Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Arizona Coyotes Prospects
The view from afar might be that it was just another lost season in Arizona. The Coyotes finished with just 70 points, 29th in the NHL. It was a tale of two seasons though. The Coyotes were a disaster early in the campaign. However, things seemed to really gel in their last twenty or so games. The strong play of Antti Raanta along with the development of a number of young players gives the team hope for the future.
The Coyotes have been busy this off-season. They acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for Max Domi. The team then used its extra cap space to take in the contract of Marian Hossa, while also picking up Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle from the Chicago Blackhawks. They also signed speedy free agent winger Michael Grabner. Overall, it should lead to some increased firepower for a team with one of the league’s weakest offences last year. However, the biggest move of the off-season was securing the commitment of top defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has bought into the Coyotes long-term plan and vision.
2018 Draft Picks: Barrett Hayton, Kevin Bahl, Jan Jenik, Ty Emberson, Ivan Prosvetov, Mike Callahan, Dennis Busby, David Tendeck, Liam Kirk
Graduations: Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, Josh Archibald, Scott Wedgewood
Top Prospect: Dylan Strome
Center — shoots Left
Born March 7th, 1997 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 6’3″ — Weight 194 lbs [191 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 1st round, #3 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft.
The third overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, it was hoped that Strome could make the Coyotes out of camp last year. Instead, he went to the AHL, where he was dominant with 53 points in 50 games as a rookie. On his return to Tucson, he kept scoring with eight points in nine playoff games.
Dylan Strome’s skating has been a source of criticism in other reports, but it is something that is a bit overblown. He shows a relatively smooth skating stride once he gets going, but his first few steps are choppy. A good skating coach can help Strome improve in this area. His top end speed is decent, but his acceleration and first few steps could really use some improvement. In terms of agility and edge work, Strome has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one in the cycle game or off the rush, and he also has the power and balance to fight through checks, and he is hard to knock off the puck.
While its true that there are issues here, they are also issues that can be fixed. In fact, there have already been some improvements in this aspect of his game. Strome will likely never be a speedster, however, he should be more than good enough to be an effective NHL player.
A versatile forward, Strome spent some time at all three forward spots over his first two OHL years. He played almost exclusively at centre since being drafted, and this is likely his position in the pros. Strome has an outstanding wrist shot and a great release. He also has very good hands in tight and can be a real sniper. Strome also has the ability to be a playmaker with great vision and passing skills. He has good size and uses it to protect the puck in the cycle game. Strome is great at working down low, extending plays and waiting for the opening to take the puck to the front of the net. He can also wait for a linemate to get open and make the tape-to-tape pass.
Strome has high-end hockey IQ, and seems to make the right play with the puck on his stick, or can find openings in the defence to set himself up for a one-timer. He is not afraid to battle for loose pucks in the corners. If he wins the battle he can quickly get the puck to an open teammate. With his size, he is not afraid to drive the net.
Strome is outstanding on faceoffs. His defensive game is decent. However, it would be improved if Strome can work on his first few steps. He commits to backchecking. Strome supports the defence down low. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win games including block shots.
The Coyotes have been very patient with Dylan Strome, but his time is now. He has the size and skill to be a potential top-line centre in the NHL. He is NHL ready now, and all indications are that he will make the Coyotes roster this fall. While he still has room to grow, he will begin taking the steps needed to be a franchise centre. Being insulated behind Stepan will be a great benefit to Strome as he grows and develops.
#2 Prospect: Barrett Hayton
The Coyotes drafted Hayton with the 5th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Hayton. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Nick Merkley
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 23rd, 1997 — Calgary, Alberta
Height 5’10” — Weight 194 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 1st round, #30 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Though his season ended prematurely due to injury, Nick Merkley was brilliant as an AHL rookie. It is sometimes tough for 20-year-old rookies to find their footing in their first pro season, but Merkley hit the ground running and never looked back. He scored 18 goals and 39 points in 38 games.
