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This is the fifth in a monthly, in-season series that will update the development of key Coyotes prospects.
Every NHL GM and scout knows that you have to hit on your first-round picks, particularly those that fall within the top 10. The Coyotes’ failure to do so in the past with players such as Kyle Turris, Dylan Strome and Mikkel Bødker cost them dearly in seasons to come.
If you want to succeed in the draft and build a sustainable pipeline for your team’s future, however, you’ve got to find some hidden gems in rounds two through seven.
While he was the Blues director of amateur scouting, Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong found several of those including Jordan Kyrou, Ivan Barbashev and Colton Parayko. While he was the head scout in Tampa Bay, Coyotes director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski also found several of those, including Nikita Kucherov, Ondřej Palát, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli.
The 2022 NHL Draft could be a watershed moment in that respect for the Coyotes. With seven picks in the first 45 or 46 selections, Arizona has a chance to jumpstart its prospect pipeline.
The current late-round prospects in the pipeline may not offer the sort of impact that the Lightning and Blues players listed above have, but Arizona has hope that a handful of them will make the NHL roster and at least offer depth, if not more.
In the fifth edition of the PHNX Coyotes prospect report, we’ll take a look at three of them: Tucson Roadrunners forward Ben McCartney, Porin Ässät’s (Rasmus Korhonen) and Gatineau Olympiques center Manix Landry. We also checked in briefly for news on some other prospects.
According to a Dobber Prospects study for the years 2000-2009, only 5.5 percent of seventh-round picks played 100 or more NHL games. Those odds haven’t changed much in the ensuing years. The odds are extremely long for Coyotes seventh-round picks such as Liam Kirk (2018), Sam Lipkin (2021) and Ben McCartney (2020), but all three have shown signs of bucking the trend.
Kirk earned a contract last summer, Lipkin is among the top 12 scorers in the USHL and McCartney has already made his NHL debut, playing two games for the Coyotes earlier this season.
That said, Kirk is in the midst of rehabbing an ACL tear that has slowed his development curve, Lipkin will play college hockey at Quinnipiac next season, and McCartney needs more time in the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners before he’ll have a chance to crack the Coyotes’ lineup on a permanent basis.
“It’s been a season of acclimation for Ben,” Coyotes player development coach Alex Henry said. “He’s had some success and also some moments of learning.
“He is very effective at what he is good at. He’s good in front of the net, good at getting to the dirty areas, good at getting in on the forecheck. There’s a lot of energy to his game and he tends to bring it most nights. It’s just about cleaning some of the stuff up away from the puck and processing at a higher level. He’s certainly got a few years to round out, develop and polish his game, but there’s certainly pieces there that will translate.”
McCartney has 18 goals and 34 points in 55 games with Tucson. He has played high in the lineup. While his path probably leads to a depth role on an NHL team, the organization’s development staff isn’t putting a ceiling on a player whose skill set is similar to a famous former Roadrunner: Calder Trophy candidate Michael Bunting.
“It’s an interesting comparison because I hadn’t really thought about it in that way, but Ben goes to dirty areas a lot like Bunts and I think Ben is driven by results,” Roadrunners coach Jay Varady said. “He wants to produce, he wants to win, he wants to be on a good line, he wants to be on a good team, he wants to have a positive impact in the game and he’s willing to make sacrifices to do it. He sacrifices his body. He puts himself in tough situations just like Bunts did.”
McCartney was one of those rookie-camp and training-camp surprises that comes along every so often. Jordan Martinook and Christian Fischer are past examples. He impressed the staff so much in his first go-round that GM Bill Armstrong signed him to an entry-level contract. The Coyotes love his energy, they love his skill set, they love his attitude and they love his work ethic.
“We thought highly of some of the intangibles he brings with his energy and kind of pesky-natured game,” Henry said. “That can fit in well, while some of his skill can make him an effective player down your lineup at the NHL level. He can be a driver for the team with some of those intangibles, but he’s also shown that he can play on the first line in Tucson and keep up in his first year.”
It comes across clearly in his media interviews, but Henry confirmed that McCartney is an attentive and willing student.
“He’s great to work with,” Henry said. “He takes feedback, positive and negatively, at face value and he likes to get it and learns from it. He’s mature that way. I think his background from a hard-working farming family in Canada is part of that. There’s not much nonsense with Benny, but at the same time, he likes to have fun.
“It’s just about keeping Benny between the rails and focused at times. Energy and exuberance can get you scattered a little bit at times, wanting to do a lot of things rather than just sticking to a few. So the message for him is: Let’s try to keep our focus on those few things.”
