Among hockey fans, quite a bit of time is spent hypothesizing about what could have been. What if Mario Lemieux would have stayed healthy for his whole career? What would have happened if Edmonton had kept Wayne Gretzky, instead of trading him to Los Angeles? Questions like these have been debated time and time again, which is what makes this kind of thing great: there is no right answer. Because the event never took place, in theory, any one of a number of scenarios could have happened. And since it is the middle of summer, with no hockey taking place quite yet, why not dive into another dimension, taking a look at what the Arizona Coyotes roster could have looked like.
Yesterday, FFH's Brendan Porter looked at a Coyotes team with Kyle Turris and Blake Wheeler. Today, we examine what Arizona's roster would be if it were comprised of only players drafted by the team (or signed as an undrafted free agent).
Picture this: an NHL that looks very, very similar to the one that we know and love. The same 30 teams, the same players, the same 5-on-5 game. However, there is a twist: once a player is drafted by a team, said player cannot leave that team for the remainder of their career. They are stuck with the team for life. In this made up world, a player cannot pull an Eric Lindros and demand a trade. A player cannot be like Ilya Kovalchuk, and hop the pond to play back to Europe. There is no free agency. How do contract negotiations work? Who knows. That's not the point. Under these circumstances, let's take a look at how the 2014-15 Coyotes projected depth chart would look.
(Left Wing) - (Center) - (Right Wing)
Mikkel Boedker - Kyle Turris - Blake Wheeler
Peter Mueller - Martin Hanzal ( A ) - Shane Doan ( C )
Max Domi - Daniel Briere - Daniel Winnik
Ben Eager - Kevin Porter - Lucas Lessio
Rickard Wallin, Enver Lisin
(Defense) - (Defense)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Keith Yandle ( A )
Michael Stone - Connor Murphy
David Schlemko - Brandon Gormley
Time to step back into reality.
At first glance, the team above looks very much like the current Coyotes lineup. Ten of the players figure to start off the year in Arizona, and all but seven are still somewhere in the Coyotes' organization.
This can be taken in two different ways. An optimist would say that the club has done a great job in recent drafts, as seen by the amount of players drafted that are still on the roster. Also, the team has produced a few high level players and possesses some decent prospects. A pessimist would counter that by pointing out that the all homegrown team has very little depth, and minus the starting five, is lacking impact players. In these sort of situations, there are no right answers.
From a pure talent analysis, that first line is something that could make a grown man drool. After a breakout season of sorts last year, Turris is poised to fulfill his potential and take the next step into the NHL's upper tier of centermen. This is something that deeply pains many Arizona fans, but the facts are hard to deny. On this hypothetical team, Turris would be playing with Mikkel Boedker and Wheeler on his wings. Wheeler is one of the better wingers in the game, and Boedker, a current Coyote, is well on his way to getting to that point. Both players are also coming off of career years.
A second line of Martin Hanzal, Shane Doan and Peter Mueller would be very solid. Nothing spectacular, but surely a second line of this caliber would be beneficial to most teams. Hanzal and Doan are both quality producers and team leaders, and could see playing time together this season in Arizona's top-six. Mueller adds youth to the line, and fans tend to forget about his 54-point rookie season back in 2007-08.
After the top-six, things begin to get a bit shaky. Max Domi is a top prospect, and very well could one day be on the top line in Arizona, however, Daniel Briere is on the opposite end of his career. While Daniel Winnik is underrated for what he does, he's much better suited for a fourth line role.
The fourth line is made up of a guy who will be playing in the KHL this year (Eager), a guy who has barely played in the NHL (Lessio) and a journeyman (Porter). Porter, a former Hobbey Baker Award winner, has played in a little more than 200 games during his six-year career. At this point, he looks like he will be a decent AHL player who can fill in for a short period of time for an NHL squad if needed. Lessio should get a shot at cracking the Arizona lineup this season, after scoring nearly 30 goals in the AHL last season. As for Eager, he has spent much of his career as a journyman, having played in 6 different organizations before signing in Russia this offseason.
On this fantasy team, the defensive corps is eerily similar to the one that will be on the ice come opening night. In fact, other than a Brandon Gormley for Zbynek Michalek switch, it is likely the same. Gormley, still a top prospect, will probably hit the ice with the big club at some point this year. Both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle are among the top defensemen in hockey, with OEL being a dark horse to take home the Norris Trophy this season. Michael Stone and Connor Murphy are both young and filled with potential, while David Schlemko has carved out a solid career after signing in Arizona as an undrafted free agent.
As for the goaltending? It could definitely be better. Khabibulin, aka. The Bulin Wall, is old--for an NHL goalie that is. He had an impressive run in the early 2000s with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has had a good career, but the end is very near. He should not (and will not) start at this point in his career. Many different things can be said about his backup on this team, Mark Visentin. Some look at him and see a young goalie who is still growing as a player and has a bright future. Others view him as a bust, a once top prospect who will never be more than a career backup. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that he is not ready for an NHL role. He still has a long way to go. There are still quite a few pages to be written in his career biography.
The Verdict: Would this team be better than the one that Arizona figures to open the season with? The top-six is definitely better. The bottom-six, probably worse. It is essentially a wash on defense, as the same players round out both groups. The goaltending isn't even really comparable. Put that aside for a moment. When looking at only the skaters, stacked up head to head, would a Coyotes all homegrown team be better than the current one? Let the debate begin.