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Rookie Faceoff an opportunity for Pacific, Central teams to flex their future

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 17, 2021

Rookie tournaments have always been must-see events for NHL teams’ personnel. The league’s most famous rookie tournament in Traverse City, Michigan has featured as many as eight teams in past years, making it a destination for staff both north and south of the border.

The tournaments present an opportunity for executives, coaches and scouts to hobnob with their peers, to scout the competition, and if the opportunity presents itself, to flex their drafting muscles in front of those same peers.

“Players can make a name for themselves when they dominate a tournament like this,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “It can also let the organization know that, “Hey, we got a good one.’”

For most of their existence, the Coyotes have not participated in rookie tournaments, but once western-based teams’ facilities evolved, the path was laid for such an event. Vegas completed City National Arena and its two rinks in 2017. The Ducks opened a four-rink facility in 2019. The Kings completed the three-rink Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo in 2020 and the Ice Den Scottsdale already features three rinks.

“We’re all developing hockey markets so we built more rinks in town and that was a part of the evolution; simply having the facilities to host these tournaments,” San Jose Sharks assistant GM Joe Will said. “We went from two rinks to four and now are going to six at our facility so it’s much easier to host these tournaments.”

For the first time in their 25-year history, the Coyotes will play host to a rookie tournament when Gila River Arena and the Ice Den Scottsdale host the Rookie Faceoff on Friday, Sunday and Monday. This is the third season in which the tournament will feature the same six teams: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vegas. The Golden Knights hosted the event in 2018, and the 2019 event was held in Anaheim, while the Kings will host the 2022 event.

While the consensus is that Anehim and L.A. will boast the best teams, the event will feature a host of top talent including Arizona’s Dylan Gunether, Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras, Colorado’s Alex Newhook, L.A. ‘s Quinton Byfield, San Jose’s William Eklund and Vegas’ Peyton Krebs. 

I have talked a lot about the Coyotes’ prospects already, but I caught up with a beat writer in each of the other cities to preview each team’s top prospects in the tournament. Here are five to watch from each team, with a quick look at their skill sets or their future. 

Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras (USA TODAY Sports)

Anaheim Ducks 
(via The Athletic’s Eric Stephens)

Five prospects to watch
F Trevor Zegras 
9th overall pick, 2019
2021-21 stats: 3 goals, 13 assists in 24 games with Anaheim.
“He’s the type of player that they need. The Ducks were the worst scoring team in the NHL last year. They had an abominable power play that set a modern record for futility. As he goes through a full 82-game slate, people will see just what kind of hockey sense that he has, what kind of talent that he has as a passer, as a guy that can set teammates up, that can make teammates better. His vision is at an elite level.” 

D Jamie Drysdale
6th overall, 2020 
2020-21 stats: 3 goals, 8 points in 24 games with Anaheim.
“Before he turned 19, the Ducks were already playing him 19-20 minutes a night on their back end. That’s how highly they think of him. Dallas Eakins wasn’t necessarily shielding him late in the year. He was playing minutes in just about every single situation, defending against the opposition’s top forward groupings.”

F Mason McTavish
3rd overall, 2021
2020-21 stats: 9 goals, 11 points in 13 games with Olten (Switzerland)
“He already has the size to be able to compete right away against fellow NHL players. He’s 6-1, he’s already 200 pounds and this is 200 pounds of muscle. He’s drawn some comparisons to Vancouver’s Bo Horvat. He’s got the kind of NHL caliber shot that will allow him to be a finisher at the highest level.”

D Olen Zellweger
34th overall, 2021
2021-21 stats: 2 goals, 13 points in 11 games with Everett (WHL)
“He really rose in terms of his draft status. Even though he’s on the small side, he represents what the modern day NHL defenseman is, which is someone that can not only skate like the wind, but in Olen’s case, he can turn on a dime. He’s got excellent edge work, which will allow him to be able to evade checkers and turn from defense to offense. He’s got an excellent transition game.”

