Welcome back to round two of The Eh Sports NHL Futures Watch series featuring everyone's least favorite team from the desert, the Arizona Coyotes. I mean that with no disrespect but c'mon, with all the flash and pizzaz of the Golden Knights, it's understandable why this gritty squad takes a backseat to their Nevada counterparts.
With that said Arizona has always been an intriguing team for as long as I've dedicated real-world time and effort into my hockey fandom. Maybe their perpetually rebuilding front office reminds me a bit of my beloved Sabres, or maybe it's just those stylish kachina alternates that get me going.
Regardless, this series isn't about my opinions on their threads, this is about prospects; and although they may not all be household names on this list, be sure to keep your eyes out for some future Arizona staples for years to come.
1. Barrett Hayton, C, 19
By far the most exciting Arizona prospect, Barrett Hayton is a Southern Ontario native who is poised to take the next step into the Pro level after a stellar Major Junior career with the Soo Greyhounds.
Although Hayton may not have any elite skills that allow him to stand out from the opposition like some of his peers, his ability to be above average in almost any aspect of the game at such a young age is extremely promising for the Coyotes youngster.
Taken fifth overall in the 2018 NHL draft, Hayton’s expectations may exceed his ability to some casual fans. However what he lacks in flashy offensive plays, he makes up for everywhere else on the ice. It will be hard not to notice Barrett whenever he finds himself in the Coyotes lineup this season.
Career Thus Far
The only career I feel worthy of discussing for Barrett Hayton is his time spent with the Soo Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League. He began his Major Junior career back in 2016, managed to complete a full season, and had a significant impact in his rookie year. Hayton finished the year with 63 games played, nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points. It was at this point a teenage Hayton would elevate his game to a point where scouts began to talk about his stock for the upcoming 2018 draft.
In his draft year, Hayton again completed the full 63 game season, however his point totals skyrocketed to 21 goals and 39 assists for 60 points. These totals were nothing to scoff at and the Arizona Coyotes made a slight gamble on taking Hayton with their fifth overall pick. This would prove to be profitable as soon as the following season.
Hayton exploded after returning to the Greyhounds last season. He was being used in every role possible for his junior squad, and captained a Greyhounds team that included top prospects like Morgan Frost and Taylor Raddysh. He demonstrated to the Coyotes that they are getting much more than what's seen on the ice.
That’s not to discount what happened on the ice for Hayton despite his injury-filled season. In just 39 games played Hayton still hit the scoresheet 66 times with 26 goals and 40 assists. He was able to keep the train on the tracks and led his Greyhounds in playoffs with 16 points in 11 games. This strong season in the OHL was crucial for Hayton's development preparing him to make the next jump in his career.
This jump would take place at the beginning of the 2019 NHL regular season where Hayton successfully made the team out of training camp. Despite only getting into 3 of the teams first ten games, Barrett Hayton has since played nine games and recorded one goal and 3 assists. It will be intriguing to see if he remains with the big club throughout the entirety of this season.
As mentioned in his introduction, scouts have been praising Hayton's 200-ft game since his draft year, and that has not changed since. The reality is that Hayton is considered above average in all aspects of the game. His offensive abilities allow him to play alongside talented forwards whilst providing strong defense to whatever line he is placed with. He is a strong skater and uses his body extremely well to protect the puck.
Don't expect him to make all the highlight reels like some other youngsters breaking into the league this year, but don't be surprised if he is the most likely Selke candidate for the coyotes in his rookie season. He can play a multitude of roles including both the powerplay and penalty kill as he demonstrated throughout his junior career.
Some may hate comparisons to current players but I like to use it as a baseline so that fans can look to something in the present to get an idea of how a player may look in their future. Hayton has been compared on multiple occasions to current Bruins centerman Patrice Bergeron. These comparisons are lofty, but only time will tell if they are valid.
Since Hayton has made the Coyotes out of camp, I think it is safe to say at the moment Barrett should be ready to take a depth role on the Coyotes as early as this season. Due to his responsibility in all areas of the ice, this prospect shouldn't need first-line minutes with the team's top players to impact the game positively.
It’s difficult to say if Hayton will remain with the team for the entirety of the season, but I also don't think it would be detrimental to his development. I truly see Hayton as fitting a crucial depth defensive/scoring role within the Arizona Coyotes locker room for the next few years, eventually stepping in to be a strong 2nd Line or 1B center role for the Desert Dogs.
