We’ve previously looked at players entering the final year of their contract. And while the Coyotes have a few key NHL players set to be restricted free agents, there are also plenty of AHL players who are also set to become restricted free agents. In many ways these players may be under more pressure—a bad final season of an entry level contract in the AHL could hamper their chances of making it to the NHL. It is extremely likely that one or more of these players will not be re-signed after this season.
NHL Experience: 1 game, 0-0-0
AHL Experience: 83 games, 28-45-73
Merkley is an interesting player who has been hit hard by the injury bug. The former first-round pick was sidelined for close to nine months with a lower body injury last season. When he has gotten a chance to play he has been solid, and he is still a dark horse candidate for making the Arizona Coyotes out of training camp this season. Hopefully he can stay healthy, and we get a chance to see what he can do with a full season.
For a more in depth look at Nick Merkley, Craig Morgan wrote a great piece about him today for The Athletic.
NHL Experience: 1 game, 0-0-0
AHL Experience: 118 games, 28-20-48
Acquired last December in exchange for Trevor Murphy, the Coyotes seemed to hope that Fiore could replicate the 18 goals he scored the season before with the San Diego Gulls. Unfortunately that wouldn’t happen, and in 30 games with the Roadrunners he would net only 4 goals. While the Coyotes needed offense last season, things weren’t much better for the Roadrunners. A rebound season for Fiore can hopefully help the Roadrunners.
AHL Experience: 130 games, 35-38-73
Pederson took a major leap forward last season. After spending a season adjusting to a professional league in the AHL, he nearly doubled his previous season’s goals and assists. Arizona needs their younger players to continue to develop, and Pederson seems like a player who is consistently developing year after year. As long as he doesn’t take a step back next season Pederson seems like a good candidate for an extension and possible call up to the NHL.
AHL Experience: 62 games, 5-22-27
After a successful NCAA career Gross seems to have adjusted well to the AHL. Last season he finished with 5 goals and 20 assists and as a -5. The Coyotes have quite a few defensive prospects though, so it will be tough for Gross to break into the NHL. Gross seems like a solid player to keep around, especially as other players leave the Roadrunners for the Coyotes or possibly other teams.
NHL Experience: 3 games, 0-0-0
AHL Experience: 93 games, 9-53-62
The Coyotes need their later draft picks to start working out, and third-round pick Kyle Capobianco seems to fit that bill. With the Coyotes suffering all the injuries last season Capobianco had an excellent chance to show what he can do at the NHL level. Unfortunately for Capobianco, he also sustained an injury, limiting his time to two games. But once he has fully recovered Capobianco seems a good candidate for a player who will be making the leap to the NHL soon.
AHL Experience: 163 games, 8-18-26
The Coyotes signed Mayo to a one-year extension in July and it will be interesting to see what he does with that extension. Mayo seems like he can develop into a solid defensive defenseman, one who doesn’t appear on the score sheet a lot but plays a vital role with the team. Hopefully he continues his development and earns a decent extension next offseason.
AHL Experience: 20 games, 1-2-3
ECHL Experience: 46 games, 5-29-34
Smereck split last season between the ECHL with the Norfolk Admirals and the Tucson Roadrunners. He finished six on the Admirals in points and had the most points as a defenseman, despite only playing 44 games. Unfortunately he wasn’t as successful in his 16 games with the Roadrunners, registering only an assist. Defensemen typically take longer to develop, so you shouldn’t count out Smereck yet. Smereck’s goal should be a full season in the AHL, but that may be his ceiling.
AHL Experience: 2 games, 0-0-0
ECHL Experience: 65 games, 1-13-14
Arguably Birks is the least talked about piece of the Phil Kessel trade. A successful season will show the Coyotes he is worth keeping around and wasn’t just a necessary contract needed to get Phil Kessel. The Coyotes have a lot of defensemen in the pipeline, but Birks still has the chance to prove that he deserves to be in the conversation too.
Last season in the NHL: 13 games, 2.76 goals against average, .901 save percentage
Last season in the ECHL: 36 games, 2.61 goals against average, .906 save percentage
Hill is still the front runner for the Coyotes’ goaltender of the future. Last season he was good in his 13 appearances in the NHL and solid with the Roadrunners. If Antti Raanta goes down with an injury again or Darcy Kuemper struggles, Hill will have a chance to show he is ready to spend more time in the NHL. If Raanta and Kuemper stay solid and healthy though a good season in the AHL will keep himself in the future goaltender conversation while earning a nice pay raise.
Last season in the AHL: 11 games, 2.70 goals against average, .889 save percentage
Last season in the ECHL: 11 games, 3.40 goals against average, .905 save percentage
In his first pro season since graduating from Harvard University, Madsen split his time between the Roadrunners and the Admirals. This season he looking to challenge for an AHL spot as Hill’s backup. Madsen has stiff competition in Erik Kallgren and Ivan Prosvetov though, but the Coyotes seem likely to give him time to develop and get better. That being said the Coyotes recently let Hunter Miska go without tendering him a qualifying offer, so no player should ever get too comfortable.