F Sasha Pastujov
66th overall, 2021
2021-22 stats: Led USNTDP team with 30 goals and 65 points in 41 games.
“He’s more of a project at this stage. He’s going to have to work on his skating. That’s a real question mark at this stage, and he’s actually going to go play in the OHL for the Guelph Storm, and work with (skating coach) Barb Underhill in that regard. But the offensive ability is there. Once he gets inside the blue line, this kid knows what he’s doing.”

Ducks’ Rookie Faceoff roster

Stephens’ overview: “I would almost argue that for a prospect tournament, it might be a little bit more interesting to focus on McTavish and Zellweger and Pastujov. With Zegras and Drysdale, we sort of already kind of know what they’re going to do in this setting. They’ve played NHL games. They were tested against some of the best players in the league last year when they got their call-up and both played 24 games. You would expect that they would be two of the best players in this tournament. I saw two players that weren’t overwhelmed by the environments that they were playing in.”

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram. (USA TODAY Sports)

Colorado Avalanche
(via DNVR Sports’ A.J. Haefele)

Five prospects to watch
D Bowen Byram
4th overall, 2019
2020-21 stats: 0 goals, 2 points in 19 games with Colorado
“He was the opposite of what we all expected. We all thought he was going to come in and he was going to be really dynamic offensively and it was going to be the defensive details that needed work. He kind of disappeared offensively and looked like he was lacking in confidence, but he was fantastic defensively, and for a 19-year-old to be that good defensively in the NHL, I think it’s troublesome for everybody else. If he gets his offense to catch up to where it’s always been, they have another top pair guy that they can just drop in next to Cale Makar.”

F Alex Newhook
16th overall, 2019
2020-21 stats: 7 goals, 16 points in 12 games with Boston College; 5 goals, 9 points in 8 games with Colorado (AHL).
“He’s ready. We saw him kind of carve out a small role in the postseason last year, and that was a deep team, yet he still looked like he belonged. So I think he’s going to get an opportunity to play in Colorado’s top six this year. He’s listed at 5-10, 190, but he’s not easy to knock off the puck. He’s very good on his skates. He’s lightning quick. He’s got good acceleration and he’s got a really good shot and he’s a good playmaker. He just does everything well.”

D Justin Barron
25th overall, 2020
2020-21 stats: 8 goals 31 points in 33 games with Halifax (QMJHL); 1 goal, 4 points in 7 games with Colorado (AHL)
“I’ve always kind of referred to him as Erik Johnson light. He’s 6-3, he’s a great skater and he’s a really, really efficient puck mover. The big question his draft year was he had blood clotting problems and that was the main reason why he slipped as far as he did in the draft. Otherwise, he was widely considered a top-10 or top-15 prospect. He had surgery right before he got drafted. They did the medical recheck, he came back clean, which was a concern because blood clotting in Denver especially is a really dangerous problem.”

F Oskar Olausson
28th overall, 2021
2020-21 stats: 20 goals, 37 points in 43 games with three Swedish teams.
“He’s a really good skater, he has a really good shot. He’s rail thin and needs to fill out and is gonna play in the OHL this year. I’m not as big a fan.”

F Shane Bowers
28th overall, 2017
2020-21 stats: 7 goals, 9 points in 28 games with Colorado (AHL)
“Bowers was drafted in 2017 in the first round by Ottawa and then traded in the Matt Duchene deal. He’s the only first-round pick from the 2017 first round who hasn’t played a single NHL game. It’s been slow with the Eagles, but he’s trending upward. He’s filled out quite a bit. He looks like a giant today and he’s a really good skater. It’s just, can he get enough offense to make the NHL because he’s just a role player. They want him to be the third-line center in the future.”

Avalanche Rookie Faceoff roster

Haefele’s overview: “This is the last wave of Avalanche prospects from their rebuilding phase. As the pipeline dries up in coming years thanks to a multitude of futures-based trades already made, it magnifies the importance of the organization’s ability to turn Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook, among others, into meaningful impact NHL players. The NHL roster is already getting expensive and the checks and balances of the NHL salary cap system means this particular wave of players has to help elevate Colorado to the championship status they so desire.”