Merkley is a very good skater with a solid stride. He has a low centre of gravity and good lower body strength which gives him great balance and strength. He is very difficult to knock off the puck and wins board battles. Merkley has very good speed and acceleration as well. He has the ability to change speeds and vary his approach, which can make him tough to handle for defenders. Merkley’s agility and edgework make him extremely elusive, and he can beat defenders to the net, both on the rush and in the cycle game.
Merkley is listed at 5-foot-10 and size is the major knock against him. Despite the size, Merkley isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice; fighting for pucks in the corners or battling in the front of the net. He is also willing to drive the net both with and without the puck. With his excellent balance and good lower body strength, he is hard to knock off the puck.
He has solid offensive skills including very good vision and passing ability. Merkley sees the ice very well and can thread a tape-to-tape pass through the smallest of openings. Merkley has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He uses good stick handling and puck protection in the cycle game to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. While Merkley is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, he also has an accurate shot and good release. He started to use that shot more and the results are seen in his increased goal totals. He could still stand to shoot the puck more though.
Merkley is tenacious in the backcheck and uses his hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers. He gets the transition game going very quickly when he does steal pucks or intercept passes. He is willing to block shots and works to provide back pressure and support down low. Again more upper body strength would help him to contain opposing forwards down low in the cycle game. Merkley is the type of high-energy player who never takes a shift off and competes hard in all three zones, and is the type who will quickly become a coaches’ favourite.
Merkley heads to training camp looking to make the Coyotes, but coming off an injury and with the increased scoring depth (as well as tough competition) expect to see Merkley start the season in the AHL this season. If he continues to score at a high rate for the Roadrunners, he could find himself in Phoenix before the end of the season.
#4 Prospect: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Defence — shoots Left
Born July 1st, 1999 — Chambly, Quebec
Height 6’2″ — Weight 161 lbs [188 cm / 73 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 1st round, #23 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Joseph saw his goal totals take a big jump this year, as he put up 13 goals and 46 points in 63 games for the Charlottetown Islanders in the QMJHL. He would add a goal and 12 points in 18 playoff games.
Joseph is a very good skater and is mobile in both directions. His first step is strong, and he has very good acceleration both forwards and backwards. He also has the top end speed necessary to be able to join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and also recover when he gets caught.
Excellent pivots and edgework allow him to cover 360 degrees of ice. He keeps himself in front of attackers and maintains good gap control with his smooth skating and his lateral agility. Joseph can also use his agility to walk the line in the offensive zone and to open up shooting and passing lanes. One area Joseph can really improve, is to add core strength and lower body strength. This will help him to be stronger on the puck and to win more battles in the corners and in front of the net.
Joseph is a smart player, who can quarterback the play from the point. He has very good vision, and the passing skills to be a playmaker. Joseph can make a good pass, both to start the transition game, or to set things up at the blue line. He is poised with the puck on his stick, taking the time to survey the ice and make the right play. Joseph has the patience wait for a play to develop. He has also become more adept at joining the rush, as well as pinching in from the blue line this season.
Joseph keeps his shot low and gets it on the net. This gives his teammates the opportunity at rebounds and tip-ins. He has increased his power in the last year leading to the increase in goals. The release on his wrist shot is also improved. This is still an area that can continue to get better but he has taken strides in the last year.
Joseph’s mobility makes him very difficult to beat one-on-one, and his active stick allows him to play a strong defensive game. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes well. He also creates turnovers with his ability to read the play and his anticipation. Once those are created, he transitions quickly from defence to offence. Joseph’s defensive game will improve as he adds muscle mass.
Joseph will be back in the QMJHL as he looks to continue to add muscle and bulk up a skinny frame. His skating and transition ability make him a very good prospect, especially in a league that seems to get faster every year. Patience will be needed though before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
#5 Prospect: Kyle Capobianco
Defence — shoots Left
Born August 13th, 1997 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 3rd round, #63 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
In his first pro season, Capobianco led all Tucson defencemen in scoring with 30 points in 49 games. He also earned a call-up to the NHL, playing in his first game when Jason Demers went down with an injury. Capobianco did not have the same success in the AHL playoffs though, as he failed to record a point in nine games.
