Written By Dave Vest, www.phoenixcoyotes.com
Several key prospects in the Coyotes organization significantly enhanced their skills in 2009-10 while playing for the team’s top affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.
“Ultimately, you want to see consistent development in your younger players throughout the course of the season in the AHL and prepare those players to play in the NHL,” Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving said. “We also strongly believe that the development process for our younger players is better served within a successful and winning environment, therefore team success at the AHL level is important to our organization.”
The Rampage started the season very well, slumped, went through a coaching change, and then eventually started winning consistently again. Treliving praised the efforts of new Head Coach Ray Edwards, who took over on Nov. 23, for his work with the younger players within the Coyotes organization.
“Ray did an excellent job of putting young players into key situations and critical roles within the team throughout the season and we saw the maturation in each player’s game as a result," Treliving said.
In the final analysis, serious injuries to forwards David Spina, Joel Perrault and goaltender Al Montoya hurt San Antonio, which finished the season with a 36-32-5-7 record and missed the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Treliving, who also serves as the general manager of the Rampage, noted that several key players on the team – including recent first-round draft picks Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker – needed to adjust to playing in the AHL for the first time after spending the entire 2008-09 season playing in the NHL as teenagers.
“It is a very unique situation to go from the NHL and the NHL lifestyle in your first season as a professional to the AHL the following year," Treliving said. "There is natural disappointment for the player and, regardless of the circumstances, they’re going to go through a period of adjustment. The AHL is an excellent league. It’s a hard, difficult league to play in, the schedule is grueling and if you expect it to be easy you will get a shock in a real hurry. I think there was some initial shock and disappointment for both Kyle and Mikkel when they were first sent to San Antonio after being in Phoenix the year prior. But we feel that it is a crucial step in a player’s development to play in the AHL and be leaned upon in critical and key situations. Players such as Turris, Boedker, Brett MacLean and David Schlemko were relied upon heavily all year to play important minutes and roles in San Antonio and we feel that only helps the development of those players."
Kyle Turris, who underwent back surgery after the 2008-09 campaign, played the entire season for San Antonio. In 76 games, the third overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft notched 24 goals and 39 assists.
“I thought it was a very productive year for Kyle,” Treliving said. “By the end of the year he improved significantly in key areas that we were really looking for his game to grow in. Kyle is very gifted and has tremendous offensive skill, but he really worked at his overall game and specifically his play away from and without the puck. A lot of young offensive players have skill in the offensive end, but to play in the NHL long-term and to play for our team with the system that Dave Tippett utilizes, you’ve got to be able to be a responsible player without the puck. I think Kyle took a big step forward in that area. He is a very competitive and driven player and person and he really took a step in growing that competitive drive in his game to include the entire 200 feet of the ice surface and not just in the offensive zone. He also really improved his face-offs, which is such a big part of the game. He became a very trusted player by the coaching staff and was leaned upon heavily in all situations.”
The coaches also trusted David Schlemko, a solid defenseman who notched five goals and 26 assists in 55 games with the Rampage, and one goal and four assists for the Coyotes in 17 games.
“David Schlemko is a player who has taken gigantic steps forward in his game from three years ago,” Treliving said. “He has learned the importance of dedicating himself physically in the off-season and we saw the growth in his strength and conditioning this year from a year ago. He is a player that possesses excellent mobility, puck skill and poise from the blueline, he sees the ice and can move a puck. And if you look at David, he is a competitive and driven player and a player who has won, which is an important ingredient. He’s won at every level he’s played. He won a WHL championship in Medicine Hat, and he won a CHL championship. If you look at guys who win coming up the ladder, it’s not really by coincidence. This will be another important summer for David."
Brett MacLean led the Rampage with 30 goals in 76 games; only nine other AHL players scored more goals. He also led the team with a plus-13 rating.
“Brett proved to us all season that he’s strong enough and quick enough to, at times, dominate at the AHL level,” Treliving said. “For Brett, it’s just a matter of bringing that consistent competitive approach day in and day out. He is a natural goal scorer who has scored at every level and in today’s NHL you are always looking for people who can put the puck in the net.”
Mikkel Boedker notched 11 goals and 27 assists in 64 games.
“Mikkel’s physical attributes are at an NHL level right now,” Treliving said. “He is strong, has elite speed and he can shoot the puck at an NHL level. For him, it’s about his game maturing and taking those flashes of greatness that we see and doing those things on a more consistent basis. The challenge for Mikkel is to play the game on the 'inside' and I believe as his game continues to grow and mature we will see Mikkel evolve his game in this manner."
Forward Alexandre Picard chipped in 15 points in 16 games for the Rampage after being acquired by the Coyotes in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 3. The eighth overall pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft impressed Treliving in several ways.
“He’s a thick, strong kid who plays hard and competes," Treliving said. "He made a real impact once he arrived in San Antonio. He is an interesting player and a guy we have liked for a long time as he plays with an edge, but also can score and plays the game well in the hard areas.”
All of the aforementioned players have been encouraged to train hard over the summer and make sure they're ready to go physically and mentally when the Coyotes open training camp for the 2010-11 season in September because roster spots will be up for grabs. Ultimately, Treliving says, the players will determine whether they make the team or not. That's why what they do between now and training camp to put themselves into position to compete is so important.
"It's really up to them where they play next season," Treliving said.