Los Angeles Kings center Quinton Byfield. (USA TODAY Sports)

Los Angeles Kings
(via The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman)

Five prospects to watch
F Rasmus Kupari
20th overall, 2018
2020-21 stats: 8 goals, 23 points in 32 games with Ontario (AHL).
“He’s basically making up for lost time. He lost more than a year because of ACL surgery. He injured himself at the 2020 World Junior Championship. He’s a ​​defensively responsible, good all-around player. He just needs to get games in.”

F Alex Turcotte
5th overall, 2019
2020-21 stats: 6 goals, 21 points in 32 games with Ontario.
“He’s another player who has really been bedeviled by injuries and illness. Every time he really starts to come and improve, he gets hurt. He has a good engine and is a good playmaker. I think because of the depth the Kings have at center, he’s going to have to probably move to the wing eventually, but he’s somebody worth really keeping a close eye on. This is a pivotal training camp for him.”

C Quinton Byfield
2nd overall, 2020
2020-21 stats: 8 goals, 20 points in 32 games for Ontario.
“He’s big and strong, and just has all of the assets. It’s just a matter of time and putting it together and kind of growing into that big body of his. He’s one of those players that can go back to the AHL because he played more than 20 games there and is one of the exemption guys.

D Brandt Clarke
8th overall, 2021
2020-21 stats: 5 goals, 15 points in 26 games with HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
“I’m really curious to see him. This is his first little taste here. He’s a good puck moving defenseman but I haven’t seen him play yet.”

F Arthur Kaliyev
33rd overall, 2019
2020-21 stats: 14 goals, 31 points in 40 games with Ontario.
“He’s like the man of mystery. He’s a great shooter and he’s going to get his goals. It’s just a matter of can they live with his defensive deficiencies? He is certainly a player to watch. Has he matured?” 

Kings’ Rookie Faceoff roster

Dillman’s overview: “I think the Kings are in the second stage of the rebuild now. They’ve gone through the first stage, which would be to tear it down, make the trades, compile the assets. Now they’ve got the assets and they’re not just imagination; these are real flesh-and-blood players. So now they are in the very important development part of the program. The key will be how fast these players can develop.”

San Jose Sharks defenseman Ryan Merkley (USA TODAY Sports)

San Jose Sharks 
(via The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz)

Five prospects to watch
F William Eklund
7th overall, 2021
2020-21 stats: 11 goals, 23 points, 40 games with Djurgarden (Sweden)
“He became their top prospect the moment he was drafted. They’re going to try to do the same thing with him that they did with Tomáš Hertl: break him in at the NHL level on the wing, and then as he gets older, hopefully move him to the middle. People often mention his edge work and his ability to create space for himself. He’s just a high-end offensive talent.”

D Ryan Merkley
21st overall, 2018
2020-21 stats: 1 goals, 11 points in 31 games with San Jose (AHL)
“The clock’s ticking on him because he’s a guy that is supposed to be a high-end offensive talent, an offensive, play-making defenseman. I think his development has stalled a little bit so there’s probably some concern as to whether he’s still worthy of being a high-end prospect. He’s struggling defensively and I think he’s just too small. He’s a fantastic playmaker with good vision and hands but I think with him, there’s also sometimes a little question of effort.”

C Jasper Weatherby 
102nd overall, 2018 
2020-21 stats: 14 goals, 24 points in 29 games with North Dakota (NCAA)
“He’s got a chance to make the NHL roster. He’s big, he’s a center and I know they are going to put him between Eklund and Wiesblatt in this tournament. I think they’re looking at him as a guy that can potentially come up and be their fourth-line center.” 

F Ozzy Wiesblatt
31st overall, 2020
2020-21 stats: 7 goals, 28 points, 23 games with Prince Albert (WHL)
“He’s a cerebral player. I know they were happy with the way he played last year in juniors. He’s the guy they got in the Barclay Goodrow trade with Tampa. They got a first-round pick out of it.”

C Scott Reedy
102nd overall, 2017
2020-21 stats: 11 goals, 28 points in 28 games with Minnesota (NCAA) 
“Reedy’s the other guy who’s got a chance to make the NHL roster. He’s competing with Weatherby. He and Weatherby are the oldest guys on the roster.”