Capobianco’s game is defined by his outstanding skating ability. He is so smooth its like he glides out there on the ice, often looking like he is floating just above the surface. Capobianco shows excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, and fantastic edgework.
The great skating gives him outstanding mobility. It allows Capobianco to lead or join the rush offensively and still recover back to his position. He covers a ton of ice, and it is very difficult to beat Capobianco one-on-one because he is so good on his feet. His footwork can give Capobianco an edge on retrieving loose pucks and moving them out of the zone quickly. He could stand to add some lower body strength to improve his balance and work on the boards and in front of the net.
Capobianco adds very good stickhandling to his skating skill allowing him to move the puck out of danger, and to lead the rush. He also has the instincts to know when to join as a trailer. Capobianco has an excellent wrist shot, with a good release. His slapshot is decent, could use more power. He is more of a facilitator than a shooter though, as he can quarterback the power play. Capobianco is calm and poised with the puck at the blueline. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. He sees the ice well and makes smart passes through small openings to set up his teammates.
Defensively, Capobianco has some work to do going forward. While his skating makes him hard to beat in one-on-one situations, he can have some trouble when the puck is pinned in his end. He needs to improve both lower and upper body strength in order to handle stronger forwards in the cycle game, to clear the front of the net, and to win battles along the boards. While his strength improved over where he was in junior, it still needs a bit more work as he is now facing stronger forwards at the pro level.
He could also stand to be better in his positioning, as he currently relies on his skating ability to get him out of trouble. At the pro level, quickness is a huge asset, but defenders cannot get away with relying solely on quickness. He will need to be properly positioned as well. It is an area that got better as the season wore on though, and another year of strong coaching should help him.
Capobianco’s offensive game is close to NHL ready but he needs a bit more time in the AHL to round out his defensive game. Expect to see him spend another season in Tucson, with perhaps a call-up or two if injuries hit the Coyotes.
#6 Prospect: Tyler Steenbergen
Center/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 7th, 1998 — Sylvan Lake, Alberta
Height 5’10” — Weight 188 lbs [178 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 5th round, #128 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Steenbergen went undrafted in 2016, but when he scored 51 goals in 2016-17 the Coyotes used a fifth-round pick on him the following season. He rewarded their faith in him and came up with an even bigger season. Steenbergen scored 47 goals and 102 points in just 56 games for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL (while the goal total is down, he played 16 fewer games, his point total also increased by 12).
He also earned a spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors. While he came up with just one goal (and one assist) playing as the 13th forward in the tournament, his goal was a huge one. Scored late in the third period, it was broke a tie with Sweden and lifted Canada to a gold medal. Steenbergen also helped the Broncos to the WHL title with 12 goals and 27 points in 26 playoff games. While he scored in the first game of the Memorial Cup, an injury ended his tournament early.
While he is a little undersized, Steenbergen makes up for it with strong skating ability. He is very fast and reaches his top speed in just a few strides. He has excellent acceleration and his ability to change speeds is something he uses as a weapon on the rush. If he gets a step on a defender, he can blow by on the outside and cut to the net. If defenders back off, he can use them as a screen and fire a shot on net. Steenbergen also has very good edgework and agility. He is slippery and tough to contain in one-on-one situations. Steenbergen could add lower body strength, to help him in boards battles and be stronger on the puck.
Steenbergen is a pure sniper. He has an outstanding wrist shot and a very quick release. He also has a very good one-timer. Steenbergen loves to work the half-wall on the power play, walking off the boards to fire that wrist shot, or getting open for a one-timer when he does not have the puck. He is also willing to go to the front of the net, where he can pounce on rebounds or use good hand-eye coordination to tip-in pucks.
Steenbergen sees the ice well and can also play the role of playmaker. His shifty skating opens up passing lanes and he is able to hit teammates with a tape-to-tape pass. He works well on a give-and-go type plays, keeping his feet moving and getting open after passing to a teammate. Steenbergen needs to be stronger on the puck in order to control down low below the hash marks and to win battles on the boards. Right now the majority of his offence is generated off the rush and on the power play.
