While the Arizona Coyotes have certainly been underachieving this season, the organization’s new AHL affiliate and some of their exciting young prospects have been shining brightly.
Expectations coming into this season were a bit high for the Arizona Coyotes.
They expected their young talent to progress, the veterans to lead the way and for Mike Smith to step back into his once awe-inspiring form.
Yet we have only seen one of those three things come to fruition so far this season; Mike Smith has been absolutely outstanding.
Beyond Mike Smith, the team hasn’t been much to be excited about, drawing the ire of fans towards head coach Dave Tippett. However, while the NHL group has been struggling, other segments of the franchise’s future have been growing at an exciting rate.
Let’s check in on the Arizona Coyotes’ two official minor league affiliates, as well as a check in on the U-20 World Juniors Tournament and Coyotes’ junior league prospects.
Tucson Roadrunners: 14-6-3-0 (1st in Pacific Division)
The Tucson Roadrunners have been more the most exciting product on the ice in the desert this season.
Standing at first in their AHL division after their game in Stockton on Wednesday night, the Roadrunners have been clutch all season, fighting their way back into games and capitalizing on overtime and shootout opportunities.
Brendan Perlini, who has been up with the Arizona Coyotes for the last few weeks, leads the team in goals and Coyotes call-up Anthony DeAngelo had 7 points in 9 games before his promotion. Rookie goaltender Adin Hill, who was recently demoted to Rapid City, touts both the most wins and lowest goals against average (GAA) on the team.
Fischer in particular has been extremely hot of late, tallying points in 7 straight games.
Kyle Wood also has at least one point in each of his past seven games (3 goals, 9 assists).
However, the most important news to come out of Tucson so far this season is the recent recovery of Roadrunner’s captain Craig Cunningham, who suffered a severe, acute cardiac event prior to a game against Manitoba.
Cunningham was rushed to a hospital, was unresponsive for over 90 minutes until he was revived by emergency medical staff. Cunny is expected to make a full recovery, however his hockey future appears to be bleak.
Rapid City Rush: 9-14-5-0 (7th in Mountain Division)
Where the Roadrunners have succeeded, the Rapid City Rush have not been as stunning.
Totaling only 9 wins so far this season, the Rush have gone 2-8 over their last ten before Wednesday night’s game against Idaho.
Over that same stretch, the Rush have potted 31 goals, but allowed a whopping 40 goals, averaging out to 4 goals allowed per game. Only 4 players have an even or positive +/- over the course of the season so far.
So far this season, the Rush have been led in scoring by forwards Ryan Walters (11-21-32), Josh MacDonald (13-13-26) and Lindsay Sparks (11-14-25). Goaltending has been split between a variety of goaltenders, but led primarily by Adam Morrison, who has a 2.14 GAA and a .936 save percentage.
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Essentially, the Coyotes and Rush are a lot alike; the team struggles because they allow too many shots on a decent goalie.
World Junior Players and Other Notable Junior Prospects:
- Dylan Strome (2015 1st): After playing only 7 games early in the season for Arizona, Strome was demoted to his OHL team (Erie) where he posted a staggering 16 points in 7 games before being selected as captain of the Canadian World Junior team where he has 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in 2 games.
- Clayton Keller (2016 1st): Keller posted 15 points in 10 games to start the season with the NCAA’s Boston University before suffering an injury that has kept him off the ice up until the World Junior tournament, where he scored two goals in only a single game so far.
- Jens Lööke (2015 3rd): Despite only posting 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 27 Swedish league games, Lööke was selected to the Swedish World Juniors squad and has registered 3 shots on goal and +1 plus/minus rating.
- Nick Merkley (2015 1st): While Merkley was among the final cuts for the Canadian World Juniors team, he still has had a relatively successful season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, posting 25 points in 28 games.
- Kyle Capobianco (2015 3rd): The 2015 mid-round pick was named captain for his OHL team (Sudbury) and has posted 22 points in 31 games as a defenseman so far this season, leading his underachieving junior team.
- Jalen Smereck (Undrafted): After a standout season in the OHL and an outstanding development camp with the Coyotes, the undrafted Smereck recently signed an ELC with Arizona and has since posted 19 points in 30 games with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds.
Overall, the Coyotes prospects and minor league teams have had their ups and downs, much like their NHL parent franchise.
Between the hot starts in World Juniors for Arizona Coyotes prospects and the clutch play in the AHL by the Roadrunners, the developmental future of the franchise looks to be improving thanks to a great few years of drafting and scouting.