Led by rookie Max Domi, Coyotes are one of NHL's must-watch teams
After setting the record with 76 goals in his rookie season, Teemu Selanne has a pretty good handle on what it takes to succeed as a freshman in the NHL. So it's probably worth noting his pick to win the Calder is Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes.
Not Connor McDavid. Not Jack Eichel.
To be fair, Domi's father, Tie, is one of Selanne's best friends so there may be a hint of bias in his selection. But it's hard to argue with his choice. Along with Anthony Duclair, the 20-year-old forward has been the driving force behind Arizona's thrilling, and thoroughly unexpected, 3-1 start.
"He's catching people off guard with his speed," a scout told SI.com. "He's got that extra gear. When he turns it on, he's going to make someone look silly."
Domi has used that speed to great effect in the early going, including one memorable rush where he blew past Anaheim's Kevin Bieksa to create an easy tap in for Duclair. Those wheels were on display again Thursday night, along with some of the sickest mitts in the game, as Domi crafted a likely Goal of the Year candidate.
The 'Yotes suffered their first lost of the season in that one, 4–3 to the Wild, but it was perfectly predictable result. Arizona was coming off a 4–0 shellacking of the Ducks the night before in Anaheim. Meanwhile, Minnesota came in off of five days of rest.
But it was noteworthy how much fight the Coyotes had in them, especially after twice going down by two goals. That kind of deficit would have been an ender last season when they finished 29th in goal scoring. This year, Arizona ranks ninth, thanks in large part to the seven goals that Duclair and Domi have between them. And though they couldn't quite erase the lead, there was a real sense that it was possible.
That's not just skill, although The Killer D's bring plenty of that. It's will. Take a look again at that Domi goal. There's so much desire in his game, and you can say the same about the other kids on their roster. That's an element that was missing from this team on too many nights last season.
And then there's that speed, another shared attribute of the kids.
"We’ve tried to play fast," coach Dave Tippett said after Wednesday's win. "We want to be fast in our zone, fast in the neutral zone, fast to their net."
As they do that, they're building a new identity. For years, the Coyotes were perceived as a dull, defensively meticulous squad. Now? They're full throttle, fast and hungry, and one of the NHL's must-watch teams.
And Domi's leading the way.
Tough Break for Sharks
The early success of the San Jose Sharks has been one of the best stories of the new season, but they'll be in tough to keep it going. The team learned Friday morning that second-line center Logan Couture will miss an extended period after suffering an injury during Thursday's practice at the Prudential Center in New Jersey.
"Logan suffered a fractured right fibula at the ankle," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said in a statement. "He will be returning to San Jose to undergo surgery under the direction of Kaiser Permanente's medical team. He is expected to miss 4–6 weeks."
Skating on a revamped second line alongside Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward, Couture has played an important two-way role in San Jose's fast start. He'll be replaced on the roster by Nikolay Goldobin, a high-skill right winger selected with the 27th pick in the 2014 draft, but there are a number of ways that coach Peter DeBoer could fill his spot on that second line. It's possible Ben Smith could step into his spot and leave the other three lines intact, or DeBoer could promote Thomas Hertl and slot Smith and Chris Tierney in depth roles. Truth is, there's just no way to adequately replace a player like that.
Sign of the Times
Taken at face value, it's hard to figure out how Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin managed to sign top-six center Tomas Plekanec on Friday to a two-year, $12 million extension unencumbered by a no-move or no-trade clause. After all, this is a player who scored 60 points last season and can be relied upon to play a responsible two-way game. His value to a team with Stanley Cup aspirations would seem to merit a lengthier commitment, if not more dollars.
At least, it would have before this past summer. Bergevin recognized the shift away from over-extending older players and knew he was under no market pressure to hand the 32-year-old center a deal that would take him to his retirement. And Plekanec probably recognized that deal wasn't going to be offered to him in free agency, either.
So the two sides settled on a pact with which they both can be comfortable. Plekanec gets a raise on his expiring deal, going from a $5 million AAV to $6 million (he'll actually be paid $7 million in 2016-17 and $5 million in 2017-18) and remains a vital player on a competitive team. Bergevin locks up an important (but declining) asset for a short term at a reasonable cost, and leaves himself the option of re-examining their relationship in two years time.
Good deal for the player. Great deal for the Habs.
Impatient in Vegas
Still no timetable on when the NHL might make a decision on whether or not to expand, but prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley said Thursday that, “we need to get this team soon.” Foley, speaking at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s annual dinner, pointed to the successes along the way—including better than 13,000 ticket commitments and a spectacular new arena—but said there's a lot of work that needs to be done in order to meet his goal of a team debuting in the 2017-18 season. Ideally, he'd like to have a general manager and scouting and coaching staffs in place, along with a minor-league affiliate. That kind of legwork takes time. "My strong hope is that we get [approved for] a team by January or February because we need that time to really get organized,” Foley said.
