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Coyotes prospect Aku RätyIt has been nearly four years since the Coyotes drafted Oulun Kärpät forward Aku Räty in the fifth round (No. 151) of the 2019 NHL Draft. In that span of time, the New York Islanders selected Räty’s younger brother, Atu, in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Atu has made his way through the AHL to the NHL while Aku has yet to make it to North America for anything but camps. That fact is all the more important because the Coyotes’ rights to Räty expire on June 1. “He’s aware of it, but at least to me, he hasn’t been nervous and he hasn’t asked about it,” Stempniak said. “He’s got a mature approach of just trying to get better. To me, that’s what comes through when you talk to him. He’s willing to be coached when we do video and show clips. He asks questions, he talks through it with us, and you can see him trying to implement that stuff.” That opinion tracks with Ilves sports director Timo Koskela, who calls Räty “more of a worker than a talker.” That opinion is also supported by an incident at Coyotes development camp. The airline (shocking, I know) lost his hockey equipment so he had to wear brand new equipment. “You wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t heard it from someone else because he never complained once; he didn’t make an excuse despite playing with new skates, new equipment and new sticks. That was a really telling thing to me, and then I thought he played well at development camp, too; just jumped out there and performed.” Räty’s attitude has produced results this season. “Nathaniel Brooks was just over there on the ice with him; spending a few days with him,” Stempniak said. “You can see he’s put in the work. Aku has done a good job to get to where he is from where he was two years ago. He took a step forward around the midway point of last season and he’s had a really good year this year.” Räty, 21, had been in the Kärpät system since the 2015-16, but his contract expired after last season. Koskela said that Tampereen Ilves was “highly interested” and signed him quickly. Räty is enjoying a better opportunity with a team that sat third in the Liiga standings as of Tuesday. In 35 games with Ilves, he has 10 goals and 25 points. He had 22 points in 56 games last season. “Aku is a versatile and responsible two-way player who plays with a winning attitude every day,” Koskela said. “His best asset for me is that he does not have any major weaknesses. Coach can trust him in different game situations. His skating base and his game close to the boards has improved a lot during this season and for me it is the main reason why he has lifted his game to another level.” That fact has earned Räty a bigger role. “He is a really big part of their team,” Stempniak said. “He plays top-six minutes on the power play, his line is very strong and he’s made strides. He’s skating better and his hands have improved a lot. I think that is one thing that you can really point to in his development; the puck skills and the ability to make plays with the puck on his stick. He’s put in a lot of work after practice and in the offseason and that has translated to where he is now. “He’s willing to play that gritty, grinding game. It doesn’t need to be pretty when you get along the wall but now he’s executing more of those plays with his hands because they’ve sort of caught up with the rest of his game.” At this point in his development, Räty tracks as a bottom-six forward in the NHL. With about three months remaining in the Liiga season (including playoffs), and a little more than four months until his rights expire, decision time is coming for the Coyotes with Räty.
Coyotes prospect Maveric LamoureuxShortly before the Coyotes traded up from No. 32 to No. 29 to select Maveric Lamoureux at the 2022 NHL Draft, Lamoureux had shoulder surgery to repair a problem that had been nagging him for a while. He missed the first 33 games of Drummondville’s season. When he got back, he tried to make up for all of that lost time. “He thought he was going to be able to come in and have an impact right away so he was really hard on himself when that didn’t happen,” said Drummondville coach Éric Bélanger, a former Coyote. “You’re anxious to come back when you miss that much time. You see the game from the stands and you always think, ‘I’m gonna get in and I’ll be good right away,’ but it doesn’t work like that. When you come in in December, teams are well structured in their game and the games are a lot tougher than they were at the beginning of the year. “We needed to sit him down and talk to him, just to say, ‘Hey, it’s gonna take some time so you’ve got to be patient. Simplify your game and it will come.'” The talks paid dividends. Bélanger said Lamoureux has played well in recent