Hockey News and Discussions
I’m doubling down on my phrase that generated so much controversy earlier this week with Canadian hockey fans on Facebook: “The Coyotes aren’t going to be as bad as you think.”
Although they are the team that hockey fans love to berate, the Coyotes have been quietly improving, especially with the recent Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi trade. While I’m not a Coyotes fan, they have done several things right in the last couple of seasons.
While I don’t think this team will be in the Cup Finals next season (I mean they COULD pull a Vegas, you never know), they are my dark horse pick to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, based solely on the team they have right now.
If we look at the history of hockey, plenty of teams have done much more with less than what the Coyotes currently have. Although the Yotes finished 29-41-12 (last place in the Pacific) there were a number of bright spots and reasons to be excited about this team in the future.
A 1,2,3 Center Combo:
First, their centers. As of right now, they have a legitimate 1,2,3 punch down the middle. As shown by the success of every great team this decade, center depth does wonders in the NHL. While I’m still not convinced that Stepan or Galchenyuk are true 1c’s, they are solid 2cs, which has proven enough to make the playoffs in the past.
In 2018, Derek Stepan was 2nd on the team in scoring, finishing with 14 goals and 42 assists. His point total, 56 was the highest of his career in four seasons. He also finished with 42 assists, the highest of his career. By the way, did I mention that Arizona was second to last in the league in goal scoring? He also won 47.7% of his faceoffs, while averaging more ice time than any other AZ forward.
Christian Dvorak also had a quietly solid season. Let’s be honest, a lot of Coyotes had an ugly plus minus this season. It’s going to happen when you have an awful goals per game and a subpar goals against. Despite that, Dvorak looks like he could be a legitimate NHL 3c. He put up 15 goals and 22 assists as a 21 year old, adding 4 more assists from his total numbers from last season. He was also 51.4% in the faceoff circle.
Next, is a toss up for who takes 2c. Former 3rd overall pick Dylan Strome looked good in a small sample size. He produced 9 points in 21 games, where he went +4 with a solid 103.4 PDO. Those are certainly indications he could have a big season as a bit of a late bloomer (at least by top 3 pick standards).
The other choice for 2c is newly acquired Alex Galcheyuk, who has played multiple positions on many lines in his short career. Galchenyuk was 2nd on the Habs with 51 points last season, where he also added 19 goals. He will give the Coyotes the flexibility to shuffle around combos in training camp.
Young, Productive Wingers:
The Coyotes have a lot of potential on their wings. Clayton Keller (one of my favorite players to watch in 2018) had a fantastic rookie season. He scored 23 goals and added 42 assists. I’ve watched him since before he was drafted and he always struck me as a player with elite potential. Fortunately for him and Yotes fans, that potential has been realized.
Christian Fischer also had a nice rookie season, adding 15 goals and 33 points. Furthermore, the Coyotes received great seasons from Brandon Perlini (17 goals and 13 assists) and Richard Panik. Panik came over in a mid-season trade from Chicago and had a fantastic tenure with Arizona. While he only played in 35 games with the Yotes, Panik added 19 points in those 35 games and went +4. He also finished the season with 53.4% corsi and 101.9 PDO. Not bad for a player on the 18 Coyotes.
This is a good group of young talented wingers that will only improve, especially as Galcheyuk, Strome, and Dvorak further their own development, which will create more space and scoring opportunities for Arizona’s wingers to operate.
When the average hockey fan thinks of Arizona, they think of 3 letters, OEL. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best player on the team, no doubt. It’s why he just received a massive 8 year offer to stay in the desert. OEL is out there for practically every goal for and against. While he averages just under 24 minutes of ice time per game, watch a Coyotes game and you’ll swear he’s out there for 45 minutes. He also produced 42 points last year, including 18 goals.
