The NHL rookie class this year is ridiculous with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. And that’s just Toronto!
You also can’t deny how good Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski are in Winnipeg and Columbus respectively, and Matthew Tkachuk and Sebastian Aho are having very underrated seasons in Calgary and Carolina. But what about the Arizona Coyotes? Surely a team in the middle of a youth movement should have someone raising some eyebrows.
The Coyotes have between 13 and 15 players under the age of 25 on their roster at any given time, and six of them are first year NHL players. Christian Dvorak has been lights out since he was sent down to Tucson and came back up shortly after, twice. He won’t be a finalist for the Calder this year, but he should be getting some attention.
What’s His Story?
Christian Dvorak’s story is a good one. His uncle is a season ticket holder for the Coyotes, grew up outside of Chicago and went through the minor hockey programs there. He played for the USHL briefly and the next year went to the CHL and played for the London Knights.
In his draft year, 2014, Dvorak had a very serious knee injury that caused him to miss a large chunk of the season and the did hurt his draft stock. Luckily, the Coyotes were watching London carefully because of then first year prospect, and now full time NHLer, Max Domi.
The Coyotes used their own second in the 2014 draft to draft Ryan MacInnis who is currently in Tucson. Dvorak was drafted with the second rounder that they received from Chicago in the David Rundblad trade. He spent the next two seasons in London, tearing it up with Domi, Mitch Marner and in his last season, Matthew Tkachuk.
Going back to London expanded his role with team and prepared him for the NHL. He also assisted Team USA during the World Juniors in 2016 (7 games played, 3 goals and 5 assists) where they came away with a Bronze medal. He helped lead the Knights to the Memorial Cup final and a win last season. Not a bad way to end your junior career.
The Coyotes Come Calling
At the start of the season, everyone was debating which of Dvorak or Dylan Strome should stay with the Coyotes. The Coyotes eventually opted to send Strome back to juniors, while giving Dvorak more ice time and a place to play. The injury to center Brad Richardson also helped with his ice time as well.
Dvorak was sent down for a short stint where he didn’t even get a chance to play before he was brought back. Since Richardson’s injury Dvorak has been playing an average of 15:27 a night, but that’s not showing his jump since the Martin Hanzal trade one month ago.
Dvorak has been playing 1C minutes since the Hanzal trade and was playing 2C minutes before that. Dvorak has made his way up the line up, and he doesn’t even seem to blink when he is taking a defensive zone face-off in the dying minutes of a game against the likes of Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. He fits in like this is not his first year in the NHL.
Dvorak’s advanced stats are a bit to be desired but then you remember how he has been up and down the line up and how bad the Coyotes have been this season.
With 28 points in 69 games, most people wouldn’t be impressed, but Dvorak has been productive up and down the line up. He has taken the second most face-offs for a rookie, just behind Auston Matthews. Dvorak’s face-off percentage is starting to creep up towards 50%, but being just under for a rookie in the Western Conference, isn’t half bad. He has an amazingly high shooting percentage, but that should come back down to Earth in the next season or so.
This is where his numbers get very interesting. When Dvorak is on the ice, there is less of a chance of a goal being scored against him. Yes, his Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages are low, but again, they’re pulled down by a very poor possession team around him. His PDO and Offensive Zone starts are also high, but that’s by design, given his role on the team. His face-off work is starting to show in that situation as well. With how the Coyotes have struggled this season, you can’t deny he is doing something special for the team.
With how impressive and talented the rookie class is, it’s almost a shame that Dvorak isn’t getting more attention. He should be getting some talk about his accomplishments and growth through the season, but he won’t due to where he plays and their record. But as he grows, he could turn into that shutdown center, an elite playmaker or your next Selke Trophy winner.
Don’t write the Coyotes and Dvorak off just yet, he’s just getting started.