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by Russell Brooks / Arizona Coyotes
Seven of the Coyotes' eight picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft came from the junior leagues. In the first three rounds of the past three drafts, eight of the 12 picks have been from the junior leagues.

Below are some of the junior prospects working their way to the NHL.

Brett Bennett – Goalie – Indiana Ice (USHL)
2008-09 Statistics: 67 GP, 44-21-2-5, 165 GA, .913 SV%

A year removed from leaving the Boston University program, Bennett latched on with the Indiana Ice and won the United States Hockey League title. Bennett played a big role in the championship by going 44-21-2 this season and put together an excellent postseason. He  finished the Clark Cup Finals with a 1.25 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.

“Brett is very competitive and absolutely hates to get scored on,” Indiana Ice Head Coach Jeff Blashill said. “Brett worked extremely hard this year which led to great success all season.”

Bennett, whom the Coyotes selected in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, will be going to the University of Wisconsin next season, a stop also made by Coyotes forward Kyle Turris.

“He had a really good year,” Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving said. “He has good size and had the type of year we expect. He is going to a top program in Wisconsin and we expect him to continue to have the same kind of success.”

Tim Billingsley – Defenseman – Mississauga (OHL)
2008-09 Statistics: 56 GP, 0 G, 11 A, 11 P, 82 PIM

Billingsley, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft, was plagued by separate injuries this season that cost him time. When he was playing, Billingsley concentrated more on his defensive game as the backbone of Mississauga's blue line.

While he isn’t counted on for offense, Billingsley’s scoring slipped off this season as he contributed 11 points compared to 27 points last season.

Mathieu Brodeur – Defenseman – Cape Breton (QMJHL)
2008-09 Statistics: 72 GP, 4 G, 15 A, 19 P, 19 PIM

After being drafted by the Coyotes in the third round of the 2008 Draft, Brodeur returned to Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and put together a strong season. Brodeur dramatically improved his defensive game going from a minus-3 last season to a plus-18 this season.

“He is a big defenseman,” said Sean Burke, the Director of Prospect Development for the Coyote, referring to Brodeur’s 6-foot-5 stature. “He is more mobile than I thought. He moves the puck well and has to play with an edge at that size.”

Colin Long – Forward – Kelowna (WHL)
2008-09 Statistics: 94 GP, 38 G, 73 A, 111 P, 50 PIM

It was a long season for Long, who played 94 games between the Western Hockey League's regular season, the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup.

As captain of the Kelowna Rockets, Long finished sixth in the WHL in scoring iin 2008-09 and contributed 16 points in 22 games during the postseason.

“He is a very skilled offensive player,” Treliving said. “ He had a really good year in the WHL and took a step in the right direction. Colin just has to work on getting stronger.”

Phoenix picked Long in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft.

Nick Ross – Defenseman – Vancouver (WHL)
2008-09 Statistics (Vancouver WHL): 51 GP, 8 G, 22 A, 30 P, 46 PIM
2008-09 Statistics (Kamloops WHL): 40 GP, 4 G, 18 A, 22 P, 51 PIM

Arguably one of the best defensive prospects in the organization, Ross had a good season in the WHL. After getting traded from the Kamloops Blazers to the Vancouver Giants, Ross continued to play solid defensive hockey while contributing offensively as his team made it to the semifinals of the WHL playoffs.

"He is a really good skater,” Burke said. “He has a lot of offensive ability. He is one of those defenseman that can make a lot happen when he has the puck. He is very strong. He needs to continue to work on his consistency shift in and shift out, and his intensity level. He plays the game at his tempo.”

Ross, whom the Coyotes selected in the first round of the 2007 Draft, signed an entry-level contract with the Coyotes last summer and will be in training camp in September.

Jared Staal – Forward – Sudbury (OHL)
2008-09 Statistics (Sudbury OHL): 73 GP, 19 G, 34 A, 53 P, 40 PIM
2008-09 Statistics (San Antonio AHL): 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, 0 PIM

Staal might be best known for his bloodline, but he is making a name for himself. This season, Staal improved his offense and saw increased ice time from Sudbury Head Coach Mike Foligno.

“He has big powerful legs on him,” Burke said. “He is one of those players that develops slowly but you can see a lot of potential in him. He has strong bloodlines and understands the game. He just has to continue to keep his intensity level up.”

After his season with Sudbury, Staal made a stop in the American Hockey League where he played under a professional try-out agreement with the San Antonio Rampage.

“He went to AHL and was not out of place,” Burke said. “He will be effective. As he fills into his body, he has the potential to be a solid third liner.”

The Coyotes selected Staal in the second round of the 2008 Draft.

Michael Stone – Defenseman – Calgary (WHL)
2008-09 Statistics: 87 GP, 21 G, 53 A, 74 P, 103 PIM

Stone had a strong year of development with Calgary of the WHL. A third-round selection of the Coyotes in the 2008 Draft, Stone almost doubled his offensive output as he led the Hitmen to the finals of the WHL playoffs.

“Out of all our prospects he was the most consistent all season,” Burke said. “He is a guy that defensively is very good. He is big, strong. He has a big shot. He scored some power-play goals for Calgary. He has real leadership qualities to him.”

With all the intangibles there, Burke thinks Stone has to improve his skating to stick in the NHL.

“He is not what you call a fast skater. He finds a way to get there. He has to continue to work on his foot speed.”

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