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The second edition of the PHNX Coyotes prospect report touches both ends of the geographical spectrum. On the one end is ASU’s Josh Doan, who plays his games 27 miles away from the Coyotes home (for now) arena. On the other end of the spectrum is Ilya Fedotov, who plays in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; about 6,100 miles away from the Valley.
While it is easy to keep tabs on Doan’s development, it is difficult to track the players who are playing in Europe such as Fedotov, Emil Martinsen Lilleberg and Aku Räty. The games are hard to find on television, the camera work isn’t always first-rate, and the differing styles and make-ups of the leagues make it difficult to measure their impact and translate statistics into meaningful North American terms.
I checked in with Coyotes player development coach Alex Henry for a report on the three Europeans, but first, a look at the ASU kid who was born into Valley hockey royalty.
Shane and Josh Doan never talked about production when Josh was coming up through the Valley’s youth hockey ranks.
“We never really put expectations on points,” Josh Doan said. “It was more of an expectation on how you want to play and how you want to make an impact in the game every night. My expectation was to make an impact every night that I was in the lineup in a positive way so that I was helping the team win.”
Doan has accomplished that on most nights in his freshman season at Arizona State. As is often the case, the points have come along for the ride. After last weekend’s games, Doan was tied for the NCAA freshman lead in points with 21, which also put him among the top 30 overall point producers in the nation.
Doan hit a slow patch just before the holiday break when he had two points in six games, but there was an underlying reason.
“He got hurt against Denver and he was playing probably at about 75 percent through the rest of the break,” coach Greg Powers said. “It was a badly, badly bruised tailbone. He took a hit through neutral ice so he just wasn’t himself. He didn’t have any pop in his legs because he was just in pain, but he battled through it. He got healthy during the break, and he had a little more jump (last) weekend.”
Doan scored his sixth goal of the season in a 3-2 win against No. 9 Cornell on Sunday. Like Coyotes 2021 first-round pick Dylan Guenther, Doan (No. 37 overall in 2021) has also had to adapt to a shift to center. Powers calls it a step in Doan’s development.
“I just think the more the puck is on his stick, the better off we’re gonna be,” Powers said. “He’s big, but he’s got to get stronger. We all know that. He’s got to get faster. We all know that, too. That’s why he’s here and we’re going to get him there. But just the way he thinks the game and how hard he competes on both sides of the puck, that’s where I wanted him to play. That’s where he projects long term with us.
“You want kids that have the ability to play down the middle and he has that mindset where he’s always going to try and be the first guy back in the D-zone and be the guy defending down low and helping out in those important areas defensively. You know he can do it, it’s going to make him a better player in the long run, and the game gets a little easier if he does get moved back to the wing when he moves up a level.”
Doan has embraced the change, despite the myriad responsibilities of a position that he only played sporadically with the Chicago Steel of the USHL.
“I love it because you’re more involved in the game and I needed to kind of work on my defensive side of the game a little more for when you get to the next level,” he said.
“Offensively, I’m pretty comfortable playing center and joining the rush and stuff like that, but defensively, just working with our older D and our older centers has been kind of big for me the last couple couple weeks. Early on, whenever I was in our own zone I was just kind of uncomfortable and nervous but I have settled in. I’m finally feeling more comfortable.”
Doan will play a key role in the Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament hopes down the stretch of the season. ASU (12-10) sits at No. 25 in the Pairwise Rankings that help determine the NCAA field of 16. The Devils play their next four games away from home at Boston University and RIT.
“Hopefully we can churn out some wins to traject our season in the right direction,” he said.
Emil Martinsen Lilleberg
Emil Martinsen Lilleberg and Cam Crotty are separated by about 5,500 miles, but when analyzing the first of the Coyotes’ two fourth-round picks in 2021, Crotty is a good place to start.
“He’s effective at defending,” Henry said of Crotty. “Cam is blossoming at the American League level in kind of the same role that I see for Emil.”
Martinsen Lilleberg played his three previous seasons for Sparta Sarpsborg in the Eliteserien, Norway’s top league. He came up through the same organization and he was teammates with Crotty for a brief time when Crotty played a stint in Norway to log more games and make up for lost development time caused by COVID-19. After selecting him at No. 107 overall, the Coyotes wanted to see Martinsen Lilleberg compete in one of the world’s top leagues, the Swedish Hockey League.
“To step into the SHL from an elite league was quite a step but he seems to have acclimated pretty well to it,” Henry said. “He’s a big, strong kid which has obviously helped him, but the SHL is a man’s league. It’s like stepping into the American league.
“He can still move pucks. He’s got some decent hands, but I think right now he’s surviving in the SHL because everything is so new so he’s just keeping his game simple.”
