Christian Dvorak will leave the OHL with nothing left to prove.
He overcame a debilitating knee injury by posting 109 points in his return season. He donned the captain's "C" for the London Knights during a blistering 121 point campaign this year. And he culminated his exceptional regular season with an OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup victory.
Dvorak will turn pro next year. The only question is, where?
The Case for the NHL
Christian Dvorak will enter training camp having scored more points in his final major-junior season than every prospect in Coyotes history since 1996 first round selection Daniel Briere (Dylan Strome would likely have surpassed Dvorak had he not missed 12 games, and Conor Garland's 128 point year would top Dvorak's should he leave the QMJHL).
He has excellent vision and playmaking ability, but he also has an undeniable nose for the net, as this five goal game from last November illustrates.
When compared to OHL teammate and future Coyote teammate Max Domi, Dvorak in many ways looks like a natural counterpart. He was a more complete scorer in major-junior than Domi was, and can both finish and find other players on the ice. Given some of the excellent saucer passes we've already seen from Domi, it's hard not to salivate at the prospect of these two playing together.
Additionally, the Coyotes could decide to shift Dvorak over to the wing and give him more sheltered minutes as he adjusts to the NHL. Head Coach Dave Tippett did something similar with Anthony Duclair for significant stretches last year, by placing him on the fourth line at even-strength while giving him power play time.
The Case Against the NHL
But Dvorak starting with the Coyotes this year is anything but a slam dunk. The reason why has to do primarily with the team's depth chart right now.
Tobias Rieder (RFA) - Antoine Vermette - OPEN
Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair
Jordan Martinook - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan (technically a UFA, but c'mon)
OPEN - OPEN - OPEN
Arizona's biggest question mark is what to do with the open winger spot left in Mikkel Boedker's absence. Dvorak has played on the wing before, so it would certainly be an option for Dave Tippett and John Chayka. But Arizona also has young wingers like Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer who could make their case. And even then, the Coyotes may be reluctant to have four players in the top six under the age of 23.
Not only that, but a lot of those "open" spots may not actually be that open. Dylan Strome is lurking as another candidate to land a roster position, and unlike Dvorak, he's not AHL eligible. For Strome, the choice is Phoenix or Erie, whereas with Dvorak it's Phoenix or Tucson.
Additionally, Sergei Plotnikov and Jiri Sekac are potentially in the mix, as is Tyler Gaudet for that Boyd Gordon-esque fourth line PK specialist role. All of this also assumes that Arizona brings in no veterans during free agency apart from Doan, something that has not happened in recent memory for Arizona.
Importantly for Dvorak and the Coyotes, there is absolutely no need to get Dvorak up to the parent club this upcoming season. Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette still have another year to go before hitting free agency. And Dylan Strome is going to make it plenty difficult for Dvorak to nab an NHL spot come September.
Don Maloney may no longer be general manager, but it's highly unlikely that John Chayka and Co. are going to suddenly throw caution to the wind with a player that has blossomed into a tremendous center prospect. Christian Dvorak may make some noise in training camp this season, but expect him to start the 2016-17 campaign in Tucson barring an outstanding preseason.
Even if he doesn't make the Opening Night roster, it would come as no surprise to see Dvorak make his Coyotes debut sometime during the 2016-17 season. And if his last season in London is any indication, he has a long and bright career ahead of him in the NHL.