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Desert Dogs: Coyotes have an eye for OHL talent

Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Quickly gaining a reputation as one of the NHL’s up-and-coming organizations, the Arizona Coyotes have used an eye for OHL talent to build through the draft and set themselves up for the future.

The 2013 selection of first round (12th overall) pick Max Domi (London Knights) triggered what’s been a wave of OHL standouts heading to the desert on draft day. New general manager John Chayka and former OHL general manager and Coyotes assistant director of amateur scouting Jeff Twohey continued that trend last month, taking defencemen Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia Sting) and Cam Dineen (North Bay Battalion) in Buffalo.

Over the past three drafts, the Coyotes have used nine of their 23 selections on OHL talent and have chosen an OHL star in the first round of each of the past four.

Domi burst onto the scene in Arizona last season, recording 18 goals, 34 assists and 52 points in 81 games as a rookie. Brendan Perlini (Niagara IceDogs), Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers), Christian Dvorak (London Knights) and Dylan Strome (Erie Otters) among others look to follow his lead as prospective Coyotes who put their skills on display at the team’s annual Development Camp last week.

The Coyotes invited 13 OHL players and graduates to the five day event that included lots of action on the ice and in the community. The camp gave players who are typically OHL opponents a chance to experience playing with the same logo on their chest.

OHL players and graduates at Coyotes Development Camp: Michael Bunting (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds), Kyle Capobianco (Sudbury Wolves), Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia Sting), Cam Dineen (North Bay Battalion), Christian Dvorak (London Knights), Christian Fischer (Windsor Spitfires), Mason Kohn (Kitchener Rangers), Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers), Brendan Perlini (Niagara IceDogs), Niki Petti (Hamilton Bulldogs), Jalen Smereck (Flint Firebirds), Dylan Strome (Erie Otters), Kyle Wood (North Bay Battalion)

“The future is obviously extremely bright here,” 2016 first round selection Jakob Chychrun told NHL.com’s Jerry Brown. “I’ve played against a lot of the high-end prospects in this organization and they aren’t fun to play against. It’s good to be on the same side of the ice with them and start bonding.”

Chychrun had the opportunity to throw the ceremonial first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game, one of the many off-ice activities that also included work in the community, volunteering with various charities.

“We had a chance to visit the Boys & Girls Club, see some different pets and play games,” London Knights forward Christian Dvorak told Coyotes TV. “It’s great to have fun with them and see the smiles on their faces.”

Another group that included Chychrun, Perlini and Strome visited a children’s hospital where players brought gifts to the kids and spent time visiting.

On the ice, Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers) played a starring role in the camp’s final scrimmage, scoring once in regulation before adding the shootout winner in a 4-3 win in front of 3,500 fans at Gila River Arena.

“It was great to get a game in,” MacInnis told coyotes.com. “It’s always fun playing with a bunch of new guys. Obviously at the start of the game you don’t know how everyone plays, but it was fun at the end. There are a lot of skilled players here and they’re really fun to play with.”

Another one of the 43 players invited to the camp, Windsor Spitfires winger Christian Fischer said the week was no walk in the park.

“I think things are going really well,” he told Anthony Perez of coyotes.com. “On the ice it’s been pretty fun out there. There’s lots of competitiveness. It’s been pretty demanding with the practices. It’s not just lollygagging around out there, it’s pretty hard.”

With roster spots on the line this fall, prominent Yotes prospects in 2014 first round (12th overall) selection Brendan Perlini, 2015 third overall pick Dylan Strome and 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup champion Christian Dvorak are all looking to put their best foot forward in the coming months.

“Obviously I’m looking to give my best effort (at training camp) in September and try to make this team,” Perlini told Dave Vest at coyotes.com. “I believe I’m going to be a good pro and that’s what I have in my head so I’m just going to keep trying to work towards that.”

While Perlini is a big winger who turns pro after recording 188 points (93-95–188) over 217 games in four seasons with Niagara and Barrie, prominent centremen Strome and Dvorak have also racked up OHL accomplishments.

Strome led the OHL in scoring in 2014-15, recording 45 goals, 84 assists and 129 points before finishing with another triple digit point total in 2015-16 with 111 points (37-74–111) over 56 contests.

Dvorak helped lead the London Knights to a MasterCard Memorial Cup title this past spring after becoming the 11th player in franchise history to record back-to-back 100-point seasons. His impressive campaign featured 52 goals, 69 assists and 121 points as he turns pro after hoisting the Canadian Hockey League’s ultimate prize.

While there’s little doubt that Strome and Dvorak are both in Arizona’s long-term plans, could dominant OHL careers have them on the fast track to the desert?

“I don’t feel any pressure and I’m sure (Strome) doesn’t feel any either,” Dvorak told coyotes.com regarding reaching the NHL this season. “I think we’ll just try to play our games and try to do what we do out there, and whatever happens, happens. (But) we’re both trying to make the team this year. That’s our goal.”

Keep an eye on the Coyotes and see some of the OHL’s stars of today embark on their NHL careers as early as this fall.

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