While the Phoenix Coyotes are a defensive minded team, their AHL roster is stocked with many quality prospects that look to play a definite role in the club's future. But some may get a chance to make an impact sooner than others. Today we will take a look at some younger Coyotes forwards who have a pretty good shot at making it to the NHL...
Nick Johnson - As much attention as the signings of Steve Sullivan and David Moss justifiably received, GMDM also agreed to a one year, two-way contract with Nick Johnson, formerly of the Minnesota Wild. Johnson had his first full season of NHL action last year, putting up 26 points (8G, 18A) in 77 games. Our friends at Hockey Wilderness spoke highly of his energy and flashes of goal-scoring ability, but noted that he became less aggressive as the season progressed. I doubt Dave Tippett and the coaching staff will let him get away with that kind of play, so if he can keep playing hard he should provide some badly needed secondary scoring on the 4th line.
Brett MacLean - Maclean's whirlwind season last year had him sent down to the AHL, claimed on re-entry waivers by the Winnipeg Jets, subsequently waived by the Jets, and then re-acquired by the Coyotes, all in the span of about a month. Brett MacLean has definite offensive prowess (he was the Pirates leading goal scorer), but MacLean's chances will likely hinge on whether or not he's medically healthy enough to play at the top level after suffering a cardiac emergency in the off-season.
Andy Miele - Andy saw some playing time briefly at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, but wasn't able to record a point and so spent most of the season with the Portland Pirates. Miele could be a promising playmaker (16G, 38A last year in Portland), but his lack of size could be problematic in his quest to make it back to the NHL.
While I think the above three stand the best chance of making it, there are some other Pirates who could see some time via either a very strong training camp, injuries and suspensions, or some combination of the three.
Alexandre Bolduc - Brought over last year from the Vancouver Canucks organization, Bolduc has bounced between the Canucks and their AHL affiliate for the past several years. He hasn't really been able to produce at the level necessary to earn a long-term job in the NHL, but his defensive acumen and significant NHL game experience compared to some of his AHL counterparts (he's played 48 games over 4 seasons) would make him one of the top choices as an injury call-up sometime during the season.
Brendan Shinnimin - Shinnimin's 134 point season with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League led all scorers in Canadian major-junior hockey last year. Shinnimin is your prototypical Coyotes forward: a playmaker who is strong in the faceoff circle, solid in his defensive zone, and unafraid to be physical. He should be a solid two-way player, but at 21 years old the Coyotes may want to be patient and let him develop his game in the AHL.
Ethan Werek - Werek was acquired by the Coyotes from the New York Rangers via trade last season in exchange for another minor leaguer, Oscar Lindberg. Werek is a smart player on the ice and works hard, but doesn't have the quickness necessary to make him a truly potent offensive forward. He could become a solid two-way center for the Coyotes, but at 21 seems unlikely to get called up this season.
Brett Hextall - The son of NHL great Ron Hextall, Brett had 15 points in his first full season with the Pirates. Hextall is a self-described "chippy" player. Given his relative inexperience (he's 21) and the presence of Kyle Chipchura, who plays a very similar game, I wouldn't expect to see him this season.
Jordan Martinook - The Coyotes think very highly of the 58th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Martinook has undeniable offensive skill (40G and 24A with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants), but the Coyotes do not have a pressing need for him to make the jump and will likely keep him in Portland to develop.
The Coyotes will likely have two roster spots open (three if Shane Doan leaves), so competition for the big club will be fierce. I think NHL experience and secondary scoring ability will ultimately win out, so I look for Nick Johnson and Brett MacLean to make the team, which would leave the line pairings as follows:
Join us again here next week when we take a look at the Coyotes' defensive prospects.