The learning curve in the National Hockey League is relatively steep, and for that reason, few first year players find themselves on the major league roster.
Hockey executives tend to be conservative and take few chances like declaring a prospect immediately ready for the NHL. Then again, that could change if a team is in transition and somewhat desperate to extricate itself from the past.
That’s the dilemma facing the Phoenix Coyotes this offseason.
Coming off a second straight season in which the team did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Coyotes are a team trying to separate itself from the past while building for the future.
While there is clearly “dead wood” on this team, a major issue facing head coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney is how to transition to the future. Pundits argue teams do this by introducing younger players and enduring their growing pains.
As Tippett and Maloney prepare for both the upcoming NHL draft, on June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia, and the advent of free-agency, it’s worth noting that several players who ended last season with the team will not wear Sedona Red by the time training camp opens in September.
Of those on the April 13 roster when the season ended, Maloney and Tippett would be wise to clean house. That would include not finding roster spots for Martin Erat, Paul Bissonnette, Jeff Halpern, Derek Morris, Radim Vrbata and Brandon McMillan.
Plus, management could also take a hard look at the futures of Martin Hanzal, David Moss, Kyle Chipchura, Rob Klinkhammer and captain Shane Doan.
If the Coyotes are going to transition into the future, the core of the next decade could feature defensemen Brian Gormley and Connor Murphy, as well as forwards Lucas Lessio, Andy Miele, Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi.
Samulesson was one player who turned heads in recent competition.
The 20-year-old Scottsdale native will get a long look after helping to lead the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup championship this past Sunday.
Samuelsson was a driving force in the Oil Kings' race to the crown, picking up 23 points in 21 playoff games to go along with his 95 points (35 goals, 60 assists) during the regular season. But while he has the size (6'2", 211 lbs) and the speed, experience may be a factor.
“It’s all about maturing and realizing how quick he can play against men,” Maloney told Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan. “He'll make plays, but it's also about the transition game to get back into the defensive zone and the ability to have quickness in tight areas.”
Whether the Coyotes’ management is satisfied with bringing Samuelsson along slowly—allowing for a smooth ascension to the NHL level—is a question for Maloney to answer. Then again, here’s a team that disappointed fans and new ownership by compromising an encouraging start to lay waste at season’s end.
If Samuelsson is to be given serious consideration in training camp, the same can be said for Domi.
Both Samuelsson and Domi are former No. 1 draft picks by the Coyotes and, by all means, appear to have a bright and important future in the NHL.
Domi is coming off a 93 point season for the London Knights (34 goals, 59 assists) and was one of the last cuts in last season’s training camp. After playing against him during the recent OHL postseason, Domi said he’s looking forward to skating with Samuelsson—his roommate from last fall’s camp.
“(Samuelsson) was the best player in the tournament by far,” Domi told Dave Vest, of PhoenixCoyotes.com. “He’s a pretty special guy and has an awesome personality off the ice, and he works hard every shift. He’s the kind of guy you really want on your team. I look forward to hopefully playing with him one day down the road.”
Domi and Samuelsson get their chance to open eyes during training camp in September.
In the meantime, Tippett, Maloney and the rest of team management appear at a crossroads. The issue on the table is whether going with younger players, bearing their growing pains and planning immediately for the future is the correct path for the franchise.
Otherwise, it could be business as usual for a franchise that appears stagnant and stationary.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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