections, the team will begin to sift through some 418 young men who all dream of playing in the world's best league one day.
The NHL Draft is an important time for all NHL franchises. The Draft allows teams to build from within by adding top prospects that will one day develop into NHL players. Throughout time, draft picks have either helped shape franchises into powerhouses or crippled them where they stand.
Luckily for the Coyotes, strong draft choices from years past are starting to help improve the quality and depth of the Phoenix organization. Most notably, during this recent era in Coyotes hockey, a couple of prospects are starting to inch their way closer to becoming everyday NHL players.
Here's a closer look at how the Coyotes have faired over the past few drafts.
2002 - Air Canada Center - Toronto
Dating back to the 2002 draft in Toronto, the Coyotes were able to select a pair of players in goalie David LeNeveu and defenseman Matt Jones who have turned into legitimate prospects for the organization. As it was seen this past season, both LeNeveu and Jones saw limited action for the Coyotes throughout the year.
It was LeNeveu who stepped in to back up Curtis Joseph, when former Phoenix goalie Brain Boucher went down with an injury during the preseason. Although the Fernie B.C. native would spend most of the season with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL, he would return towards the end of the year to receive more experience.
Jones, who's a gritty defensive-defenseman, was called-up on numerous occasions to help guard Phoenix's blueline this past season. Much like LeNeveu and because the franchise has a cache of strong, mobile, puck moving defenseman, the former University of North Dakota product saw most his time with the Rampage.
Also from the 2002 class, the team drafted center Jakub Koreis (19th overall), and defenseman Joe Callahan (70th overall). Both players had strong seasons with San Antonio and are improving each year. However, expect both LeNeveu and Jones to be in the running for full-time roster spots come the 2006-07 season.
2004 - RBC Center - Raleigh, N.C.
While the 2003 draft didn't prove to be as strong as the franchise would have liked, the team headed into the 2004 draft looking once again, to move forward. It was the 2004 draft where the art of selecting players was at a turning point.
Phoenix forged ahead at the RBC Center in 2004 and had probably one of its most complete drafts in recent years. Now today, the franchise is set to welcome defenseman Logan Stephenson (selected 35th overall), right wing Enver Lisin (selected 50th overall) and center Daniel Winnik (selected 265th overall) to the mix.
Logan Stephenson enters the system after spending his junior career with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL. He is a big, strong, good skating defenseman, who showed last season with Tri-City that he's a good character player with leadership qualities. Not known for his scoring, Stephenson did step up last year for Tri-City and put up career offensive numbers.
Enver Lisin comes to the franchise after spending the last two years in the Russian league with Ak Bars Kazan. During his rookie season (2004-05), he found a way to crack the lineup and become a regular, even after Kazan went out and brought in some of the world's best talent during the NHL's lockout year. This past season, he played an important role on what turned out to be a championship team. Noted for his speed, deft passing ability and overall vision, he has made significant progress and should prove to be ready to contribute for the franchise immediately.
Daniel Winnik is the final prospect from the 2004 draft class headed to Phoenix this summer. He also happens to be a very intriguing prospect because he was such a late round pick, and he has exceeded expectations. Having spent the last three seasons at the University of New Hampshire, the former Wildcat center will bring his size, skill, skating ability and his nose for the back of the net. While the 2004-05 season proved to be a breakout year for Winnik, he came back this past year and developed into one of Hockey East's top power forwards. He led his team in scoring for the majority of the season only to surrender the lead late in the year by one point. He ranked second on his team in goal scoring.
While two players from the 2004 draft class have opted to become free agents this summer, the rest of the class is currently developing outside the franchise, with their respective college teams. Those players include top prospect Blake Wheeler - University of Minnesota (5th overall), left wing Kevin Porter - University of Michigan (119th overall), center Chad Kolarik - University of Michigan - (199th overall) and left wing Will Engasser (261st overall). All of these players had solid year's at their respective colleges and are high on the Coyotes' depth chart.
2005 - The Westin Hotel - Ottawa
While the team tried to duplicate its overall results from the 2004 draft, it had to be done last year with half the number of draft picks. As expected, every last selection had to count. The franchise added five young skilled players.
Talent wise, defenseman Keith Yandle has been the talk of the class thus far. He's a strong skating two-way defenseman, whose offensive ability is tremendous. He sees the game very well, has a physical presence and can move the puck effectively. He also has a good shot.
After spending just one season with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, the New Englander led all defensemen in the CHL in scoring. He was a key part in helping the Wildcats win the QMJHL title. If that weren't enough, he also helped lead his team to the CHL title game, where the Wildcats fell short to the Quebec Remparts. Yandle had an incredible year and was named as the CHL's best defenseman.
Recently, the Coyotes signed Yandle to at three-year entry-level contract. Expect him to make some noise come training camp.
Last year, the franchise also selected Czech left wing Martin Hanzal - HC Budejovice (17th overall), goaltender Pier-Olivier Pelletier (59th overall), Center Anton Krysanov - Lada Togliatti (148th overall) and right wing Pat Brosnihan - Yale University 212th overall).
Historically, the franchise has had success at the draft table. As you can see with the six-profiled prospects listed above, the Coyotes are eager to transition some of their young talented players into the mix in Phoenix. Getting ready to turn the corner for Vancouver next weekend, the organization will be ready to add another set of prospects to their overall base of talent. From there, the club will continue to build and define their ever-emerging identity.
The last two drafts have been fruitful for the franchise and the club hopes to continue to add solid prospects to the organization. Who will be the one with the game breaker attributes? Who will be the next star? Who will lead the Coyotes of the future?
Tune into OLN on Saturday, June 24, 2006 6 p.m. est., to find out who could be coming to Coyotes Country next.
In the meantime, you can find out more information about the prospects participating in the draft, by visiting Hockey's Future 2006 NHL Entry Draft Center.