Great Wall of Russia
"Usually if I've never heard of a guy there's a good reason for that," laughed one NHL scout when asked for an appraisal of Alexei Murygin. His ignorance isn't surprising. The 28-year-old backup netminder has done nothing to distinguish himself through eight seasons in Russia's top leagues. And given his lack of stature—his height is listed anywhere from 5'6" to 5'10" and his weight from 150 to 182 pounds—he hardly fits the mold of the prototypical NHL prospect.
But Murygin has opened some eyes this season, his first with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Through the season's first 10 games, Murygin has posted some eye-popping numbers: a .977 save percentage, 0.50 goals-against average and seven—seven!—shutouts.
Are those numbers the product of a fortunate run or a hint that he might be a late bloomer? "Guys surprise us all the time," the same scout said in a later conversation. "Goalies are especially hard to project so you have to be open to the possibilities. Look at Tim Thomas." With that in mind, does the undrafted Murygin merit some interest? "It'd be tough to overcome [concerns about his size]," he said. "But we've all been proven wrong before, right? I'm sure there will be eyes on him if he keeps it up. Either way, heck of a run."
Hang In There
St. Louis Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko is one of the real surprise stories of the opening week. Not that he's playing with such poise at both ends of the ice that he's projected as the future anchor of the team's blueline, but that he's even in the NHL in the first place.
“He’s a great story for kids who are 14 or 15 who think their career is over because they’re not playing AAA hockey,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s the perfect example in the west when you’re 14 years old and you don’t get drafted in the [Western Hockey League], everybody thinks it’s time to quit hockey. Well … he didn’t get drafted, he played single and AA hockey, and he comes through the back door—and he’s in the NHL.”
Parayko was the classic late bloomer. He was just 5'8" in his second year of midget minor but finally caught the attention of scouts when he shot up to 6'1". Now 6'5" and 225 pounds, he's a beast who can beat you with his skating, his physical play or his transition skills. Ultimately though, it all comes back to that poise.
“He’s got composure on the puck where most people panic," Hitchcock told Calgary beat writer Eric Francis. "That’s a good sign for a young player. We’re not afraid to play him against anybody. He’s just getting better and better every day.”
We an all agree that more information is better, so kudos to the NHL for making efforts to enhance the statistical data it offers. The league rolled out Phase 3 of its redesign this week, with upgrades including additional stats, advanced filters and a Team Power Index. Which is great--but I can't be the only one who finds it to be the most maddening site to use on the net, can I? It falls so far short of user-friendliness that it's become the site of last resort for me at least....Had to figure it was only a matter of time before Tyler Seguin got off the schneid. The Dallas Stars forward launched an astonishing 31 shot attempts, including 16 on goal, in the two games prior to getting his first of the season Thursday night in Tampa....Speaking of the Stars, rookie winger Mattias Janmark has a point in each of the team's first four games, becoming the first freshman in franchise history to string that kind of success together....The buzz out of Detroit suggests Johan Franzen may be done.
The veteran winger's comeback from the concussion problems that prematurely ended his 2014-15 campaign lasted just two games before symptoms returned. While the focus is on getting him to top health so he can enjoy a normal life, there are hockey issues in play here. With five years and $12.5 million owed on his deal Franzen is unlikely to retire. Instead, he'll likely go on long-term injured reserve for the duration in order to collect what he has coming. That's a hard blow for the Wings, who were counting on his 20-plus goals and physical presence on the ice, but it will allow them some cap relief. That flexibility could come in handy down the road....As if the Coyotes needed more good news: Max Letunov, the prospect they acquired from the Blues in the Zbynek Michalek deadline trade, notched a hat trick in his college hockey debut with the UConn Huskies. The left-shooting 19-year-old projects as a top-six forward and earns high marks in all the skill categories. Letunov scored 25 goals and 64 points in 58 games with Youngstown of the USHL last season....A scout, on the highlight-heavy first week-plus of NHL action: "I don't think I've seen more goals scored like this at any time. The skill level is just unbelievable."
• All Mike Babcock needs in Toronto is for Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak to mature into 200-foot players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Not too much to expect, right?
• This would have been something: A Maple Leaf sitting in the first row of the second deck almost caught Jose Bautista's home-run ball.
• Joel Quenneville already has the line blender set on high. With the team's history for early struggles, constant shuffling has become standard procedure for the Blackhawks.
• Waiting for the Panthers to pull up stakes and head north? Recent commitments by the team to the county suggest that's not going to happen. Add in solid early attendance and some strong play on the ice and this might be the best time in 20 years to be a Florida fan.
• Anaheim's miserable start has forced coach Bruce Boudreau to dig deep into his bag of tricks.
• And finally, it's not hockey but it's still pure greatness.