The Arizona Coyotes have two more weeks and three more preseason games to go before their season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 15th in Glendale. So far, the scheduling craziness of the World Cup of Hockey has not appeared to stunt the Coyotes much, as they are 3-1-1 in preseason play.
But preseason records mean far less than individual player performances. So what’s going right for the Coyotes this preseason? And what isn’t?
One of Christian Dvorak or Dylan Strome was going to walk away with a roster spot at the end of this camp. The good news for the Coyotes is both of their highly touted center prospects are legitimately in the running to earn it.
Dylan Strome added his second goal of the preseason last night in Arizona’s 3-2 OT win over Anaheim, and it was Christian Dvorak who set up Shane Doan’s overtime winner. The goal scorer was particularly impressed with Dvorak’s handiwork:
Overall impressions of Dvorak’s play throughout the game were positive as well:
Head to head with Antoine Vermette and held his own in the face off circle. The game was a bit 'oh god the babies' but... overall? Solid B+— Sarah Hall (@sarahhowling) October 2, 2016
The coaching staff sounds particularly pleased with the development of their younger players.
Good luck figuring out the winner of this competition. Speaking of competition...
The Next Jordan Martinook
Jordan Martinook was last year’s big training camp surprise, and went on to score nine goals and fifteen assists in eighty-one regular season appearances. And with at least one fourth-line spot up for grabs, another rookie has a chance to follow in Martinook’s footsteps.
Which #Coyotes rookie is most likely to surprise this year a la Jordan Martinook?— Five For Howling (@Five4Howling) September 27, 2016
So far, the fans think Michael Bunting is the strongest candidate to make a splash this season, and it isn’t hard to see why. Bunting has two goals this preseason, and has been making plays on both ends of the ice.
Meanwhile, Henrik Samuelsson is making the most of his time on the wing, which is a great sign after a rough 2015-16 season in the AHL.
Mike Smith, Louis Domingue, Adin Hill, Justin Peters, and Marek Langhamer have all been taking shifts in net for the Coyotes. So far, Arizona’s NHL tandem looks solid.
Smith is 49 for 53 in two games, which translates to a .925 save percentage. Meanwhile, Domingue is 53 for 57 in two games for a .930 save percentage. This is the kind of performance the Coyotes need from both of their goaltenders this season.
Meanwhile, Adin Hill is making the most of his time in Coyotes camp. Hill went 16 for 16 in about 30 minutes of work against the Ducks in Anaheim on September 27th.
Hill will get significantly more seasoning in the AHL this year, but against higher-level talent the young Coyotes’ netminder has risen to the challenge.
At this point, time with the Coyotes’ development staff may be in Brendan Perlini’s best interests regardless. But the Coyotes’ first round pick in 2014 is pointless in two appearances in about 28 minutes worth of action.
The other difficulty for Perlini is that he is not improving at the same rate some of Arizona’s other prospects are. If Henrik Samuelsson, Michael Bunting, and Laurent Dauphin continue to produce and Perlini doesn’t, his path to the NHL gets even more difficult.
Tobias Rieder has been so invisible in preseason this year, it’s as though he’s not even there.
All kidding aside, this is a mess of a situation for everybody involved. The reported salary gap seems close enough for the Coyotes to bridge without overpaying, while Rieder’s reputation takes a dent and draws unfavorable comparisons to Kyle Turris.
Arizona has a few different options to replace Rieder in the lineup should he no-show this year. But Rieder was one of the better stories for the Coyotes over the past few years, and it would be a major disappointment for his career in Sedona Red to end this way.
Arizona will continue to whittle down the roster throughout this week to get closer to the 23 man final roster. Some of these decisions are going to be extremely difficult, and otherwise talented players are going to find themselves in Tucson or major-junior for no other reason than simple math.
Of course, having more qualified players than roster spots is the best kind of problem to have. But nobody envies the job the coaching staff has to do to narrow the roster down before the season opener.
It is clear that the good outnumbers the bad after a couple of weeks of training camp. Coyotes fans should be excited heading into this season, because it looks like Arizona is taking the necessary steps to be competitive in the Western Conference.
But preseason performance and regular season performance are two entirely different beasts, and the Coyotes will have a lot of work to do to earn their place in what should be another tough competition for the postseason.