Which Phoenix Coyotes Rookies Will Turn Heads at Training Camp?
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If the Phoenix Coyotes accomplished one task in the offseason, it was signing veteran talent.
With re-signing goalie Mike Smith, forwards Kyle Chipchura and Lauri Korpikoski and inking free agents Mike Ribeiro and Brandon Yip, the Coyotes made a conscience effort to secure their net and address an anemic offense.
With veterans now an integral part of a revamped attack, the Coyotes may have little room from new blood.
While coach Dave Tippett usually goes with a veteran corps and would prefer young talent to develop at the minor league level, there could be a few openings.
Coming into training camp Sept. 11, Tippett needs to fill at least two left wingers. There’s a vacancy for a player to skate with Ribeiro at center and captain Shane Doan on the right and another left-handed shot is needed with Martin Hanzal at center and Radim Vrbata on the right side.
Here, a few rookies will likely get some attention.
For one, Tippett likes Chris Brown. At 6'2", 215 pounds, Brown is a banger along the boards and is opportunistic with the puck. The issue may be that he’s a right-handed shot, and Tippett may be hesitant to use Brown in that situation.
Perhaps a better fit may be 20-year-old Lucas Lessio. With the Oshawa Generals last season, the Maple, Ontario native scored 19 goals and assisted on 15 others for 34 points. He also appeared in five games for the Portland Pirates of the AHL—the Coyotes' top minor league affiliate.
On defense, the Coyotes appear set.
With two possible Olympians, Keith Yandle for the United States and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for Sweden, the blue line is perhaps the Coyotes' strongest position. Yet, one player caught Tippett's eye during rookie camp in July.
“I like Gormley,” he said. “In training camp, we’ll take a long, hard look at him.”
Tippett’s reference is to defenseman Brandon Gormley, the Coyotes' first pick, 13th overall in the 2010 draft.
Gormley is coming off a solid season at AHL Portland. In 68 games, he scored five goals, assisted on 24 others and picked up 44 penalty minutes. Most encouraging, he was a minus seven, and at 6'2", 190 pounds, he lends a physical presence to the blue line.
Of the rookies who may have a chance, one to watch could be goalie Mark Visentin.
When backup Jason LaBarbera signed with Edmonton in the offseason, the Coyotes picked up veteran Thomas Greiss as Smith’s backup. Greiss appeared in only five games last season with the San Jose Sharks, and his resume includes only 44 NHL games and a lifetime 2.52 goals against.
It’s likely Visentin will start the season in Portland, but if Greiss gets injured or falls from grace, Visentin could wind up in Sedona Red.
At 6'2", 201 pounds, Visentin covers space in the crease and allows little room for shooters.
Last season in Portland, Visentin, then 20 years old, appeared in 30 games and posted a 2.98 goals against. During the previous season with the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL, he turned in 10 shutouts in 42 starts and had a 1.95 goals against average.
Given Tippett’s penchant for player development at the minor league level, most rookies will not get much attention.
Then again, need could dictate want.
Based on need, players like Lessio and the 2013 first-round pick Max Domi could turn heads. Their future will lay with Tippett’s patience level and whether minor league development translates into growth and eventual NHL attention.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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