GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was easy to imagine a rosy Coyotes future when you watched Max Domi and Anthony Duclair match up with one of the NHL’s best two lines on Thursday, and come out on top in a 6-3 win over Dallas. Arizona’s dynamic rookie duo accounted for two goals and six points in a showdown with the Stars’ Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp — their first extended line matching with elite NHL competition.
“It’s a good step in the right direction in growth,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “The entertainment factor of those kids — how well they played and how well [Martin] Hanzal played in the middle of them — that’s the entertainment we’re looking for.”
With prospects Christian Dvorak (second), Dylan Strome (fourth), Christian Fischer (13th) and Ryan MacInnis (16th) all among the OHL’s top 20 in scoring this season, Connor Garland leading the QMJHL in points, and Max Letunov fifth in Hockey East in scoring, there could be more entertainment on the way.
All is not sunny, however, in the Coyotes’ pipeline. Power forward Brendan Perlini was once considered by many to be the franchise’s top prospect. The team’s top choice in 2014 (12th overall) had 71 points in 58 games with Niagara in 2013-14. A broken bone in his hand suffered during a Coyotes rookie game shortened his 2014-15 season, but he still put up 60 points in 43 games, leading the Coyotes management and coaching staffs to believe he was knocking on the doorstep of his pro hockey career.
“He came into training camp this year and for the first week we were thinking ‘maybe we’re going to have to keep him around for a while,'” GM Don Maloney said.
Now the Coyotes can’t help but wonder what is causing Perlini’s drought. Through 43 games of the OHL season at Niagara, Perlini has just 20 goals and 35 points, ranking him a stunning 87th in the league in points.
“His skill set and the numbers just don’t equate,” Maloney said. “There’s something off with him because really he should be a premier scorer the way Strome and Dvorak and Fischer and MacInnis are. He should be right in that conversation. His game is skating and scoring.”
Maloney has watched Perlini play. He’s had conversations with the Coyotes development staff, including Steve Sullivan. None of them can pinpoint exactly what it is that’s throwing Perlini’s game off so dramatically.
“He’s just in a funk,” Maloney said. “When guys get in these slumps and they’re trying to dig their ways out of it they put pressure on themselves to score and they end up standing around doing nothing.”
Maloney thought making Canada’s Word Junior team this year might be a tonic for Perlini, but the 6-foot-2, 212-pound wing didn’t register a point in five games and he hasn’t picked up his game since returning to Niagara.
Slumps are going to occur in a career, but to have such a top prospect struggling in the OHL is still concerning because he should be a dominant force in that league. Still, Maloney isn’t ready to push the panic button just yet.
“Look at Anthony Duclair after we acquired him at the trade deadline from [the] New York [Rangers] last year,” Maloney said. “I went into Quebec [QMJHL] to see him three times and there were some troubling nights watching him.
“Everybody has been sort of writing Brendan off. He wasn’t even on that (TSN) top 50 prospects list, which was probably a bit of a wake-up call for him. But before anybody gets in a panic it’s important to remember these are young players.
“The situation in Niagara has not been good for him this year, but we’re going to get our hands on him next year when he turns pro, whether that’s here or in Springfield [AHL]. We still believe he has front-line NHL talent. It’s up to us to bring it out.”
MERKLEY OUT FOR SEASON
Maloney also said Thursday that prospect Nick Merkley will have knee surgery in two weeks in the Phoenix area and will miss the rest of the Western Hockey League season. Merkley was the team’s second, first-round draft pick in 2015 (acquired from Chicago). In 43 games with Kelowna this season he had 17 goals and 48 points.
Maloney said the Coyotes medical staff will work with Merkley while he is in the Valley. He is expected to recover in time for training camp.
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