2. Victor Soderstrom, D, 18
Surprisingly, only the second Super Swede mentioned since the beginning of this series, Victor Soderstrom is Arizona's most recent 1st round selection in 2019 coming out of Brynas IF of the Swedish Hockey League. Described as your typical new-age NHL defender, Soderstrom was an excellent selection by the Coyotes, who were likely surprised he was still sitting on the board. Soderstrom's time spent in the Swedish Elite League should allow for a quicker and easier transition into becoming a full-time NHL point man.
Career Thus Far
Similar to Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim ducks system, the reality is that this season will be Soderstrom's draft +1 year and therefore there isn't much on the record for his performance amongst his Swedish peers at the elite level. With this being said Soderstrom has a lengthy career with Brynas IF dating back to 2015 when he was a part of their U16 program.
Early in his time with Brynas, Soderstrom displayed his adept offensive abilities, throwing up a point per game pace in that 2015 year. Rightfully so, Brynas began focusing Soderstrom's development on rounding out his game to both ends of the ice. The result? An uber-competitive two-way defender any team would be thankful to have.
In his draft year, Soderstrom might not have had the highest point totals (44 games played, four goals, three assists), however he did so as a 17 year old playing amongst men in a highly defensive-minded Swedish Elite League. This season Soderstrom has been sent back to Brynas IF to continue to develop and so far he has come close to matching his career totals in the SHL, scoring one goal and three assists in 10 games. If he can continue this pace he is in for a great season over in Sweden.
Victor is a general manager's dream frankly. A reliable D-man who isn't shy from making magic in the offensive zone, whilst at the same time having the wherewithal to be more than competent in his own zone. Soderstrom is strong on his skates allowing him to maneuver the ice with ease, getting up into the rush or retreating in a timely fashion to help in the defensive zone.
Soderstrom also has a strong slapshot from the point, opening up great offensive opportunities for his teammates. On top of all this, he certainly isn't afraid of throwing his body around, creating a valuable physical presence all over the ice. Physical traits will only get you so far and Soderstrom has the right mentality to along with this package. Scouts describe him as a highly competitive player who never seems uninterested or disengaged once the puck drops.
Although Victor Soderstrom was sent back to the Swedish League for development reasons, many thought that Soderstrom could’ve made the NHL squad out of training camp given his strong performance. Despite being eligible to play for the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL, management deemed Sweden to be the best route. 2019-2020 stacks up to be a massive year for Soderstrom. Depending on this season we could Soderstrom playing meaningful minutes in the NHL as soon as next year.
His ceiling is projected to be at most a 2nd pairing defenseman with the ability to log big minutes when called upon. With fellow countrymen such as OEL locked in the desert for 7 more seasons, Soderstrom should be provided a great leader to model his game after once his time in the show comes.
3. Kyle Capobianco, D, 22
Capobianco is the first individual I hadn't heard of before writing our Futures Watch Series. After having watched a couple Arizona games Kyle was able to get into this year, I see him as someone Arizona could really use sooner rather than later.
Kyle Capobianco was selected in the third round by Arizona back in 2015 63rd overall. Being an early third-round selection, expectations of a second-rounder tend to follow. Unfortunately for Capobianco, these expectations have yet to be matched by his overall performance to this date. However, in this case, I find it more a fault of the fanbase rather than the player's underperformance. So let's take a look together at why I still think Capobianco can happily surprise Coyotes fans within the next few years.
Career Thus Far
Being one of the older players still considered a prospect within the Arizona system, Capobianco is a Mississauga native who spent his junior years up with the Sudbury Wolves. As with many players in the league, Capobianco's draft stock was heavily affected as a result of playing on a poor Sudbury team from 2013-2017. Despite this circumstance, Capobianco's offensive statistics still look strong for a defenseman.
Other than his rookie season he averaged 68 games played and 43 points over three seasons. The most jarring stat line found was his -49 in 2014-2015 followed by a -43 season in 2015-2016. Whether you like the +/- statistic, these numbers are definitely something to note for a defenseman early in his career. There's no doubt in my mind this comes from playing for a crappy team but still… -49.
