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This is the third in a monthly, in-season series that will update the development of key Coyotes prospects.
The February edition of the PHNX Coyotes prospect report takes us from Tucson to Geneva, Illinois to Madison, Wisconsin. I checked in with new Coyotes goaltending development Charlie McTavish for an update on the franchise’s top goaltending prospect, Ivan Prossvetov.
I also caught up with Coyotes player development coach Alex Henry for a look at two under-the-radar forward prospects, the Wisconsin Badgers’ Carson Bantle and the Chicago Steel’s Sam Lipkin, who drew praise from their respective coaches in the Big Ten and the USHL.
If you want to view past prospect reports, here is the December edition featuring Dylan Guenther, John Farinacci and Matias Maccelli, and here is the January edition featuring Josh Doan, Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, Ilya Fedotov and Aku Räty.
Since joining the pro ranks before the 2019-20 season, goaltender Ivan Prosvetov has appeared in just 79 games between the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners (69), the Coyotes (5) and the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush (5). COVID-19, game postponements, taxi squads and injury-induced recalls have thrown a few wrinkles into Prosvetov’s development plan.
It’s difficult to predict how that lost time will manifest itself down the road, but on the surface, Prosvetov seems to be coping.
“One of his strengths is that sort of stuff doesn’t really bother him too much,” new Coyotes goaltending development coach Charlie McTavish said. “He kind of takes whatever’s in front of him, whatever the scenario is, and doesn’t overthink it, doesn’t look too much past the moment.
“Obviously, everybody wanted to play more hockey and I don’t know how much it would have affected the development side of things with him, but if you’re asking how much it impacted him mentally, to be honest, I don’t think it fazed him too much.”
With a 3.56 goals against average and a .882 save percentage, Prosvetov is not among the AHL leaders and those numbers are the worst that he has posted in three AHL seasons. Given Tucson’s struggles and the revolving door of Roadrunners players going to and coming from the Coyotes roster, that is no surprise. Still, McTavish is still looking for more consistency from a player whom he only began coaching this season, but with whom he was familiar while coaching for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s when Prosvetov was with the Saginaw Spirit.
“Between his size and his ability to move quickly, I think there is a lot of upside to his game,” McTavish said. “He’s a fairly reactionary goalie. In today’s game you get a lot of manufactured talent where goalies have gone to goaltending schools since they were 5 years old so they have a lot of taught skill sets. With Ivan, I think he has the ability to play a naturally athletic game but part of his development will be the ability to control those reactions and that athleticism to his benefit.
“The way I kind of explain it to the athlete is: If you’re going to meet somebody at an address, you put it in Google Maps and you follow Google Maps’ every turn. You’re looking at the map the entire route. The next time you go to the same spot, you have a better idea, but you’re checking it. The third time, you might need a reminder on one or two turns but everything is familiar. And on the fourth time, you don’t use the map. I’m trying to get Ivan to the point where he has a game plan so he doesn’t need a map. That’s the biggest increment for him is just creating a game plan and kind of sticking with that game plan from a technical standpoint.”
Compounding the challenge for Prosvetov is that with a new coach — former development coach Zac Bierk took a job as the Ottawa Senators goalie coach in April — he is learning some new tricks and incorporating new philosophies. That said, much of the overriding philosophy remains consistent with Coyotes goaltending coach Corey Schwab overseeing the position for the organization since Brian Daccord departed.
McTavish knows that the first question on every fan’s lips is this: When will Prosvetov be ready for a full-time NHL gig? The answer is that nobody knows. Prosvetov is only 22, goalies tend to develop more slowly than other positions, and the Coyotes may not want to throw him into the fire next season when the on-ice product is going to look a lot like this season.
“I don’t think he’s starting next year. Put it that way,” McTavish said, laughing. “All the components are certainly there but this is really only his first year where he has been told, ‘You’ve got the ball’ and I keep forgetting he’s only 22 years old. He still has a significant amount of development to do.
“Look at Veggie (Karel Vejmelka). He’s 25, he’s played pro hockey for six years and he’s come over and had success. But at 22 or 23, I would be willing to bet he probably wasn’t at the same level. It was probably that experience that was able to prepare him for his debut in the NHL, even if it was at 25. I think it is a position that just takes a little bit longer to mature and handle all the pressure and expectations that come with that job.”
To understand Sam Lipkin’s quantum leap from his first full season with the Chicago Steel to his second season, look no further than Josh Doan. The Steel is the USHL’s best organization in part because it commits fully to the development of its young players. Often, that means bit parts in the players’ first season, nights off while the team plays, and a healthy dose of off-ice training and on-ice skill development.
Doan had five goals and 14 points in 45 games in his first season in Chicago. He exploded for 31 goals and 70 points in 53 games in his second season to finish third in the USHL in points. Lipkin had three goals and 11 points in 30 games in his first season with the Steel. In his second season, he has 19 goals and 42 points in 36 games, good for 12th place on the USHL leaderboard.
Doan was a 19-year-old second-round pick after that breakout season with the Steel, but the Coyotes jumped on Lipkin earlier, sensing potential. The Coyotes selected Lipkin after acquiring Montreal’s seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick. They selected him with the 223rd pick of the 2021 NHL Draft. Lipkin, who just turned 19 last month, was the second-to-last player taken in that draft but the early returns are promising.
“The Steel pride themselves on development and developing skills sets and Sam has benefitted from that,” Coyotes player development coach Alex Henry said. “But he’s not a typical Chicago Steel player and by that I mean he’s got a 200-foot game. It’s not necessarily centered on the skill that they develop.
“He’s got a big frame that he’s learning to use a little bit better, a point that we’ve been working on, but certainly our scouting staff did a good job at identifying him as perhaps this year’s Josh Doan. They saw a possibility with where he was, that he could be poised to have a breakout year and he is having one.”
