Another talented crop of Coyotes is growing down on farm

Mar 19, 2017, 10:54 AM | Updated: Mar 20, 2017, 11:40 am

Tucson Roadrunners forward Christian Fischer battles for a loose puck during a game against the San...

Tucson Roadrunners forward Christian Fischer battles for a loose puck during a game against the San Jose Barracudas on Feb. 25 in Tucson. (Rodney Haas/

(Rodney Haas/

GLENDALE, Ariz. — We told you last week that the Arizona Coyotes’ rookies were producing at an impressive clip, ranking second to Toronto in rookie points heading into Sunday’s games with 92 points.

There is another crop of kids producing down on the farm and a handful of them will likely join this year’s class, the 2015-16 class of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Jordan Martinook, and 24-year-old Tobias Rieder in the NHL next season.

We caught up with Coyotes Director of Player Development, Steve Sullivan to talk about six players. Here is a snapshot of each.

Dylan Strome

Age: 20

Height/weight: 6-3, 198

Position: C

Team: Erie Otters (OHL)

Season stats: 35 games, 22 goals, 53 assists, 75 points

Notable: Strome has five games with four or more point games with Erie this season. … The Otters concluded their regular season on Saturday as the Western Conference’s and OHL’s No. 1 overall seed with their fourth straight 50-win season.

Sullivan’s summary: “He’s putting up astronomical numbers; they’re video game numbers. He’s doing exactly what we wanted him to do. He’s trying to play with pace and he’s helping his team do very well.

“It was a good choice for us to let him go down and get some confidence and continue to develop. I think the only thing that he is lacking right now from our perspective is strength. The stronger he gets, the better his overall game will be. We need him to be a No. 1 center and in order to do that, you have to be able to play against other teams’ top talent. It’s not just about being an offensive guy. A lot of times now in the NHL it’s No. 1 vs. No. 1 so you have to be able to defend with strength.

“Being a year older, adding strength and putting two good summers together of working out and trying to become a pro, that’s probably going to be enough for him to become a regular here next season.”

Clayton Keller

Age: 18

Height/weight: 5-10, 175

Position: LW/C/RW

Team: Boston University (NCAA Hockey East)

Season stats: 29 games, 20 goals, 22 assists, 42 points

Notable: Keller led Team USA with 11 points at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, helping the Americans win the gold medal. … The freshman’s 1.45 points per game were tied for ninth in NCAA Division I.

Sullivan’s summary: “He’s extremely dynamic. He has elite hockey sense, elite hockey IQ, elite playmaking ability. He’s not an overly big player but he’s strong. He has a strong stick, he’s strong on his skates; tough to knock off the puck and he’s not afraid to go into traffic.

“His vision is probably his biggest strength, along with his hockey IQ. He just executes high-end plays. That’s probably the thing that stands out for me. He sees it develop with his eyes, he tries it and he executes it very well. He’s a fun player to watch and it’s a skill set that we’re looking forward to putting in the lineup.

“He’s played center most of the year at BU, but he played the wing during the world championship and had tremendous success. Since returning to BU he has been flirting with both wings and center so he’s versatile. Wherever we need him to play, wherever he fits as we go along, we’re not going to be afraid to try him where we need to.”

Christian Fischer

Age: 19

Height/weight: 6-2, 210

Position: RW

Team: Tucson Roadrunners (AHL)

Season stats: 51 games, 19 goals, 24 assists, 43 points

Notable: He had a goal and three points for the Pacific Division team at the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge.

Sullivan’s summary: “He did some good things in his call-up to the NHL but we just thought the pace of his game, the skating, it wasn’t bad, but it was just not up to this level. For him to have success at this level he’s going to have to play a little bit faster.

“We’re extremely happy with Christian Fischer on and off the ice. He’s a natural born leader. I think he’s going to have a long career. I just don’t think it was bad for him as a 19-year-old to stay in Tucson and keep working on his game.

“He’s going to score 20-plus goals in the American League as a first-year player. That’s pretty impressive. There are no faults with his game; we’re not worried about his game. This is probably just the best for his development. If he were to come up right now he probably wouldn’t get those top-six minutes and we’re hoping that’s what he becomes so if that’s what we hope, why put him in a role where we don’t want him? Go down and get the reps in the position we hope you can play.”

Nick Merkley

Age: 19

Height/weight: 5-11, 185

Position: RW

Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Season stats: 63 games, 23 goals, 40 assists, 63 points

Notable: Merkley had five points in his first 10 games. Since then, he has 58 points in 53 games. … Twelve of his 23 goals have come on the power play.

