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Coyotes forward prospects off to torrid start

Arizona Coyotes' Dylan Strome smiles during the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) Rookie Showcase in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney racked up a lot of miles last week in an attempt to scout some of the team’s best prospects. He has many more miles to travel if he hopes to see them all. The forwards in Arizona’s farm system are lighting the lamp from coast to coast.

Through Sunday’s games, the Coyotes had three prospects (Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Ryan MacInnis) among the Ontario Hockey League’s top 11 in points, Brendan Perlini was averaging nearly a point a game to help Niagara’s resurgence after a 4-7-1 start, power forward Christian Fischer has 24 points in 22 games for Windsor, Nick Merkley has 22 points in 20 games for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League, and Max Letunov has 14 points in 12 games for Connecticut of the Hockey East conference where he was named rookie of the month in October.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about our system than I do right now,” said Maloney, who was in southern Ontario last week to see Strome, Dvorak, MacInnis and Perlini. “You don’t expect to hit on all your prospects but realistically, if we hit on half of them we’ll be in great shape.”

The first wave of those prospects is already making its mark this season for the Coyotes. Max Domi was tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (8) and second in rookie points with 16. Anthony Duclair was tied for third in rookie goals (7) and tied for fourth in points (13) heading into Monday’s action.

Maloney said it is difficult to project how many more prospects could join the Killer Ds next season, but he thought two or three would be a realistic projection.

“So much can change between now and then,” he said. “The proof will come next September and October, but as we saw this year, we might have to keep two or three roster spots open.”

If you were to place bets on which players might make it, Strome, Dvorak and Perlini would probably be at the top of the class with Fischer, Merkley, MacInnis and Letunov still needing development. Maloney saw Strome play three times and came away impressed.

“It was more than just his scoring,” Maloney said. “He was controlling the game with the puck, he was taking every defensive-zone faceoff — doing everything we’re hoping for. Certainly he has to get stronger and quicker and he may never overwhelm you with blazing speed, but his hockey instincts with and without the puck are amazing.

“The big question for Dylan is can he withstand 82 games against men? It’s all physical for him. From a mental and composure standpoint, I don’t think this kid is ever going to get to flustered.”

Dvorak is following up last season’s 109-point effort with 12 goals and 41 points in 19 games for the London Knights, while playing on a dynamic line with Mitchell Marner and Matthew Tkachuk (Keith’s son).

“That line is so good they’re almost overpassing to set each other up,” Maloney said. “I talked to (Knights coach) Dale Hunter after Saturday’s game and he is impressed with both ends of the ice with Dvorak. He’s another guy who is taking all the big faceoffs and looks a lot stronger. You know the offense is there already so those are good signs.”

While Perlini is still trying to recapture last season’s dominant performance, and Fischer, Merkley and Letunov still are more than a season away, the player who may have taken the biggest step forward is MacInnis.

“It’s really noticeable in his game with the puck,” Maloney said. “If you can have a 6-foot-4 center iceman who can make plays and score some goals, you’ve got a very valuable player.”

Maloney will travel to western Canada in a couple weeks to do some more scouting that will include a look at the speedy Merkley, who has shrugged off a collarbone injury suffered during a prospects game in September.

Maloney acknowledged the majority of the excitement with the farm system is focused on forwards and the organization must address a dearth of depth on the blue line, but there is more positive news from out west. Third-round pick Adin Hill (No. 76 overall) is tied for sixth in WHL save percentage for an average Portland team and Louis Domingue just earned a call-up from the Coyotes after a strong start with Springfield of the American Hockey League.

“You always want to temper your expectations until you see these players in NHL games,” Maloney said. “But where we’re sitting sure beats the alternative.”

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Player             Team      GP   G    A    Pts

Dylan Strome       Erie      19   12   *29  41

Christian Dvorak   London    19   *16  24   *40

Ryan MacInnis      Kitchener 22   *17  14   *31

Christian Fischer  Windsor   22   *12  12   24

Brendan Perlini    Niagara   20   9    9    18

Nick Merkley       Kelowna   20   9    13   22

Max Letunov        UConn     12   *6   *8   *14

 * — Leads team

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