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With Shane Doan back, the Arizona Coyotes' forward roster begins to take shape

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Some tough decisions loom on the horizon, but we have a general sense of who the 2016-17 Arizona Coyotes will ice up front.

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The Arizona Coyotes signed arguably their most important unrestricted free agent, now we can look towards the future.

Here's a look at what the 2016-17 Arizona Coyotes will put on the ice come opening night.

Top Line

Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair

From a chemistry standpoint, this line makes a lot of sense early on. Anthony Duclair and Martin Hanzal spent the most time together, with 501:15 at even-strength. Max Domi meanwhile spent 331:20 with Hanzal and 329:38 with Duclair at even-strength, the most among all of his forward teammates besides Mikkel Boedker.

Perhaps more importantly, Domi was a better possession player with Hanzal and Duclair at his side. At even-strength overall, Domi had an even-strength shot attempt percentage of 46.4%, which meant other teams tended to generate more offense when Domi was on the ice than Domi would create. But with Hanzal, that percentage reached an even 50.0%, and with Duclair it reached 51.3%.

Domi should get better at possessing the puck with experience, but Duclair and Hanzal are already great at generating shots. Putting the three together should create a potent early season scoring line.

Second Line

Tobias Rieder - Antoine Vermette - Christian Dvorak

Vermette and Rieder (who will get re-signed before the season starts) played 311:46 together, so this is another tandem who built a lot of chemistry over the past season. It would also be a decent place for Christian Dvorak to begin his NHL career.

Arizona may have Dvorak pegged as a center moving forward, but the wing would require less of him in his rookie season. The second-line position would give Dvorak substantial minutes early on without some of the pressures that naturally come to the center position. And with decent two-way players in Rieder and Vermette, Dvorak can afford to make some mistakes as he adjusts to the NHL game.

Perhaps most importantly for the Coyotes, the team can send Dvorak back down to Tucson in the AHL if he needs more time to refine his game. So why not give him some responsibility in the interim and see if he can replicate some of the success that let him tear up the OHL over the past two seasons?

Third Line

Jamie McGinn - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan

It's hard to break-up the winning combination of Doan, Richardson, and Jordan Martinook, but Jamie McGinn might warrant it. McGinn is the kind of forward who can play up and down the lineup as needed, so this could prove to be a temporary assignment. But a third line of McGinn, Richardson, and Doan would be the veteran backbone of a forward corps infused with youth from top to bottom.

Starting McGinn out on the third line might also be a decent spot to assess his health. Though he appears to have made a full recovery from the back surgery he underwent in 2014, McGinn played 91 games last year between the Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres. That's a lot of minutes after missing 60 games the year prior.

Fourth Line

Jordan Martinook - Tyler Gaudet/Laurent Dauphin - Craig Cunningham/Ryan White

This is the toughest line to project. Martinook seems like a lock after a breakout 2015-16 in which he recorded nine goals and fourteen assists. He is the ideal fourth-liner: big, explosive, and with enough of a scoring touch to allow the top line players to get a bit more rest during the game.

Down the middle, Tyler Gaudet looked like Boyd Gordon's heir apparent in the 14 games he played last year, but the Coyotes are also high on Laurent Dauphin. My guess is that the two will get a shot in training camp at locking down that fourth-line center position full time.

On the right side, Craig Cunningham or Ryan White would be the veteran presence on this line. Cunningham has proven to be exceptionally valuable in the rather thankless position of injury call-up. Ryan White, on the other hand, brings some of the snarl that is generally expected of a fourth line forward, but with 11 goals in 73 games.

The Extras

Though the Coyotes broke the mold last season by keeping eight defensemen on their roster for much of the year, the general trend is that there are two extra forward spots that will rotate in and out of the lineup as necessary. Arizona has a few different options there.


Anton Karlsson

Anton Karlsson looked tremendous at prospect development camp this summer, and should get another opportunity at full training camp in September. He has already been playing against fully grown professionals over in Sweden, so he is in all likelihood farther along in his development than other Coyotes. And with a projected NHL role as a depth two-way forward, he would be a natural choice to rotate in and out of the bottom-six.

Brendan Perlini

Brendan Perlini will likely start the season down in Tucson. Given how much he struggled last year in the OHL, that might be for the best. But keeping him through training camp and on the roster when the season starts might be the best chance for Head Coach Dave Tippett and Player Development Director Steve Sullivan to figure out what exactly Perlini needs to do to reach his potential.

And if it's a motivational issue, then nothing should get Perlini's blood going quite like a taste of the NHL, while reaffirming that the Coyotes still believe in him. He will need to keep working to become a roster mainstay, but a little exposure to the big leagues might be exactly what Brendan Perlini needs.

Dylan Strome

I've been beating on this drum for years now: the NHL really needs to push to allow some of its best prospects to get some seasoning in the AHL instead of spinning their tires in major-junior. Strome has scored 279 points in 184 OHL games. He has 52 points in 47 playoff games. Apart from winning the Memorial Cup, there's very little else Strome could do with Erie that he hasn't already done.

And yet, it's Erie or Arizona for Strome this season. If the Coyotes want to avoid burning a year of his entry-level contract, he can only play nine games with the parent club. That isn't a whole lot of time to prove oneself, and unless he has a dazzling training camp this fall, he's likely to be in the same position Max Domi was in two years ago.

So maybe the Coyotes should keep both Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome on the roster to start the season, and give them both extended auditions. If Strome proves he can hack it in the NHL, then he should stay.

Final Thoughts

There are two major takeaways from Arizona's forward crop. The first is that the Coyotes will be infusing quite a bit of youth into their NHL roster over the next couple of years. Even a more conservative approach this year should still yield a couple of rookies.

The trick is going to be balancing the need to get these young players roster spots while maintaining a solid veteran presence in the line-up. But just from looking at this roster projection alone, it's easy to see just how bright the future is burning.