Sullivan’s summary: “Nick lost a whole year of development with the shoulder injury at the end of his first training camp and then the knee injury (ACL) last season. He hasn’t played that much hockey and the hockey he has played feels like he’s been trying to come back from injuries.

“We looked at Michael Stone the same way. He took some time to get up and going. He’s had two major injuries so is he where we thought he would be? Maybe not, but if you’re looking at the progression of where he is in the second half of the season, he’s been determined to get his numbers up. With the knee injury, the reason why he wasn’t getting numbers was he just wasn’t able to get there yet. He had lost a little bit of a step but now that he’s gaining a step he’s getting those numbers again.

“He plays with that gritty, dog-and-a-bone style. He’s a skilled worker. He’s going to create chances from the forecheck, from turnovers. He’s not really an off-the-rush type of player but he sees the ice well, he’s very smart and he makes good plays. He’s more of a playmaker than  a goal scorer but he needs to get the puck back and that’s what he’s really good at, creating turnovers.”

Kyle Wood

Age: 20

Height/weight: 6-5, 235

Position: D

Team: Tucson Roadrunners (AHL)

Season stats: 56 games, 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points

Notable: Ten of Wood’s 13 goals have come on the power play. .. He had two goals and three points for the Pacific Division team at the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge.

Sullivan’s summary: “Right now, he’s a power-play specialist. He’s very talented and sees the ice really well on the offensive blue line. He can walk the line. He’s got a good sense of the game. The one thing that is going to keep him out of the league is his skating. His skating is a deficiency right now and we’ve got to keep working on it. The quicker he gets his feet moving, the quicker he’ll make the jump to the next level. Right now, his pace of play is just not quite to the NHL caliber.

“You can change it. It’s not easy, and I was a little bit of a skeptic, too, but the way they put it to me was this: If golfers can go and change their golf swing, something they grew up with, you can do this. But the thing to remember is golfers go hit 1,000 golf balls a day, so you have to create habit and if Kyle wants to do that, he can do it. You can’t go see Dawn Braid once and think, ‘OK, I’m fixed.’ In season, it’s kind of a maintenance thing; out of season it’s a chance to create new habits.

“We’ve been working with him for a couple years and it takes some time. I’m not saying it’s going to be a 50 percent change but if you can get 10 percent, that’s a huge number to change in your skating stride. That’s probably what he needs, a 10-15 percent bump in skating for him to become an NHL player. Dawn Braid is really good at this so there’s a chance.”

Ryan MacInnis

Age: 21

Height/weight: 6-4, 191

Position: C

Team: Tucson Roadrunners (AHL)

Season stats: 56 games, 7 goals, 5 assists, 12 points

Notable: His father is former NHL and Hall of Fame defenseman, Al MacInnis.

Sullivan’s summary: “He’s a good example for Kyle Wood. You look at Ryan MacInnis’ skating, it’s come a long way since juniors. The longer they continue to work with Dawn Braid, the more change you can make. He’s worked really hard on that, and really, all areas of his games.

“He’s still tall and lanky and he needs to put on more weight. He’s a pole (laughing), but when you look at that size and that reach, you can’t help thinking about the potential for him to be a matchup center in this league. I like the progress he’s made so far.”

Coyotes at Predators

When: 5 p.m., Monday

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Records: Predators — 35-25-11. Coyotes — 26-36-9.

Season series: Coyotes lead, 2-0

Injury report: Coyotes — RW Shane Doan (lower body) is day-to-day and will travel with the team. D Kevin Connauton (upper body) and C Alexander Burmistrov (concussion) are day to day and will also travel, but coach Dave Tippett said they are not close to playing. C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is on injured reserve. Predators — RW Miikka Salomaki (hand) is on IR.

Scouting the Predators: The Predators had won three in a row before Saturday’s loss in Carolina and were running neck-and-neck with St. Louis for the third spot in the Central Division. … C Ryan Johansen leads the team with 43 assists and 55 points. LW Filip Forsberg leads the team with 29 goals and has 13 goals in his last 13 games. … Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are the first Swedish-born teammates to reach 25 goals since the Sedin twins did so in 2009-10 for the Canucks. … Nashville waived former Coyotes C Mike Ribeiro in February, one week before his 37th birthday. Nobody claimed him so Nashville assigned him to Milwaukee of the AHL. He will be a free agent after this season.

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