Steenbergen shows commitment to backchecking and playing a responsible defensive game. He supports the defence down low and provides effective backpressure against the rush. Steenbergen reads the play well and is strong positionally. He could stand to put on more muscle as this will help him to contain some of the bigger forwards he will face as he moves up to pro hockey.
Steenbergen will likely spend the year in the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners. He will need time to build on his breakout season and continue his development. It would not be a surprise if he is two or three years away from the NHL, but this past season has shown that he could surprise many and have an impact when he gets there. While he’s played some centre, he is trending more as a winger at this point.
#7 Prospect: Cam Dineen
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 19th, 1998 — Toms River, New Jersey
Height 5’11” — Weight 184 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 3rd round, #68 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
After a tough 2016-17 season, Cam Dineen bounced back in a big way last year. In a campaign that saw him move from North Bay to Sarnia at the OHL Trade deadline, Dineen put up 20 goals and 44 assists for 64 points in 65 games. He also added four points in 12 playoff games for the Sting.
Dineen isn’t a pure speedster, but his skating is above average. He has decent speed and acceleration in both directions, though it could stand to continue to be improved. His edgework and agility though are very good, and his first step is quick, which allows him to cover a lot of ice and in all directions. Dineen uses his body well to shield the puck in the cycle and can be difficult to knock over, with excellent balance.
Dineen thinks a game at a very high level. He handles the puck with great poise, and sees openings in the defence to thread a pass to a teammate. Dineen quarterbacks things from the point on the power play, showing the ability to walk the line and to create passing and shooting lanes. He is poised and waits for the right opportunity, making smart plays with the puck on his stick. Dineen can thread the puck onto a teammates tape, even through tight areas.
In addition to being an excellent playmaker, Dineen has an absolute rocket of a shot. When faced with heavy traffic, he understand to keep his shot low, and gets it on net providing opportunities for tip-ins and rebounds. Dineen also has good stickhandling ability, which he uses to avoid forecheckers and to skate the puck out of his own end. He can also make a good first pass to start the transition game, including being able to make a home-run pass to a streaking forward.
Dineen has improved his defensive game over his time in the OHL. He uses his hockey IQ to maintain good positioning, and a quick stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes. The quickness with which he retrieves loose pucks and starts the transition game is also a major asset. However, his lack of size still creates some issues here. He can have issues clearing the front of the net, containing forwards cycling the puck, and winning battles along the boards. This has improved with added muscle, but there could be some more strength needed as he now moves up to the pro ranks.
Expect to see Dineen in Tucson this season, where he could form an excellent power play tandem with Capobianco. He will need some time in the AHL, but there is potential here and he fits the new style of strong skating and puck moving defenceman.
#8 Prospect: Filip Westerlund
Defence — shoots Right
Born April 17th, 1999
Height 5’11” — Weight 180 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2nd round, #44 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Westerlund got some significant playing time against men in his 18-year-old season. He played in 19 SHL games and four Champions Hockey League games for Frolunda, picking up a goal and four points in the process. He also went out on loan to Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan, picking up four points in 13 games.
Westerlund has great mobility. He has very good acceleration and good top-end speed in both directions. He also has very good agility, helping him to open up lanes offensively, and to maintain his gap control defensively. Westerlund has very good pivots and edge work. This allows him to cover a lot of ice, as well as to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Westerlund is a little undersized but has a strong lower body and a low centre of gravity. He is strong on the puck and is good at battling in the corners and in front of the net. However, he still has some problems with particularly big forwards.
Filip Westerlund has good hands and stickhandling ability. He can retrieve the puck in his own zone, and avoid forecheckers, moving it up the ice effectively. He also makes good crisp passes to start the rush, and can make the long breakaway pass. This skill extends to the offensive zone. Westerlund has the poise to control the play from the blue line, as well as having the vision and passing skills to quarterback the play from the point.