Among the items on McCartney’s development to-do list are better, quicker reads, better positioning, more efficiency in his skating stride (he already brings good speed and quickness) and as with most young players, more consistency in his game from night to night.
Despite those areas of improvement and the long odds that come with being a seventh-round pick, McCartney has impressed in his first season as a pro.
“I would say don’t bet against Ben McCartney,” Varady said. “He is a driven person. He’s gonna do everything he possibly can to try and achieve his goal.”
Rasmus Korhonen wasn’t supposed to make his way to North America this quickly. Once he arrived in Tucson earlier this month, he wasn’t supposed to stay very long. But Tucson GM John Ferguson saw “a valuable developmental opportunity for him” after his season with Hermes in the Mestis league (Finland’s second highest league) had concluded.
Once Korhonen arrived in Arizona, that opportunity expanded.
“I’ve watched him all year on video but seeing him in person is a wholly different thing,” Coyotes goaltending development coach Charlie McTavish said. “He was impressive. The combination of his size with control and power at 19 years old is a great mix. It’s a good foundation to start with.
“Originally, he was supposed to stay just two weeks. We were just going to have him practice, introduce him to the league and the speed and just kind of get his feet wet, but he had enough success in practice that we felt comfortable enough to play him in a couple of games, and we were happy with his games.”
Korhonen had an uneven start in his first pro game in Rockford, but in his past two starts he has stopped 55 of 60 shots (.917 save percentage) and he has displayed a maturity in his game that McTavish suspects is a product of Finland’s polished goaltending training program.
“Finland is a fairly small country so they have a lot of consistency and continuity in their coaching,” McTavish said. “They kind of all fall under one national umbrella so I think they work more cohesively, whereas in Canada, it’s a little bit of every man for themselves. There’s some phenomenal coaches in Canada, but you get just a little bit more inconsistency in information. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re developing an overall program, you’ve got 50 guys going in 50 directions. The size of Finland and their mindset just allows them to work more cohesively.”
McTavish expanded on Finland’s training approach.
“They’re not afraid to have a good solid technical base, but still keep the athletic component of the position, whereas maybe other countries might overemphasize the technical aspect of it,” he said. “They keep a healthy balance in Finland and I know they’re big on using their hands so they do a lot of hand training.”
It is clear from Korhonen’s technical game that the training has taken root in many forms.
“He just has a calm ability to hit his spots,” McTavish said. “He moves laterally really well. He kind of gets his line on his feet, and he is really confident staying on his feet as long as possible, which is hard to do for a young goalie.
“Most of the time, guys are sliding all over just trying to get across the net or stay square and controlled. He does cover a lot of net because of his size (6 feet 5) when he’s just squared and in line with the shot, but he has the ability to get there under control, which is a great advantage for him.”
Korhonen is on loan from his Finnish team, whose season has ended and whose training is on pause for a traditional break at this time of year. Ferguson said the plan is for Korhonen to return to Finland after Tucson’s season has ended, where he will play with Porin Ässät in the Finnish Liiga (the top league) next season.
“Depending on performance assessments and availability, he should be a candidate for consideration for Finland’s U20 team this summer,” Ferguson said.
Goaltending development paths can be long ones and Korhonen is only 19, but Coyotes goaltending scout Clay Adams and other area scouts are keeping tabs on him in person, McTavish hopes to see him play next season (he was supposed to on three separate occasions this season but various circumstances prevented it), and the Coyotes are happy to have an intriguing goaltending prospect in the pipeline courtesy of their 2021 fourth-round selection (No. 122).
“I see a big, strong, confident, technical goalie there,” Roadrunners coach Jay Varady said. “The ability for him to come in at his age and just play games in the American Hockey League is pretty impressive.
“If you talk to the two guys in Arizona right now (Karel Vejmelka, Harri Säteri), I think a big difference is the angles because of the size of the ice sheet in Europe vs. North America. Your positioning and your depth has to be adjusted. It’s just a different game. The speed is different, the way that teams attack is different. There’s a lot of these subtle differences but he’s been able to adjust to them relatively quickly.”
You may recall that Arizona hired former Coyote Lee Stempniak in January to serve as a liaison between the organization’s hockey operations department and its analytics department, the latter of which is spearheaded by director Matt Perri.
Stempniak is enjoying that role.
“I feel so much better equipped this year than last year, just in terms of knowing what the coaching staff is looking for and what they can use,” he said. “I feel like Matt and I have a better understanding of how we can each complement each other.”
