The Arizona Coyotes have made numerous changes to their roster over the summer. They are hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011/12.
Derek Stepan (C)
In one of a couple major trades pulled off by general manager John Chayka, the Yotes acquired center Derek Stepan from the New York Rangers. The Coyotes also received goalie Antti Raanta in the blockbuster trade.
The Rangers received the Coyotes’ seventh overall selection in the entry draft and young defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in return. Stepan finally gives the Desert Dogs a first-line center who has averaged 0.70 points a game in his seven-year NHL career.
Stepan will more than likely line up with two of the most exciting forwards on the team’s roster. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair (once he gets signed to a contract) will be on Stepan’s wings, and this line should have some explosive offensive potential.
Antti Raanta (G)
In the same deal which brought Stepan to the desert, Raanta will become the Coyotes’ new starting goalie since they dealt former starter Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames. Raanta has never been a starter but has excellent statistics which could forecast his future.
In four NHL seasons, he has a 47-23-9 won/loss record as a backup goaltender. His .917 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average show he has talent in the crease. The biggest unanswered question is will he be able to sustain an entire NHL season?
Backup Louis Domingue may be used more often if the 28-year-old fails to meet expectations. The Finn is signed to a reasonable $1 million contract, and if he succeeds in filling the starting role with some exceptional play he could get a contract renewal.
Niklas Hjalmarsson (D)
In another big trade, the Arizona Coyotes were able to acquire a steady, stay-at-home defenseman from the Chicago Blackhawks in Niklas Hjalmarsson. The weak blue line for the team lacked another front line defenseman to play alongside All-Star Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Ekman-Larsson, who will more than likely take over the captain role for the team since Shane Doan retirement, should get back his stellar play after a disappointing season by his standards. Hjalmarsson (“Hammer”) will provide coverage as OEL makes his jaunts into the offensive zone to press the play.
The fact that they are both from Sweden definitely won’t hurt their chemistry at the back. The price to pay to get Hjalmarsson was a bit steep. They had to give up two young players in defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.
This improvement should allow Arizona to defend better, and Hjalmarsson is an excellent shot blocker averaging almost two blocks per game.
Nick Cousins (C)
In a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Coyotes acquired Cousins and Merrick Madsen for Brendan Warren and Arizona’s 5th round pick in 2018 NHL Draft. Cousins should be a good fourth-line player.
He has only had 27 points in 107 NHL games, but his physical play (112 hits in 107 games) may be something needed off the bench.
Adam Clendening (D)
Signed as a free agent, and playing on his sixth team in four seasons Clendening hopes to settle down in the desert. With just 22 points in 81 NHL career games, he is hoping to find a home as a fill-in seventh defenseman.
He has a right-handed shot, which helps replace the departed DeAngelo and Murphy who both were righties. He may need to pick up some early minutes since second-year defenseman Jakob Chychrun is sidelined with a leg injury which may keep him out of action for a bit.
Connor Murphy (D)
It may well show to be an excellent trade for the Chicago Blackhawks if for no other reason than their defense got younger. Murphy is six years junior to Hjalmarsson and was second on the team in hits.
He’s a stay-at-home defenseman who has only averaged 0.19 points a game in his four-year NHL career. He was benched at times for lack of inspired play by former head coach Dave Tippett.
He should fit in well with the Blackhawks, but it’s difficult to replace Hjalmarsson, who has three Cups to his name. Still, Murphy will add a new dimension to Chicago’s lineup.
Laurent Dauphin (C)
At just 22, the Blackhawks also picked up a good checking forward who is also adept at penalty killing. He could fill a fourth-line role for the Chicago team. While with the AHL affiliate for the Coyotes (Tucson Roadrunners) he accumulated 28 points in 38 games.
Mike Smith (G)
In a surprise move, the Arizona Coyotes felt it was time to see what Mike Smith would bring in the trade market.
Not much. They received goalie Chad Johnson, whom they exposed in the expansion draft. He went on to sign with the Buffalo Sabres, and all the Coyotes gained was some salary relief.
He was traded to the Flames, who inherited his hefty $5.667 million contract (minus $1,416,667 per year retained by the Coyotes) for the next two years. Smitty did play well last season with a 19-26-6 record with a .914 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average.
He wasn’t getting any younger, and his play was erratic at times. It’s to be determined how well he may do on a better Calgary team this coming season.
Alexander Burmistrov (C)
Burmistrov was signed by the Vancouver Canucks. He was a serviceable forward who had 14 points in 26 games with Arizona.
Martin Hanzal (C)
The big 6’6″, 226lb center was traded to the Minnesota Wild for three draft picks and a prospect. It seemed that similar to Smith, Hanzal’s welcome was worn thin in Arizona. He was injury prone and was their best asset to trade away for some future draft choices.