Westerlund is willing to join the rush as well as to pinch in from the point, looking for a shot. However, he is much better as a playmaker than as a goal scorer. His wrist shot has good accuracy but lacks power. His slap shot has similar concerns. He can add some muscle to his frame, and improve in both these areas.
Westerlund has very good positioning and defensive ability. His skating allows him to keep himself between his man and the front of the net. He forces his man to the outside and does not let them cut to the net. Westerlund uses an active stick to cut down passing lanes. He also is very quick with a poke-check. Once a turnover is created, Westerlund can transition quickly from defence to offence. One issue is that he is not a very physical player. He tends to rely on his positioning and stickwork to defend and is not one to initiate contact, though he can fight through it.
Westerlund will likely spend another year in Sweden rounding out his game. He is expected to play a more full-time role with Frolunda. The Swedish defence is deep, but he could make their World Junior team this year.
#9 Prospect: Kevin Bahl
The Coyotes drafted Bahl with the 55th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bahl. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Noel Hoefenmayer
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 6th, 1999 — North York, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 191 lbs [183 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 4th round, #108 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Hoefenmayer had a solid season with the Ottawa 67s, putting up seven goals and 33 points in 65 games for a weaker squad. He was even better in the playoffs with two goals and seven points in five games, but it was not enough as the team fell in the first round to the eventual OHL Champion Hamilton Bulldogs.
Hoefenmayer’s skating is a bit of a work in progress and is the major issue holding back his game right now. His straight line speed is decent, but his first few steps are choppy and he lacks acceleration as a result. He also needs to work on his agility and edgework as this would give him better control of the quick forwards he will face at the pro level. If he can clean that up, he can really take the next step as a prospect. He has good lower body strength as he has good balance and is tough to knock off the puck.
Hoefenmayer has a bomb of a slapshot from the point and can play the role of trigger man on the power play. He also has a good wrist shot and a quick release. He can sneak down from the point to the top of the circles to get off that shot. Hoefenmayer has good stickhandling ability and can lead the rush, or play the role of the playmaker at the point. He gets the puck out of the zone and up the ice quickly. Hoefenmayer has good vision and passing ability, both in transition as well as from the point. He can provide an offensive spark for his club at the junior level.
Defensively Hoefenmayer played a lot more physical this season than he did in his draft year. While he doesn’t go around looking to throw a big hit, he battles hard in front of the net and in the corners, using his size and strength to his advantage. Hoefenmayer reads the play well and has good positioning. This has helped him to overcome deficiencies in the OHL. However, his skating is a real question mark at this point. He struggles against quicker forwards and must improve his foot-speed before he hits the pro game. Hoefenmayer has every other skill to be an effective defender though, so improving this aspect of his game would take him a long way.
Hoefenmayer is very much a work in progress and is several years away from NHL action. Expect him to spend next season back in the OHL, and he could be traded at the deadline if the 67s are not looking like a title contender. After that, he should spend some time in Tucson before he’s ready to make the leap to the NHL.
There is real hope for the future in the Coyotes system. Along with the prospects mentioned above, there are a number of young NHLers already in Arizona and making an impact. Add to that their depth down the middle with Strome and Hayton, and the Coyotes have the nucleus of a solid group of forwards. Further down the depth chart are Laurent Dauphin and Cam Schnarr both of whom are versatile enough to play the wings. They add depth on the wings in Steenbergen, 2018 draftees Jan Jenik, and intriguing English prospect Liam Kirk. Hudson Fasching, Michael Bunting, Connor Garland and Brayden Burke are also players to watch in the system.
The Coyotes are very deep on defence. In addition to the prospects profiled above, Ty Emberson was an excellent pick in the third round, while Dakota Mermis, Cameron Crotty, and Dysin Mayo are just below them. The team also added Ilya Lyubushkin, Robbie Russo, and Jordan Gross over the off-season. The Coyotes top goaltending prospect is Adin Hill but this is the position where the team is most in need of depth. Overall, the system is very strong.
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