Prospects News & Rumors: Appert, Phillips & Thompson

One of the newest hires in the American Hockey League (AHL) is looking forward to focusing on his duties behind the bench at the professional level. Also, a young defender zeroed in on improving his game during the 2020-21 season rather than where he might go at the draft.

Appert is Happy to be Just a Coach

Seth Appert’s coaching career has seen many twists and turns. It started in the NCAA when he became an assistant coach at the University of Denver, in 1999, after his playing career ended at Ferris State. He remained there until he was hired as the head coach of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 2006.

During his time with Denver and RPI he got to work with a handful of future NHLers including Paul Stastny and Brandon Pirri. After RPI fired him in 2017, he joined USA Hockey and became the head coach of the United States National Team Development Program. (USNTDP). There, he alternated coaching the under-17 and under-18 teams during his three seasons.

Last week, Appert’s career went down the professional path has he was hired by the Buffalo Sabres to be the new head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

He revealed that he is looking forward to focusing more on coaching than the recruitment and fundraising efforts that are needed to be done at the college and junior levels of hockey.

“My job is to coach them,” Appert said. “I’ll be a part of some level of those acquisition decisions, but those things will be more the free agents, the veterans that you sign to help the young guys learn what it takes. Most of the decision-making will be handled by the management in Buffalo, as it should be at the pro level, and my job is to develop them.”

From “Seth Appert happy to be ‘coaching hockey’ again,” Pete Dougherty – Times Union, 8/21/20

Among the prospects Appert is expected to work with in Rochester is goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Appert was a goaltender in his playing days, so he can relate to the struggles of a young netminder. Luukkonen played well in the ECHL last season but failed to make a big impact in AHL. He posted a .874 save percentage (SV%) and 3.15 goals-against average (GAA) in 10 games for the Americans.

“My focus is going to be completely on being a great coach for the Rochester Americans and developing players for the Buffalo Sabres. If I do a great job of that, the rest will take care of itself.”

The AHL is planning to start its 2020-21 season on Dec. 4 after this past season was shut down in early March due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Phillips Looking to Improve

While Quinton Byfield stole much of the spotlight with the Sudbury Wolves last season, defenseman Isaak Phillips put together quite the sophomore champaign. He added a bit more offense to his game with nine goals and 26 points during the 2019-20 season. This was a six-goals and 12-point improvement from his rookie season in five fewer games.

The offense was a nice addition to an already solid defensive game from the 6-foot-3 left-handed blueliner. Phillips is eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry draft is ranked 114th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He is hoping to make strides in all aspects of his game during the upcoming Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season.

“Going into next year I’m going to have to really show my defensive game and not lose any battles in the corner,” he recently told the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) official website. “I want to be a guy on the ice that the other team notices, where they don’t want to dump the puck in your corner. That’s what I’m really looking to show next year.”

He could be one of three Wolves drafted this October, joining Byfield and fellow defenseman Jack Thompson.

Prospect of the Day – Jack Thompson

This is the perfect time to take a look at the aforementioned Thompson. He is ranked higher than Phillips by NHL Central Scouting, coming in 60th among North American skaters. THW’s draft guru Larry Fisher ranks Thompson 32nd among defensemen and 118th overall.

Related – THW’s 2020 Draft Guide

Checking in at 6-foot-1 and 172, the right-handed blueliner had a very successful rookie OHL season, in 2018-19, with six goals, 16 points and a plus-14 rating in 52 games. His offensive numbers took a big jump last season with 13 goals and 32 points, but he fell to a minus-9. He led all draft-eligible defensemen during the 2019-20 season as his ice time increased nearly five minutes per game.

Thompson checks a lot of the boxes of today’s NHL defenseman. He is a strong skater with great mobility. He uses his speed to close gaps in the defensive zone as well as getting the puck up the ice to start the offensive rush.

Jack Thompson Sudbury Wolves
Jack Thompson of the Sudbury Wolves (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

His offensive decision making needs some help, but that will come with more experience over the next couple of seasons. Thompson’s shot can be used as a weapon in many different forms. His wrist shot is powerful and accurate and he fools goaltenders with his sneaky-quick release. His one-timer is hard and goes exactly where he wants it’s to, more time than not. This is a valuable weapon on the power play.

Our own Eddy Jones feels that he can eventually find himself on a top-four NHL pairing.

Thompson’s skill set is raw, but he has the potential to develop into a top-four defender if everything falls into place. There are facets of his game that he needs to work on, but they’re all things he can improve on over time. He’ll add strength as he develops and projects as a fourth or fifth defensemen and a potential power play asset.

Likely to be a third or fourth-round selection, Thompson could prove to be a high-value pick for whichever team drafts him. While he’s not a dynamic player, per se, he has enough of the skillset needed to be a quality NHL blueliner. He will likely have two more seasons in the OHL to further develop before turning pro.