NHL hockey arrived in the Arizona desert in 1996 after the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Phoenix and became the Coyotes. Whether you pronounce that nickname with one syllable or two, few would try and make the case that the Desert Dogs have had a smooth ride in Phoenix.
The ongoing ownership issues have marred a franchise that probably needed nothing but positive press clippings to stay relevant in an environment where a sport played on ice is way down the pecking order.
The Coyotes have their fan base and like all NHL teams, the fans they have are passionate despite their smaller numbers. Unfortunately there hasn't been much for the buying public to get excited about over the years. The team qualified for the playoffs in 5 of their first 6 years in town but have not appeared in the post season since 2001-02. Phoenix has never won a playoff round and have not claimed a regular season division title either.
Most pundits believe that the on-ice future for the Coyotes is very bright thanks to recent drafting success and a positive rebuilding strategy. Here's a look at some of the top pups Coming Down the Pipe for the Coyotes.
Top Forward: Brett MacLean
San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
HT: 6'2 WT: 200 lbs. Stats: 52GP 23-19-42 Pts
Taking a look at the prospect list for Phoenix left me with a decision to make. Do I include Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker, guys who have played a season in the NHL but are stuck on the farm this year? I decided yes to that question, consider everyone not in the NHL, and oddly enough as I did more and more research I ended up with the same name as I would have otherwise.
Brett MacLean was a 2nd round pick in 2007, the same year that Turris was taken 3rd overall by Phoenix. The Coyotes used one of the two second round picks acquired from Edmonton during the draft to select MacLean, then a big winger with the Oshawa Generals. MacLean had just come off a 100-point season but many believed his production was inflated thanks to his linemate, John Tavares. The following season he upped his career best to 119 points in 61 games.
Last year MacLean turned pro and ended the AHL season with 21 goals and 40 points, pretty decent for a rookie. That was 4th best on his team but this year he leads the rampage in scoring which includes teammates like Turris, Boedker and former Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter. His +11 is also a team high and by a notable margin and he's already surpassed last season's offensive numbers with another 20 games left to play. (Photo: San Antonio Rampage)
Top Defenceman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
HT: 6'1 WT: 165 lbs. Stats: 35GP 7-15-22 Pts
He was a bit of a wild card during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft; some viewed Ekman-Larsson as a guaranteed top-20 pick while others insisted he was definitely a top-10 talent. The latter group included the Phoenix Coyotes who grabbed the Swedish defenceman with the 6th overall pick. The offensive minded rearguard has surpassed his draft year totals while playing for Leksand in the league just below the Swedish Elite League.
Ekman-Larsson is a terrific prospect with few flaws. His mobility is already well known, his passing is a strength and he's got great vision and hockey sense. He's got room to fill out and he'll need to; listed at 6'1 but just 165 lbs, he's currently very slight in his build.
Top Goalie: Mike Lee
St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
HT: 6' WT: 190 lbs. Stats: 18GP 8-7-3 2.64 GAA .918 SV%
Here's a name familiar to Pipeline Show listeners and our readers here at the blog. Mike Lee wrote a couple guest player blogs for us last year as he tended goal for the Fargo Force. This year he's one of the goalies that has St. Cloud currently ranked 4th in the NCAA. Lee is sharing time with Washington prospect Dan Dunn but there is no doubt that more is expected of the guy who just helped USA get to the finals of the World Junior Championship. Yes, he was pulled in the gold medal game but give credit where it's due; Lee was solid for most of the tournament leading up to that point. Lee's resumé includes a gold medal at the 2008 WJAC as well as the 2010 WJC. Positionally and technically sound, he has decent size and he's also mentally strong which makes Lee a top prospect for the Coyotes. (Photo: St. Cloud State Athletics)
Most Underrated: Michael Stone
Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
HT: 6'4 WT: 207 Lbs Stats: 59GP 15-36-51 Pts
What do you call a guy who is blessed with NHL size as a teenager, plays on the top defensive pairing for the last two years of his junior career and produces at almost a point per game pace at the same time? You call that guy a blue-chipper and the fact that outside of WHL circles Michael Stone isn't getting much attention makes him vastly underrated.
Completely overlooked by Hockey Canada at the August and December WJC camps, Stone has been one of the best blueliners in the WHL for two seasons now. Stone is 6th in league scoring among defenders and has 83 PIM to go with that production. He's the captain of the Hitmen this year so you know he's looked at for character and leadership from his teammates and the coaches in Calgary. I've also got unconfirmed information telling me that Stone has recently signed his entry level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Buzz Worthy: Viktor Tikhonov
Severstal Cherepovets (KHL)
HT: 6'2 WT: 189 lbs Stats: 18GP 10-2-12 Pts
Like Nikita Filatov and Alexei Mikhnov, Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov left North America in order to play in the KHL instead of the AHL and did it with the blessings of the NHL organization. Tikhonov is currently playing in the KHL with Cherepovets and has 10 goals in 18 games. No matter how many times he's asked, Tikhonov still insists that he'll report back to Phoenix again next fall but you can't blame Coyotes fans if they'll be a bit nervous until they see him getting off the plane this side of the Atlantic. (Photo: NHL/Getty Images)
Also Making Noise: Colin Long scored 191 points in his final two seasons in the WHL but has only managed 4 in the AHL this year... Kyle Turris has just 11 goals through 50 games in San Antonio... Kevin Porter and former Michigan linemate Chad Kolarik has a combined 66 points on the farm but they're also a combined minus-27... North Dakota forward Brett Hextall recently returned to action after missing a month with a leg injury...