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Why Coyotes prospect Sam Lipkin went back to Quinnipiac instead of signing pro contract

Craig Morgan Avatar
April 23, 2023
Sam Lipkin and the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team have been enjoying their version of a day with the Cup. While it may not approach Alex Ovechkin levels, the Bobcats took the NCAA championship trophy on a golf outing where players were using it as a tee marker. It went to the local fire department in Hamden, Connecticut. It has even gone to classes. “It’s kind of been our little baby recently,” Lipkin said. “We’ve been bringing it everywhere.” Lipkin hasn’t had time to fully digest this monumental achievement, which came two seasons after he won the Clark Cup with the Chicago Steel as USHL champions. Quinnipiac is still in session and Lipkin has final exams approaching in early May. If that weren’t enough, Lipkin also had to make a decision about his future. After his 14-goal, 43-point freshman season (39 games), which was the 13th best point total in the NCAA Division I ranks, the Coyotes expressed interest in signing their 2021 seventh-round draft pick (No. 223) to an entry-level deal.  Lipkin said the Coyotes’ presentation was thorough and impressive. It was tempting to get his pro career started with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League, but after consultation with his family, his advisors, his friends and his coach, Rand Pecknold, Lipkin opted to return to Quinnipiac for another season. “Going into my freshman year, I didn’t think that opportunity would arise after my first season,” he said. “When it did, I was probably on the phone for half a day, every day, for over a week. There was a lot of talking with my family about my overall development and where my future is. “Going to play in the AHL was definitely was an option and I really considered it just because I really trust the organization and trust the people that surround it. I just wanted another year for my body and strength to develop. Getting bigger, faster and stronger are the keys to my development and I think I’ve got a great spot to do that at Quinnipiac.”
Coyotes prospect Sam Lipkin
From left: Sam Lipkin, Jacob Quillan and Collin Graf pose with the trophy after Quinnipiac defeated Minnesota, 3-2 in overtime, to win the Division I men’s hockey championship at Amalie Arena in Tampa. (Getty Images)

Lipkin will also have the opportunity to defend the national title. The Bobcats will lose key players off this veteran laden roster, including forward Skyler Brind’Amour, the son of Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who signed a PTO with the Charlotte Checkers, the Florida Panthers’ AHL affiliate. But Quinnipiac will also return leading scorer Collin Graf, who finished third in NCAA Division I with 59 points. They will return forward Jacob Quillan, who scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA title game off a cross-seam, backhand pass from Lipkin. And of course, they will return Lipkin, who even surprised his coach with the progress he made this season. “He committed to us when he was roughly 16 and we loved him because he had good size, a high IQ, great character and some power-play skills as more of a net-front, bumper type guy,” said Pecknold, who also coached Lipkin on Team USA at the 2023 World Junior Championship. “He just had to develop as an athlete and do some natural filling out. “I thought he was going to be one of the better freshmen in our league and I also thought we were gonna put him in a position to succeed by putting him with good players and putting him on one of the power plays, but he was even better than I thought. He had a phenomenal eight months with us. A lot of that credit goes to Quinnipiac and Sam and our strength coaches, but also, I think his World Junior experience really helped him. He attended that summer camp and we were gone for about 27 days. That really helped him with his skating and trying to play at pace; trying to push the pace.” Lipkin’s meteoric rise actually began two seasons earlier with the Steel, which may be the best development program in the USHL. Much like Josh Doan in his first season in Chicago, Lipkin didn’t play much in his first season with the Steel. He had three goals and 11 points in 30 games, but the Steel allowed him to play 19 games for the New Jersey Rockets of the National Collegiate Development Conference, where he had 12 goals and 25 points in 19 games. “You want to go where you’re gonna play,” Pecknold said. “I thought it was brilliant; really good foresight on their part. That helped him a lot and then he had a great second season with Chicago (36 goals, 71 points in 59 games).” Lipkin’s primary point of contact with the Coyotes has been director of player development Lee Stempniak, with whom he was on the phone every week while he played in Chicago. NCAA regulations do not permit the Coyotes development coaches to get on the ice with college players, but Lipkin also does video work with Nathaniel Brooks and he worked with skating coach Lars Hepso at last year’s development camp.
Coyotes prospect Sam Lipkin
The Quinnipiac Bobcats celebrate after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers to win the Division I men’s hockey championship at Amalie Arena in Tampa. (Getty Images)

While the Coyotes pursued a contract in hopes of getting their development staff more time with Lipkin, they are content with his decision. “Sam made a great, educated decision,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “He wanted to be a year away from pro hockey and use that year to get stronger, bigger and faster so that when he came in he had a better chance. I’m not going to disagree with him. “He’s going back to a great school in Quinnipiac. They do a great job and he’s going to be one of the leaders. He’s going to have a bigger role, but he’s someone that we’re extremely excited about. He reminds me a little bit of Michael Bunting in the way he plays and complements the skill, but he can make the play when it’s there.” Lipkin said he plans to arrive early for Coyotes development camp this summer. He is looking forward to another taste of pro competition, but he will arrive this year with a more focused sense of purpose and an overflowing well of confidence. “Being a late pick, you hear the doubters saying, ‘You’re never gonna make it. Seventh-rounders don’t make the NHL, but for me, I’m just focusing on my own path and really just trying to expand my game as much as I can,” he said. “I think I’m going to get rewarded for it.”

Top photo of Sam Lipkin after winning the NCAA title via Getty Images

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