If one looks at the won/loss record and possession numbers of the Arizona Coyotes in the last three seasons, combined with their current four game losing streak, a reasonable conclusion would be that the direction of the franchise is headed downwards. Sure, the preseason predictions of the Yotes having one of the worst records in the league yet again this season are likely to come to fruition (although they will probably end up with a slightly higher point total than many expected), but there is a big difference from a year ago or even the last few years. For the first time since the spring of 2012, there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Or better yet, glimmers of hope.
The most exciting moments of the fledgling 2015-16 campaign haven't come from the team's longtime captain, Shane Doan, or the other 30+ year NHL veterans who inhabit the Arizona roster. No, the most exciting moments have come from a couple of young roommates, Anthony Duclair (5 goals, 2 assists) and Max Domi (3g, 5a), along with their young brethren. Even veteran center Martin Hanzal's team leading nine assists are a result of playing with the dynamic duo and young German winger Tobias Rieder (3g, 2a).
The 22 year old Rieder has arguably been the team's most consistent player game in and game out. Like current Montreal Canadiens blueliner Jeff Petry, Rieder is another example of a former Oiler who the once proud Alberta club severely underrated when he wore their colors. A shame the fine folks in Western Canada missed out on shots like this one:
Jordan Martinook isn't making as much noise as the other young forwards, but he's also scored a goal already and looks like he's taken a tremendous jump in development as compared to last season. The other young winger, Mikkel Boedker, is actually a veteran playing in his 8th NHL season. He's started the season off slowly with one goal on an aborted power play point experiment. Still, the biggest concern with the Danish forward isn't on the ice, but off it. He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Blue line wise, defensive defenseman Klas Dahlbeck looks like he might well be able to justify the front office's faith in him becoming a top four blueliner in the future. He's even scored a goal which is a bonus. Connor Murphy has held his own while getting tough defensive assignments. Michael Stone has appeared to be a bit overmatched when asked to play against top competition. On the other hand, he looks like he may be the answer, at least temporarily, to power play point vacancy left by Keith Yandle's departure via trade last spring. If any young defenseman has truly played below their capabilities, it's been Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Then again, he started the season poorly last season and only ended up tying the franchise record for goals by a defenseman.
In total, 16 of the Coyotes' 19 goals have been scored by players 25 years old or younger. Half of the team's 32 assists are credited to the same young pack. In addition, of the six players who have played in five or more games this season and have a positive Relative Corsi number, five of them are in the 25 and younger crowd.
General Manager Don Maloney's rebuild looks to be well on it's way to producing a playoff run in a couple of years. The trades that brought Rieder, Duclair, and Dahlbeck to the desert may have even helped fast forward the timeline a bit. With prospects like Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, and Conor Garland looking like they could join the Desert Dog ranks in the next few years, it is possible for the first time in the franchise's Valley of the Sun history where a good young core of talent can develop together.