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Draft Classmates Feel Bond at Rookie Camp

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – Six of the 29 prospects at this year’s Coyotes Rookie Camp are Class of 2015 draftees. They share that bond and it will never be broken, yet they’re all trying to make a good first impression as individuals.

Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley, Christian Fischer, Kyle Capobianco, Adin Hill and Conor Garland all had their names called by the Coyotes at the draft in Sunrise, Fla., over the last weekend in June. While Strome’s future with the Coyote is not a matter of if but when, the same cannot be said for the others. That’s why this camp is so important for them.

The Coyotes selected Merkley with the final draft pick of the first round – 30th overall. General Manager Don Maloney has raved about him all summer and the winger is looking to prove that his skills are comparable to those of the other, more recognizable first-round draft picks in camp: Henrik Samuelsson, Max Domi, Brendan Perlini and Strome.

Nick Merkley shoots on fellow 2015 draftee Adin Hill. Photo by Norm Hall.

“Obviously everyone here is skilled and everyone can skate and everyone can shoot,” said Merkley, after he and the other prospects skated for two hours at Gila River Arena on Sunday. “My biggest thing is my compete ethic at this level … You come in here and you try to make the team, try to do all you can to give yourself the best opportunity. Obviously, I’m going to try to do that and whatever comes of it, comes of it. If I have to go back to junior, I’ll have a good year there and be a leader on my team. But if I make it, that’ll be surreal.”

Merkley, who signed an entry-level deal with the Coyotes earlier this month, has skated on a line with center Tyler Gaudet and winger Michael Bunting at this camp.

Fischer, whom the Coyotes drafted 32nd overall, can notice a bond with his draft classmates and bonds between the other draft classmates at this camp.

“You can definitely see each draft class kind of hanging out with each other,” Fischer said. “It’s a little cliquey. I know I’m usually hanging out with the guys drafted with me, and you definitely form a bond because they’re most likely going to make the team when you make it based off your age. It definitely feels like the start of a relationship with them.”

Fischer had planned to attend the University of Notre Dame this fall but he altered those plans this summer so he could focus on becoming a pro faster.

“The goal for me here, obviously, is to make the Coyotes out of camp, but I just want to be here for as long as I can be and just take it day by day,” Fischer said. “I want to prove that I can play pro hockey and that I’m willing to compete for a job right now.”

Christian Fischer. Photo by Norm Hall.

Like most Rookie Camp rookies, Fischer said it’s somewhat intimidating to be dressing and training and skating in an NHL rink as a member of that organization for the first time.

“You definitely have to deal with that,” Fischer said. “When you go into the dressing room and you see Shane Doan’s name it’s kind of overwhelming, but you have to put that behind you as fast as you can. Once you get on the ice it’s job time and you’ve got to compete. Everyone here wants a job and there are very limited roster spots available. You cannot afford to be in awe.”

Fischer, a power forward, has been skating on a line with center Laurent Dauphin, a French Canadian, and German winger Matthias Plachta. The language barrier has been a little tough but the trio is starting to click.

“It’s pretty hard communicating at times but they are good guys and good players, too,” Fischer said. “We’ve been moving the puck well together so hopefully we can build some chemistry in the games in LA.”

Unlike Merkley and Fischer, who also signed an entry-level contract this summer, Garland is attending this camp hoping to earn a deal.

Conor Garland. Photo by Norm Hall.

“The high-end guys who are here are fighting for jobs but most of the rest of us are fighting for a contract or just to make a good impression for future years,” said Garland, whom Arizona drafted 123rd overall. “I know I have to become a better player and a full 200-foot player, and I have to get bigger and stronger, so I’m a ways out and I understand that. But I’m learning new things every day here and that’s awesome.”

Like Merkley and Fischer, Garland, is feeling a bond with his fellow 2015 draftees.

“When you’re drafted by the same team you automatically have a bond, and then after meeting everybody at development camp you feel comfortable being around them.”

Three players drafted last June are not at this camp: Europeans Jens Looke and Erik Kallgren, and collegian Brendan Warren.

NOTE: Fans are invited to attend all Rookie Camp workouts at Gila River Arena at no charge. The third and final one is Monday at 11 a.m.

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