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Arizona hockey fans had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the future when prospect Josh Doan and prospect Logan Cooley squared off in a two-game series between Arizona State and Minnesota this past weekend at Mullett Arena.
Fans can also watch prospects live in the CHL, USHL or NCAA on readily available streaming options. If fans want to watch European prospects, however, the challenges are far greater. There are fewer streaming options in the US, the time difference can be a challenge, the broadcast quality can be, too, and you might have to decipher a foreign language to figure out what’s going on.
That’s why the PHNX Coyotes prospect report exists, of course: To give you eyes and ears where you have none.
Now that I have completed that shameless plug, let me also note that the November edition of the prospect report may just offer the best collection of names that we have featured in this report, as we check in on German defenseman Maksymilian Szuber, who is playing in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga for EHC Red Bull München; Norwegian defenseman Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, who is playing in the Swedish Hockey League for IK Oskarshamn; and Finnish forward Miko Matikka, who is actually playing in the USHL for the Madison Capitols.
I spoke to Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak, Coyotes defenseman development coach Kurtis Foster, Madison Capitols GM and coach Corey Leivermann, Munich assistant coach Pierre Allard, and Oskarshamn coach Martin Filander about those players.
Here is that report along with some notes on other prospects. If you want to read past reports from the 2022-23 season, here is the October report.
Defensive prospect Maksymilian Szuber
When I spoke to former NHL player and current EHC München forward Ben Smith for a story that I wrote on Julian Lutz in September, Smith warned me not to sleep on their teammate, Maksymilian Szuber.
Szuber opened some eyes at development camp this summer, but his own eyes were opened when the 2021 sixth-round draft pick (No. 163) was invited to the main training camp this fall.
“I don’t think he was expecting to be drafted,” Munich assistant coach Pierre Allard said. “In his mind, he thought he would eventually get asked to go to a camp or something like that, so that was his first shock; to be drafted. It was a big moment, but also being selected to go into main camp, that was a lot to digest for him. He went from being a really young prospect in our organization to being a prospect in the NHL.
“I think he learned a lot from the development camp and the main camp, too, and he came back to Munich with more confidence. He’s playing with way more confidence than last year and he is a big part of our defensive squad.”
The Coyotes’ scouting report on Szuber labels him a big man (6-3) who skates well, moves pucks efficiently and can defend with positioning and a long reach.
“The focus right now is defending with a little more presence,” Coyotes development coach Kurtis Foster said. “It’s a vague term, but at the end of the day, it’s about him owning his ice below the dots. When I talk about him improving his physicality, that is one thing we are working on, but what he does do very well is he has a very good, long stick. He defends with reach and smarts.
“Part of being physical in pro is winning your races and getting pucks back so that we can transition to go the other way. That is something that Zubes does very, very well. He’s able to cut their hands and take the puck away, go D to D, or make a play with his feet, and then start to transition the other way.”
Szuber is the youngest regular defenseman on Munich’s roster, but Allard said that he is getting plenty of opportunities. The DEL also offers him unique opportunities to shore up the skill sets that he will need to make the leap to North America.
“For the one-on-one aspect, it’s a good thing for him to be in the DEL because there’s a lot of guys that played in the NHL or played in the American League so he’s got that unique opportunity to battle one-on-one with those guys who are so intelligent and so experienced,” Allard said.
“Off the rush, he’s pretty good at reading the play and the fact that he’s taller plays to his advantage. He’s got such a good gap that he’s able to close, especially when we’re in the offensive zone where he’s able to get a little bit deeper in the zone and anticipate those plays.”
Munich is currently leading the DEL with a 15-3-2-4 record and 53 points; seven ahead of Adler Mannheim where Coyotes central European scout Teal Fowler worked for 12 years as a coach and executive.
Defensive prospect Emil Martinsen Lilleberg
Emil Martinsen Lilleberg played 47 of IK Oskarshamn’s 52 games in his first season in the SHL last season, helping lead his team to Game 7 of a quarterfinal playoff series in the club’s second season back in the top league. It was a remarkable feat for the defenseman after making the considerable leap from Sparta Sarpsborg in Norway’s unheralded league. The feat was all the more astounding when you consider what Lilleberg dealt with for that entire first season.
“He had a skin issue during the whole year where he couldn’t sleep and he was bleeding all over his body for a year, more or less,” Oskarshamn coach Martin Filander said. “His equipment made it go really bad and I mean, we tried everything from new detergents, different kinds of washing, we changed the underwear, the doctors did all these skin tests, he went to a special skin clinic and he tried different medications.”
Lilleberg was eventually diagnosed with a form of Psoriasis.
“It tells you a lot about his character because he never complained,” Filander said. “He told us the way it was, he had to sit out sometimes and we went to doctors all the time, but he never complained. I mean, he probably didn’t sleep the full night for over a year but he just worked hard. And since we got it under control, he has just flourished in his game.”
Like Szuber, Lilleberg is big at 6 feet 2. But the physical side of his game needs far less refinement than Szuber’s; a promising sign for his North American dreams.
“His strong suit is playing with physicality and using his size and strength to his advantage,” Foster said. “It becomes all the more impressive when you realize it’s on the big ice surface. There is so much more room from the dots to the wall over there, but he still closes with a ton of speed and plays with physicality and defends hard. You just don’t see that as much over there so it becomes more of a presence.”
