For those rookies in the Phoenix Coyotes training camp searching for a roster spot, there appears to be a significant traffic jam.
Plus, early words from coach Dave Tippett are not very encouraging. Conversely, the quality of talent and determination may make roster decisions difficult.
At first glance, the Coyotes' 23-man roster appears to be set. With few or no openings, those rookies battling for both attention and a precious roster spot could be few.
At the top of the list, first-round pick Max Domi, who's drawn praise so far in camp and could be returned to his London OHL junior team for the upcoming season.
Earlier in camp, the Coyotes returned second-round pick forward Laurent Dauphin along with forward Pavel Laplante, goalie Brendan Burke and defenseman Justin Hache to their junior teams.
Perhaps the initial reaction of Tippett to play of the entire squad in the early days of camp was telling.
“I like the way the veterans came here and like their leadership,” he said. “They came in here very positive and with the desire to establish an identify.”
That may not bode well for defenseman Connor Murphy and forwards like Lucas Lessio, Henrik Samuelsson, Brandon McMillan, Jordan Szwarz, Mark Louis, Chris Brown and Andy Miele.
“Any decision is out of my hands, so I just want to improve everyday,” said the 20-year-old Murphy, who is trying to make the leap from Sarnia in the OHL to the NHL. “If a spot opens up here great, but I want to play my best. What ever happens, happens.”
Murphy turned in a strong preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings Sunday night and displayed a strong vision of the rink. A right-handed shot, he has four right-handers in Derek Morris, Michael Stone, David Rundblad and Zbynek Michalek ahead of him in the depth chart.
If Murphy faces a traffic jam at the blue line, Brown, Miele, Domi and Lessio encounter similar roadblocks up front.
Of the four, Lessio may be at the greatest disadvantage.
The 20-year-old out of Maple, Ontario sustained an injured right foot in the opening days of rookie camp and resorted to using a walking boot. Discounting that he was behind others in camp, Lessio skated in the opening preseason game against the Kings and reported no discomfort.
“My goal is get better every time out, and I can’t worry about things like injuries,” he said. “I’ll do whatever they ask and whatever it takes to help this team.”
At 6'1", 215 pounds, Lessio plays larger than he looks. A strong, fluid skater, he seems to be at the right place at the right time. Tippett calls him “a prospect,” but as left-handed shot, he will have to beat out third- and fourth-line wingers Paul Bissonnette, Rob Klinkhammer and possibly Domi to gain attention.
In defeating the Kings 4-2 in a split-squad game Sunday night, Tippett praised the rookies and indicated that “they responded well.”
McMillan, who scored eight goals last season for AHL Norfolk, and Szwarz, who popped in 11 for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliation Portland, caught Tippett’s attention. As penalty killers, both were effective against the Kings. As a team, the Coyotes shut out the L.A. power play with an 0-for-4 effort.
For his effort, Szwarz chipped in with a short-handed goal and Tippett offered, “Sometimes role players, like these guys, are just as important as those with more attention.”
If there is a process of separation, Tippett said it is not an “X” and “O” blackboard approach.
“Best thing to do is throw them out there and see what they can do,” he said. “I thought all the younger players responded well (Sunday night).”
After a game Monday night in Anaheim and an inter-squad game Wednesday at Jobing.com Arena to benefit fallen Arizona firefighters, Tippett will have just two weeks to pare down his squad.
While several rookies look strong, the true odds of one or more making the final roster cut appear remote.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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