Pacific Division 2014-15 Preview: Arizona Coyotes
COACH: Dave Tippett
2013-14 RECORD: 37-30-15, 89 points (fourth in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.56 goals-for per game (20th); 2.73 goals-against per game (18th); 19.9 power play pct. (4th); 79.0 penalty kill pct. (26th); shootout record: 6-7 (16th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Lauri Korpikosko — Martin Hanzal — Shane Doan
Martin Erat — Antoine Vermette — Mikkel Boedker
Kyle Chipchura — Sam Gagner — David Moss
Brandon McMillan — Joe Vitale — B.J. Crombeen
OUTLOOK: Now representing of all of the Grand Canyon State, the renamed Arizona Coyotes arrive with more question marks than a playoff-contending team wants to ponder before the start of a season. The offense lost a reliable scoring threat in Radim Vrbata, so coach Dave Tippett will likely rely heavily on Martin Hanzal, who netted 15 goals last season, to shoulder much of the scoring load and make life a little easier for Martin Erat, Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan. The addition of Sam Gagner—a 2007 first-round pick by the Oilers—brought in a solid, if underachieving, forward who had an eight-point game for Edmonton in 2012. It's clear that this team will struggle to put the puck in the net and must rely on neutral zone control to limit opponents. The defense features an elite blueliner in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a goaltender, Mike Smith, who has produced some outstanding stretches of play during the course of his career. It's worth noting that three seasons ago the Coyotes earned the third seed in the Western Conference before losing to the Kings in the second round, so there’s always a chance that the resourceful Tippett will drive his latest group of blue collar workers to a playoff berth and perhaps even a bit of a run.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Sam Gagner remains the biggest X-factor on the team because of his breakout potential, but Ekman-Larsson is a graceful, gifted defenseman whose fame has been muffled by being stuck in Phoenix. Strikingly similar to Swedish defensive legend Nicklas Lidstrom (I’m aware of the bold comparison), the 23-year old Ekman-Larsson has provided stability to the Coyotes blue line since his arrival in 2010-2011. Standing at 6-foot-2 and a deft passer, he pairs with another of the NHL’s most underrated players in Keith Yandle to form a duo that ranks among the best in the league.
PREDICTION: 85 points (fifth in Pacific)