The pro game has been a different story for Capobianco thus far, which I'm sure Coyotes fans will appreciate. In his two seasons in the American Hockey League, Capobianco has been a consistent presence on both sides of the puck. Seeming to step into the league in stride, since making the jump to pro hockey he has played 89 games in the AHL obtaining 62 points. For a defender, these totals are superb for the American League. Making the transition to the NHL will be a test for Kyle Capobianco, but if he continues to progress on his current path he should get there soon enough.
It has been apparent since the beginning of his junior career that mobility will be the least of Capobianco's worries going forward in his career. Whether it be his impeccable skating, or ability to snap it tape-to-tape with forwards to break out of his own end. As mentioned before, it appeared initially that defensively Capobianco may have been considered a liability, however it appears in the past couple years these issues have been improved upon drastically.
With this skill set, Capobianco tends to stand out compared to some of his other defensive partners. Even with only a handful of games played in the NHL, Capobianco can be spotted as a difference-maker from the back end. Coach Rick Tocchet has been sheltering Capobianco slightly which isn't a terrible idea with a young defender but this deployment may not allow this young Coyote to thrive in the offensive end like he may have been used to in the past.
Kyle Capobianco has been a part of the Arizona system throughout the past four seasons and is just now beginning to make the jump to the National League. As recently as last week he was returned to Tucson which isn't a great sign but I wouldn't lose hope on his season with the Coyotes just yet.
If he continues to produce at the level he has been in the minors then there shouldn't be any reason to keep him down there. It will likely be a make or break year for Capobianco and if it doesn't work out in the desert, a change of scenery may be imminent. Regardless of where and when he can finally make the jump,
Capobianco looks to be at most an average 2nd pairing defenseman who may see secondary powerplay unit minutes as his career develops.
4. Nick Merkley, RW, 22
A story most hockey players know all too well has followed Nick Merkley's professional career thus far. His recent run-in with injuries has somewhat derailed his route to the National Hockey League but I wouldn't count him out just yet. As of 2019-2020, Nick Merkley is looking to get his career back on track after fully recovering from knee surgery in the 2018 off-season.
It was clear that this recovery process affected his play last season and surely he’s frustrated at his lack of progress made towards his end goal. This season will be great for Arizona to assess what they have in this previous first-round draft pick of 2015.
Career Thus Far
Nick Merkley is a Western Canadian boy out of Alberta and spent his time in junior with a strong Kelowna Rockets team for a part of five seasons. He exploded in his draft year and displayed that he was a dynamic center prospect for any NHL team with 20 goals and 70 assists for 90 points in 72 games. This was by far his most productive season at the junior level which is a blessing for Merkley, however may be a curse for Arizona who chose the forward with their 30th overall selection.
The season following his draft year Merkley sustained an injury to his ACL in his third season with Kelowna, showing the first signs of his susceptibility to injury. Merkley was able to return part way through the season, maintaining a point per game pace but this would be far from the last hurdle in his career. Nick Merkley soon made the jump to the American hockey league in 2017 intriguing many within the Arizona brass holding a 1.18 point per game pace until his season was derailed in December with an upper-body injury.
He returned in the latter portion of the season but didn't look like the player he once was. Another injury sustained to his lower body forced Merkley to undergo knee surgery derailing the second season in a row. His return to the lineup looked like a much larger struggle as he followed up the injury with a 27 game goalless streak which isn't too promising. He is currently playing his third season in Tucson and has notched one goal and six assists in 13 games.
Being a slightly undersized forward, Merkley's ability to battle for every puck against players much larger adds ferocity to his forecheck, which he uses to his advantage. He has great vision and hockey IQ, taking advantage of opposing turnovers and puck possession for energy resulting in creative scoring chances.
He shines most when doing the dirty work for his linemates in the corners and in front of the net creating space, usually resulting in Merkley being a 'pass-first' kinda guy, which everyone loves. Originally drafted as a center, Arizona has deemed he is likely more effective as a winger and has been playing the position since his arrival in Tucson. His puck handling and foot speed leave a bit to be desired if he wants to shine in the National league, but these abilities may be in even more jeopardy since his injury trouble.
Likely if Arizona was asked this question they would've said last season but sometimes there are hiccups for young talent and Nick Merkley has had a few. He isn't a total wash yet but if he doesn't show drastic improvement throughout this season in Tucson and an ability to remain healthy then his days as a top prospect for the Coyotes may be numbered.
