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Coyotes’ Soderstrom, Hayton fighting for roster spots

The Arizona Coyotes 2018 and 2019 first-round draft picks Barrett Hayton (left) and Victor Soderstrom (right) anchor the Coyotes farm system. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)(Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Last season, a young Arizona Coyotes team came within four points of a playoff berth, finishing just behind the Colorado Avalanche. With several prospects waiting in the wings, the organization is about to get even younger.

If the young players who represented the Coyotes in the Anaheim Rookie Faceoff this week are any indication of what’s to come, the club might be getting better than expected.

The tournament gave the NHL a glimpse at several of the most promising prospects in the Coyotes’ organization. Two of them, Victor Soderstrom, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and Barrett Hayton, the fifth pick in 2018, offer the most promise and could factor into the team’s 2019-20 season.

For the two, rookie camp and the tournament are precursors to a much bigger test — the Coyotes veterans’ training camp, which opens Friday. The puck drops on the regular season Oct. 3rd in Anaheim.

Soderstrom and Hayton made their presence known during rookie camp and at the Rookie Faceoff, with Hayton tallying a goal and an assist in his two games played.

“My biggest thing is just (to) make an impact. Obviously, rookie camp’s a start of the process for main camp, so I think I’m getting off and leaving a good first impression and playing well,” Hayton said.

For Hayton, this training camp presents a second opportunity to make the team after he spent all of last season with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Hayton is hoping to make a bigger impact in his second go around at camp with a season within the organization under his belt.

“I just know what to expect,” he said. “Obviously, going into last year, my first camp, there’s no experience really like that. I think being around here last year and being able to stay around for as long as I did, I learned a ton. So I think, moving to this year, I know what to expect and I’m really prepared.”

Soderstrom is the first Swedish player that the Coyotes have taken in the first round since the team selected their current captain, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Naturally, the two have been compared since the team drafted Soderstrom. Ekman-Larsson has taken it upon himself to make sure his countryman feels welcome in Arizona.

“When I came here, he offered me to stay with him in his house,” Soderstrom said. “He’s a really good guy. I didn’t know him before, but you can really understand why he’s the captain of an NHL team.”

Soderstrom played his entire junior career on an Olympic-sized rink in Sweden, which is more than 13 feet wider than an NHL rink. Even with the amount of talent the Coyotes see in him, Soderstrom has to prove he can adjust to the smaller ice and style of play in North American.

“The game’s faster and it’s a lot more (of a) transitioning game,” Soderstrom said. “It’s a little bit more aggressive. Forwards go more to the net and they drive harder to the net. It’s a little bit of a big difference but… I’ve got a feel for it, so I think now it’s all good.”

A spot with the club is not guaranteed for Hayton and Soderstrom despite their status as two of the organization’s top prospects. With only 23 roster spaces available, and most of them already filled, it will be a challenge for the two rookies to break into the squad.

“I think the intensity is always extremely high,” Hayton said. “Everyone’s pushing, everyone wants to get a job and everyone has their goals. No matter what camp it’s been, its high-paced, its high-intensity and everyone really wants it.”