Henrik Samuelsson’s potential on display at junior championship

Henrik Samuelsson had 35 goals and 95 points for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the regular season, then followed up with eight goals and 23 points in the Western Hockey League playoffs.

Matt Kartozian/Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Coyotes prospect Henrik Samuelsson led the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup title with a two-goal, five-point effort in a 6-3, championship-game win over Guelph on Sunday in London, Ontario.

He led the Oil Kings with 35 goals and 95 points in 65 regular-season games. He finished eighth in the Western Hockey League playoffs with eight goals and 23 points in 21 games and he led the Memorial Cup with eight points (four goals) in five games.   

Does that mean he’s ready to make the leap from junior hockey to the NHL next season? Probably not.

"It bodes well for his potential, but we’re just cautious, and it goes back to our early years when we force-fed some younger players into our lineup and might have retarded their development in some ways," said Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, referring to Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker. "We certainly could use what Henrik and Max Domi have in skill sets. What we need is push from younger skilled players, but there are other factors to consider."

Although Samuelsson, 20, played a lot of center with Edmonton, Maloney and the Coyotes staff still view him as a right wing. Phoenix has some depth there with Shane Doan possibly moving back to that side, along with Boedker. If the Coyotes re-sign Radim Vrbata, it could be tough for Samuelsson to challenge for a spot.

But the greater issue is that Samuelsson still needs improvement. While the Coyotes are more convinced that Domi has the physical tools, the strength and the ability to play the game at a fast pace, they’re not yet certain with Samuelsson.

"Henrik has had great success up to this point pushing himself to certain level, but maybe not any further. His stride isn’t flawed. He’s just going to need to quicken it more than anything else," Maloney said. "It’s all about maturing and realizing how quick he can play against men. He’ll make plays, but it’s also about the transition game to get back into the defensive zone and the ability to have quickness in tight areas. I think it’s as much about habits as anything."

It’s all about maturing and realizing how quick he can play against men.

Don Maloney

Samuelsson got his feet wet at Coyotes camp last fall, learning how to train, eat and live like a pro at and away from the rink.

"It goes by fast," said Samuelsson, who is the son of former Coyotes and current Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. "I was there and then I was out the door. They don’t mess around if you’re not at the top of your game.

"You have to earn it. There’s always opportunities to make the team, but you have to seize the opportunity."

Samuelsson said he never felt out of place at camp, and he believes he could fill a fourth-line role this season if asked.

"My dad coached there, so I watched a lot of games to see how Dave Tippett coaches — what he looks for and what he asks of his team," he said.

Samuelsson will have a chance to impress the Coyotes at their prospect development camp, which starts July 7. He’ll also be in training camp. But the safe bet is that he will start his pro career with Portland of the American Hockey League while the team mulls whether to give Domi a crack at the NHL roster. 

"We are going to look at Max to see if we can live with some of the immaturity in his play early — with the hope that the returns will be there in February and March," Maloney said. 

Playoff takeaways

Maloney is at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, which started Monday and runs through Saturday. Like the NFL Scouting Combine, the NHL’s version helps the league’s 30 teams identify draft prospects through interviews and a series of off-ice tests.

NHL Central Scouting invited 119 players from North America and Europe.

The fitness portion of the Combine is Saturday at Toronto International Centre. The off-ice tests include overhand pull-ups, single-leg squats (both legs) and pro agility tests. There are also four body composition tests (standing height, wingspan, body weight and skinfold fat measurements) and 11 individual fitness tests designed to evaluate players.

Despite a few changes this year, the evaluation process has remained largely the same for more than a decade, Maloney said. But the NHL is considering additional testing methods to model the NFL’s example, and the league is strongly considering adding on-ice tests to get a better read on players.

"The difficulty is always how do you equate players who finished in late March to a player who finished last week and of course, there are associated costs with ice time," Maloney said. "We don’t have the same kind of big-name sponsors as the NFL."

Maloney was recently asked to join a committee to explore alternate forms of testing and a number of other changes to the Combine that would make it a more effective evaluation tool. 

Maloney said he has narrowed his search for an assistant general manager, with three or four names of particular interest. The job’s previous occupant, Brad Treliving, accepted the GM post in Calgary in April.

Ideally, Maloney said he’d like to have someone in place by the NHL Draft, which is June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

"We don’t need the guy with the CBA/contract background," he said. "(Senior Director of Hockey Operation) Chris O’Hearn is a sharp kid and learning as we go. We’re looking more for a hockey mind."

As FOX Sports Arizona reported on May 4, former Sabres GM Darcy Regier could be a candidate.

Regier has ties to Coyotes GM Don Maloney from their days in the Islanders organization. Maloney was New York’s GM from 1992-95. Regier was the Islanders’ assistant GM for part of that time and served as interim GM when Maloney was fired during the 1995-96 season.

Five members of the Coyotes organization — coach Dave Tippett (Canada), forward Mikkel Boedker (Denmark), defenseman Connor Murphy (USA), forward Andy Miele (USA) and forward Tobias Rieder (Germany) — competed at the now-concluded 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, Belarus.

Tippett, Murphy and Miele advanced the farthest. The Czech Republic defeated USA, 4-3, in a quarterfinal game, while Finland upset Canada, 3-2, in another quarterfinal game.

"Very disappointing," texted Tippett, whose team won Group A before falling to Finland, Group B’s No. 4 seed, in the playoffs. "We played well enough to win."

Finland advanced to the championship game, where it lost to Russia, 5-2. 

Tippett also celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife, Wendy, on Monday.

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