Last week we looked at some of the best Phoenix Coyotes prospects who could make an impact in the NHL this year. This week we will look at the Coyotes defensive corps. When it comes to blueliners, the 'Yotes have one of the deepest pools of talent in the NHL, but with the 1st-5th defensemen largely settled, there will be a lot of competition for the last two spots. Read on after the jump to see the favorites and dark horses to round out the Coyotes D in 2012-13...
David Schlemko - Schlemko is easily the most experienced of the defensemen fighting for a roster spot this year. Schlemko has seen significant NHL time in each of the past three seasons (17 games in 09-10, 43 games in 10-11, and 46 games in 11-12). During those games, Schlemko has also put up a respectable 30 points (6G, 24A) and had good chemistry with guys like Rostislav Klesla, the player he'd likely be paired up with on the 3rd pairing. His NHL proven game likely makes him the front runner for that 6th spot.
Chris Summers - Chris Summers has seen NHL action before: he played 2 games in 2010-11 and played an extended period of 21 games in 2011-12. Summers is a big guy who can play a very physical game on defense, but doesn't bring to the table the same offensive capability as his counterparts. Also working against him: the Coyotes coaching staff opted to go with Michael Stone down the stretch when he was available. He will likely be going into training camp with something to prove.
Michael Stone - Stone got his first NHL action towards the end of the 2011-12 season, and it was his performance then that put him up with the favorites instead of the dark horses. He was an impressive +7 with 3 points in 13 games, and was penciled into the line-up in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, despite having not played since the Coyotes' regular season finale. Stone has clearly won over much of the Coyotes coaching staff; a strong training camp could earn him a permanent spot on the 23 man roster.
The Dark Horses
David Rundblad - Acquired from Ottawa in the trade for Kyle Turris, Rundblad plays like a less refined Keith Yandle. He has a lot of offensive ability but needs to improve on the defensive side of the puck. The Coyotes will almost certainly want to keep him down in Portland so he can continue to work on his game. At 21, he has plenty of time to get it right.
Brandon Gormley - Sarah McClellan of the Arizona Republic thinks Gormley is on the inside track to make the Coyotes roster this season, and it's easy to see why. The Coyotes 1st overall pick in 2010 has all the makings of a top pair defenseman, with excellent play-making skills, physicality, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to quarterback the power play. I wouldn't be surprised to see Gormley make his NHL debut sometime this season, but having only played 4 AHL games in his entire career the Coyotes may want to give him a little more time to get acclimated to professional hockey, especially given their already substantial depth on the blueline.
Maxim Goncharov - The Russian defenseman has been around the organization for a while, having been drafted in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He even managed to get called up to the Coyotes for a stretch early in the season, but only saw time in the press box before going back to Portland. Much like Summers, Goncharov is a hard-hitting defenseman who can cause havoc with opposing forecheckers, but doesn't have the same killer offensive instincts and has been known to cough up some bad turnovers.
Much like on offense, the Coyotes will probably only have two spots open, and one of those will likely only see sporadic action as the 7th defenseman. I think David Schlemko is in the best position to earn a more regular spot in the Coyotes line-up, and I believe Michael Stone will end up joining him to round out the blueline.
My projected defensive roster for the 2012-13 Phoenix Coyotes:
Next week we will look at the Coyotes prospects in net and where they will likely end up to start the 2012-13 season.