Conor Garland: The Arizona Coyotes’ Forgotten Gem

It’s no secret that the Arizona Coyotes are loaded with elite young talent, with a number of which poised to be significant long-term contributors at the NHL level.

Up front, the ‘Yotes house the likes of Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Lawson Crouse, and Brendan Perlini, just to name a few. Further, on defense, 2016 16th overall selection Jakob Chychrun highlights a budding defense core which features Kyle Wood and recently the recently acquired Anthony DeAngelo. As such, it goes without saying that the future is now in Arizona, as the team appears destined to enjoy its greatest level of success since reaching the Western Conference Finals a mere five years ago.

Yet, seemingly lost in the massive number of excellent prospects the Coyotes possess is the presence of Conor Garland, a fifth round pick, 123rd overall by Arizona in the 2015 NHL Draft. The skilled winger has led the Quebec Major Junior League in scoring in each of the past two seasons, so why is it that he is relatively unheard of in the world of NHL prospects?

Under-Sized, Under-Rated

A long-time offensive dynamo with the Moncton Wildcats, Garland recorded 328 points over his stellar 206 game CHL career, a production which works out to an incredible 1.59 points per game. In his last two seasons, in particular, Garland’s production was unrivaled in the League, as he scored 129 points in the 2014-15 season followed by another 128 in 2015-16. In each of these two campaigns, Garland’s lead in the scoring race was greater than 20, indicating his truly elite level of production.

In the process of dominating the QMJHL, Garland also garnered his fair share of hardware. A two-time member of the First All-Star team, Garland captured two Jean Beliveau Trophies as the League’s leading scorer, as well as the Michel Briere Trophy in 2014-15 as the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player.

In reality, Garland’s achievements speak for themselves and are a clear indication of the winger’s incredible skills and abilities. So, why does he fly under the radar? With such an immense offensive output, how has Garland’s name not come to be mentioned alongside the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, for example?

Well, it all comes down to a long-time detractor when assessing NHL prospects. A lack of size.

Checking in at just 5’10”, 165 pounds, Garland has fallen victim to the perception that a lack of size has an immediate impact on the abilities of a given player on the ice. Well, as we have seen, especially in the modern day NHL, size, or a lack thereof, has become a lesser issue at hockey’s highest level. In fact, some of the League’s best players are short in stature, namely Brad Marchand, Brendan Gallagher, Jaden Schwartz and Torey Krug.

Yet, perhaps what is most important of all is that, like those mentioned above, Garland has quite clearly overcome his apparent lack of size and is a quality offensive threat on the ice, a quality which makes him an excellent prospect for the Coyotes.

Future Growth

With no pun intended, let’s take a look at Garland’s projected future growth.

Having played in his final season in the QMJHL in 2015-16, Garland will be moving on to the pro ranks to begin the 2016-17 season, and will likely begin the year with the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Tuscon Roadrunners.

Provided the coming 2016-17 season will be one focused on the development of Arizona’s young players, Garland will likely spend the entirety of the campaign in the AHL, or depending on his level of success, in the ECHL with the Coyotes’ affiliate, the Rapid City Rush.

There is truly no rush for Garland to reach the NHL level, and as such, his first focus must be proving he can adapt his highly skilled CHL game to the professional level. Quite obviously, the professional game is much different than junior, as players retain much more experience and strength.

As a rookie in the AHL, if Garland, who is primarily a playmaker, can score roughly 10 goals and 3o points, it will have been an extremely successful season for the young winger. At this rate of growth, Garland could be on pace to score nearly a point per game the in following season of 2017-18. If he can do so, Garland would more than likely see time with the Coyotes to begin the 2018-19, if not sooner.

Projected to be a top-six winger in the NHL, Garland has long shown he has the immense skill and ability necessary to not only play in but also succeed at hockey’s highest level. Of course, Garland will have to develop his game over time if he wishes to do so, but the fact remains that despite flying under the radar since he was drafted in 2015, Garland is, in fact, one of Arizona’s best and most promising young prospects.