Sharks’ Rookie Faceoff Roster

Vegas Golden Knights forward Peyton Krebs. (USA TODAY Sports)

Vegas Golden Knights
(via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger)

Five prospects to watch
F Peyton Krebs
17th overall, 2019
2020-21 stats: 13 goals, 43 points in 24 games with Winnipeg (WHL)
“He’s number one, two, three, four and five — he is by far the biggest star that will be lining up for them. He’s the only one that has a real chance at making the Golden Knights lineup. They thought he was going to be an option in the playoffs but then in his fourth game, he took a shot off his jaw and fractured it. He applies so much pressure on the puck and he’s got the skating to do it.”

F Jack Dugan
142nd overall, 2017
2020-21 stats: 10 goals, 33 points in 37 games for Henderson (AHL).
“He was a Hobey Baker finalist in 2020 at Providence after he led the entire NCAA in scoring. And then last year, he made his pro debut and he was the second leading rookie scorer in the AHL. He’s a big power forward but he doesn’t play all that physical. He’s a set-up guy. He’s projecting to be an NHL guy eventually. I don’t think they have room for him right now.”

F Pavel Dorofeyev
79th overall, 2019
2021-21 stats: 9 goals, 13 points in 24 games for Henderson.
“Most of the Golden Knights forwards are just kind of solid, two-way forwards. They’re not real super high-end skill dangling guys. But Dorofeyev is a dangler. He’s a flashy player so I’m sure he’ll be one of the guys that people notice on the ice in this tournament. He has subtle moves in transition to create space for himself. I don’t know if he’ll make it because I don’t know if he’s got the size and strength to make it in the NHL, but if he does, his skills are fun to watch.”

D Kaedan Korczak
41st overall, 2019
2021-21 stats: 3 goals, 8 points in 15 games with Kelowna (WHL)
“He’s their top defensive prospect. He’s not a flashy guy. He’s just kind of a solid, stay-at-home defenseman who is definitely going to be an NHL player but will probably never be a star.”

C Zach Dean
30th overall, 2021
2020-21 stats: 10 goals, 20 points in 23 games for Gatineau (QMJHL)
“He’s a well-rounded forward who skates extremely well and brings both energy and scoring to the lineup. He had lower production than you’d expect from a first-round pick, but scouts believe his offensive upside is much higher than that stat line suggests.”

Golden Knights’ Rookie Faceoff roster

The Coyotes’ Liam Kirk in his orange, ad-filled Sheffield Steelers uniform. (Photo courtesy of Dean Woolley)

As for the Coyotes, here is their Rookie Faceoff roster. The headliners are forwards Dylan Guenther, Liam Kirk and Matias Maccelli, but I’m also going to be keeping an eye on forwards Manix Landry, Ben McCartney, defensemen Vladislav Provolnev, Janis Moser, Vladislav Kolyachonok and goalies Karel Vejmelka and David Tendeck.

Below is the schedule of games for the Rookie Faceoff. Tickets are available for each game at Gila River Arena for only $10. For fans who can’t be in attendance, each game will be streamed live on the participating team’s website.

The Ice Den Scottsdale recently announced that due to the size of the venue, staff capacity and the NHL’s COVID protocols, the venue would not be selling individual game tickets. A limited number of tournament passes (200), good for all games at Ice Den Scottsdale, went on sale on Sept. 13. Per the Ice Den, there were 28 passes remaining as of Thursday night.

3 p.m. — Los Angeles at Colorado (Ice Den)
5 p.m. — San Jose at Anaheim (Ice Den)
7:30 p.m. — Vegas at Arizona (Gila River Arena)

2 p.m. —  Vegas at San Jose (Ice Den)
4 p.m. —  Colorado at Anaheim (Ice Den)
6:30 p.m. —  Los Angeles at Arizona (Gila River Arena)

9 a.m. — San Jose at Colorado (Ice Den)
11 a.m. —  Los Angeles at Vegas (Ice Den)
Noon —  Anaheim at Arizona (Gila River Arena)

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