GLENDALE, Ariz. — One of the most popular pastimes of the Coyotes offseason has been guessing which forward prospects will make the opening-night roster. Max Domi is a virtual lock. Anthony Duclair carries good odds. Brendan Perlini and Henrik Samuelsson are dark horses while Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak may need another year of seasoning in juniors.
There’s been so much attention paid to those draft picks from the past four years, however, that wing Lucas Lessio seems like a forgotten man.
At least Lessio has one guy in his corner: coach Dave Tippett.
“I fully expect him to stay in that mix,” Tippett said late last week. “He’s going to come in and compete for a spot. I’ve talked to Lucas a couple times this summer and he’s a very motivated person right now.”
Lessio was the team’s second, second-round pick in 2011 (56th overall). He pushed for an opening-day roster spot last season, but Tippett ultimately thought he would benefit from more time in the American Hockey League where he played 49 games with Portland, collecting 15 goals and 31 points.
“There’s still a young player in him,” Tippett said at the time. “There’s a lot of young player in even some veteran players but he’s got to learn the structure of the game. He’s a dynamic player but he can get individual at times.
“Working with his linemates, playing a structured game and doing his part within the structure; those are all things that continue to evolve in his game.”
Arizona recalled Lessio for three games in late November and again in January. He has played a total of 26 games in the NHL and has two goals and five assists. He said that experience is paying dividends now.
“Being up with the team last year for all those games, I really got a good feel for the league and the team and how things are played there,” Lessio said. “It was a huge experience for me and I definitely feel a lot more comfortable in camp this year.”
Lessio’s playing style is easy to identify. He plays with pace, he plays with energy, he plays with an edge and he creates problems in front of the net.
What he tried to add last season in Portland was the defensive side of his game, specifically his positioning and the position of his stick in those defensive situations.
This summer, he also worked with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid in Toronto on an area of his game that has always been an asset.
“I’ve always been a pretty quick skater but the efficiency wasn’t there,” he said. “I was expending a lot of energy because my mechanics were off. My arms would swing too much and there was wasted motion.
“She watched so much film and she taught me a couple things like getting my body over my feet a little more. I feel a lot smoother and more efficient out there now.”
There is a sense of urgency for Lessio (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) this season. He is entering the final year of his entry-level contract and he sees the burgeoning talent all around him at training camp. At age 22, he feels it’s time for him to make the final leap to a permanent NHL roster spot.
That makes every opportunity he gets in the preseason, like Tuesday’s preseason game in Los Angeles, a critical proving ground with only a handful of games before the Coyotes make their roster cuts.
“You try to push it aside and put your best foot forward, but this team has done a really good job of drafting in the last few years so it does put a lot more pressure on us older guys to make the most of our opportunities,” he said. “I’m a pretty versatile guy. I can fit in any role they want. For me, it’s just about using what got me here and doing whatever I can do to help.”