This summer, after his team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009, Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said his two main priorities were to sign coach Dave Tippett and goaltender Mike Smith to contract extensions.
Maloney successfully did both, but that did little to bolster a Coyotes offense that finished 21st in the NHL and a power play that ranked last in the Western Conference last season.
Signing free-agent playmaking center Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract helped in that effort, but Maloney maintains the team still has holes on its top two lines. For now, the hope is that training camp will provide an open audition for those skilled spots. And whoever wins that competition could get a chance to star on a team looking to return to the postseason.
"We made a concerted effort to leave three open scoring spots available. Hopefully somebody will seize the opportunity and take it," Maloney told NHL.com. "I really feel we have the third and fourth line covered. Where do we find a little more skill? Where do we find help on our power play? Where do we find help in the shootout? We're not closing our minds to anything."
That means a number of Coyotes prospects could be called upon to fill those offensive holes. Maloney has a few young players in mind.
Like Lucas Lessio, who finished his Ontario Hockey League career last season with the Oshawa Generals and went on to total four points in eight regular-season and playoff games with the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate, the Portland Pirates. Or Chris Brown, who led all first-year AHL players last season with 29 goals. Or Henrik Samuelsson, the team's 2012 first-round pick and the son of former Coyotes assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson.
Even 18-year-old Max Domi, whom the Coyotes selected 12th in the 2013 NHL Draft, will get an opportunity to fill a forward spot.
"He has excellent speed and a creative mind. How can we not give him every opportunity to make the team?" Maloney said. "It's hard to play an 82-game season in the NHL at a young age. [We] need more skill in the top two lines and somebody who can make plays and bring some speed. Max has it all, other than the fact that he's still 18. We're not going to say no. Max will have every opportunity to make this club."
The need for an infusion of talent up front is no secret in the desert; the team's leading scorer last season was defenseman Keith Yandle, and four Phoenix forwards -- Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal -- averaged more than half a point per game. What's more, there wasn't a single Coyotes forward ranked among the NHL's top 100 scorers last season.
Under Maloney's leadership, the Coyotes have managed to stockpile an intriguing collection of prospects. Now that the team appears done looking to add to its roster through free agency, it could be time for those prospects to step up and take advantage of their opportunity.
"I feel we're going to get a good push at training camp from a couple of younger players," Maloney said. "Whoever wants to step up, we like that push."
Author: Tal Pinchevsky | NHL.com Staff Writer
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