That’s not all that Stempniak is doing for the organization, however. He has also taken an active role in player development.
“I probably work with seven or eight guys who are nearby and then I sort of keep an eye on others,” he said. “I got to see John Farinacci play quite a bit just because he was at Harvard. I got to see Josh Doan when he came through Quinnipiac. Sam Lipkin, Ilya Fedotov, Anthony Romano and Carson Bantle are some of the others.”
So is Gatineau Olympiques center Manix Landry, whom the Coyotes selected in the fifth round (No. 139) of the 2021 NHL Draft. Landry has 17 goals and 42 points in 62 games with Gatineau, which has clinched the QMJHL’s West Division title ahead of the playoffs, which begin on May 5.
“Overall, his year has been pretty good, but it’s getting better now; trending in the right direction,” Stempniak said. “He’s been sort of snake bitten with the offense. He was creating a ton, had tons of possession time and he just couldn’t score goals. He was just getting robbed or getting stopped on breakaways but I’d say over the last six weeks to two months, pucks are starting to go in for him and he’s being rewarded, which is good to see because of how he plays.
“He’s a center that has a really high understanding of the defensive side, how to play away from the puck, where danger is, and how to position himself. His defensive understanding of the game is really high end, especially for where he is at his age (19). That’s the biggest thing that translates to the pro game for him is being that 200-foot player who’s got a dogged work ethic, hunts pucks, has a good stick, and is smart.”
Landry is a bit of an oddity in the Q. He was born in Salt Lake City and lived a chunk of his childhood in Switzerland, yet he is serving as the Olympiques’ captain.
Stempniak said it’s easy to see why.
“He’s a perfectionist, but in a good sense. He wants to do the right thing all the time. He’s very diligent, he’s very conscientious and has all that combined with a work ethic.
“In our first Zoom meeting it was me, Bill Armstrong and him. He was wearing his Arizona Coyotes golf shirt with the logo. I was like, Manix, ‘You don’t need to dress up for me,’ but he’s got the mindset and the attitude of a professional at a young age. I’m sure some of that comes from his father (Eric) having played professionally. He’s a smart, conscientious player, and off the ice, he’s a very thoughtful person who is a real joy to work with because he puts in the effort.”
Landry is thriving by playing in all situations for Gatineau, the birthplace of former Coyote Daniel Briere, but there are areas where Stempniak has asked him to focus his work.
“Some of it is just finding ways to add offense more consistently to his game,” Stempniak said. “Finding open ice off the cycle, down low in the offensive zone and finding ways to turn those puck possessions into more middle-ice chances and creating more dangerous chances from the possessions that he has.
“I talk to Manix once a week and we do video and sometimes more. You show him something and you discuss something and then he’ll try to implement it into the game. I see it all the time with him. We’ll talk about something and I’ll watch the game that weekend and he’s trying to do what we talked about. He’s a great kid. He’s high character. He wants to be a hockey player, he wants to play in the NHL and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
- Coyotes 2019 third-round pick (No. 79) John Farinacci will return to Harvard for a third straight season, GM Bill Armstrong confirmed. Farinacci was recently named Harvard’s captain under coach and uncle Ted Donato. While Farinacci’s stats (10 goals, 19 points in 29 games) were not eye-popping, he was playing in more of a defensive role and Donato said that he was probably the team’s best player over the final month when Harvard advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
- Sarnia rookie Anson Thornton (OHL) and Edmonton forward Dylan Guenther (WHL) are both taking part in their respective leagues’ playoffs. Thornton, 18, is backing up Sting third-year goalie Benjamin Gaudreau. Guenther, the ninth overall pick in 2021, finished sixth in the WHL in points with 45 goals and 91 points in 59 games. He has two goals in two playoff games, as Edmonton leads its first-round series with Lethbridge, 2-0.
- Roadrunners forward Liam Kirk, who suffered an ACL tear in November, has returned to Tucson from the UK. He is about 5½ months out of surgery and is starting to get back to skating three times a week. He is not at 100 percent but he is getting close to the point where he can begin typical summer training.
- Sam Lipkin and the Chicago Steel will begin defense of their 2021 USHL Clark Cup championship on Wednesday. The Steel won the West Division and finished with the league’s second-best point total (88 in 62 games) behind Tri-City (98 points) and former Coyotes draft pick Mitchell Miller, who led all USHL defensemen and finished third overall in the league with 83 points (league-best 39 goals) in 60 games.