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The Forgotten Need: Phoenix Coyotes and a 4th Line Center

While the search for a top-six left wing has garnered nearly all the attention in mid-July, the need for a fourth line center may be just as important.


As the hubbub surrounding free agency day subsided and the dust (and rosters) settled, Phoenix Coyotes fans had a shiny new player to call their own: Mike Ribeiro. But, free agency day does not come without a price; fan-favorite Boyd Gordon left the desert for greener pastures and more money.

With Gordon off to Alberta, who will take the brunt of the defensive zone and penalty kill face-offs? If the past is any indication, Ribeiro will not take many draws in that area of the ice. That leaves Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette as the primary face-off takers on the team.

Vermette seems like the obvious choice as he won 57.4 percent of his face-offs last season including 58.1 percent in the defensive zone and 58.4 percent while short-handed. The soon-to-be 31-year-old boasts a career face-off percentage of 55.8 percent and has primarily played the center position since the 2005-2006 season.

Hanzal would be the next logical choice as he has been playing center with the team for all six years of his career. The 26-year-old posted three consecutive seasons with a face-off percentage above 50 percent before last season. Despite starting in the offensive zone 62.4 percent of the time, Hanzal posted his worst face-off percentage (46.8%) in a season since his rookie year.

Both players will see their power play time reduced with the addition of Ribeiro and the increased PK duties, but Hanzal has another issue: health.

In his six seasons in the NHL, Hanzal has averaged 11.17 missed games per season including two seasons where he missed more than 20 percent of the season. The average includes the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season in which the Czech missed nine games. He has played only one season where he missed less than eight games.

Kyle Chipchura is currently slated to be the fourth line center after he was re-signed to a three-year deal. Chipchura can play the center position, at times, but typically does not play on special teams. The 27-year-old has a career face-off percentage of 47.2 percent and has never won even 49 percent of his face-offs in a season. However, Chipchura is a great depth player who can play both center and wing on the fourth line but shouldn't be asked to play a top-nine role.

No one wants to predict injury but it's a fact of sports. While Ribeiro and Vermette have been very durable, Hanzal has not. Chipchura has played more than 53 games in a season only once. Who centers the third line if there is an injury?

Both David Moss and Lauri Korpikoski could fill in for a game or two, but neither are long-term options. Who centers the fourth line if Chipchura moves up due to injury? There is little help in the AHL.

Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson will have a chance to make the team out of training camp, but if they fail, they will be sent back to Juniors. It's not likely the team will elect to play either Domi or Samuelsson on the fourth line when they can slide their entry level deals and allow them toplay o the first lines of their respective Junior teams.

The next three centers in the system are Andy Miele, Chris Brown and Brendan Shinnimin. Are they NHL ready as centermen?

Whether by trade or free agency, the Coyotes have a need for another center.