Arizona Coyotes 2017-18 Outlook
If it wasn’t obvious last year, Shane Doan’s departure officially signaled it’s time for the young players to step up.
Arizona’s returning treasure trove of youth begins with forwards Christian Dvorak and Max Domi. After the trade-deadline departure of Martin Hanzal, Domi and Dvorak clicked well, frequently alongside top scorer and now Panther right wing Radim Vrbata on the power play.
Left wing Brendan Perlini showed great scoring instincts and quick skates. For a while, his goals-per-game average last year stood third among rookies behind only Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
Add uber-prospects Clayton Keller, who looks every bit ready and could be in for monster things probably as a second-line right wing, and center Dylan Strome after another ridiculously prolific scoring year in juniors at center, as well as Derek Stepan at top pivot and you have significant promise along with perhaps growing pains.
Despite last year’s 15-point campaign, Anthony Duclair has also proven he can excel with his 20 goals, 24 assists 2015-16 season.
Two-way power forward Christian Fischer impressed with three goals on his first three NHL shots and solid overall play during seven Coyotes contests. He also registered a 0.83 point-per-game average (20 G, 27 A, 57 games) with AHL Tucson.
Both Duclair and Fischer will vie for important roles among the Coyotes’ thin right wing corps.
Rugged speedster and defensive whiz Tobias Rieder, his relentless penalty killing partner Jordan Martinook, tenacious veteran Brad Richardson, Philly import Nick Cousins, big-bodied playmaker Lawson Crouse, and gritty Jamie McGinn will mostly round out the bottom six, tweaking roles as lines solidify and shift.
With Anthony DeAngelo gone to New York, Connor Murphy to Chicago and Jacob Chychrun injured and out at season’s start, Arizona’s blue line will look a little different this year.
Recovered from a broken thumb, expect Oliver Ekman-Larsson to regain his game, particularly with defensive specialist and likely pairing Niklas Hjalmarsson joining the club and freeing him up for greater offensive pursuits.
Much brawn will come from Luke Schenn who led the Coyotes with 286 hits (second among NHL blueliners to Mark Borowiecki) and was second on the squad in blocks to rearguard Alex Goligoski with 134.
Analytics favorite Adam Clendening will seek defensive improvements, while Arizona hopes he continues to drive possession and skillfully move the puck as in his previous, brief NHL experience.
Expect usual seventh defenseman Kevin Connauton to occasionally pick up playing time with multiple new faces and Chychrun’s injury.
Career backup Antti Raanta (47-23-9, 2.32, .917 in 94 contests) will start and enjoy more defense than recent Arizona netminders. Hjalmarsson alone improves a blue line that allowed the third-most goals in the NHL (258).
Backup Louis Domingue is serviceable but not a challenge for the number one spot unless Raanta bombs or gets hurt.
Looking ahead to the trade deadline – if sellers who could be on the move, if buyers what area might they need to improve?
Trade chips are scarce with the newest prospects lacking much NHL action and not much depth on the roster. Departures would create troublesome holes.
Arizona’s best currency seems to be future draft picks and promising prospects. They’d probably like to unload Goligoski’s remaining four years at $5.5M AAV, and can also assume contracts with slightly over $18M in cap room.
Pending Duclair, Keller, and Fischer’s work, they’re thinnest at right wing and right-handed defense. Schenn and Clendening are the only NHL-ready non-lefties. AHL standout Kyle Wood is a righty who may make the jump before long.
What rookies could make the team?
Keller, Strome, and Fischer have excellent chances. There’s a role for Wood if he can grab it.
Which player could take a step forward this season?
Look for a strong OEL bounce back. Duclair may also rebound, especially if he lands top-six work. An injury-free Domi should register better numbers than last year.
Other than the marquee prospects, with Brendan Perlini’s skilled and intuitive shooting, 20-25 goals may not be a surprise.
Which players could regress?
With Hjalmarsson’s arrival, Goligoski’s game might dip. He probably won’t average 23:30 minutes per game like last year. Chychrun’s injury obviously dampens his year. We’ll see how he looks when/if he returns in 2017-18.
Any training camp battles expected?
They didn’t trade for Raanta to sit him, but you never know if a career backup will be an effective starter. Domingue should be extra motivated. There will likely be widespread competition among forward lines, exacerbated by Coach Tocchet’s debut.
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