Fans, as well as the organization, were hoping for a coming-out party this pre-season but unfortunately, quite the opposite happened and Merkley was disappointingly demoted to the minors. If Merkley has a strong season in Tucson and remains healthy until April look for him to receive a late-season call-up as a 13th forward; especially if Arizona can crack the top 16 come playoffs. He may not live up to his initial draft stock of a 2nd line center but a bottom-six depth scoring role is still easily achievable for this young winger.
5. Adin Hill, G, 23
Alright, we finally have a goalie to talk about. Being a goaltender myself I find I am even more willing to consider myself a know-it-all. Typically goaltenders require more time to obtain the ultimate goal of breaking into the NHL so it is crucial to be patient with their progress. 23-year-old Adin Hill is one of these cases and only got his first look at the NHL for a short stint last season due to an injury-ridden Arizona Coyotes goaltending depth chart.
Hill started off red-hot and managed to keep the Coyotes in the 2019 playoff race until reinforcements in the form of starter Darcy Kuemper returned. Some off-ice issues have arisen during this year's preseason as Hill appears to be unhappy with his role within the organization. Depending upon his 2019-2020 production, Hill is an NHL ready goaltending prospect some teams thin in the crease may try to acquire this off-season.
Career Thus Far
Another Arizona prospect out of Western Canada, Hill played the majority of his junior career with the Portland Winterhawks. He was a third-round selection in 2015 the same season Nick Merkley was acquired and has played at all major professional North American levels since. His first season as a starting goaltender in Junior came in 2014-2015 where he held the fort for 46 games winning 31 of those contests.
His goals-against average (GAA) was above league average at 2.81, and he maintained a .921 save percentage. His consistency throughout the regular season and 17 playoff games caught the eyes of Coyotes scouts resulting in a fair draft ranking for this Canadian goalie. The following year saw Hill play another full season in Portland, starting 65 games tallying a slightly increased GAA at 2.96 and .917 save percentage. This statistical decrease didn't surprise anyone as the increased workload is bound to level out the superb numbers of the previous year.
This marked the end of Hill’s junior career and transitioned for a short period with the Roadrunners at the end of the same season. Hill has been up and down throughout the Arizona system since this period, but made his splash last winter as mentioned previously. Being as both Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper are signed to long-term deals for Arizona and the recent pickup of veteran Eric Comrie, Hill's future in the desert may be short-lived after this season. Thus far he has split starts with Comrie and has posted similar statistics to his previous season.
Hill is huge. He stands at 6’6 and is a solid 220lbs allowing him to let his body do most of the work, as long as he has strong positioning and adequate mobility. Technically he isn’t the tightest and looks lost at points if there is sustained pressure in his end with a lot of lateral puck movement. He uses his large frame well but may have been used as a crutch to get him to this stage in his career and may become exposed from the higher level of NHL shooters.
His reaction time is awesome and never seems to be out of the play despite his technical mobility and has a knack to make difficult saves that look awesome. They may not be so difficult if he was stronger on the technical side of things but hey, everyone likes flashy.
It's so hard to put a timeline and projection on goaltenders but I'm going to do my best here. In all honesty after the falling out at pre-season with the Arizona coaching staff, I don’t see a spot on the Arizona roster for Hill this season and this may result in him being dealt either at the deadline in a package deal if Arizona is looking to make a playoff push, or at the end of the season. Regardless, if Hill has a strong AHL campaign then breaking into the league as a rookie backup behind a seasoned starter may be the best fit for Hill in 2020-2021. If he can continue to take his lumps in the minors, and make some progression on the technical side, then I can realistically see Hill as a Fringe starter or more than capable backup. Toronto may be interested in acquiring a player like Hill to support an overplayed Frederik Andersen if Kaskisuo has a similar NHL season as Leafs fans whipping boy Garret Sparks.
This one was a little more difficult, to be honest. Arizona's depth pool isn't the best after moving out pieces for guys like Phil Kessel and Nick Schmaltz but I think it was time for the Coyotes to really progress at the NHL level. Despite that, there are some intriguing pieces here that could help the Yotes soon whether it’s being a trade asset or cracking the squad. Next week we will be transitioning to the east coast for the first time in our series and look into the arch enemy of Leafs faithful, the Boston Bruins. Stay tuned for a look at what players will be breaking hearts around the GTA for the next five years.