GLENDALE, Ariz. — There was a time when Henrik Samuelsson was a major piece in the Coyotes’ future. The team’s first-round pick in 2012 (27th overall) has terrific hands, good hockey sense and a lifelong relationship with coach Dave Tippett.
With 2016 training camp underway, however, Samuelsson is almost a forgotten man in the Coyotes’ ever-deepening pool of prospects. It’s almost certain he won’t make the team this season and he has one year left on his two-way contract at $894,000. Samuelsson’s opportunity (and perhaps his time) in Arizona may be running out.
“This is an important camp,” Tippett said. “He’s going to get opportunity in some of these games and it’s about him performing.”
Samuelsson isn’t blind. He can see what’s happening around him. He spent some time training in Arizona this summer alongside some of the forward prospects who are also pushing for roster spots — guys like Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, Nick Merkley, Lawson Crouse, Ryan MacInnis and Laurent Dauphin.
“There’s tons of guys here that have tons of skill and are probably ahead of me on the prospects rankings,” Samuelsson said Sunday. “It’s definitely stiff competition. I have to bring something that they don’t, whether that is playing hard or playing chippy.”
Samuelsson suffered some misfortune last season while he was trying to make the final push toward a roster spot. He suffered an injury during training camp, he was assigned to Springfield (then the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate) and then he suffered an ankle injury two months into the AHL season.
“I was standing in front of the net when I took a puck to the stomach so I was kind of hunched over and not balanced,” Samuelsson said of the injury. “I got pushed over and my foot got stuck in a rut. I heard a pop and went down and someone fell on top of it.
Samuelsson missed 33 games of the 2015-16 AHL season after undergoing ankle surgery in December. He returned to the lineup on Feb. 18, but posted just three goals and 12 points in 43 games.
“It’s too bad that he really missed a year last year with the injury,” Tippett said. “It really set him back. He put in some work this summer but we’ll see. It’s about results now.”
Samuelsson’s dad, Ulf, served as an assistant coach for the Coyotes from 2006-2011. The last two were spent under Tippett. The two men, who were also teammates with the Hartford Whalers, remain good friends, but to Tippett’s credit, that fact has had no bearing on the organization’s assessment of Samuelsson.
“You’ve got to earn your spot,” Samuelsson said.
The knock on the 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward since the Coyotes drafted him has been his skating. He has worked with his own skating coach and with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid to improve his stride, but at this point in his career, there may not be anything more the Coyotes can do to help that aspect of his game.
“We love Henrik’s game from the hashmarks down because he’s effective shooting the puck, he has great vision, he can make small-area plays and he competes in front of net,” Coyotes Director of Player Development Steve Sullivan said. “The biggest issue with his skating is just his first couple strides. He has a hard time coming out of the gates and this is a quick game so you not only need to be fast, you need to be quick. Once he gets going he’s fine. It’s a matter of getting going.”
Samuelsson knows the time to hit his stride is now.
“I just have to play hard and make plays when I can, but still focus on playing within the systems,” he said. “I’m getting back to where I was before my injury and I’m feeling more comfortable than last year.
“It’s definitely a big year for me, but you can’t look at that too much because it will just mess with your head. I just have to focus on my game and do what I can and hopefully everything works out.”
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