2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 26. Arizona Coyotes

Part 6 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst and wrapping up with the best, we’ll be giving you each teams preview with the reasoning behind our rankings. It might not make sense, but neither does Jeremy Roenick.

2016-17 Recap

Record: 30-42-10 (70 Points) 6th in the Pacific Division (28th Overall)
GFPG: 2.33 (27th)
GAPG: 3.17 (28th)
PP%: 16.17% (26th)
PK%: 77.31% (27th)
Corsi For %: 44.9% (30th)

After a promising 2015-16 season, the Arizona Coyotes quickly plummeted to the Western Conference’s basement last season. At points, this team almost looked like they’d give the Colorado Avalanche a run for their money in the futility department. The first half of the season they got off to an ice cold 13-22-6 (32 points) start. This was just five points up on the Avs and eleven back of the next nearest team in the Western Conference, not a great place to be. But a second half improvement of 17-20-4 (38 points) provided some hope that some of the kids they had been grooming at the highest level were willing to push through hard times and had the ability to succeed in the NHL. This may seem as if it was counter-productive in a rebuilding sense, but the Coyotes have done their bottoming out and are giving their kids a chance to stick. It was time for them to get their shot in the show, they just weren’t good enough.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta

List of Key Departures: Shane Doan, Mike Smith, Radim Vrbata, Zbynek Michalek

The Coyotes enter the 2017/18 season with a new head coach (Rick Tocchet), new captain (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) and new starting goalie (Raanta). But in spite of all these new changes, the result will likely be similar to last season. This year looks as if it it’ll be used as a developmental season for the young roster the Coyotes have constructed and Rick Tocchet will get the opportunity to evaluate what kind of pieces he has to put towards the greater goal in the future. Of note: Rookie centre Clayton Keller is being talked about as a favourite for the Calder Trophy heading into this season, and while Keller is no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, he’s proof of the talented and exciting young group that Arizona has assembled over the past couple years. They’ll be a fun team this season no matter how things play out in the standings.

X-Factors

Team MVP – Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Ekman-Larsson may not be a household name like some other defensmen, one of the many fun quirks of playing hockey in the dessert, but he still stacks up pretty well with the upper echelon in the NHL. He’s carried the load for a leaky Arizona D core for a few years now, and he’s the face of the franchise, yet he’s still just 26. Ekman-Larsson is a workhorse, as he’s averaged 25:07 Time-On-Ice/Per Game over the last four seasons (2013/14-2016/17), which is good for tenth in the league over that span. He’s also one of the most effective power-play quarterbacks you’ll find in today’s game. Ekman-Larsson over the same four season period is second overall among defensemen in power-play goals (38) and sixth in power-play points (88). That places him ahead of guys like P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith in the same category. He had a disappointing season by his standards last year, but he’s sure to bounce back. He has played on a garbage team but he makes the most of his situation. Needless to say the Coyotes defence would be lost without him.

Team’s Strength – Young, Talented Forwards

The Coyotes have accumulated an impressive group of young players. Looking at the offensive talent up front you can definitely picture the Coyotes making some noise in the Western Conference some time down the road. While it’s too early to get too hyped this season, when you take into consideration a group like Tobias Rieder (24), Max Domi (22), Anthony Duclair (22), Christian Dvorak (21), Dylan Strome (20), Lawson Crouse (20) and Clayton Keller (19)… (you get the idea), it’s definitely a positive for Coyotes fans. And they don’t get many of those. These  names aren’t just guys that are just prospects for the future, the Coyotes fully expect these guys to step in and lead the offense for this team today. This will certainly be an extremely fast, talented, and yet sure-to-be frustrating team to watch at times. Sounds like solid entertainment down in the desert.

Team’s Weakness – Experience

While a Coyotes’ roster packed full of young talent is promising, it also means there is bound to be some growing pains throughout the year. Add that to the fact that longtime captain Shane Doan finally called it a career after 21 seasons with the franchise and their starting goalie of the last six seasons, Mike Smith, was shipped to Calgary; there will likely be a feeling out process when it comes to leadership with this young group. These had to be some of the thoughts going through GM John Chayka’s mind when he acquired established veterans like Derek Stepan, formerly of the New York Rangers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, former Stanley Cup champ with the Chicago Blackhawks, this offseason. I’m willing to bet this will be the youngest roster in the NHL by quite a bit come opening day.

Rookies/Farm

The 2017 draft was a crazy time for the Coyotes. While they had nine selections in the draft, their 5th and 7th round picks were the only ones that were originally their property due to prior trades jumbling things up. The most notable deal of those was the trading of defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th overall pick in exchange for Derek Stepan and new starting goalie Antti Raanta.

The Coyotes were in a comfortable position to do something like this because their talented “farm system” is essentially their NHL roster. Believe it or not, both first round picks they had in the 2016 draft, Clayton Keller (7th overall) and Jacob Chychrun (16th overall), have already made the jump to the NHL. They did still have the 23rd pick in this past draft though, and they used that to select defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph from the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL.

Key Player – Max Domi

An injury riddled 2016-17 forced Domi out of 23 games and as a result he was unable to build upon his impressive 52-point rookie campaign. He’ll be looked upon to bounce back and shoulder a large offensive role entering his third pro season. The 22-year old, former London Knight has the skill and upside to succeed as a top-six forward in the NHL and this already has the makings to be the season he pushes past the 60-point plateau. So long as he stays healthy, Domi is the face of the exciting potential that should be felt around the future of these young Coyotes.

  1. Ballantyne: 27th
  2. Burgess: 27th
  3. Waind: 24th

The Coyotes are simply in transition in the development developmental stage at this point in time and are lacking veteran presence on the roster. In addition to that, the goaltending tandem of Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue lacks the experience of playing in a full-time starters role. The young tandem guys will be hard to get behind until it’s proven in game action that they can handle the full season’s workload. All-in-all, expectations should be set at a low bar for the 2017/18 Coyotes.

All of this being the said, to me, the Coyotes are clearly working their way in the right direction. The NHL has developed into a league where young impact players on rookie contracts and RFA deals is so much more important than ever before. It’d be exciting to see this group of kids click as a unit and set the league on fire, but I just don’t see it happening quite yet. This season’s overall ranking may be low, but the Coyotes are in as good of a position as any in the bottom portion of the league to experience improvement in the years to come.

 

 

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