Lilleberg, 21, is a left-handed shot, but he has been playing the offside at 5 on 5.
“The way he moves the puck from that position is very strong,” Foster said. “He’s getting a lot more confidence to jump in the play and not throw pucks away, which is nice to see.
“He started as a depth, third- or second-pair defenseman in Oskarshamn, but he’s gradually worked his way up to where he’s playing all the tough defensive minutes, anywhere from 16 to 19 minutes a night. As a young guy in such a strong league, we’re really happy with how his year has gone.
Lilleberg also gained a lot of confidence from playing for the Norwegian national team; a role that he is likely to reprise this year.
“He’s a no-brainer for Norway’s national team this whole year,” Filander said. “If he’s healthy, I think he’s gonna get a spot on the roster no matter what.”
Filander knows there will be adjustments if and when Lilleberg makes the jump to North America. He’ll have to maintain his conditioning, focus and consistency in a far more demanding game schedule, and he’ll be entering yet another culture. But Filander marvels at how easily the smooth-skating, stay-at-home, puck mover has adjusted so far to an elite league.
“It’s a huge step from Norway to Sweden,” Filander said. “It’s not like a one-division change. It’s like, two or three divisions so it’s a big deal, but his size and reach help him and he’s definitely fast for a big guy. Maybe not agility wise yet, but when he opens his hips going from backwards to forwards, he can take those two, three or four quick strides and just eat that gap up.
“I think he’s got attributes to handle the small rink, the physical game and the more simple game on the smaller rink. You need to simplify and make quick decisions on that ice and I think he would probably do that with ease.”
Forward prospect Miko Matikka
If you didn’t know much about Miko Matikka before the 2021 draft, you were not alone.
“He just hadn’t played much hockey leading up to the draft,” Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak said. “He played under 20 junior hockey, but he never played up.”
Matikka was supposed to attend Denver University this season, a sure sign that scouts thought highly of him, given the Pioneers’ pedigree as defending national champions. Unfortunately for Matikka, the NCAA Clearinghouse did not approve two of his high school classes so he had to delay his NCAA career for a year. His loss was the Madison Capitols’ gain.
“Disappointed would be the word to describe his feelings because he was expected to go into Denver, and then all of a sudden, he’s like, ‘What the heck, I’m in Madison?’” Capitols GM and coach Corey Leivermann said. “I think it took him a little bit just to kind of digest everything; the language, the new city, a new league. I think his brain has probably been a little fried.”
Stempniak said that by Matikka’s own admission, he got off to a slow start.
“I don’t want to say he underestimated how good the USHL is, but I think he came over and it was different; a step higher than maybe what he was expecting,” Stempniak said. “I just don’t think people realize how good of a league the USHL really is.
“He wasn’t great the first weekend and then he’s just sort of turned things around pretty quickly and he’s playing a huge role on his team.”
Entering this week’s games, Matikka was fourth in the USHL in points with 23 (nine goals) in 16 games.
“He’s been everything we could have imagined when we heard that we had the chance to get him,” Leivermann said. “He’s a big body who can get in the fight, physically, protect pucks, and he’s obviously got an NHL shot.”
Matikka’s work will come away from the puck; this season and next when he enrolls at Denver.
“He’s a really strong skater straight ahead; fast and powerful with a long reach and dangerous shot with a quick release,” Stempniak said. “He is pretty effective using those three things to protect pucks and generate offense from below the goal line and along the boards by using his size. He’s good off the rush, too.
“A lot of the discussion has been about moving his feet away from the puck in the offensive zone; rather than just waiting for pucks to get to him, finding ways to be available to get more pucks. So we want him working towards the puck, supporting the puck in the neutral zone and on breakouts or regroups, seeing how the play is gonna develop and making sure he’s in the right spot to get the puck.”
The Coyotes had scouted Matikka enough to gauge his potential, but they are happy with what they have seen in his first season in North America.
“We certainly knew he was a talented player, but you don’t know how tough the adjustments are going to be,” Stempniak said. “We knew when he went to Madison, he would be one of their best players and relied upon, but I think it’s happened very quickly where he’s established himself as one of the best players in the USHL.”
Logan Cooley had a goal and three assists in Minnesota’s series split this weekend at Arizona State. He is tied with linemate Matthew Knies for second on the team in points with 16; four behind other linemate Jimmy Snuggerud.
Defenseman Maveric Lamoureux, the third of the Coyotes’ three first-round picks in 2022 (No. 29), is expected to return to the Drummondville Voltigeurs’ (QMJHL) lineup on Dec. 28. Lamoureux has not played a game yet this season while rehabbing an injury.
Another injured prospect, forward Julian Lutz, is rounding back into form after missing the first 15 games of Munich’s season in the DEL. “[On Friday], he got an assist on the game-winning goal and he’s been playing well since he got back with the team,” Allard said. “He’s leaving in a couple of weeks for the World Junior Championship, so that’s going to be a good experience for him.”
Keep an eye (if you can) on defensive prospect Artyom Duda, who has been promoted to the KHL’s CSKA Moskva and is getting the opportunity to play some meaningful minutes at age 18. The Coyotes staff is raving about his speed and puck skills. Duda was the first of the Coyotes’ two, second-round picks (No. 36) in 2022.
Top photo of Emil Martinsen Lilleberg courtesy of IK Oskarshamn