New Coyotes’ Top 20

By Brandon LeBourveau
Conducting a Top 20 list of prospects is not an easy thing to do. Everyone has their own opinion on a certain player’s talent and potential, and if you ask 5 people to give you a Top 20 list, I’m willing to bet all 5 would be different. I know not everyone is going to agree with this list, and I respect that. I respect your opinion, and if you feel like expressing it in an e-mail or a comment at the bottom of this article, please feel to do so. I will try to reply to all comments. Well, enough of the gibberish, let’s get right to it: The List.

1. Krystofer Kolanos, Center, Boston College (NCAA), Drafted 19th Overall in 2000

Kolanos was a surprise selection by the Coyotes at 19th in the 2000 Draft, but more than a year later, it definitely appears Phoenix got good value for their pick. Krys led Boston College in his Sophomore season in scoring with 25 goals and 50 points in 41 games, while also scoring the winning goal in overtime to lift Boston College past North Dakota to win the National Championship. Kolanos has begun negotiations with Phoenix to leave school and graduate to the pro ranks. If Krys does decide to sign with Coyotes and forfeit his college eligibility, he has talent to win a spot with Phoenix this season. If the Coyotes feel he’s not ready, Krys will be in the minors with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. An excellent prospect, and one that has the potential to be a 1st line center in the future.

2. Fredrik Sjostrom, Right Wing, Frolunda (Sweden), Drafted 11th Overall in 2001

Tabbed as possibly the best skater in the entire 2001 Draft, the Coyotes felt giving up a 2nd round pick in addition to their 14th pick to get Calgary’s 11th pick and nab Sjostrom was well worth it. A two-way forward, Fredrik is very responsible defensively while also able to contribute on the offensive end. Compared to Martin Havlat of the Ottawa Senators, Sjostrom is coming over to North America this season, and he will play in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Calgary Hitmen. Fredrik will likely put up big numbers with the Hitmen, and a 40 goal, 80-90 point season is not out of the question. An excellent prospect, Sjostrom should be a fixture on the Coyotes’ top line for many years to come.

3. Kiril Safronov, Defense, Springfield (AHL), Drafted 19th Overall in 1999

Safronov is the type of defenseman every team needs. He plays a solid two-way game while dominating physically in the defensive zone and leading the offensive rush up the ice. A mix of fellow countrymen Dmitri Kalinin and Vitali Vishnevsky, Kiril Safronov will likely be on the Coyotes’ roster this season. After coming over from Russia he spent a year in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts, and this past season he had a very good year with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He’s ready to take his game to the next level, and he should be an excellent player in the future. Has the potential to be a number two defenseman in the NHL.

4. Jeff Taffe, Center, U. of Minnesota (NCAA), Acquired from St. Louis

Taffe was acquired from the St. Louis Blues this past season in the trade which saw Keith Tkachuk head to the Blues. Taffe was drafted in the 1st round, 30th Overall, by the Blues in 2000. A playmaking center with good speed and hockey sense, Jeff will be a 2nd line center in the NHL when he reaches his full potential. There have been whispers that he is considering leaving college and heading to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, who own his junior rights. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but if anything official is announced, I will do my best to spread the word. Anyway, Jeff is a solid player who should be in Phoenix in 2-3 years.

5. Ruslan Zainullan, Right Wing, Ak-Bars (Russia), Acquired from Tampa Bay

Zainullan was acquired by the Coyotes from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the same deal that saw Nikolai Khabibulin leave town. A 2nd round pick by the Lightning in 2000, many felt Ruslan should have been a 1st round pick, but fell to the early 2nd round. A potential 2nd line, two-way forward, Zainullan is still 3-4 years away from making an impact in the NHL. He wants to remain in Russia for another year or two, and when he decides to come over he will likely need a season or so in the minors to get acclimated to the different style of play as well as the new surroundings. An intriguing prospect, Zainullan is a name to keep an eye out for in the future.

6. Matthew Spiller, Defense, Seattle (WHL), Drafted 31st Overall in 2001

Spiller was selected with the 1st pick of the 2nd round, 31st overall, in the 2001 Draft that just occured a little more than a month ago. A big, mean defenseman who has a lot of raw skill, Spiller plays a stay-at-home game that consists of dominating the opposition physically in his own zone. Matt plays a simple game, making the safe plays and not taking many chances. He has some offensive potential, but his decisions in the offensive end need some improvement. Has the potential to be a physical number 3 defenseman in the mold of a Chris Therien.

