It’s that time of year again. The weather is finally starting to occasionally dip below 100, Christmas decorations are being sold, and hockey is finally back.
Last season it looked like the Arizona Coyotes were poised to take the next step forward in the rebuild, only to stumble immediately out of the gate. The team took some time adjusting to new coach Rick Tocchet’s style and ended up with an abysmal 1-11-1 record to start the season. The Coyotes bet big on Antti Raanta being a starting goaltender only to have him injured three games in, with neither Louis Domingue or Adin Hill being able to stabilize the team. The Coyotes eventually had to acquire Scott Wedgewood who helped the Coyotes earn their first win, but the start of the season was already all but finished.
Things seem to be shaping up differently this season. If the latter half of the season is to be believed the team seems to be used to Tocchet’s system and it can be successful. There are no longer questions as to whether the team will be able to sign or have to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a question that dominated a lot of the conversation last season. Raanta finished last season with a 2.24 goals against average and .930 save percentage, and if he can stay healthy and keep up to that level of play the team won’t have the same chaos in the crease.
Alex Galchenyuk (forward), Michael Grabner (forward), Vinnie Hinostroza (forward), Ilya Lyubushkin (defenseman), and Jordan Oesterle (defenseman)
After last season GM John Chayka looked at the roster and rightly determined that the team needed to score more goals. The Coyotes finished second to last in goals score with 206 goals. Arizona has revamped their forwards by adding proven goalscorers in Grabner, who is coming off back to back 27 goal seasons, and Galchenyuk who scored 30 goals in the 2015-16 season. Hinostroza, who was acquired along with Marian Hossa’s contract, is less proven but an interesting player who has a huge possible upside.
The Coyotes defense looks largely the same and the main six will be largely the same. Lyubushkin and Oesterle and are good additions though and will give the ‘Yotes options if there are injuries. Oesterle played 55 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season and finished with 5 goals and 10 assists, and Lyubushkin has spent the past 5 seasons in the KHL with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.
Subtractions from last season
Anthony Duclair (forward), Max Domi (forward), Jordan Martinook (forward), Tobias Rieder (forward), Zac Rinaldo (forward), Luke Schenn (defenseman), Louis Domingue (goalie), and Scott Wedgewood (goalie)
Many of these players were traded throughout last season either because they weren’t finding success with the team (Anthony Duclair, Louis Domingue) or because it wasn’t expected that they would be re-signed (Tobias Rieder). Domi was Chayka’s huge trade of the offseason, being sent to Montreal in exchange for Galchenyuk in a one-for-one deal.
After being billed as a major part of the rebuild it was tough to see Duclair and Domi go. At the end of the day though Domi and Duclair’s play had dropped off in the past few season, and hadn’t lived up to the potential they showed when they combined for 96 points in the 2015-16 season.
Can Clayton Keller avoid a sophomore slump?
Craig Morgan wrote a great piece for The Athletic about how difficult it will be for Clayton Keller to live up to his phenomenal rookie season. In 82 games the rookie Keller finished with 23 goals and 42 assists and was pretty much the best part of the Coyotes season. While the Coyotes have made additions so Keller hopefully won’t be the only one generating offense, the team is still going to be relying heavily on Keller to contribute throughout the season.
How will OEL handle being captain?
Rick Tocchet’s decision to have no captain last season was an interesting choice. His logic that he didn’t know the players well enough made sense, but it was widely assumed that eventually the C would be handed to Ekman-Larsson. He re-signed with the team for 8 years and was soon after named the Coyotes fourth captain since they have been playing in the desert.
If you read a lot of season previews the question of Dylan Strome is a big one that comes up a lot. Strome has taken a longer time to develop into an NHL player and the fact that he isn’t a lock to spend the entire season with the Coyotes is telling. But its impossible to deny that he has excelled at every level of hockey he’s played though, and his time with the Coyotes at the end of the season gave people hope that he will be an impact player moving forward.
Bold prediction that will look bad
Raanta plays extremely well throughout the entire season and finishes as a Vezina finalist.