Part 17 in my "State of the Franchise" series.
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#14: Phoenix Coyotes
Top Fws: Shane Doan*, Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal
Top Ds: Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Top G: Mike Smith
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (21)
2. F Mikkel Boedker (22)
3. D David Rundblad (21)
Top 5 Prospects
1. D Brandon Gormley (20)
2. D Connor Murphy (19)
3. F Andy Miele (24)
4. G Mark Visentin (20)
5. D Chris Summers (24)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: C
The biggest key to the team's success is the defensive core. The Coyotes own a group of highly skilled and diverse defenders, led by a young group of still-improving defensemen in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad. Keith Yandle is one of the best puckmoving defenders in the game; overall, their defenders boast a solid mix of speed, skill, grit and toughness. Mike Smith had a breakout year last season and will look to improve again this year.
The team lack a true high-caliber offensive player. The group of centers, while not bad overall, is not very skilled and lacks a player who can put up points on a regular basis. With the departure of Ray Whitney (and potentially Shane Doan as well), the Yotes look very weak in terms of scoring wingers beyond Radim Vrbata. Mike Smith is a good goaltender but he isn't elite, although with the kind of game Phoenix plays they don't need him to be.
Even with the graduation of two highly skilled defensemen in the aforementioned Larsson and Rundblad, the pool still has one of the best group of defenders in any team's developmental system. Adding the group of new draftees such as James Melindy to a group already composed of names like Brandon Gormley, Connor Murphy and Michael Stone can only be a positive for the Coyotes. They also have an intriguing group of goalies, with Canadian WJC candidates in Louis Domingue and Mark Visentin.
Just like their professional team, the Coyotes' system lacks potential top caliber point-producers up front. Andy Miele is a good prospect, but he's part of not even a handful of center prospects, let alone NHL-caliber centers. While Phoenix has depth on the wings, none of the prospects there can be considered high-quality either. Most of the highly skilled players, such as Brendan Shinnimin, are small while the prospects with size, such as Phil Lane, are lacking in skill.
Phoenix was able to do something this past season that even its previous incarnation hadn't been able to manage: piece together a deep playoff run. While the run ended with a crushing loss to the Kings, who were on a run for the ages themselves, the season can be considered a major success and could be the breaking point where the team establishes itself as a player in the hotly contested Western Conference.
It's hard to find fault in the team thanks to one of the best coaching staffs in the league. The team lacks that sexy scoring type player and don't have a true centerpiece to their team, but what it lacks in appeal it more than makes up for in terms of productivity. With Dave Tippett running the show, the team doesn't need a star to put together a team. With a group of prospects that will offer even more assets for Don Maloney and Tippett to work with, there is a lot of promise for the team.
The Coyotes will likely be on the bubble again this year. Walking across the playoff line is where the team usually finds itself, but they have a lot of potential moving forwards.