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Three questions for the Arizona Coyotes 2015-16 season answered

Looking ahead to the Arizona Coyotes' 2015-16 season.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes have a lot of questions after a tough 2014-15 season. We were asked to name three of them for SB Nation's NHL Season Preview. Here they are, and here are our answers.

1. Can the team's forward prospects transition to the NHL?

Everybody is talking about Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and even Dylan Strome as players to watch for the Coyotes this season. It's understandable; all three have a lot of skill and speed, and would likely be generating more Calder Trophy buzz were it not for two guys named McDavid and Eichel.

Should all three make the team, they'll have a tall task ahead of them; last season's Coyotes team was second to last in the NHL in goals for, and their second, third, and sixth leading point producers from last season are all gone (Keith Yandle, Sam Gagner, and Martin Erat).

Even should one of those three enter the Calder conversation, the most goals any rookie since Alex Ovechkin won in 2005-06, was Evgeni Malkin's 33 goal debut the next year, followed by Jeff Skinner with 31 in 2010-11. Could one of them approach those numbers? Yes. Will all three do it? Unlikely.

Yet they don't need to be world-beating this year to be successful. All they need to do is improve on the offense the team lost. Yandle, Gagner, and Erat combined for 28 goals and 86 assists. Those numbers are more than beatable.

2. Will Mike Smith rebound from a miserable 2014-15 season?

To say Mike Smith's year with the Coyotes was rough is a dramatic understatement. In 62 appearances, Smith went 14-42-5 with a .904 save percentage and a 3.16 GAA. Those numbers are AHL call-up bad, not what you would expect from the goaltender who made 74% of his team's starts last year.

So yes, Smith was bad. But as we noted back in March, Smith was nearly career-worst bad, and far below all of his efforts as the Coyotes starting goaltender.

Mike Smith will probably rebound this season, especially if the team is better defensively in front of him (more on this later). While there's a decent chance he'll be closer to league average this upcoming season, that's not enough to justify being paid the 10th most among goaltenders in actual salary. The team needs to be better, but so does Smith.

3. Will the Coyotes return to Dave Tippett hockey?

Dave Tippett coached teams are stereotypically defensively solid, opportunistic, and well, boring. It's tough to say what this Arizona Coyotes squad will turn out to be.

While very little is expected of them, the team as currently constructed is designed to give its young talent the best possible chance to succeed. Its veteran center corps - Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Brad Richardson, Boyd Gordon - are all solid two-way players. Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan provide some experience on the wings to give youngsters like Domi, Duclair, and potentially Matthias Plachta or Jordan Martinook room to grow and learn.

On defense, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an absolute stud, and Zbynek Michalek and Niklas Grossmann should be tough to play against inside. Scoring will be a struggle for sure, and losing Yandle makes the defense a little less intimidating in the offensive zone.

Yet the Coyotes' power play was scary effective for the entirety of 2014-15, and is getting an influx of talent from the rookies. The Coyotes may not do enough this year to stay out of sniffing distance of the NHL's basement, but they've done the best they possibly could to emphasize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. With a little luck and some solid individual performances, the Coyotes could end up surprising a lot of hockey fans this season.