7. Martin Podlesak, Center, Lethbridge (WHL), Drafted 45th Overall in 2001

Podlesak is a very intriguing prospect. At 6’6 and 200 lbs, Podlesak has the size to physically compete every game in the NHL. Although he is a bit skinny for 6’6, Podlesak doesn’t shy away from the physical play, but he doesn’t initiate it either. A slick center, Podlesak is surprisingly strong on his skates for such a big player. He also makes moves that amazes you for a player his size. Plays a very similar style to Nikolai Antropov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, Podlesak is more of a goal scorer than Antropov. Some think he should have been drafted higher than he was, but we’ll see in a few years if Podlesak can continue to improve while also grow. A scary player if he can put together the total package.

8. Ramzi Abid, Left Wing, Springfield (AHL), Drafted 85th Overall in 2000

Abid was selected by Phoenix in the 3rd round of the 2000 Draft when he re-entered the draft after failing to come to terms with the Colorado Avalanche, who selected him in the 2nd round (28th overall) of the 1998 draft. Ramzi played this season with the Springfield Falcons, although his season was interrupted by a wrist injury that kept him out for an long period of time. In only 17 games, he managed to score 6 goals and rack up 10 points, along with serving 38 minutes in penalties. Abid has been compared to Claude Lemieux, and has the potential to be a good 2nd line forward who will drive to the net hard and tap in the loose pucks and rebounds. Two knocks on Abid have been that he needs to improve his discipline on the ice as he takes to many retaliation penalties, and he is a slow skater. If Ramzi can control his temper and improve his skating, he could be in the NHL soon.

9. Patrick DesRochers, Goaltender, Springfield (AHL), Drafted 14th Overall in 1998.

DesRochers has not developed as the Coyotes hoped he would have by now. Labeled as a potential franchise goaltender leading up to the 1998 Draft, the Coyotes did what they thought was an excellent move by selecting DesRochers 14th overall. Now more than three years later, it is unclear if DesRochers can make the NHL as a backup, let alone a starter. He has been vastly inconsistent in two seasons with Springfield of the AHL. This past season he was 17-24-5 in 50 games, while posting a 3.33 GAA and an .893 save percentage. Luckily for DesRochers, he is still young at only 21 years old. The Coyotes are hoping he can rebound this season with Springfield and increase his stock.

10. Jason Jaspers, Center, Sudbury (OHL), Drafted 71st Overall in 1999

Jaspers is an excellent two-way forward who competes hard every game. He has been an offensive force in the OHL, although those offensive numbers likely won’t follow him into the NHL. Projected as a 3rd line forward, Jason could be in the NHL in 2 years. He played a key role for Team Canada at the 2001 World Junior Championships in Moscow, Russia, as he centered a checking line that went up against some of the top junior players in the world. Jaspers will definitely make the NHL some day, as his good speed and excellent two-way play will be too good for Phoenix, or whatever team he is on, to not have in their lineup.

11. Beat-Schiess Forster, Defense, Switzerland, Drafted 78th Overall in 2001

I will admit to not knowing a whole lot about Forster, but from what I know, he was a steal in the 3rd round of the 2001 Draft. An all-around defenseman, Forster is very good defensively in his own zone and has the offensive skills needed to quarterback the power play. He plays a simple game and makes the safe plays. I have seen him compared to Mattias Ohlund, and if Forster turns into an Ohlund-type player, the Coyotes got a good one with this pick.

12. Alexander Tatarinov, Right Wing, Russia, Drafted 53rd Overall in 2000

The Coyotes surprised many by selecting Tatarinov in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft, as many experts believed there were better players available than Alexander at that spot. Whatever the reason was to select him, the Coyotes felt he was the best player available. A two-way forward who is good offensively, Tatarinov will likely spend a few more years in Russia before making the jump to North America.

13. Martin Grenier, Defense, Victoriaville (QMJHL), Signed as a free agent

Grenier is with his 3rd team in the past two seasons. He was originally selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2nd round (45th Overall) of the 1999 Entry Draft. He was dealt from Colorado to Boston in the deal that saw Raymond Bourque head to the Avalanche. After failing to come to terms with the Bruins, Grenier signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent in June. A huge defenseman at 6’5 and 240 pounds, Grenier dominates the game physically on the ice. He had 479 penalty minutes during his draft year of 1998-99 with Quebec. He drops the gloves frequently and takes care of business. He protects his teammates on the ice and is an influencial player in the locker room. Grenier will be in training camp this season fighting for a spot on the Coyotes, but he will likely spend the year in the AHL with Springfield working on his game. He needs to improve his skating to be effective in the NHL, and if he does so he has the potential to be a 5th defenseman in the future.

