GLENDALE -- Welcome to the 2014-15 hockey season.
It’s finally here.
On Thursday night, the Arizona Coyotes will host the Winnipeg Jets. With the roster scaled down to 23 players, we now know who will be in line for selection for Opening Night. It also means that many of the players we thought we’d see in Coyotes uniforms at the conclusion of training camp will instead be fine-tuning their games in either the American Hockey League or the Canadian junior ranks.
Last April, in his season-ending press conference, General Manager Don Maloney promised changes. He talked of “turning” the roster and opening up spots for some of the younger players in the organization come October.
But as October arrived, the prospects departed… for places such as London, Ontario and Portland, Maine.
But that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good sign for the organization.
There’s no question the Coyotes prospect pipeline is the deepest it has been since Maloney took over as GM in 2007. That depth affords the organization to place its A-quality prospects in the American Hockey League level, developing skills and confidence as a group.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
As for the roster turning Maloney promised last spring, it happened, albeit via veteran acquisitions that should compliment the lineup nicely. Former Edmonton forward Sam Gagner offers the team versatility as a top six forward at either center or on the wing. Joe Vitale comes in from Pittsburgh having been the Penguins top face-off specialist a season ago. B.J. Crombeen adds grit on the wing while the surprise of the camp, Justin Hodgman, nails down a center position after spending the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
And when the time comes, the stockpile of prospects will wind up pushing many of the veterans for ice time and roster spots with the big club. That’s hockey’s roster evolution.
Max Domi, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2013, has headed back to London of the Ontario Hockey League wiser for having attended his second NHL camp. Maloney said Domi looked quicker and stronger this time around, but needed to become more consistent, enabling his game to grow and mature. That’s very fair feedback for a 19-year-old and a future star of the team.
Maloney also said Tobias Rieder will be ready for his opportunity whenever it comes. He mentioned Lucas Lessio, one of the kids who made the team out of training camp last season before heading to Portland and leading that team in goals. Tyler Gaudet, who had a solid training camp, is another prospect in the pipeline. So is Brandon Gormley, who played five games for the Coyotes last season. Henrik Samuelsson added some muscle over the summer and will continue to develop in Portland this year. Jordan Szwarz is another player in the system who should see time with the Coyotes in 2014-15. Then there’s 2014 first-round draft pick Brendan Perlini and the rest of the draft class which will help to fortify an already impressive list of prospects.
Their time will come. Just not now.
When asked about the organization’s depth earlier in the summer, Head Coach Dave Tippett said, “We’ve got some real good prospects now… This is, by far, the most depth we’ve had in my six years here."
Those are exciting words for sure. But remember patience. Their time will come.