It's been an interesting season for the Coyotes. The team has gotten off to a fantastic start, but are doing it almost exactly the opposite way of how they were expected to. The defense has been suspect and Mike Smith has been okay, but not great (for example, no shutouts), which would usually be a recipe for disaster for this team. But, the offense has been sizzling. The Coyotes are fourth in the NHL in goals per game at 3.27 and third in total goals scored at 72. With all of that firepower, you'd expect some huge fantasy performances and you'd be half right. There are quite a few players having good years, but no one having a great one. The reason is the Coyotes have done a great job of spreading the wealth, with nine different players scoring at least 10 points on the season (only the Blackhawks have more).
With all that in mind, let's focus on the five Coyotes having the best opening quarter of the season.
1. Shane Doan
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There was hope entering the year that the Captain would have a bounceback campaign after a disappointing 2013 season. The addition of Mike Ribeiro, the new ownership group settling the off the ice issues, and off-season hernia surgery were all factors in thinking that Doan could return to being a useful, if not spectacular fantasy option in 13-14. Shane has been much more than useful so far, and has easily been the Coyotes best fantasy producer.
After totaling only 13 goals and 27 points last year, Doan already has 10 goals and 16 points and is second in the NHL with six power play tallies. In ESPN standard scoring, he's been the Coyotes top forward and ranks 50th overall, but that's in standard leagues. If you're in a league that also counts hits, Doan becomes a top-30 player and an absolute beast. While expecting Doan to continue on a pace to shatter his career high in goals may not be realistic, the positive takeaway from his first quarter performance is that he spent the majority of those games with Antoine Vermette as his center, only playing with Mike Ribeiro in the past few games. Doan has also been a notorious slow starter in his career. If this is Doan's slow start to this season, it could be a career year for the face of the franchise.
Prediction for the rest of the season: Doan's not going to get the 40 goals he's on pace for, but the improved Coyote power play helps him a great deal. He'll continue to be a must play guy, even in standard leagues, but will cool off. He'll finish the season as a top-50 forward.
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
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OEL had a neck and neck race with Doan for most impactful Coyote fantasy player, but the sheer surprise of Doan's performance edged out the continued phenomenal play of the blossoming Coyote blue liner.
In ESPN standard scoring, Ekman-Larsson is the fourth rated defenseman and the 22nd rated overall player. He's progressing as well as could be expected and if you drafted smart, you are getting incredible value from the person who was being selected as about the 25th defenseman off of the board. Long story short, if you are a Coyote fan and a fantasy hockey player and somehow didn't end up with OEL on your roster, then this is all I have to say.
Prediction for the rest of the season. Oliver (it feels weird to just type his first name) continues moving right along and finishes the season as a top-3 defenseman and wins the first of many Norris trophies to come. He's 22 years old. This is going to be awesome when he actually reaches his full potential.
3. Martin Hanzal
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The Coyotes have been waiting for Hanzal to develop into a number one center for years. Who knew it would take the signing of a guy expected to be that number one center to turn Marty into one? Hanzal has been a force in the offensive zone for the Coyotes on the season, with 19 points in 19 games. Considering his career high in points entering the season was 35 in his rookie year when he appeared in 72 games, his current point a game pace is slightly unexpected. Well, maybe not totally unexpected to this writer.
Hanzal had a huge goal Thursday night and unjustly added to his PIM totals, which might learn him to not get too mouthy with the officials even if you know you're right. When healthy and not serving suspensions, Hanzal has been everything he's been expected to be for years and continues to find chemistry with Radim Vrbata. Imagine what would happen if the Coyotes could find another top six wing to put on Hanzal's left.
Prediction for the rest of the season. Hanzal won't keep up his point a game pace, but will set new career highs as he'll eclipse both 20 goals and 50 points.
4. Keith Yandle
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Yandle is continuing the 2013-14 season where he left off last year when he led the Coyotes in points with 30. So far this season, Keith has 17 points which ranks tied for fourth in the league among defesemen. It's even more impressive when you consider he has only one goal. The one place where Keith has been very useful for fantasy is power play points. His one goal and nine assists on the advantage have him tied for eighth in the NHL among all players. That's not bad at all.