But look further on their blueline and you’ll see a talented group that just needs to find a way to come together. Alex Goligoski had 35 points in 78 games, Niklas Hjalmarsson finished the year with a 100.4 PDO and 9 points, despite being limited to 48 games, and UFA Kevin Connauton had a career year, contributing 21 points in 73 games. If the Coyotes can bring back Connauton, it should help their chances of chasing the Knights, Sharks, Ducks, and Kings in the Pacific Division.
Lastly, 19-year-old Jakob Chychrun had a solid year, despite missing some of the campaign as he recovered from last season’s injury. In 50 games, he contributed 14 points, while finishing +2 with 101.8 corsi. Chychrun is definitely going to play a big part in the future of desert hockey.
A True Number One Goalie:
Goaltending goes a long way. Just ask the Capitals with Phillipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby, or the Knights with Marc-Andre Fleury. If these Finals proved anything, it’s that a solid number one can take you far.
Moreover, the recent NHL trend of trading for A+ backup goaltenders and turning them into starters has had mixed results. The Hurricanes are certainly regretting that Scott Darling contract, as are the Jets with Steve Mason. But there have been successes. Cam Talbot has been mixed for the Oilers (but has mostly been solid), Jones has become a star in San Jose, Schneider has been productive in New Jersey, and Bobrovsky has been elite for the Blue Jackets. Enter Antti Raanta.
Similarly, Antti Raanta has been elite for the Coyotes in a small sample size. Although he had a bit of a slow start, Raanta finished the season with amazing numbers, ending the year with a record of 21-17-6 with a .930 SV and a 2.24 GAA. Raanta finished second among qualified goalies in save percentage and tied for second among qualified goalies in goals against average.
Those are the elite numbers that Arizona needs if they want to take the next step. If he can keep it going, Raanta should keep the Yotes in the playoff hunt.
Fantastic Prospect System:
The Coyotes prospect system has some legitimate NHL talent that should blend nicely with their core from last season. For starters, forwards Lawson Crouse, and the aforementioned Strome are the stand outs, and they could still turn out to be great NHLers. However, Arizona has a collection of other great prospects. For example, at forward, Tyler Steenbergen just produced 102 points in 56 games for Swift Current in the WHL, while Nick Merkley produced 39 points in 38 games as a 21 year old.
Defensively, the Coyotes also have Kyle Capobianco, Pierre-Oliver Joseph, and Cam Dineen waiting in the wings. Last season, Capobianco produced 30 points in 49 AHL games, while Dineen added 28 points in 26 games with Sarnia in the OHL and 36 points in 39 games with North Bay in the OHL. Additionally, Joseph contributed 46 points in 63 games with Charlottestown in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Additionally, Trevor Murphy also looked great in a limited sample size in the NHL. In 8 games, he added 3 points and went +5 with a 110.9 PDO. While that PDO probably isn’t sustainable, it should be a good indicator that he can produce at the NHL level.
Lastly, the Coyotes hold the 5th overall pick in this draft, which means they can add another top talent. Essentially, they are guaranteed one of Brady Tkachuk, Adam Boqvist, or Filip Zadina.
While Buffalo is a lock to take Dahlin and the Hurricanes are likely taking Svechnikov, Montreal (3rd) and Ottawa (4th) are question marks. This will allow the Yotes will end up with a fantastic top prospect to add to their team.
Can you imagine these pairings next year?
Richard Panik Derek Stepan Clayton Keller
Alex Galchenyuk Christian Dvorak Nick Merkley
Brandon Perlini Dylan Strome Christian Fischer
Josh Archibald Marcus Kruger Nick Cousins
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Jason Demers
Jakob Chychrun Alex Goligoski
Trevor Murphy Niklas Hjalmarsson
Potentially Kevin Connauton or Capobianco*
Plus either Boqvist, Zadina, or Tkachuk?
Things are definitely looking up for the Coyotes and I predict that within 5 years, Arizona will be at the best point in their history in the desert.
*all info from Capfriendly.com, hockey-reference.com, and left-wing lock