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Six takeaways from the Rookie Faceoff

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 21, 2021

If you’ve come to this space hoping to hear which Coyotes made a clear case at the Rookie Faceoff for future NHL roster spots, you’ve come to the wrong place. 

As hard as it is for fans to hear, the Rookie Faceoff is not an event from which much can be gleaned. Most of the players have only just been introduced to the team’s systems, so the on-ice product is sloppy. Many of the players do not know each other so there is little to no chemistry, and no matter how good somebody looks in a rookie game, it is not a measure of how they will look in an NHL game against NHL-caliber competition.

Rookie camp and this tournament were more about getting to know players, getting to know their games and establishing the Coyotes’ culture and expectations. 

“I just think it was a good time as an organization to meet our younger players and start to develop the habits that we want to have in playing the game,” said Tucson Roadrunners coach Jay Varady, who was one of the coaches behind the Coyotes’ bench for this event. “Right now as an organization, we’ll meet, we’ll kind of digest what’s happened over the last little bit since we’ve come together with development camp.

“The main camp is set. (Now) they start to look at rosters, how many players are needed, and we’ll fill those spots with the players that performed here over the last little bit.”

As I noted above, there isn’t a lot to take away from the Rookie Faceoff, in which the Coyotes went 1-2 with back-to-back one-goal losses, but I found six takeaways.

Which player helped his case most?

Forward Ben McCartney: The Coyotes already knew that their 2020 seventh-round pick (No. 204) was exceeding projections. He signed a three-year, entry-level deal in May after leading the Brandon Wheat Kings and finishing second in the WHL in scoring with 13 goals and 37 points in 24 games of a COVID-shortened season.

In the Rookie Faceoff, McCartney had three goals, an assist and a perfect screen on a Dylan Guenther goal in the opener against Vegas. He drew penalties, he threw hits, he won board battles, he hustled all over the ice and he turned in one of the Coyotes’ two highlight goals in the tournament on Monday.

“I like bringing energy and bringing some checks and being hard on the forecheck,” McCartney said. “I think I’ve found what I’m strong at and I’ve just got to keep on pushing myself in that aspect.”

Which players stood out?

Forwards Matias Maccelli (pictured in his Tampereen Ilves uniform at the top of this story) and Dylan Guenther: Maccelli looked quick and skilled, and he held his own along the walls and in battles. He had two goals and an assist in the three games and showed good passing skills as a set-up man.

Guenther still needs plenty of work in other aspects of his game, but the hype surrounding his shot is deserved. He has an NHL-caliber shot and he finds holes in which to score. Guenther led the Coyotes with four goals in the three games, including this memorable one against Vegas. 

Which established prospects showed promise?

Ty Emberson (2018, third round) and Cam Crotty (2017, third round): Both are right-handed, stay-at-home defensemen who could contribute down the road in the Nos. 4-7 slots in the lineup. Both got their feet wet in the pro game in Tucson last season. Crotty played 32 games in the AHL; Emberson played five.

Emberson showed off a physical side against the Kings on Sunday and both have sound structure to their games; a product of their NCAA training at Wisconsin and Boston University, respectively. 

“I’m just trying to build my game, fall into my role and continue to improve,” Crotty said. “For me, it’s growing into my shutdown game, being a safe player out there. I’m looking to keep pushing myself and hopefully make the jump as soon as I can.”

Which newbies intrigued?

Defensemen Vladislav Provolnev, Vladislav Kolyachonok and Janis Moser: All need work on their games, but all showed flashes in the tournament. Kolyachonok and Moser showed good mobility and some offensive upside, but also the need for more attention to details in the defensive zone. Provolnev threw some hits and showed off a big shot. 

“He’s going to have to make some adjustments in general for the North American level to play at that speed in a smaller rank where it’s a little bit quicker and it’s a little bit more physical,” GM Bill Armstrong said of Provolnev. “But when we went out there and scouted him (in the KHL), our guys felt like this guy’s gonna have a chance to play in the National Hockey League. You can see some of his physical play. He can really step up so we tried to put him in a good situation where he’s getting some games underneath his belt before he’s actually going into camp.”

Which rookie camp invitees made an impression?

Varady singled out center Reece Vitelli, a late addition to the camp who played last season with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. He also mentioned forward Austen Keating, who played for coach André Tourigny with the Ottawa 67’s, and defenseman Noah Laaouan, who last played with the Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL).

Goalie Anson Thornton (Sarnia Sting, OHL), who recently turned 18, played in two of the three games.

Why didn’t the Tucson kids play?

I asked GM Bill Armstrong why key prospects Barrett Hayton, Victor Söderström, Jan Jeník and Ivan Prosvetov did not play in the Rookie Faceoff. Other teams such as Anaheim (Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale), Colorado (Alex Newhook, Bowen Byram) and Los Angeles (Quinton Byfield) brought players who had already made the leap to the NHL. As the host, the Coyotes had the chance to show off some of their Tucson talent.

“We wanted to see if we could fill some of those spots with tryouts,” Armstrong said. “We felt like all the leagues hadn’t been seen well enough and if we could tap into some outside free agents it might help us move further, because let’s face it, we’re trying to accumulate players here. 

“We already know what those guys you mentioned can do and I think the other thing about it is that the guys that we left out have played NHL games. That’s kind of the message we want to send to our guys: If you’re playing in the National Hockey League, you shouldn’t be on a rookie-camp roster. Other organizations like Anaheim have their own purpose and they’ve obviously drafted well and they’re farther ahead than we are in our process. Again, we’re just trying to accumulate as many players as we can. Even if you don’t sign them, you learn something about them and maybe down the road, you form a relationship again.”

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