Arizona Coyotes 2015-16 preview
COACH: Dave Tippett
2014-15 RECORD: 24-50-8, 56 points (seventh in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.01 goals-for per game (29th); 3.26 goals-against per game (28th); 20.0 power play pct. (7th); 76.7 penalty kill pct. (29th); PDO: 97.1 (29th); Corsi For pct.: 47.7 (24th); Fenwick For pct.: 47.2 (25th); face-off pct.: 51.8 (22nd)
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Keith Yandle, C Sam Gagner, RW Martin Erat, LW Lauri Korpikorski, C Mark Arcobello, F David Moss, RW B.J. Crombeen, D John Moore, D David Schlemko, D Brandon Gormley, D Chris Summers, LW Rob Klinkhammer, LW Brandon McMillan, LW Tye McGinn
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Mikkel Boedker – Antoine Vermette– Shane Doan
Max Domi – Martin Hanzal – Steve Downie
Tobias Rieder – Boyd Gordon – Anthony Duclair
John Scott – Brad Richardson – Joe Vitale
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Nicklas Grossman
Michael Stone – Zbynek Michalek
Connor Murphy – Klas Dahlbeck
OUTLOOK: As their 2014-15 season became a disaster with Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel draft lottery potential, the Coyotes cleaned house, trading backup goalie Devan Dubnyk, forwards Antoine Vermette and Sam Gagne, and defensemen Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek. And so the rebuild (or “retool” as GM Don Maloney preferred to call it) was on. The Vermette deal with Blackhawks yielded a first round draft choice (winger Nick Merkley) and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. As it turned out Vermette loves playing in the desert and so he returned, re-signing with the Coyotes for two years. In affect, the team got two young players and Vermette for Vermette. Not bad. Unfortunately, Arizona ended up with the third pick in the draft and selected center Dylan Strome, a teammate of McDavid’s on the OHL’s Erie Otters. On the plus side Strome looked impressive in camp before being sent back to Erie for more seasoning.
Arizona’s future looks bright due to its excellent drafting of the past five years. Strome is just one of the solid prospects in a system that includes forwards Merkley, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer, Michael Bunting, Matthias Plachta,and Ryan MacInnis, defenseman Kyle Capobianco, and goalie Adin Hill. At the NHL level Max Domi and his world juniors teammate Anthony Duclair, who was acquired from the Rangers in the Yandle trade, are the “now” kids. Domi could very well become a top scorer. I’m talking Vladimir Tarasenko-type scoring. Duclair is smooth, fast, and great around the net. He passes with confidence and just needs to improve on his puck possession. The backline corps is also stocked with promising youth. Underappreciated (outside of Arizona) Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dahlbeck, Tobias Rieder, Connor Murphy and Stefan Elliott are all under 25.
No doubt the Coyotes will take their learning lumps this season, but their youthful exuberance should be fun to watch. They won’t make the playoffs, but with guidance from veterans like captain Shane Doan, Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Mike Smith, Michalek, Boyd Gordon, Steve Downie and Mikkel Boedker, the Desert Dogs will improve in time. Meanwhile, finishing last in the league will give them a decent shot at adding to their treasure trove of prospects by taking Arizona native Auston Matthews with the first pick next June.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Mike Smith
Hanzal and Boedker played only about half of the 2014-15 season due to injuries. Hanzal had corrective back surgery and is ready to go, hopefully for all 82 games, which would be a first for him. Boedker was off to an excellent start when he suffered a spleen injury that required surgery to remove the damaged organ. He’s also recovered nicely. Goalie Smith, 33, is at the crossroads of his career. No longer a youngster, he had an awful 2014-15 campaign and has quite a bit to do to prove he’s still worth the six-year deal with the $5.7 million AAV he signed back in July 2013. While the first half of his season was like quicksand, Smith recovered nicely during the last part of the year, and had an excellent showing at the IIHF World Championship tournament where he helped Canada win the gold medal. A return to form will provide valuable stability for Arizona's young defense corps.
PREDICTION: 52 points, seventh in Pacific
— Bill Grigsby edits and writes the Coyotes fan site Howlin' Hockey on FanSided