games. He scored his first goal of the season on a one-timer on the power play (1:11 mark of this video), shortly after making a mistake at the offensive blue line that nearly cost his team a goal. “Without the puck he is definitely a physical presence, his stick on puck is pretty good and obviously his shot is big-time; an NHL shot,” Bélanger said. “The thing I’m working the most with him on is moving his feet. As soon as he touches the puck his feet have to be in motion. I think he’s standing and looking for a play too much instead of moving his feet first and then finding plays. “I want him to be more active moving up the ice, making plays, closing the gap. I tell all my defenseman, not only Mavs, ‘When you make a play you jump into the play. As soon as you move the puck your feet have to keep moving.’ By doing that you’re closing the travel distance between you and the opposing team. If there’s a turnover in the neutral zone or somewhere on the ice, you will be closer, you will be able to have a good angle, a good stick on puck, and then instead of receiving rushes all the time, you can close on them right away and get the puck and put it back in so we can stay on the forecheck.” The obvious selling point for Lamoureux is his size. He is 6 feet 7 and Foster thinks he may still be growing. Armstrong has cautioned repeatedly that bigger players take a little longer to develop as they grow into and adapt to their frames. He often cites Tage Thompson as an example. Although the missed time has set him back a bit, the good news for Lamoureux is that his skating — often a concern for taller players — is already in a good place. “It’s pretty amazing the athletic ability he has as such a tall kid,” Coyotes development coach Kurtis Foster said. “He’s very competitive, he gets into battles and he wants to be a difference maker that way but it’s his feet that separate him. With most guys that size you say ‘the feet will come,’ but the feet aren’t an issue at all with him. He has great feet, great mobility, a very low center of gravity; those things that you usually worry about with a tall kid. That’s what excites everybody.” Lamoureux’s exuberance came through loud and clear at the draft when he was smiling, engaging and chatting with every reporter who stopped by the table where he was conducting his media availability after the first round had concluded. Foster said that the Coyotes don’t want to eliminate that aspect of his personality, but they do want to harness it. “With him being such a big man, the competitiveness of the game is easy for him; it follows him around,” Foster said. “A lot of it right now is learning to play on that fine line between where your size can help you and where it can hinder you because you’re in the [penalty] box too much, versus being a guy that can be depended on to play big minutes for your team. “With some of the bigger guys, the Josh Browns of the world that play harder, cross-checking is part of the game if you can do it the right way. For me, it’s how you box out. It’s how you create body position in front of the net. Being such a big guy, it’s learning, ‘Hey, you can’t extend your arms the whole way’ because if you do that, everybody in the rink can see you do it because you’re so big and you’re such a focal point. Guys are gonna go at you because you’re the biggest guy, but there’s a time that you have to kind of take it.” Foster provided an example. “I was watching him against Victoriaville,” he said. “His team scored a big goal to make it 2-1 for them near the end of the first. And then he takes a penalty, unneeded, playing a little on the edge. The other team scores to make it 2-2 and 30 seconds later, they make it 3-2 and all of a sudden his team’s coming in after one period, down one. “It’s about learning where to do that; situations. If your team’s down by two and you score a big goal with four minutes to go to get down by one, you can’t take a penalty. That is happening sometimes with him. He’s learning where to be competitive. We want you to play tough, but there’s a time and a place where you’ve got to really think about the consequences.” Given Lamoureux’s size, his age (he only turned 19 on Jan. 13) and the time missed between Covid and his injury, it’s a safe bet that he will be back in juniors next season to continue his development. That probability aside, the Coyotes are genuinely excited about the possibilities with their good cop off the ice; bad cop on the ice. “Part of it is gaining the kid’s trust and taking some time with him but it happened so quickly with him because he’s so outgoing and he wants to talk and he wants to learn and he wants information,” Foster said. “When you’re around him, he’s smiling, he’s happy, he’s chatting and he’s listening. He’s a kid that I think is so coachable because of that.”
