October 06, 2015

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes spent two seasons adding to what they already had, hoping a couple of new pieces would rekindle the magic of the 2011-12 season.

When it didn't work for a third straight season, the Coyotes decided to change directions. They unloaded veterans and beefy contracts at the trade deadline last season and went a more youthful route.

The shift didn't help Arizona last season, but it has changed the outlook this year.

With a talented group of young players surrounded by a few key veterans, there's a new vibe around Gila River Arena - even if the Coyotes are picked to be among the NHL's worst teams.

''Outside these halls I know where we're probably projected, but I think if our mix is right, there's a lot of people who are anxious to get back and show people we are better than we were, not only on the ice but off the ice,'' Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.

Arizona's rebuilding project came midseason, when the team unloaded Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek at the trade deadline. Already in the midst of a disappointing season, the Coyotes struggled even more down the stretch to finish 24-50-8, their second-worst record since moving to the desert in 1996.

Arizona gave its young players a chance to play at the end of this season and added some dynamic talent to this year's team.

Center Max Domi gained two years of seasoning in the minors after being the 12th overall pick of the 2013 draft and is expected to be a dynamic force now that he's in the NHL. Winger Anthony Duclair came to Arizona from the New York Rangers in the Yandle trade and is considered one of the best up-and-coming players.

The Coyotes decided to send Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in this year's draft, back to his junior team in the OHL, but they still have plenty of young, talented players who will play key roles.

''You just don't go through a season like last year without trying to fix a lot of things,'' Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. ''We added solid veteran players who understand the game and we have more young players in our system than we've ever had push for jobs than ever before.''

A few more things to look for from the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16:

OFFENSE?: Offense will be a concern for the Coyotes this season, as has been the case pretty much every season they've been in Arizona. The Coyotes ranked 29th in the NHL last season with 165 non-shootout goals and they stumbled through the preseason, scoring four goals in six games. Some of those young players will need to step up quickly in the scoring department.

ADDING VETERANS: The Coyotes will have a younger slant this season, but they brought in some veterans to help captain Shane Doan lead them. Arizona didn't waste any time bringing back Vermette and Michalek, signing them to free-agent deals during the offseason. The Coyotes also brought back another familiar face, signing forward Boyd Gordon after he spent the past two seasons in Edmonton.

SMITH'S STRUGGLES: Goalie Mike Smith was the key to Arizona's run to the 2012 Western Conference finals, at times stealing games for the Coyotes. He hasn't been the same since, struggling with injuries and inconsistencies. Smith had 14 wins last season with a goals-against average of 3.16 and a save percentage of .904, all among the worst in the NHL among regular starters. The Coyotes need him to play well in their defense-first style.

DOAN'S RETURN: Doan had one of the most frustrating seasons of his career in 2014-15, not just with the losing, but with his performance on the ice. Doan finished with 36 points - 14 goals - the second-lowest output of his career since 2000. Doan, who turns 39 on Saturday, worked hard during the offseason - as he always does - and is determined to play well this season and hopefully beyond.

PENALTY KILL: The Coyotes have been defense-oriented under Tippett, but part of being good on defense is killing penalties. Arizona wasn't very good at that last season, finishing second-worst in the NHL with a 76.7 percent efficiency. The return of Michalek and Gordon should help this season, along with the additions of Nicklas Grossman and Brad Richardson.

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