Better know a free agent: Chris Summers

Bruce Bennett

The former first round pick finally made an impact with the Coyotes last season. Does he remain in the desert?

For all of the draft day woes the Phoenix Coyotes suffered in the last decade, they have done one thing remarkably well -- find quality defensemen in the first round. Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2009. Brandon Gormley in 2010. Connor Murphy in 2011. But not many fans realize that Chris Summers was also a first round pick, 29th overall in 2006.

Summers spent the four seasons following the 2006 Draft at the University of Michigan, where he scored 60 points in 163 NCAA games, including 16 points in his senior year as captain of the Wolverines. Summers eventually signed his entry-level contract with the Coyotes in 2010 and played 169 of his 198 professional games in the AHL before last season.

The Coyotes gave the Michigan native a one-year, one-way contract worth $550,000 last offseason and he initially made the opening night roster. But a week into the season, the Coyotes waived Summers, and after going unclaimed, sent him down despite having to pay him an NHL salary.

Almost five months after being exiled to Maine, Summers was recalled. Five games later, he scored his first career goal. The 26-year-old would remain with the main club the remainder of the season.

Summers showed a level of comfort with the team in 2014 that he had never shown before. His high level of confidence with and without the puck allowed the defenseman to make his biggest strides to date in an effort to become an NHL regular. He scored a pair of goals and three points in 18 games.

Defensive defenseman is the phrase that comes to mind when talking about Summers. He is used quite often in the defensive zone and is solid positionally, but his offensive upside is very limited. There are other drawbacks to his game beyond the lack of offense. He takes a few too many penalties for a defenseman, especially one with penalty killing aspirations, and he is not a good possession player.

Summers projects as a solid seventh defenseman who can play tough minutes and has experience playing on both the left and right sides. But, the Coyotes already have a player like that who is already under contract in David Schlemko. With the Coyotes' current budget restraints and the fact that only a one-way contract could entice the defensive defenseman to return, when it comes to filling a roster for next season, Summers may be the odd man out on the blueline as Gormley and Murphy appear poised to take over full time NHL roles.

UPDATE: Summers will be with the Coyotes for at least the next two seasons.

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