GLENDALE – Below are some thoughts and observations about the Coyotes and the moves they made at this weekend’s 2011 NHL Entry Draft in Saint Paul, Minn.
• The Coyotes made eight picks over two days at the draft. They chose six forwards and two defensemen. You may notice a trend with their picks; competitive players with size and a nasty edge to their game.
After taking two goalies at last year’s draft – Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue – Phoenix chose none this time around.
On Friday night, the Coyotes started things off by selecting defenseman Connor Murphy with the 20th overall pick. I, like most observers, was expecting Phoenix to draft a center, but Murphy ranked higher on their final list of prospects than any center still on the board.
I had the chance to meet Murphy after the draft and I was impressed by how mature and articulate he was for an 18-year-old. I also had a chance to meet his father, former NHL player and current Florida Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy, and he explained to me how Connor became involved in hockey at age five.
“He wanted to play games,” Gord Murphy told me. “He didn’t like all the other just- learn-to-skate stuff. He really got into it at age seven, and started playing travel hockey competitively at age 10. He had to come up through some small-market areas in Florida, Atlanta and then Columbus, Ohio… but you could see he had that passion and he had the desire. All he wanted to do was play hockey.”
Connor Murphy hasn’t played much hockey the past two seasons because of a back injury, but he has a clean bill of health now and his potential is high.
• The Coyotes started Day two of the draft by picking center Alex Ruuttu with the 51st overall selection. Alex is the son of Christian Ruuttu, who just happened to be sitting at the team’s draft table because he’s the Head of European Scouting.
General Manager Don Maloney said the Coyotes were shocked that Alex Ruuttu, who entered the draft ranked 16th overall among European skaters by Central Scouting, was still available when they picked 51st. They snatched him.
I’m told Christian Ruuttu never lobbied for the team to select his son at any time during the scouting staff’s lengthy preparations for this draft.
“Christian Ruuttu really pulled away from any of the evaluation process (regarding Alex) and he was really quiet about his son,” Maloney said.
He added, “Alex is interesting because in the second half of his season (in Finland) he really took off… He’s a good-sized, two-way center-ice man. He’s got to thicken up, but he’s in a good program back in Finland and we’ll watch him, and hopefully he’ll mature well in the next year or so and who knows?”
• Lucas Lessio, a hard-skating left winger who loves to score and compete, was thrilled to be selected 56th overall by the Coyotes a few minutes after Ruuttu was chosen.
I asked Lessio to talk about his ongoing quest to reach the NHL.
“I’m developing at a very fast pace right now,” Lessio said. “I’m on the ice a lot and my body is starting to fill out. I want to make the NHL as soon as I can… I’m going to put in the time and I’m going to put in the work to make this hockey club. This is a great hockey club and I want to do whatever it takes to make it.”
• After the Coyotes drafted Lessio, they selected defenseman Harrison Ruopp with the 84th overall pick – the pick they acquired on Thursday as compensation after Philadelphia signed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
“He’s a big, physical, right-shot defenseman with a nasty edge and mobility,” Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving explained. “He looks to initiate contact and is not a joy to play against… He’s a nice complement to the puck-moving defensemen we have in the system.”
He added, “He needs to improve his puck game and continue to add man strength.”
Treliving had the same recommendation for the team’s next two picks after Ruopp – left wings Kale Kessy and Darian Dziurzynski.
Phoenix selected Kessy in the fourth round (111th pick overall) to add some toughness within the system.
“I like to play physical whenever I can,” Kessy said. “And I like to be hard on the forecheck and wear defenders down. I’m not afraid to fight when I have to.”
Treliving: “Kale is a very competitive physical winger with excellent size and toughness. His work ethic is very high and he is a punishing hitter… He plays with some hostility, which we like, and what we wanted to add to our prospect list.”
Kessy, who patterns his game after Boston’s Milan Lucic, plans to work on his skating and offensive skills in his quest to reach the NHL.
Dziurzynski, whom the Coyotes chose in the fifth round (141st overall pick), has a nice shot and plays with a lot of bite.
“Darian has a thick and strong body, and the ‘inside skills’ to go to the hard areas to score,” Treliving said. “He plays a weighty, in-your-face game.”
The Coyotes snagged Andrew Fritsch, also a left wing, in the sixth round (155th overall pick) because of his abilities to score and distribute the puck. Fritsch caught the eyes of Phoenix’s scouts by having a solid offensive year while playing on the top line for the OHL champs in Owen Sound.
Fritsch did not attend the draft. Neither did Ruopp nor Dziurzynski. Check back with phoenixcoyotes.com this week to read interviews with these players.
• The Coyotes created a late-draft buzz by selecting Scottsdale native Zac Larraza early in the seventh round. Larraza, who developed and honed his skills within the Valley’s youth hockey scene – including a stint with the Jr. Coyotes program – was at the Xcel Energy Center and patiently waited for his name to be called after 195 others, by his favorite team no less.
• After selecting Larraza, the Coyotes were slated to make the 201st overall pick. Instead, Phoenix traded that pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the rights to center Marc-Antoine Pouliot.
“We’ve been searching for center-ice (players),” Maloney said. “We don’t have a lot of depth (at center) in our system. We think there is a fit here with us, so we acquired his rights and we hope to get him signed and bring him in, and hopefully he can help us be a little bit better.”
• All of the 2011 draft picks will assemble in the Valley in early July for the annual Prospects Development Camp. Details will be released this week.
Reach Dave Vest at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.