Join us in the desert for our next stop, the Phoenix Coyotes.
Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
While the numbers might not necessarily indicate it, I thought Lessio had a very good year. Unfortunately it was interrupted by that fluke injury (skate cutting his hand), but I thought his game took a big step forward. He's still very much a North/South player who loves to use his speed coming down the wing. Whether it's with the puck (looking to take a defenseman wide, or fire off a hard wrister), or without it (trying to open up space for teammates, go hard to the net, forecheck), he plays the game very hard up and down. His game without the puck showed a lot more consistency this year. In particular, I thought his game in his own end really improved and he's showing signs of developing into a quality two-way player (which will be critical to his NHL success IMO). I thought his shot was also considerably improved. Looked much harder and more accurate and he had a lot more confidence using it. He has no qualms about breaking into the zone with speed and using a defender as a screen for his shot. All in all, I think his game is coming together nicely. He'll be in Portland of the AHL next year, where he got a small taste at the end of last year. I think his game is well suited to the pro level, should he continue to bring a lot of energy to the ice every night. I'd like to see him gain a bit more confidence in playing physical as I think he's at his best when that dimension is present in his game. I suspect he'll have a solid first pro season where a 20-20 year is not out of the question.
Connor Murphy - Sarnia Sting
Poor kid. He just can't seem to buy a break. Suffered another season ending knee injury, this time at the WJC's. Every year it seems to be same for him. Great things expected of him, only to have them cut short by injury. Before the injury this year, he was looking good. While I was a little disappointed in the progress of his offensive game, I thought his defensive game had grown a lot. He was making better reads in the defensive end and actually starting to use his size to push people around a bit. I think the offensive numbers continue to be a tad underwhelming because he hasn't had the chance to develop a ton of confidence in that area. He still seems somewhat hesitant when he's about to carry the puck out of his zone, and as such can be forced into the odd turnover in his own end. The potential is still sky high if he can ever stay healthy. I wonder what the plan is for Murphy this year. I think you look at two frames of mind. One, he's still eligible to return to the OHL for his overage year. There, he could play a huge role, continue to try and gain confidence in his abilities, and hopefully stay healthy. Two, they could play him in the AHL and shelter his minutes a bit, and keep a closer eye on him and his health (get him on a program that could straighten out his injury issues, be it strength, flexibility, etc). By doing so, I worry that perhaps his offensive game will never be able to blossom the way that it could because he'll have so many other things to worry about at the pro level. It's a toss up. Considering that the organization doesn't have the greatest depth at defense for their AHL affiliate, I wonder if he'll indeed be in the AHL. Wherever he is, I look forward to tracking his development.
Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
Acquired from Edmonton, Rieder is an interesting player. He had quite the breakthrough campaign in 2011/2012, but failed to reach those heights this past season. Like most players on Kitchener, he struggled with consistency and his offensive numbers took a bit of a tumble. When he's at his best, Rieder brings a lot of energy to the ice. He's got good speed and he's active without the puck in the offensive end, despite not being the biggest guy out there. He'll go hard to the net with and without the puck. He's also got good hands which allows him to make a lot of finesse type plays in close to the net. His ability to control the puck gives him the time and space he needs to operate, that his size does not. My issue with Rieder this year was that too often it seemed like his game lacked urgency. He wasn't nearly as much of a factor on the forecheck, at least not consistently. And he didn't play with the same conviction along the boards. I also thought his effort in his own end lacked at times and he'd get caught floating. Because of the offensive skills he possesses, he still has NHL potential. Next year he'll be in the AHL (likely), where he's likely going to have to fight to get minutes. The only way he's going to find success at that level is if he returns to playing a more aggressive style. I don't have high expectations for his first pro year and I'd be surprised if he pots over 20 points in the AHL.
Max Domi - London Knights
A great selection by Phoenix, as Domi has the potential to develop into an elite offensive talent at the NHL level. He does everything well offensively. He's an incredible skater who accelerates from zero to fifty in a flash. He's got a killer wrist shot, but is also a dynamic distributor who exhibits poise in the offensive end. His skill with the puck is often breathtaking and he consistently makes opposing defenders whiff. I'm not concerned about the size issues. He's got the leg strength and skating ability to compensate. All that being said, I don't expect him to play in the NHL next season. I think another year in the OHL would do wonders for him. He'll get an opportunity to be a leader on another Memorial Cup contending team. He'll also get a chance to work on his play away from the puck and become a more involved two-way player. If he's back in the OHL (which I suspect he will be), he has a chance to lead the league in scoring and crack the 100 point mark.
*of note, the Yotes elected to not sign Andrew Fritsch, making him a free agent.