The 23rd overall draft pick they retained from Minnesota was used to select Pierre-Olivier Joseph (defenseman), from the Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL). He looks to be needing to add some bulk to compete in the NHL but has some talent that the team could tap into in a couple years.
Hanzal did play the rest of the season with Minnesota, but the Wild decided not to sign him to a contract. Hanzal signed a three-year $14.25 million deal to play for the Dallas Stars.
Michael Stone (D)
Stone was traded to the Calgary Flames for two draft picks. He was earning a hefty $4 million salary, and the budget conscious Coyotes needed him off their books. He will have former Arizona goalie Mike Smith defending his goal again.
Stone managed to negotiate a three-year $10.5 million contract from Calgary. They may have overpaid him. He’s an average defenseman with poor possession skills.
Radim Vrbata (RW)
Vrbata was the team’s leading scorer last season with 20 goals and 55 points, yet even though he was very receptive to staying in Arizona, he decided to move his family down to Florida. At 36-years-old, he may be winding down a successful NHL career.
Still, he managed to draw a one-year contract from the Florida Panthers worth $2.5 million. He should help the Panthers offense this coming season.
Shane Doan (RW)
After not being offered a contract for the upcoming season, and weighing his options, the captain decided it was time to leave the game. He was an institution to the team, and more than likely one of the major reasons the team stayed in the Phoenix area.
His dedication to the game and the valley of the sun will not be forgotten. His #19 jersey will hang from the rafters of whatever arena the team finally decides to build.
Moving on up
Clayton Keller (C/W)
Keller could be the most pleasant prospect to join the team since Max Domi two years ago. Don’t let his small size fool you. He has moves and great soft hands to pass the puck… and that ever present skill that most teams covet—speed.
Keller should be a center, but will more than likely be switched to the wing. He could be lining up with two other young players who are making moves towards stardom
His linemates may be Brendan Perlini and his center may be Christian Dvorak. Both Perlini and Dvorak took giant steps towards learning the NHL style of play. That should make for some highlight reel goals this coming season. Watch Keller show his stuff in a way only he can display.
Christian Fischer (RW)
Fischer made a grand NHL debut by scoring three goals on his first three shots on goal. He looks to bring some size (6’2″, 214lbs) to the front line and maybe fill a void that Doan performed by crashing the net.
The kid has an excellent shot and will be more than likely making the final roster cuts in training camp. He could become quite a good player at this level for the new season.
Jakob Chychrun (D)
Chychrun had a good first season in the NHL at the ripe age of 18. He played reasonably well with 20 points in 68 games. He showed some flashes of offensive talent and has the confidence to attack the offensive zone when there’s an open path.
Unfortunately, he was injured during the offseason and will miss the start of the season. The team states it is not a season-ending injury, yet won’t divulge the extent of his injury.
Lawson Crouse (LW)
Crouse proved he belongs in the NHL last season as he delivered 160 hits in 72 games and used his big 6’4″, 220lb frame to position himself in the corners retrieving loose pucks. While being a fourth-line performer he should progress this upcoming season to mature further and become a more all-round player.
What can the Coyotes achieve this season?
It’s been five LONG years of no playoffs, no white-out in the desert. While general manager John Chayka pulled off some magical trades this summer, the players still need to lace up their skates, go out on the ice and win games.
The additions should equate into more wins for the Coyotes, but whether or not it will be enough wins in the tough Western Conference is up for debate.
Stepan will help bring veteran leadership (and he’s only 27) with his seven seasons of play in the NHL. Along with Stepan, Hjalmarsson will indeed upgrade the weak defense the team that the Yotes faithful have had to endure for the last five years.
Goaltending may or may not improve, but it important to mention that Raanta may surprise many who don’t much about his play or potential.
The rise of players like Domi, Duclair, Tobias Rieder and Jordan Martinook must continue to improve this season to give the Coyotes a shot at the playoffs.
Many believe they will improve this year, but not enough to make the post season. We’ll see.
When one goes over the competition that the Western Conference possesses, it can be quite intimidating to a young team like the Coyotes. That doesn’t mean that their new head coach Rick Tocchet is going to go easy on them. He only knows one way to play and that is to WIN.
Will Tocchet’s experience at winning three Cups, two as an assistant head coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, be an invaluable tool to guide this team to the playoffs? Maybe.
Think about it now. The Coyotes will need to gain at least 90-95 points to even be in the run for a playoff spot. Teams like San Jose, Anaheim, Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, Calgary, Minnesota, with outsiders Los Angeles and Winnipeg peeking in could give the Coyotes tons of trouble getting by them.
It will be a race to the end, and unfortunately, the Desert Dogs will run out of gas and will finish 11th in the conference.
They will continue to improve, but it’s still going to take some time.
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