After years of failed drafts and rushed players, the Arizona Coyotes recently have started to change their ways for the better; they’ve invested more time and energy into scouting draft-eligible players and have taken a more patient approach toward prospect development. This has resulted in near-immediate results for head coach Dave Tippett and his staff.
Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and Louis Domingue all made major contributions as rookies last season, and Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse and Laurent Dauphin are primed to do the same this year.
Coyotes roster: Chychrun (18 years old), Strome (19), Crouse (19), Dvorak (20), Domi (21), Duclair (21), Dauphin (21). Dang.
— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) October 11, 2016
However, as much attention as they get, it’s not just the Coyotes that have benefitted from the recent influx of young and talented players.
In Tucson, the Roadrunners are set to begin their inaugural season on Oct. 14 and will do so with a roster that has been completely revamped. Many players from last year’s Springfield Falcons squad that finished with the second-worst record in the AHL are no longer in the organization. Instead, the Roadrunners will rely on many first-year pros — highly-touted prospects such as Conor Garland, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, Kyle Wood and Adin Hill will be playing in their first full professional campaigns in Tucson this season, and veterans such as Tony DeAngelo, Henrik Samuelsson and Justin Peters will round out the final roster.
— #MeepMeep (@RoadrunnersAHL) October 13, 2016
High Skill, Small Size
While there will be many interesting storylines to follow in the Old Pueblo this season, the most intriguing of which could be the development of two-time CHL scoring champion Conor Garland. He was outstanding over the past two seasons with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, putting up 257 points over his final 129 regular season games in junior, and will undoubtedly enter his first year as a pro with a big chip on his shoulder.
— Yotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) September 29, 2016
Garland, who stands at just 5 feet 8 inches, went undrafted in 2014, and, despite leading the CHL in scoring in 2014-15, fell to the fifth round of the 2015 draft where the Coyotes selected him at No. 123 overall. Garland’s size has often been cited as a major weakness, but the youngster showed flashes of brilliance during the preseason and likely will get a chance to show what he can do in Tucson on one of the Roadrunners’ scoring lines. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on as he begins his professional career.
A Second Chance in the Desert
Like Garland, defenseman Tony DeAngelo also enters the 2016-17 season with something to prove. After being selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2014 Draft, DeAngelo lit up the OHL in 2014-15 — he scored 89 points in 55 games and was named the CHL Defenseman of the Year. He started his professional career with the Syracuse Crunch in 2015-16 and immediately excelled on the offensive end of the ice. He had 43 points in 69 games and was one of the AHL’s top rookie scorers. However, concerns about his attitude and defensive game have stuck with DeAngelo since his days in junior, and ultimately were the reason why the Lightning gave up on him just two years after selecting him.
At the draft, the Coyotes were able to acquire DeAngelo from Tampa Bay for just a second-round pick, and the trade has paid immediate dividends for general manager John Chayk. DeAngelo recorded two goals, an assist, and a plus-2 rating in five preseason games, and likely will be on the NHL roster before season’s end if he’s able to continue having a similar level of success in Tucson.
Goaltender Adin Hill has also garnered a lot of preseason attention as well. The 6-foot-4-inch Calgary native was a third-round selection of the Coyotes at last year’s draft and had an outstanding post-draft year with the Portland Winterhawks. He finished with a 32-27-6 record and ranked fifth in the WHL in save percentage among goaltenders with at least 40 starts.
He also saw limited action in the AHL last season after the Winterhawks were eliminated from playoff contention, and didn’t look out of place as a then 19-year-old rookie. After allowing six goals on 22 shots in his professional debut on April 9, Hill locked things down; he stopped 92 of the 98 shots he faced over the final three games of the season and showed that he’s ready to take on a bigger role in the organization.
Overall, the first season of Tucson Roadrunners hockey should be a very interesting one. For the first time in recent memory, the Coyotes have an abundance of high-level prospects playing in the AHL, and fans in Tucson should pay close attention, as the Roadrunners of today are very likely to be the Coyotes of tomorrow.