Gwinnett Gladiators goalie Mike Lee, a Phoenix Coyotes prospect, keeps an eye on the puck during a game last season at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators renewed their NHL affiliation with the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday.
The teams have worked together to develop players for the last two years with a good bit of young talent playing regularly in Gwinnett.
“I think it’s a natural (fit),” Gladiators president Steve Chapman said. “When we first signed with Phoenix, the whole thought process behind it was player development. (Coyotes assistant GM) Brad Treliving and I had a lot of conversations just about the philosophy Phoenix has. Being a smaller market team, they have to focus on player development and that’s something I thought was important to our organization.
“For the first two years we’ve been with them, it’s been a good relationship.”
Of course, in the give-and-take world of minor-league hockey, Gwinnett is occasionally left in a bind.
“There have been times when, you know, yeah, we lost both goaltenders this year and we had to scramble to find one, but that’s kind of the role you play sometimes,” Chapman said. “I appreciate the fact Phoenix, and (AHL) Portland for that matter, do consider us an integral part of their system and keep us in mind where they can.
“We’ve seen some good players come through, too, and that’s been the big thing, for me anyway.”
Last season the Gladiators roster included seven different players assigned by the Coyotes at various points during the season — forwards Scott Arnold, Evan Bloodoff and Maxime Villemaire, defenseman Justin Weller, and goaltenders Louis Domingue, Mike Lee and Mark Visentin.
Bloodoff finished third on the team in points with 38 in 52 games (20 goals, 18 assists), while Domingue and Lee combined to play 62 of Gwinnett’s 75 total games between the pipes last season. Weller appeared in 65 games for Gwinnett, while Arnold racked up 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 32 games.
“Sometimes with an affiliation, you end up getting players that are an organization’s mistakes versus the kids they are trying to develop,” Chapman said. “For the most part, I haven’t seen that at all with Phoenix.
“It’s just been a very good working relationship and we’re proud to carry it forward.”
After conversations with the Coyotes, Chapman is expecting a similar number of prospects to filter down to the Gladiators this season. He’s anticipating two goalies, up to four forwards and at least one defenseman.
“I think we’ll see some very good prospects and hope to develop them as we have in the past,” Chapman said.