Could Christian Fischer be this year’s Coyotes training camp surprise?
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nineteen-year-old power forward Christian Fischer creates a difficult dilemma for the Arizona Coyotes. The team’s 2015 second-round pick (32nd overall) has three playing options for the 2016-17 season.
Option A: He could go back to Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League, where he lit it up in his first season, scoring 40 goals and posting 90 points in 66 games. The Spitfires are hosting the Memorial Cup this season, providing him with a unique opportunity.
“The way I know Fischer, he would be a huge candidate to be captain of the Windsor Spitfires,” Coyotes development coach Steve Sullivan said. “A chance to play in a Memorial Cup and be a champion — we know how much that helped (Coyotes prospect Christian) Dvorak. When you win a Memorial Cup, you learn how to win.”
Option B: Fischer could play with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League. Because he was drafted out of the U.S. Development Program, he is AHL eligible even though he is only 19 (which normally precludes CHL players per the CHL-NHL agreement). Playing in Tucson would allow the Coyotes to take a hands-on approach with Fischer. Everyone from the skating coach and the conditioning coach to the NHL staff could work with him. Just as important, the NHL staff could see him regularly since it’s only a 90-minute to two-hour commute south.
Option C: Play in the NHL. Every prospect says he wants to make the NHL roster out of camp and Fischer is still only 19, tilting the odds toward options A or B, but there are also factors working in Fischer’s favor. First, he’s a right wing and the Coyotes currently have a dearth of right wings on the roster, with only Anthony Duclair penciled in for a top-six role, Ryan White a possibility for the bottom-six and Shane Doan still unsigned.
Second, Fischer has an NHL body. He’s 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, and there is no cheating in those numbers. He looks like an NHL player right now. Finally, Fischer is an exceptionally mature and articulate 19-year-old who seems to have a clear sense of his place in the organization.
“He’s blown us away,” Sullivan said. “He has taken some huge strides from taking him 32nd overall and not knowing exactly what we had, to seeing what he’s been able to accomplish this year in Windsor.”
“Sometimes, the biggest part of our job is where we think the player is and where the player thinks he is. There’s usually a little bit of a disconnect. With him, there’s no disconnect. He’s the one player through my job with development that is right on cue.”
Fischer arrived in Arizona in May to begin working with Coyotes strength and conditioning coordinator J.P. Major while working out at EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance).
“It’s hard to say you’re ready because you don’t know until you get on the ice with NHL players, but with the year I had last year, I think I had a great start and took a step in the right direction,” Fischer said. “I’m kind of blessed with the size I have. There are a lot of things falling into my hands so I’m doing my best to show my worth.”
Fischer is one of a surprising five kids in the Coyotes’ prospect development camp this week that grew up in Illinois. He played six years for the Chicago Mission and won a national championship with their U16 team in 2013.
His parents bought their first Blackhawks season tickets for the 2006-07 season, getting in on the ground floor just before the Blackhawks’ run of playoff success began in 2009. He is friends with Hawks prospects Vinny Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman, and he worked out with former Hawk Teuvo Teravainen, who was recently traded to Carolina in a cap-induced move.
“You could definitely say that the Blackhawks sparked my interest in hockey,” he said. “It’s always cool to watch a game there. You hear a lot of NHL players say it’s probably one of the coolest NHL rinks to go to with the way they do the anthem and the atmosphere.”
Fischer understands the odds are against him making the NHL roster this season, but Sullivan said he is working every advantage to his favor while doing his best to smooth over the disadvantages.
“He feeds on information,” Sullivan said. “‘How do I get better? What do I need to do?’ Then it’s a matter of just giving him the information and letting him run with it.”
Fischer knows the biggest step for him and most prospects is learning to play without the puck.
“I think I do a pretty good job with that but that’s probably going to be one of the main emphases in NHL camp in deciding if I’m ready or not ready. It’s not going to come down to goals,” he said. “You have to have a mindset that it’s a process. You get drafted and very few make it that first year. You talk to Steve Sullivan and Tip and they all say the same thing. Nobody is ever fully ready. I think about 90 percent of this team’s players play in the minors at some point. If you stick to that and understand that, you’ll always be on the right track.”
All of that is true, and the odds still suggest Fischer will start the year elsewhere, but as Sullivan noted, Fischer “can read a roster. He understand that the right side right now is a little on the [thin] side.”
The Coyotes have had a training camp surprise each of the past two years in Tobias Rieder and Jordan Martinook. Can Fischer buck the odds and become this year’s revelation?
“This is a deceiving camp,” he said of development camp. “You’re not making the team out of this camp but you don’t want to come here and lollygag around. The management and coaching staffs are all here.
“I think it’s about making a good impression. Show them your work ethic and your attention to detail. That can really help you moving forward. Then when September rolls around, you can start making a statement and tell them, ‘hey, “I’m ready to make the jump.'”