Arizona Rubber

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Coyotes’ prospects prove worth to Arizona front office


The result meant little, and no one remembered the final score or who actually scored.

Yet, the value of the Arizona Coyotes’ prospect camp in early July represents a significant step in player development and direction of the team. From simulating a game experience, to sessions on financial care and nutrition, players used the knowledge as important stepping stones in development.

Though the 48 players in camp were eventually divided into the Red team and White team for a scrimmage which ended the week-long experience, the sessions on the Gila River Arena ice resonated with each individual player.

The biggest beneficiary could John Chayka, who begins his tenure as the Coyotes’ general manager with an emphasis on speed and innovation. Two players in the scrimmage game clearly accentuated that dimension. Through Clayton Keller and Conor Garland, that pair characterized a shift to swiftness and high tempo. Yet, the camp was also an opportunity to recognize future needs.

“I want to work on getting better in the defensive zone,” Keller said. “As a smaller guy, I try and use my size. Right now, I’m listening to everything, and learn as much as I can.”

Keller was the Coyotes’ top pick in the recent draft (seventh overall), and Garland was Arizona’s pick in the fifth round last year (123rd overall).

In the scrimmage, coach Dave Tippett put Keller between Garland on the right side and Michael Bunting on the left wing. Bunting, who scored 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in 57 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Ontario Hockey League) last season, showed a strong, “stay-at-home” game to complement the speed of Keller and Garland. After the regulation 60 minutes, the teams played the five-minute overtime and that, too, was designed to simulate an NHL game.

At 1:07 into the extra season, Bunting, in front of the net and the place he expects to inhabit, redirected a perfect pass from Christian Dvorak into a goal. Though the game played out the entire five minutes, Bunting’s goal was the only tally in the extra session.

“The value of the camp shows how young players need improvement on both sides of the puck,” said Dvorak. “Actually, I take away many things, and it’s nice to learn from so many good coaches.”

Of the nearly 50 players in prospect camp, chances are strong that only a few could be considered for the Coyotes’ roster. While many of those who participated in the prospect camp will be invited to rookie camp in September, most will play next season for their respective junior teams. In the end, NHL teams draft for development, and the oldest player in prospect camp was defenseman Aaron Timcomb, who is 23.

Two players expected to benefit from strong junior years last season and individual development in the prospect camp are Dylan Strome, the Coyotes’ first-round pick last year (third overall), and Dvorak, who is coming off a stellar season after leading the OHL’s London Knights to the MasterCard Memorial Cup championship. Last season, Dvorak picked up 121 points (52 goals, 69 assists) in 59 games.

“I wanted to leave an impression for them,” Strome said. “The camp was great, and the coaches covered everything. It was tough getting legs going in the first period. After that, it was easier, but rough to play this kind of game in the middle of the summer.”

For now, players repair back to their home towns for on and off-ice instructions. By the time of training camp in September, Tippett will welcome players with a strong sense of the NHL experience, and ready to hit the ice with a renewed hope and strong instruction.

Photo/Norm Hall

– Mark Brown

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