Anson ThorntonIf you want to know why the Coyotes signed goalie Anson Thornton to a surprise, entry-level contract in October 2021 with so little on his résumé, look no further than his hands. “The ability to use your hands is a bit of an indicator to me,” Coyotes goaltending development coach Charlie McTavish said. “There’s very few guys that have a natural ability to catch and use their hands because the play is so fast and shots come so quickly. From a certain distance at a certain speed, it’s physically impossible to just simply react and catch a puck. Sometimes you just try to get hit; to get in the way as best you can, but Thornton is really strong at using his hands. “We saw it in the rookie camp. Guys were point blank in the hash marks, taking really hard shots, some one-timers and he was just catching them like he was playing catch with his buddy. He can actually identify the shot early enough to move his body, control himself and catch a puck. It looks like nothing but it’s a big deal when 90 percent of goalies actually can’t do that.” Thornton got off to a slow start this season with his new team, the Barrie Colts, who acquired him from Sarnia in the summer for three OHL draft picks. It all came together in December, however, and Thornton has largely kept it rolling since then. “He beat Ottawa, the best team in the league and he has played really, really well,” McTavish said. “For the last six weeks, I’ve been really happy with his progress.” Goaltending development is a slow process — even slower than defensemen — and there are key areas of focus for Thornton. “There are two really big things that have helped them this year,” McTavish said. “One is adjusting his depth; learning to control his depth properly in the right situations. The other is managing his stance. Those two things kind of go hand in hand with just being able to read the game, and that’s something that Schwaby (Coyotes goalie coach Corey Schwab) is next-level elite at identifying and helping guys with. “A lot of goalies are in a ready stance 100 percent of the time and they don’t really read the play and realize how much time they have. You actually move and assess a lot better from more of a relaxed position. Especially at the NHL level, you’ll notice that it looks like guys are just kind of standing there, like they’re not in a ready stance. That’s by design. If you’re tense and low and wide like Anson was all the time, it’s really hard to move. It’s actually harder to read the game that way. And it does tire you out.” McTavish elaborated on the adjustments that Thornton has made. “By adjusting his stance in terms of his width, he’s a little bit taller, he’s a little bit bigger and his hands are relaxed a little bit more,” he said. “He used to get them kind of tight up against his body but now he’s just overall a little bit more fluid. “You never want to take away his athletic ability or his natural reaction because that’s a gift. You can’t teach some of that and I’d say he’s really high in that department. It’s more about refining that width where maybe he was in a six-lane highway and we want to put him in a three-lane highway, but we still want him driving the same car.” McTavish has a lot on his plate because he is also the goaltending coach in Tucson. He communicates with Thornton, but he communicates more regularly with Barrie goalie coach Dave Belitski. That is also by design. “I find that goalies specifically tend to have a lot of voices coming at them from different places,” he said. “They might have a goalie coach they see in the summer, then they get to the team and it’s a different guy in that situation. Now there’s a development guy — and that’s just in the little goalie world. They also have their own trainers, their head coach and assistant coach and all that stuff so I’m kind of wary of not overloading them with too much info and trying to find the right avenue or a path to deliver it. I just don’t want Anson to have three goalie coaches talking to him every day. “Especially at that age, there’s so much going on — at least they perceive that there’s so much going on in their life, whether they’re in school or they’re living away from home for the first time. All these things are big to them so to have multiple people analyzing and scrutinizing your game, I don’t know, in the long run, how helpful that is so I try to keep it simple. Working with Dave has been phenomenal. We kind of create a plan and I really value his opinion. I’m still watching Anson’s games and then making visits I would say roughly every three weeks-ish. So far, so good.”
Coyotes prospect notes
After missing most of Harvard’s season with an injury, Coyotes prospect John Farinacci returned to the lineup the weekend of Jan. 13 and registered four assists in two games. Between Covid, the cancellation of an entire Ivy League season and injury, Farinacci has missed a lot of time. Unlike other schools and conferences, the Ivy League did not grant an additional year of eligibility due to Covid but Farinacci still has a year of NCAA eligibility remaining so he could transfer to another school. Those thoughts are for another day, though. Harvard coach (and Farinacci’s uncle) Ted Donato said he is simply focusing on getting his legs back under him. The Coyotes selected Farinacci in the third round (No. 6) of the 2019 NHL Draft. Their rights to him expire on Aug. 16.
Coyotes 2021 second-round pick (No. 43) Julian Lutz suffered an injury in an exhibition game leading up to the World Junior Championship. He kept it quiet and played through it, but he did not return to play for Munich EHC in the DEL after the tournament. He was expected to be back in the lineup this week. Kurtis Foster is in Munich now and will spend some time with Lutz while he is also working with prospect Maksymilian Szuber.
Since the Coyotes loaned 2018 seventh-round pick (No. 189) Liam Kirk to Jukurit of the Finnish Liiga, he has a goal and six points in nine games.
Top photo via Getty Images: Maveric Lamoureux shakes hands with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at the 2022 NHL Draft.
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