14. Peter Fabus, Center, Trencin (Slovakia), Drafted 281st Overall

Peter Fabus is making great strides as a former 9th round draft pick in 2000. The 21 year old Fabus recently signed with the Coyotes and is coming over to North America from Slovakia this season. Fabus enjoyed a few good seasons in Slovakia, racking up 31 goals and 53 points in 52 games this past season with Dukla Trencin of the Slovak Elite League. Described as a gritty, tenacious player, the Coyotes feel with a year or so in the minors, Fabus could find a home on the 3rd line in Phoenix in the near future.

15. Juha Gustafsson, Defense, Espoo (Finland), Drafted 43rd Overall in 1997

Drafted in the 2nd round in 1997, Gustafsson has been developing in Finland with the Espoo Blues for the last few years. A stay-at-home defenseman in the mold of Teppo Numminen, Gustaffson plays a sound defensive game and makes the safe plays instead of taking risks. He plays physical when he needs to and he does a good job keeping opponents out of the crease and away from the goaltender. At around 6’2 and 200 pounds, Gustafsson is physical ready to make an impact in the NHL. Some have said he could be better than Ossi Vaananen, but it’ll be a couple of years down the road before we can say for sure who is the better player.

16. Branko Radivojevic, Right Wing, Belleville (OHL), Signed as a free agent

Radivojevic was signed as a free agent after he didn’t sign with the Colorado Avalanche, the team that drafted him in the 3rd round two years ago in the 1999 Draft. Branko is a fast, offensive player who has played the last three years for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Last season he had his best season, scoring 34 goals and adding 70 assists for 104 points in only 61 games. During the playoffs for Bellevile, he had 6 goals and 10 assists in 10 games. Projected as a low-end 2nd liner or a very good 3rd liner, Radivojevic has the potential to be an exciting player to watch in the NHL, although he will likely max out at around 15 goals and 35 points. His speed and quickness on the ice will play a vital role in his success in the future. Most likely will be with Springfield this season in the AHL.

17. Erik Westrum, Center, U. of Minnesota (NCAA), Drafted 187th overall in 1998

Westrum is a good, all-around player who recorded 26 goals and 61 points in 42 games this past season for the University of Minnesota, the same team that fellow Coyotes’ prospect Jeff Taffe plays on. Westrum just finished his four-year career at the University of Minnesota, and the next step for him is the pro ranks. If he signs with the Coyotes, he’ll likely find a spot in Springfield this season, as he needs a few years of development at the minor league level before making an impact in the NHL.

18. Brad Ralph, Left Wing, Springfield (AHL), Drafted 53rd Overall in 1999

Ralph is a power forward who was drafted by the Coyotes in the 2nd round of the ’99 Draft. He played 50 games with the Springfield Falcons this season and had 5 goals and 13 points in 50 games. He appeared in 1 game for the Coyotes, registering no goals, asists or penalty minutes. A project for the future, Ralph will continue to develop in the minors.

19. Ryan Lauzon, Center, Springfield (AHL), Drafted 116th Overall in 1999

Ryan Lauzon is a good two-way player, although being 5’10 and 186 pounds is holding him back. A 4th round pick in 1999, Lauzon played 4 years with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL before suiting up for Springfield this year. In 37 games, Lauzon had 5 goals and 10 assists, while also registering 6 minutes in penalties. Lauzon will have to work hard and improve his strength to make it to the NHL. The Coyotes hope he will have a breakout season this year with the Falcons.

20. Goran Bezina, Defense, Switzerland, Drafted 234th Overall in 1999

Bezina was recently signed to a contract by the Coyotes and will come over to North America this season to develop in the minors. Bezina has a lot of untapped potential and he could be a future NHL defenseman if he can improve enough at the minor league level. A prospect to keep an eye on in the future.

Well, there it is, the new top 20 prospects for the Phoenix Coyotes! I hope everyone enjoyed my analysis, and please leave your comments below or e-mail them to me. My e-mail address is listed at the top of the article. In addition to updating the rankings, I also have updated some profiles, as well as changed the organizational strength and weaknesses, and changed the ratings for all the players in the top 20. The rest of this month I will work on updating the remaining profiles. Stay tuned!