Martinsen Lilleberg has four assists in 26 games with IK Oskarshamn in the SHL, and he played three games without a point with Norway during the Olympic qualifying round where Norway fell to Denmark in the Group F final.
Production really hasn’t been a major component of Martinsen Lilleberg’s game since he moved up to the U20 level with Sparta Sarpsborg, but that doesn’t mean the defenseman is lacking in skill.
“His skating is good but that’s something he needs to keep working on,” Henry said. “His posture is something I have talked to Lars (Hepso), our skating coach, about. I actually made a trip over there at the end of October and we worked on it a little bit and I left them with some things to keep working on.
“His coaches there in Oskarshamn were really welcoming, shared a lot of information, and we agreed on a lot of the points so that makes it really easy in my job.”
Martinsen Lilleberg will turn 21 on Feb. 2, but because he is in his first season in the SHL, the Coyotes are being patient with his development and there is no push to bring him to the AHL immediately.
“I think there’s pros and cons to both like we’ve seen over the years with various players,” Henry said. “That’s a decision that upper management will wait and make, based on where he’s at by the end of the season, and where we think the best place for him to develop is, and perhaps what our depth looks like, and what room we have on rosters, both in Arizona and in Tucson.”
We are not far removed from the 2019 NHL Draft, but so much has transpired over the past 2½ seasons with the Coyotes that it’s easy to lose sight of some of that draft class’s middle-round prospects. Räty reminded everybody that he still has NHL aspirations with a recent surge.
In his past 16 games with Oulun Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga, Räty has seven goals and 11 points to bring his totals to 10 goals and 16 points in 33 games in a league where scoring is at a premium. It’s a good sign for the fifth-round pick (No. 151) after two nondescript seasons in Finland’s top league, where he had just six goals and 14 points in 68 games.
“When we drafted him we saw a lot of raw ability and perhaps ceiling,” Henry said. “He was very much a junior player that maybe didn’t know his own size and ability.
“In that league, he has only gained traction in the last couple of months. Last year, I thought it was an off year for him, but there was COVID and a lot of different factors.”
Räty may not have the offensive upside of his younger brother Aatu, whom the Islanders chose in the second round in 2021, but at 6-foot, 187 pounds, the 20-year-old Coyotes forward prospect has some gifts that translate well to the NHL game.
“He’s not necessarily a stereotypical European player,” Henry said. “He’s good along walls, he can get in on the forecheck, he can possess the puck, he can make some plays and get to the net.
“If you watched him in the World Juniors (the previous two seasons), he played a pretty good role and I think he could serve in that same kind of role at higher levels over here in North America, given his style of play.”
The Coyotes are happy with Räty’s recent play, but they would like to see him establish that sort of impact on a consistent basis when the Liiga play resumes later this week.
“He’s on a veteran team there in Kärpät with perhaps more opportunity now, playing with some good players and playing a little bit on the power play,” Henry said. “Players have off years but talent doesn’t disappear. Some players deal with confidence issues. You see it in the NHL every year with some guys, and then they have a change and they get going again.
“Consistency is the major thing now. To earn a contract and position with the team, you have to be consistent and show some promise at the same time. We’ve seen the promise, but it would be great to see to make his case on a consistent basis.”
The Coyotes took a risk with Fedotov. He showed a lot of offensive ability in the MHL (Russia’s junior league) and his shot draws rave reviews, but the overall consensus among draft experts was that he was a reach high in the second round (No. 43 overall), despite the unknowns presented by COVID-impacted schedules and stunted development.
Fedotov hasn’t been able to make his mark yet (two goals in 32 games) in his first season in the KHL with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. He was even sent back to the MHL for a five-game stint (where he had nine points), but he is still only 18 years old, playing in what is probably the world’s second best league.
“Ilya has been in and out of the lineup a little bit, but more in lately, and playing more and more minutes and trying to stabilize his game at the KHL level,” Henry said. “He’s better than the U20 league, but he still has some things to learn as a pro at the KHL level.”
Fedotov is 6-feet-1, but only 176 pounds. He will need some strength on his frame, but Henry sees some similar skills to Räty.
“He’s a sizable winger that’s really good along the wall,” Henry said. “His small-area game with his puck skills is good. He has no problem with physicality, either throwing checks, protecting pucks or taking checks, and then making plays in those areas. He can play with some pace, too. He can either get in on forechecks or attack with the rush so we’re pretty excited about his skill set.
“Where he has to round out his game is more through responsible routes and the timing of those and you’ve seen some progress on them. And then he’s got to improve in some risk management to gain more playing time in the KHL level.”
The KHL regular season ends on March 1 and Fedotov’s team is five points off the Western Conference playoff pace with 11 games remaining. The Coyotes are hoping that Torpedo can squeeze in and get Fedotov’s some valuable postseason experience.
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