GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes’ prospect development camp began on Monday, which will include five days of young players coming through Gila River Arena for on- and off-ice training sessions, physical tests, free time together and even some involvement in the community.
Among those on the ice Monday were 2018 first-round pick Barrett Hayton, 2017 first-round pick Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and all of the draft picks from this past weekend with the exception of the two Russian players, Alexandr Darin and Danil Savunov.
General manager John Chayka expressed his excitement for the new players, reflecting on when current Coyotes like Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun, Christian Dvorak and Christian Fischer came through the same program after they were drafted.
“It’s exciting,” Chayka said. “A lot of them still have a long path to go and that’s probably the reason why we drafted good character people that can kind of get better and grow and improve every year. And now you see some guys coming through, P.O. [Joseph], [Nate] Schnarr and some of these guys that have really developed physically and you see them year-to-year, growing like that, so it’s always a time of hope and excitement for everyone and now they’re here to learn how to be a pro and take that next step.”
The time is intended to be more for development than evaluation, and the players on Wednesday will even participate in community events within the Valley. On Friday, the week is capped off with a Red & White scrimmage on Friday at 7 p.m. at Gila River Arena. That scrimmage, like the rest of the camp, is free and open to the public.
Chayka, head coach Rick Toccet and team president and CEO Ahron Cohen will hold a town hall before Friday’s scrimmage, starting at 5 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel next to the arena.
VICTOR SODERSTROM ARRIVES IN AZ
Soderstrom, wearing No. 77 (coincidentally, the same number as fellow Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman), donned a Coyotes uniform for the first time on ice on Monday.
Earlier in the morning, Chayka told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that the Coyotes tried to trade up to spots even higher than the 11th pick to take Victor Soderstrom, and actually had offered more than what they ended up trading (picks 14 and 45 for pick 11).
The Coyotes are high on Soderstrom for a multitude of reasons, and teams first began contacting him about the draft at the beginning of last season. Arizona was one of the first of those teams.
“I had a good feeling they were going to pick me, because they’ve been the team that I’ve talked to the most,” Soderstrom said. “They talked to my agent a lot, too. Actually, right when they traded, my agent told me, ‘Yeah, they’re going to pick you,’ but I wasn’t really sure until they heard my name.”
It’s to-be-determined where Soderstrom will play next season, and Chayka said that the Coyotes “have still got to work through things with his representation.” Playing pro hockey in Sweden last year, the Coyotes seem confident that Soderstrom has already been tested against more mature players than those found in junior. But whether he goes to the AHL or back to Sweden will depend on what’s best for his development.
“The discussion will be how he comes in and is he ready to play in the NHL,” Chayka said. “Obviously that’s tough for an 18-year-old defenseman, but we want to see how he does and then from there, it’s, ‘Can he play in Tucson? Is he better-served to play over in Brynas again and continue to develop?’ That will be a collaborative discussion.”
JOHN FARINACCI JOINS THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Farinacci was the Coyotes’ third-round selection and the second player the team took in the draft this year. He joins his cousin, Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Donato, in professional hockey. Donato’s father Ted (Farinacci’s uncle) is the head coach at Harvard, where Farinacci will play hockey next season. Ted’s younger brother Dan was Farinacci’s head coach at Dexter, the prep school where he played last year.
Farinacci is a 6-foot, 185-pound right-shot center who models his game after Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. The Coyotes had him ranked higher than 76th overall, where he was selected, but injuries may have been part of that; Farinacci had a bone contusion in his right knee and missed some time, but is said to be 100% now.
Areas for improvement are skating and pace of play, he said.
“He’s a skilled forward, high-character, he can score, he’s playing prep school this year, so again, some of the evaluation was a bit more difficult,” Chayka said. “But we liked him early in the year. He was playing in [the] Hlinka [Gretzky Cup] there. I thought he was one of the U.S.’s best forwards. Our guys are pretty high on him obviously and come to camp here and see how he does.”
Spending the last two years in Massachusetts (and more when he goes back to Harvard), Farinacci is originally from New Jersey.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR KEEGHAN HOWDESHELL?
Two players at the prospect camp this week — forwards Keeghan Howdeshell and Nate Schnarr — had big seasons in the Ontario Hockey League last year. Schnarr was drafted in the third round by Arizona two years ago and finished ninth in the OHL this past season in points with 102 (34 goals, 68 assists in 65 games) for the Guelph Storm.
Howdeshell finished ninth in the OHL, too, but in goals scored. He had 46 goals on the season, only four behind the top-5, while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. After the season, he was rewarded with a one-year contract with the Tucson Roadrunners.
He said his teammates had a lot to do with his increase in production, which was an uptick of 30 more goals than he had the year before. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would have put those numbers up,” he said.
He’s a 6-foot-2, right-handed shot and said his game might be similar to that of Josh Anderson, a Columbus forward who scored 27 goals in 82 games in the NHL last season.
BARRETT HAYTON BACK FOR YEAR TWO
Hayton, who went fifth overall in 2018, is at prospect camp for the second time. He technically made the NHL roster out of training camp last season, but was only given a taste of NHL life before he was sent back to his junior team, the aforementioned Sault Ste. Marie.
“My goal is to obviously stay with the team this year,” Hayton said Monday. “That’s why I’m down here all summer, that’s why I’m taking the steps that I am to really give myself the best opportunity to make the lineup and have an impact.”
Hayton has already been skating on his own with the team’s skating coach, Lars Hepso, this summer.