The Arizona Coyotes hosted their development camp this year at Gila River Arena. In past years the camp has been held at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, which only holds a few hundred people trying to get a glance at the future of the Coyotes.
Holding it at Gila River Arena allowed a larger crowd to watch in slightly more comfort than they would be on the hard metal bleachers at the Den. There were four days of on ice practice ending with scrimmage on Friday night. The Scrimmage included three 20 minute periods, a five minute 3-on-3 OT period and a shootout.
The on-ice practices consisted of skill drills, zone entries and exits, and gaining familiarity with their possible future teammates. Held out due to injury was Marek Langhamer (undisclosed injury) and Nick Merkley (in the final stages of ACL repair recovery).
On the off-ice day, the rookies were sent out into the community, which is a central element of the Coyotes franchise and the team's culture. Friday night was the end of camp scrimmage, the showcase of the bright young talent the Coyotes have drafted and invited into camp.
After watching the prospects for three days, there were a list of standouts, needs some improvement and better luck next year.
The Stand Outs
Adin Hill has improved dramatically from his first development and rookie training camp. He no longer flails about the crease like Dominik Hasek, but is now controlled and tracking the puck well. His confidence is obvious. During the scrimmage, the only reason the Red Team was not up by three at the end of the first period was Hill standing on his head.
Being just 20 years old, the Coyotes may finally have depth in the goalie prospects. Hill could turn out to be the goalie of the future. He is expected to play as the backup in Tucson this season for the AHL Roadrunners. He had a strong season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL before playing four games in Springfield at the end of the season.
Anton Karlsson also had a strong showing at camp. Coming off of massive wins in Allsvenskan, the second division of Swedish hockey, Karlsson was a contributor in beating Tingsryd (Oliver Ekman-Larsson's hometown team), AIK and Modo, classic SHL teams, to finally earn promotion in an exciting Game 7 overtime.
At camp he was measurably above everyone else; it was obvious he had benefited from competing at a higher level than the players who played the last season in Juniors. He played on a line with Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini during the scrimmage. His skating style is fluid, and he is defensively sound and hard to take off the puck. His is a fast winger with good hockey sense. He was one of the fastest skaters on the ice. One hopes he will be stateside this year with at least the Tucson Roadrunners.
Conor Garland continues to impress the Coyotes fan base. Coming out of Moncton in the QMJHL Garland once again won the scoring title for the CHL with 128 points. Last year he and Dylan Strome tied with 129 points. He is small, lightning fast and very skilled. He is extremely difficult to get off the puck and has some defensive upside to his game.
Garland was teamed up with Michael Bunting and Clayton Keller. The smaller line was definitely one of the lines to watch on Friday night. Garland would forecheck into the offensive zone and keep the puck while his linemates or defenseman change and come back to set up the cycle and help. If he can translate his scoring to an NHL level he could be a steal of a draft pick.
He also stands up for himself, which is a good thing when trying to convert to the NHL. Towards the end of 3-on-3 overtime, Yegor Babenko took a little bit of a liberty in hitting Garland high and Garland responded by crosschecking Babenko. It ended with Garland having his jersey pulled over his head. Nice to have a scrappy guy but maybe needs to keep his temper in check a little more.
Christian Dvorak is ready to play at a higher level. He skill was clearly elevated above those attending this camp. He competes at such a consistent high level, even during practice and scrimmages. Dvorak will be the steal of his draft, and starting this season a lot of people will see that. He drives play and has great on-ice vision. He is the whole package and may see NHL time this season.
Needs More Time
Dylan Strome is a great hockey player, there's no argument about that, but he is still struggling in a few crucial areas. He wasn't as dynamic as many people expected he would be this camp. His skating is still a considerable concern but you cannot deny his playmaking is at a very high level. Coming off a very good year with Erie, it would be nice if he could go to the AHL, but that is a whole other issue and argument for another post.
Jakob Chychrun is one of the smoothest skating defenseman at his young age. Watching him you can see why he was projected second overall for so long. He needs more time to polish his game and gain some more confidence, but in a few years he will be a great three behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and maybe even be the two that he is looking for in a partner (if he can play the right side.)
Clayton Keller is amazing to watch play. He's very intelligent hockey wise, but he is very young and on the smaller side. A year at college will do him some good. Breaking Phil Kessel's National Development Team records may be a sign of what is to come for this very skilled center, he should be one to watch him again next year.
Gold Star You Tried
Brendan Perlini is a walking conundrum. He can be very good and not good at all in the same shift. It's frustrating because you see the skill, but it's as if he cannot make the final step. Playing with Strome and Karlsson seemed to shadow some of the bad. Hopefully some time in the AHL with diligent coaching staff a little closer to Coyotes will help develop his game to the point he's been expected to.
Ryan MacInnis is another player who manages to be both good and bad in the same shift. He can be amazing defensively and then not be able to finish on a clean play. He did score a goal during the scrimmage, but it felt like a struggle watching him sometimes. Hopefully time in the AHL will help that as well. He has improved dramatically during the season with the Kitchener Rangers, but it seems like it just hasn't clicked yet.
The Coyotes have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. You can see the talent growing with each camp and in two or three years they will be the team that no one wants to play. It's only about two months till training camp, who are you most excited to see? Who impressed you this camp and who disappointed you?
Enjoy the summer everyone, it's about to get very exciting.