Lipkin’s size alone is intriguing. He’s 6 feet 2; another player who fits GM Bill Armstrong’s profile of a heavier team like the ones that he helped construct in St. Louis. Like Doan, however, he still needs to grow into that body and take advantage of it.
“When he came in you could see a good-sized player who wasn’t physically strong yet. He had that kind of new-age power forward frame that played a skilled game and didn’t play very physical,” Steel coach Brock Sheahan said. “When I say physical, I don’t mean like running guys and hitting guys. I mean using his body to possess pucks, to win pucks, to defend well, to create space for his teammates and himself offensively.
“He really bought into that part of our development plan for him and that allows him to use his natural gifts like his vision and his ability to make plays and finish around the net, which is very high end.”
Seventh-round picks are often players who have so much development left that it is difficult to project their potential. That is the case with Lipkin, who will play at college hockey at Quinnipiac next season, but Sheahan sees logic in the Coyotes’ decision.
“With guys like Josh Doan, who has an elite hockey mind and an approach similar to Sam Lipkin, there’s so much value in taking a player like that late,” Sheahan said. “With what he’s doing now, if he doesn’t go in the seventh round of the last draft, where does he go in this draft? Is he in the fourth or third round?
“Those are valuable picks, right? I think they have a prospect who is a legitimate pro prospect. It’s gonna take time, but he has all the time in the world for the rest of this season and going to college hockey. They got a guy that’s going to add a ton of depth to the organization and I think has potential to play at the NHL level.”
The Coyotes have already seen enough to be intrigued.
“You can call him a third-round pick or a seventh-round pick, but he’s still really young,” Henry said. “He’s got a lot of work in front of him and some headwinds, but there’s certainly some great potential there if he does the right things and continues on the same path.
“Again I think it’s a credit to our scouting staff who made that kind of analysis because he is a good kid with a good work ethic. It’s easier if you do your due diligence and place your bets where you think it will be fruitful. You can get ahead of it and maybe end up with somebody that you don’t know if they’re going to put the work in or not so that’s a really important piece and I think that just shows the experience of our scouting staff.”
The 2020 NHL Draft could easily be characterized as a lost year for the Coyotes. Between the forfeiture of a second-round pick due to combine testing violations, the trade of their first- and third-round picks in the Taylor Hall and Carl Söderberg deals, and the renunciation of their fourth-round pick (Mitchell Miller, who is leading all USHL defensemen in points), Arizona came away with just four players in that draft.
The key to successful drafting, however, is being able to find players in all rounds, even when the odds are stacked against you. Coyotes fans already know about the strides that seventh-round pick Ben McCartney is making in Tucson (nine goals, 18 points in 31 games), but there is another player flying under the radar who just might have a chance.
Wisconsin forward Carson Bantle (fifth round, No. 142) missed time earlier this season due to shoulder issues, but after getting a chance to acclimate to Big Ten hockey, he has six goals and 12 points in his past 13 games.
“In his first game, an exhibition game, he had an impact in that game and we thought, ‘Alright, we’ve got ourselves a player,'” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “We saw that we could add a guy that’s got size and can get up and down the ice real well and has got great hands, so you got really excited about it, but obviously he only played a period-plus before he got hurt and that set him back.
“His progress lately has been outstanding. I think there’s some rhythm to his game now because he’s been in the lineup more consistently. His confidence and at times his domination in the offensive zone and in puck protection and getting the puck to the net has been really impressive. For a big guy he’s got really deceptive hands. He is able to get the puck in tight and be able to separate himself from his opponents to find a way to get shots off and make plays at the net.”
Bantle brings rare size to the forward position at 6 feet 5, 207 pounds, but that size also creates issues in his game that he will have to refine before professional hockey becomes a possibility. Most notable among those is his skating.
“Leg strength is something that hurts your posture so if you don’t have the strength and stamina to sustain that correct posture then you build your skating in an incorrect posture and that’s hard to undo,” said Henry, who is also 6-5 and experienced similar issues as a player. “As a tall body, you have to be connected, your upper and lower body, but if your core stability isn’t there yet you get going one way, your feet are going the other and it’s tough to maintain your balance and that proper posture.The quicker you can gain that strength as a lanky body and as a taller person, the better chance you have of working on that posture and being able to sustain that in a game.
“At the beginning of the season, we saw it in 20-second spurts from Carson and then you could see it start to unravel a little bit. We’ve seen it 1,000 times. When guys get overextended they start straight-legging it, but now it looks like he’s at full-shift length and still doing well.”
The main reason for that progress has been Bantle’s willingness and eagerness to work on his skating and strength.
“He’s not just committed to doing it, he’s possessed with doing it,” Granato said. “He’s an unbelievably teachable, coachable, sensational kid and because of all that, I really think he’s just getting warmed up.
“Last year at Michigan Tech (Bantle transferred to Wisconsin), he didn’t get a whole lot of reps, consistent games or consistent minutes. This year, we needed somebody to step into our lineup so he’s getting that opportunity.”
Bantle just turned 20 in January and Henry cautions that he still has a long way to go in his development, but the size — which again fits well in GM Bill Armstrong’s mold of a team — and the skill set make for an enticing prospect.
“He can operate in traffic and he’s got a soft touch on the puck when he needs to,” Henry said. “He can extend his stick and use his body to protect along the wall and in traffic in front of the net.
“Some big bodies are able to do that but they don’t have the hands to maintain control. Carson has shown that at times so that’s a good sign. Obviously, it’s hard to find bigger bodies with softer hands so that’s something that could translate to his program very well.”
Top photo: Tucson Roadrunners goalie Ivan Prosvetov (Getty Images)
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