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Low risk, low reward: undrafted free agents in the Coyotes system

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What does the future hold for the undrafted free agents currently on Coyotes' contracts?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The departure of undrafted free agent lightning rod Andy Miele marked the end of an experiment that never seemed to pan out for the Coyotes. With 21 days to go before the preseason begins, let's invoke the memory of No. 21 and look at some of the other undrafted free agents currently on the roster for the Arizona Coyotes and try to evaluate their short and long term potential.

Methodology

Because the current undrafted free agents in the system are all at different stages of development, for this article we will include a short-term and a long-term score. The short term score represents the likelihood that the player will make an impact on the Coyotes in the NHL within the next three years. The long-term score will evaluate their potential usefulness to the team moving forward.

We also will only look at players signed to entry-level contracts by the Coyotes, which will exclude players like Rob Klinkhammer and Zbynek Michalek, who got their starts in other organizations. This article is focusing on the odds of the Coyotes finding a diamond in the rough with their own selections.

The Players

David Schlemko - Defenseman - Signed in 2007

The pride of Prescott Valley, David Schlemko has been with the Coyotes organization ever since he left the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL). His journey to the pros took him through the Arizona Sundogs (CHL) and the San Antonio Rampage (AHL). While the 2011-12 season was the first year Schlemko remained with the team all season, the Coyotes liked what they saw enough to give him a two-year deal that runs through the 2014-15 season.

Schlemko appears to be a lock to remain in the NHL this season, given his one-way deal. But his prospects of remaining in the system that signed him appear grim. The Coyotes have several promising young defensemen trying to earn NHL jobs, and his possession numbers have fluctuated wildly over the years:

Season Fenwick For %
2010-11 52.6%
2011-12 49.7%
2012-13 48.4%
2013-14 53.5%

Making matters worse for Schlemko, his injury troubles have caused him to miss substantial time. If the Coyotes have a choice between bringing back Schlemko versus giving players like Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy roster spots, Schlemko may have to move on to greener pastures.

Short Term Score - 9/10

Long Term Score - 3/10

Brendan Shinnimin - Center - Signed in 2012

The Arizona Coyotes jumped on the chance to get the major-junior scoring juggernaut under contract. His final season with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL saw him score 58 goals and record 76 assists for 134 total points. Though his two seasons in Portland have not been quite as productive (25 goals and 36 assists in 126 games), he has been a reliable offensive player at the AHL level.

The biggest knock on Shinnimin is his size; listed at 5'10", 180 pounds, Shinnimin's size as a center could cause him to struggle with some of the larger centers in the Pacific Division. However, his consistent offensive production could very easily earn him a call-up to the NHL at some point in the next couple of seasons.

Short Term Score - 7/10

Long Term Score - 5/10

Mark Louis - Right Wing - Signed in 2012

Mark Louis was not signed by the Coyotes for his offensive production; his best season was a 19 point campaign with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Louis was moved from defense to wing to help accentuate his positives as a tough, physical player. He has been a PIM machine for the Portland Pirates; so far he has 272 PIMs in three seasons with the Coyotes affiliate.

With the departure of Paul Bissonnette, it seems clear that the Coyotes are looking to roll four productive offensive lines. And with the general trend in the NHL veering away from employing dedicated enforcers, it appears unlikely that Louis will be joining the team any time soon.

Short Term Score - 1/10

Long Term Score - 0/10

Tyler Gaudet - Center - Signed in 2013

Gaudet is the prototypical Dave Tippett player: good size (6'3", 201lbs), decent offensive skill (26G and 35A in his final season in the Ontario Hockey League), and a commitment to two-way play. That skillset would make him a center in the mold of a player like Martin Hanzal, and could give him a lengthy stay on the third line should the Coyotes decide to move on from Hanzal.

The Hamilton, Ontario native has only appeared in two contests with the Portland Pirates thus far, so will probably need more time to develop. But should he progress naturally, he could make a definite impact on the Coyotes moving forward.

Short Term Score - 2/10

Long Term Score - 6/10

Greg Carey - Left Wing - Signed in 2014

With Miele's departure, General Manager Don Maloney apparently decided he did not want his roster to be devoid of top-tier NCAA talent. To fill the void, he signed two-time Hobey Baker Trophy finalist Greg Carey to an entry-level deal in 2014. He posted 84 goals and 101 assists in 152 NCAA games at St. Lawrence University.

Some Coyotes fans are probably wary of Carey given the results of the Andy Miele experiment. But Carey is bigger than Miele was (5'11", 195lbs), and because he plays on the wing and not the center position, the physical demands of his position are slightly less than what Miele faced. If Carey makes his way to the NHL on the wing, his prospects for success, while not guaranteed, appear good.

Short Term Score - 3/10

Long Term Score - 5/10

Final Thoughts

Undrafted free agents are low-risk, low-reward moves. Though the talent pool is generally not as good as players that would be found in the NHL draft, there are definite instances in which undrafted players can make it all the way to the NHL. If even one of their young prospects find their way to the big leagues, the Coyotes will have done a good job searching for diamonds in the rough.