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by Darren Pang / Arizona Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes 2006-07 season has been a trying one, no doubt. We all came into training camp with such high expectations and none ended up being fulfilled. It does leave you with an empty, uneasy feeling.  That being said, I like the future.

The era we are in now allows teams to get better faster than before. You can't have a team like Detroit or Philadelphia paying $80-million to build/buy a team and attracting every top player to their team.  The current system spreads the free agents around the league with the salary cap. There are dozens of good quality free agents that are younger than 32-years of age. Don't think for a minute that the Coyotes are only going to put young, untested players on the ice in this ‘youth movement' that you hear so much about. Yes, the days of bringing in players that have had great hockey careers in the past, but that are now on the downside of their careers, are not part of the future. That is not the way to go in this era of hockey. It is not about the reputations of players. It’s about getting around the ice, having the ability to make plays at decent speeds, and know what your job is. You still need grit and character, but they need to be able to perform.

The question I get more than any other is this:

“When do you throw a prospect into the fold? Is a 19-year old too young? If not, then how about two or three of them?”

The player in question would have to be a Peter Mueller type. He has played three years of Major Junior A hockey and has been a top player. He has represented the USA in the World Junior Championships and excelled at that level against the best players of his age group. He has been very well coached, by former NHLer Kevin Constantine, so he is prepared for the next step.
Should he be 'handed' a spot at training camp? No. He will have to earn a spot. Everyone involved knows that. The belief is that of all the prospects, he is as ready or more than any others.

Martin Hanzal has developed quicker than expected after playing only one season of Major Junior A and half a season in the USHL (United States Hockey League). He is a fierce competitor that stands six-foot-five and will only get stronger. I would think he needs another season in Junior Hockey.

Kevin Porter was a leader and mature two-way player at the University of Michigan under the legendary Red Berenson. He could, if signed, slide under the radar and earn a spot.

After watching Blake Wheeler and talking to his coach at the University of Minnesota, I believe he will need another season there to hone his overall game.

What’s the bottom line? You can sprinkle in a few top guns in your line-up if the patience from coaches and fans are strong and if your locker room is full of character guys that will lead them in the right direction. That has been an ongoing process for Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky, and it has greatly improved.

Around the NHL, there are several young free agents set to hit the open market this summer.

Scott Hartnell, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Hamilton, Adam Mair are amongst the under-29 mid-tier guys that could be available, while higher echelon players like Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake are the Top-six type of forwards available.

I am in Toronto working the playoffs for TSN and NBC, which gives me an opportunity to watch players that are facing the pressures of seven game series.  It’s a great way to observe their actions, how they handle systems, adjustments and media situations.

For now, I'm Darren Pang. 
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