Missing the playoffs has its perks.
Obviously the Arizona Coyotes would greatly prefer to be in the middle of a playoff push, but reality has other plans this year. The upside to not being competitive down the stretch is that the Coyotes have had ample opportunity to give their younger players time to get familiar with the speed of the NHL.
Of the current roster, nine players are 25 or younger. Four more players under 23 have spent time with the parent club this season. This includes established players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker, but it also includes players like Lucas Lessio, Jordan Martinook, and Brendan Shinnimin. These players may prove to be more important to the Coyotes' rebuild than generally thought.
The reason is because first round draft picks, while crucial to a building team, are usually insufficient by themselves to fill roster spots. The Edmonton Oilers are a perfect example of how high draft picks don't always yield success. The first round selection can fill a hole, but without second and third round picks making the roster, the team will not develop enough players at the same time to become competitive.
So it absolutely crucial that picks like Lessio, Martinook, and Tobias Rieder pan out in the next couple of years. Arizona needs all of its players to enter the prime of their careers at roughly the same time, because the Coyotes will not have the salary space to add marquee free agents. So it is imperative for the Coyotes to give their younger players experience now, so that they are more ready to hit the ground running next year.
- Antoine Vermette remains a Coyote with exactly two weeks remaining before the March 2nd NHL Trade Deadline. There's still plenty of interest in his services, but teams that want him also want a realistic chance of signing him after the season. Given the cap constraints of most Cup contenders, that's a major stumbling block.
- I still think Vermette gets traded for something before the deadline, because once it passes Vermette's offseason options increase significantly. Middling teams are almost certainly going to offer him the deal he wants, where Arizona is simply not going to.
- Arizona's goal differential this season is now tied with Edmonton for worst in the Western Conference. Edmonton is now only six points back of the Coyotes for the Pacific Division basement. Hello, Top 3 pick.
- Part of the reason Arizona is struggling is that their home record is terrible. They are a relatively respectable 11-15-3 on the road, but are 9-15-4 at Gila River Arena.
- The woeful on-ice performance of the Coyotes does not seem to be scaring people away; their last five games have drawn 12,982, 12,649, 17,125, 16,713, and 14,719. Arizona still has yet to draw fewer than 10,000 people at a game this year.
- IceArizona's marketing strategies appear to be successful at sustaining interest. With a couple of potential offensive studs in Max Domi and whomever they draft this year on the way, it will be interesting to see how much the ownership group sells the individual players versus the team.
- After the Coyotes shut Martin Hanzal down to have a procedure on his back, it is worth wondering what they will do with Mikkel Boedker this season. If he's ready to play by early March, I think he plays out the season. If not, then Arizona might be better off letting him work on his conditioning off the ice and come back stronger in September.
- Who gets moved first? Vermette earns the lion's share of attention, but there are other far more movable contracts on the roster. With a four day break this week, is someone finally going to be traded?
- Can the Coyotes avoid third period collapses? Arizona had a chance to win both of last weekend's games against the San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers. They lost both by multiple goals. Can the team put together a good third period performance and protect a lead?
- Can anyone score more than Oliver Ekman-Larsson? OEL has 16 goals. The next closest is the absent Mikkel Boedker with 14 goals, followed by Antoine Vermette with 13.
Player to Watch
Jordan Martinook is back after a very brief stint earlier in December. Martinook tallied 14 goals in 67 games last year with Portland, so scoring up here would go a long way to solidifying a spot moving into training camp next year.