The 2011-12 version of the Coyotes will look different in numerous ways. The area where differences will likely be most apparent is down the middle. If you will recall, last season the Yotes struggled mightily when they lost Martin Hanzal and Vern Fiddler for extended time due to injury. Eric Belanger played all up and down the lineup including on the top line. Belanger is not a top two line center in the NHL and it showed. Meanwhile, Kyle Turris was still experiencing showing growing pains. Free agent depth signee Andrew Ebbett was unremarkable at best during his 33 games with the big club. This year GM Don Maloney has given Coach Dave Tippett more options at the pivot position.
Over the summer, Belanger, Fiddler, and Ebbett moved on to other pastures. In their places, Maloney signed FA Boyd Gordon and traded for former Coyote Daymond Langkow. In addition, he went out and signed guys like Alex Bolduc, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Kyle Chipchura, Petteri Nokelainen, and Patrick O`Sullivan who have all logged time in the NHL. Add in last year's Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele and along with 2008 draftee Colin Long and the organization all of a sudden has the center depth it lacked last season. The Coyotes also retain the rights to Turris who has not been able to come to terms with the club on a new contract.
Daymond Langkow - Langkow’s abilities are much needed on a team whose leading point producer last season (Shane Doan) had only 60 points. Langkow is no Sidney Crosby, but he’s also no Eric Belanger either. Langkow could likely wind up with more than 50 points at the end of the season if he can stay healthy and stay on the Coyotes top line. Ray Whitney’s play in the preseason portends a bounce back year and that should translate to more points for Langkow as well. Langkow is a solid player in both zones and therefore can play in any game circumstance. Expect to see him on the power play and on offensive zone draws.
Martin Hanzal – The Coyotes best defensive pivot. He was slowed due to injury last season and even after he returned to the lineup for the playoffs he didn’t look right. The team needs him to return to the shutdown guy he was in 2009-10. A little bit more offense couldn’t hurt as well.
Boyd Gordon - Gordon will likely not replace Vern Fiddler’s offensive numbers, but he is as good, if not better in the faceoff dot and his size makes him better defensively than Fids was. Gordon will likely see significant time on the penalty kill and on defensive zone draw situations.
Patrick O’Sullivan - Brings offensive skills that should help the Coyotes score a few more goals, especially on the power play. Last season the Desert Dogs ranked 23rd in the league with the man advantage. With O’Sullivan and Langkow on the roster the Yotes should be able to improve their power play ranking this season. He may play more wing than center or a hybrid of the two depending on which line he ends up on.
Kyle Chipchura – He’s a defensive center who can also play the role of agitator if need be. He’s 4th liner either in the middle or the wing. He needs to play solid D and be decent in the faceoff circle in order to keep his place in the lineup. Any goals he scores are a bonus.
Petteri Nokelainen - The Coyotes signed the 2004 Isles draftee to a new contract less than a year after buying out his old one. He spent last season playing in Finland for Jokerit. He has struggled to play consistently when he's gotten ice time in the NHL His one way contract situation could complicate things.
Kyle Turris – The young center needs to show he can hang with the big guys consistently this season. He struggled to get a sweater consistently last season. When he did play Tippett protected him against heavy minutes and competition. The slender pivot displayed the potential that made him the Coyotes 1st round draft pick in 2007 against the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs. The concern is whether he can play the way he did in those 4 games for an entire 82 game season.
The Rest - Andy Miele needs to show he can hang with the speed and physical play in the AHL as well as improve in the faceoff circle. If he does those things expect him to get a plane ticket to the Valley. Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s 179 games of NHL experience and his showing in camp means he likely get the call if the Coyotes need an injury replacement and the Hobey Baker award winner isn’t ready.