Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney got another excellent, future-geared return in the last of three big trades right before the deadline. After scoring prospect Anthony Duclair and a first round pick (among other pieces) from New York for Keith Yandle, as well as a first round pick from Chicago for Antoine Vermette, he acquired prospect Maxim Letunov in the Zbynek Michalek trade with St. Louis today.
A second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft (52nd overall by the Blues), Letunov is a 19 year-old center from Moscow, Russia. He’s been living in the U.S. for quite a few years now, as he has played the past two seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL. A left-handed center, Letunov has played mostly an offensive role with the Phantoms in his two seasons in Michigan.
Letunov is a skilled forward with slick hands, a hard wrist shot who makes crisp, accurate passes. Uses his frame to protect the puck but can get pushed off by stronger opponents. Flashes some gritty play and willingness to play a defensive responsible game but does not do so consistently. Has to add substantial strength and correct some issues in his mobility.
In 60 games last season, the rookie forward scored 43 points (19G, 24A), causing a spike in his draft ranking heading into the 2014 NHL Draft. After St. Louis added him to the already-deep prospect pool (along with fellow ’14 picks Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev), he took off on the score sheet. Playing with highly-touted 2015 NHL Draft prospect Kyle Connor in Youngstown once again this season, Letunov has scored 53 points (22G, 31A) in 47 games so far – second only to Connor (who has scored 54). Letunov has scored nine powerplay goals, which puts him second team-wide in PPGs.
Currently on an eight-game point-streak, Letunov’s most recent game with the Phantoms was a two-point performance (one goal, one assist) in a 7-1 win against Fargo on Saturday. At 6’3″ and 168 lbs., if Letunov can fill out a bit more, he can be a top-nine offensive player for the Coyotes’ future.
Had a scout tell me last year that Maxim Letunov "could be one of the best players in the draft" if a team gave him time to get stronger.
— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) March 2, 2015
Committed to Boston University for the 2015-2016 season, Letunov is likely at least two-three years away from playing professional hockey at either the AHL or NHL level. But the talent is obviously there, and potentially playing with Jack Eichel at BU next season (should he remain at college for another season) would be huge for the developing forward.
The Coyotes have a slew of high-quality prospects in the pipeline now, with Letunov not too far behind Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Brendan Perlini. There’s also Christian Dvorak, Henrik Samuelsson, Laurent Dauphin, and Anton Karlsson, so the competition to become part of the Coyotes’ future core will be tough. But Maloney seems to have a lot of faith in his newly-acquired prospect, especially since Letunov was the only piece coming back to Arizona in the deal, which involved both Michalek and a conditional third-round pick going to St. Louis.
Maxim is a big, skilled center with excellent upside. He will play at Boston University next season who do a great job developing players. We are excited to have him join our organization.
– Coyotes GM Don Maloney
The Letunov acquisition is yet another indication that Maloney is building his team to compete four or five years down the line. Fans can only hope the rebuild goes as planned and does not end up being a situation like that of the Edmonton Oilers over the past few years. The future looks bright for the Coyotes, and adding Letunov makes it all the more exciting. Once all these prospects make it to the NHL level, the Coyotes will be able to contend with the Sabres and Flames – two other teams that are currently in the midst of their own rebuilds.
Don Maloney on team's future with prospects such as Domi, Perlini, Duclair, etc., in system: "This team is going to be legit."
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) March 1, 2015