Yandle is second on the team in ice time per game, behind only OEL and is sixth in shots. He's also the 13th best defenseman on the season in ESPN fantasy scoring. The most encouraging part of Yandle moving forward is that his 2.1 shooting percentage has to improve. When that number begins to progress to the mean, Yandle's already impressive numbers will begin to put him even closer to Ollie in the battle for best fantasy Coyote defender.
Prediction for the rest of the season. Yandle's shooting percentage progresses to his career norm of 6% and he finishes the year as the 10th best fantasy defenseman. He also gets an "A" on his sweater in Sochi (okay that's not going to happen, but a boy can dream).
5. Radim Vrbata
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Vrbata is the best pure goal scorer on the Coyotes roster, but it's been a frustrating season for the usually consistent wing. His six goals are tied for second on the team, but if you take away his opening night sombrero trick, he has three goals in the other 19 games. That's not good enough from him.
One positive that has come from left field is his solid assist numbers. With 11 so far on the season, he's on pace to pass his career of 29, set twice with the Coyotes in 2008 and 2011. He's tied for second on the team in points with 17 and leads them in shots, so he's still being productive, just not in the way expected. Hopefully Vrbata will find another hot streak and start chaining together goals, but right now even though he's not lighting the red lamp, he's doing his best to ensure the team does.
Prediction for the rest of the season. Vrbata finds his mojo, cracks 20 goals and passes 30 assists for the first time in his career. He also eventually finds a way to score a goal outside of Glendale.
6. Bonus Time: Running With the Pack and the Week Ahead
Some other quick hits about the opening 25% of the season:
- Mike Ribeiro has been a little bit of a disappointment, only ranking 79th among forwards in ESPN standard scoring. His assists are down, but he's still producing on the advantage and his 16.7 shooting percentage is in line with his career norms. As he continues to find chemistry with a consistent line pairing, he'll begin to click and the assists will come. It's amazing that the Coyotes offense is a top-5 unit with Ribs having only 10 assists through 22 games.
- Antoine Vermette had a surprisingly productive fantasy quarter, with six goals and 11 points and 41 SOG. He also gets a healthy amount of time on ice and if face-off wins counted in fantasy, he'd be a must own.
- Mikkel Boedker was a popular pick to have a breakout season among the Coyotes forwards, but hasn't done so yet. He has nine assists and 13 points, which isn't all that bad, but if you can do any math, that means he only has four goals and that's just not good enough. If you've been holding on to him hoping for the surge to come, it's probably safe to let him go.
- The Coyotes blueline has been productive, from Zbynek Michalek's ice time and shot blocking to Derek Morris and his 10 points in 14 games. But the biggest surprise on the back end has to be Michael Stone and his league-leading seven goals from a defenseman. He has no assists, but he's getting decent ATOI, he shoots the puck and if your league counts hits and/or shot blocks, he's above average there as well. If he's playing, Stone is well worth adding. Get use from him while he's hot.
- Mike Smith has had an interesting season to say the least. He's getting wins and his save percentage is good (due to seeing more shots than any other goalie) but his goals against average is not impressive and he's yet to give us doughnuts. Right now, he ranks 26th on ESPN's rankings for goalies. Hopefully he gets better, but if you have a better option, there's no issue in benching him.
The Coyotes have three games in the next week, as they will face off against the Ducks in Glendale on Saturday evening, then travel to Nashville on Monday and Minnesota on Wednesday. The Ducks have given the Coyotes fits, and it wouldn't be shocking if Coach Tippett dusted the cobwebs off of Thomas Greiss for that game. The Predators are still without Pekka Rinne, but have started to get at least replacement level goaltending from Marek Mazanec. The Minnesota Wild have been playing under the radar of the great starts by Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado, but Josh Harding has been the feel good story in the NHL so far with his 1.48 GAA and .939 SV%. If ever there was a game where the Coyotes new fangled offensive style needs to produce, it's Wednesday night in Minneapolis.