Coyotes’ Gormley facing ‘biggest summer of his professional life’
GLENDALE, Ariz. — If Brandon Gormley isn’t receiving the Coyotes’ message, he must be wearing earplugs.
The team’s coaching and management staffs have made one thing abundantly clear when it comes to their 2010 first-round draft pick.
"It’s the biggest summer of his professional life," assistant coach Jim Playfair said. "If he is dedicating himself to four-hour work days this summer, we have all the resources to help him become the player we think he can be, and we’ll be a better team because we have a good young defenseman.
"If he comes in with a lackadaisical approach, thinking ‘I’ll make this team because I was a high draft pick,’ then we’ll have a problem."
The Coyotes signed Gormley, 23, to a one-year, two-way deal worth $850,500 on Thursday — one week after the restricted free agent accepted the deal. The amount and term of that contract made it clear that the Coyotes are nearing the end of their rope with a player they selected 13th overall five summers ago.
"He’s at a stage where it’s either fish or cut bait, to be honest," general manager Don Maloney said last week. "The good thing is, we have roster room available for him to get the job if he earns it."
It won’t be easy. The Coyotes acquired veteran left-handed defenseman Nicklas Grossmann in a draft-day trade to add physical play and stability to their back end on the second defensive pairing. With Oliver Ekman-Larsson locking down the left side on the first defensive pairing, the best the left-handed Gormley can hope for is a spot on the team’s third pairing.
To earn that spot, he’ll have to beat out left-hander Klas Dahlbeck, who the Coyotes acquired in a trade-deadline deal with Chicago for since-returned center Antoine Vermette. Dahlbeck is not a puck moving defenseman, but he impressed the staff in 19 games last season. If Dahlbeck wins the job, Gormley would likely be the team’s seventh defenseman — a player that is normally in and out of the lineup depending on injuries and the play of the players in front of him.
"You want competition as a player to make you better, and you want that to be a successful organization and successful team," said Gormley, who has tried playing the right side without much success. "We all understand the best players will play."
Gormley thought he was off to an OK start last season when he made the team out of training camp. Then he suffered a severe ankle sprain in Edmonton on Nov. 16 when the Oilers’ Benoit Pouliot nudged him from behind and sent him into the boards with his right leg bent awkwardly beneath him.
Gormley missed more than five weeks.
"Looking back on it, it was a kind of a turning point for me," said Gormley, who played in 27 games, scoring two goals and totaling four points. "Just when you think your game is really taking off, then you get hurt."
"I wasn’t quite the same coming back. It was like I lost a step, and the ankle never felt quite right. Mentally, it was really frustrating. When things didn’t go my way right off bat, loss of confidence creeps in, and it’s tough to get it back."
Even before the injury, Playfair saw areas for improvement in Gormley’s game, particularly when defending the rush.
"He was OK in some games, but he needs to show that ability to be a strong defender; to be physically capable of handling the big, physical forwards in the Western Conference," said Playfair, who coaches Arizona’s defensemen. "He needs a good summer of training to get stronger and more competitive and dig in to fight for a job and the right to be in the NHL."
Gormley is saying all the right things as he prepares to return to the Valley next week from Calgary, where he has been training and working with power skating instructor Deanna Curran.
"Obviously, things haven’t gone as smooth as I had hoped, but in the long run, I will learn from all the experiences I’ve had, and they will make me a better player," he said. "It’s a big year for me, but it’s a good spot for me to be in and a good spot for the organization. I get to prove myself, and the one-year deal is good for them.
"It doesn’t matter where any of us was drafted. You still have to earn your spot."