Defense is the one position where Coyotes fans will see few changes. The one major change is former assistant captain and large salary holder Ed Jovanoski and has joined LeBron down in South Beach. With Jovo gone a spot opened up. The Coyotes highly touted youngster Oliver Ekman Larrson (OEL) grabbed the spot in preseason and likely won’t relinquish for the next decade or so.
This coupling was the one Coach Tippett used as his number one pairing much of last season. Yandle has consistently gotten better during his short time in the league. The Coyotes depend on Yandle much more so than your average NHL club depends on a defensemen for offense. The Boston native received lots of Norris trophy buzz last season. In order to have a shot at the trophy this year or in the future he needs to continue to improve his play in his own zone.
Yandle’s partner Derek Morris has plagued by inconsistency throughout his career. The good news is he normally follows a relatively poor campaign like last season up with a good one. Yandle struggled when Morris was out of the lineup in the playoffs, so keeping himself healthy might be the key to this pairing. Hard to do though when part of your job is protect the Coyotes most valuable asset.
Klesla struggled after coming over from Blue Jackets. The move was his first since becoming an NHL player and likely was the cause for at least a portion of his struggles on the ice. I suspect Coyotes fans will see a better performance from Rusty this season. The biggest concern with Klesla is health. He hasn’t played a full NHL season since 2007-08.
Michal Rozsival appeared to be a victim of expectations at his previous stop in NYC. He’s a solid d-man in both ends and played relatively well after arriving in Phoenix last season. Depending on how minutes are doled out this season I wouldn't be surprised to see him get 10 goals. He’s the mentor in this pairing of players from the Czech Republic.
OEL struggled a bit as a NHL rookie last season and was sent down at one point. Between the NHL and AHL he played in 63 games in his first year on North American ice. Will this season be the one where he explodes onto the scene or will it take another year or two for Ekman-Larsson to mature as an NHL defensemen. Right now its too early to tell, but his play is the preseason certainly makes one think it might be the former.
OEL has been paired with veteran Adrian Aucoin during camp. If the two stay together Aucoin will be expected to be the stay at home guy in the pairing. Aucoin’s offensive numbers dropped last season, but his defensive play was fairly strong minus the playoff series with the Wings. Then again, outside of a handful of guys, who did look good against the Wings? This pairing makes sense because a coach would likely want to manage both player’s minutes, though for opposite reasons. OEL because of his youth and inexperience. Aucoin because he’s 38 years old.
The young offensive defensemen begins the season as the Coyotes seventh defensemen. Schlemko did well in the limited role he was given as a 6/7 defensemen last season. If he can be consistent in both ends he could have a long NHL career. He turns 24 this season and is signed through next season. He showed flashes of brilliance in the offensive zone, but at time struggles at knowing when to pinch and when not to. Even though he starts the year on the bench expect the former Arizona Sundog to see plenty of ice time whether through injury or poor play by a fellow blueliner. Coach Tippett has showed last season and in the playoffs that he’s not afraid to play the 24 year old.