COYOTES ADD SIZE, TALENT & DEPTH AT DRAFT
By: Jeff Dahlia
Vancouver, B.C. - When it was the Coyotes turn to make the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, it actually took the fans longer to settle down after a loud, long ovation was given to Managing Partner and Head Coach Wayne Gretzky, than it actually took for the team to decide who they were going to take.
But as the crowd finally settled, Gretzky walked to the podium and happily selected Peter Mueller from the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
"To get Mueller was a homerun," said Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett, who like many others at GM Place expected the 2005-06 WHL rookie of the year to go earlier in the first round. "It's good fortune is really what it is. Thankfully the Islanders liked another player (Kyle Okposo) and Mueller was there. It didn't take 10 seconds to announce who our selection was."
As Mueller would find out, not only was it an honor to be selected by the Coyotes, but also it was something special to have his name called by the best player to ever play the game.
"I couldn't believe it," the Bloomington, Minnesota native said about hearing Gretzky announce his name to thousands in attendance and millions of television viewers worldwide. "It's pretty hard to believe that he's calling your name.
"I couldn't say anything to him. The cat got my tongue. It's a great honor to have him as coach."
Before Phoenix finished the first round, the team decided to shop their two second round picks in order to move up and select defenseman Chris Summers, who played last year with the U.S. Under-18 National Development team.
As the team moved through the later part of the first round, the Detroit Red Wings finally agreed to trade their first round pick (29th overall) to the Coyotes in exchange for the Coyotes' 41st and 47th overall picks. Coyotes' general manager Michael Barnett jumped on the deal and the Coyotes chose Summers.
"In the case of Chris Summers, we had to work very hard to get him by giving up those two second round picks," Barnett explained about the defenseman who will play for Red Berenson and the University of Michigan this coming fall. "He is the reason why we worked that hard to make the move."
Known for his versatility, smooth skating and leadership qualities, Barnett feels the Coyotes got a winner and a gamer in Summers at the 29th spot.
"It's a skating game now with the new rules," Barnett explained about some of Summers' key elements as a developing player. "I think The Hockey News said it best when they said, 'he glides like many NHL skaters skate.' For a defenseman to be able to skate that well, likes to bang and has the size, we had to work to get him."
For Summers, he's already ecstatic how things are beginning to shape up," It's a great experience and honor to be taken in the first round. I know I still have a lot of work to do. I'm still going to Michigan and that's my focus right now. When the time comes, I'm going to peruse my goal of playing in the NHL."
The Coyotes would were very pleased with the way things went and were thrilled with the quality of talent they were able to get in the first round.
"Looking at both of them, we think we have two bona fide NHL players," Barnett explained from the draft floor. "They need a little time to keep on developing, but we think they're both not too far away."
Later in the draft, the team traded its two fourth round selections (115th and 119th) to the New York Islanders in exchange for a third round pick, the 88th overall pick and the Islanders 130th pick. From there, Phoenix selected Jonas Ahnelov-Pihl, who played last season with Frolunda (Sweden).
Ahnelpv-Pihl is another big, mobile defenseman, who's a bit raw at the moment. Having just moved up into the Frolunda system, he'll more than likely stay over in Sweden for the time being.
"The majority of the Europeans prefer to stay back," Barnett explained why fans wouldn't be concerned if they don't see Ahnelov-Pihl in the Coyotes system right away. "The top ones, especially the Swedish players like Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin come over in their twenties opposed to their teens like some of the North Americans. When they're ready is when we want them. The last thing we want to do is force a kid to come over here and leave his family, especially when he might not be mentally ready."
As the team advanced through the fifth round, the Coyotes selected U.S. Under-18 National Development team goalie, Brett Bennett. Bennett, who missed the majority of the past season due to injury, is headed to Boston University for the 2006-07 season.
"Bennett was a goalie who played for the U.S. development program last season," Coyotes Director of Scouting Tom Kurvers explained. "He didn't see a lot of action because he suffered an injury, but we liked a lot of what we saw when he played. We are confident that he'll progress at BU because it's a world class hockey program."
The Coyotes selected Martin Latal from SK Kladno out of the Czech Republic with their 131st pick. He spent the season playing with Kladno as well as representing his country in international play, where he had no problem skating with some of the other top Czech talent.
"He was one of the elite skaters on his team last year and has a lot of upside," said Coyotes scout Evzen Slansky. "Martin will be coming over here and playing junior hockey in North American next season. He wants to come here and play the North American game."
Phoenix picked up defenseman Jordan Bendfeld from the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL with the 152nd overall pick; the Coyotes last pick in the fifth round. At 6'3 and 215 lbs., Bendfeld is known as a rugged defensive-defenseman.
As Phoenix moved onto the sixth round, they decided to give up their lone selection in the round for two of Toronto's picks in the seventh round.
With the 188th overall pick, the team selected their final defenseman in Chris Frank, who protects the blueline for the Broncos at the University of Western Michigan. The 20 year-old Washington prospect was the oldest player taken by the Coyotes in this year's draft.
The Coyotes closed out this year's draft by selecting center/right wing Benn Ferriero out of Boston College. As a freshman last season, the Boston native was a standout as a newcomer in Hockey East. In addition to playing stateside, Ferriero also has extensive experience representing USA Hockey in the international forum going the last few years.