With the news that the NHL is set to return on January 13th, the Arizona Coyotes will need to spare a thought for which players will most likely fill out their taxi squad.
Taxi squads will be used during the 2020/21 season to allow teams to maintain strict roster bubbles, while also making the ability to call up players that would normally be in the minors far easier than usual.
Players on the taxi squad will not count against the salary cap until they are called up and all usual rules regarding the call-ups and waivers/send downs of players will remain.
Those placed on the taxi squad will train with the NHL squad, are allowed to participate in team activities, and can also travel with them throughout the season, making it easier for teams if sudden injuries occur and replacements are needed at short notice.
This will also benefit the minor league players/prospects as they will effectively receive the Barrett Hayton treatment from last season, allowing them to rub shoulders with NHL players and learn as much as they can from the NHL coaching staff throughout the 56-game season.
Teams must have a minimum of four players on the taxi squad, with a maximum number of six, so with that in mind, who are the most likely candidates for the Arizona Coyotes?
The former Sudbury Wolves captain has been an exceptionally reliable player in the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners, registering more than 30 points (in each of his first three professional seasons - combining for 19 goals and 99 total points in 135 regular-season appearances.
Capobianco has flirted with the NHL roster on a few occasions, with a career-high nine appearances last season, which saw him score his first-ever NHL goal.
With the likes of Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Jordan Oesterle all impending UFAs after this season, it is generally believed that Capobianco will have an opportunity to begin staking a claim to regular NHL ice time next season.
The 23-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native could benefit from spending more time around the NHL team’s coaching staff, helping him to refine areas of his game and give him the best chance at stepping up to the majors on a full-time basis.
The opportunity to train regularly with the Coyotes, while being available for a call-up, is something that Capobianco should take full advantage of and further his development as one of the team’s future pieces along the blueline.
NHL teams are required to carry three goaltenders next season, but one of them can be placed on the taxi squad, meaning that Adin Hill is most likely to have the chance at training regularly with the NHL roster.
Hill was re-signed this past off-season and clearly looks to be the team’s backup of the future, with Antti Raanta’s $4.25 million deal expiring next summer.
Having Hill around the team for the entire season, with taxi squad goaltenders needing to travel with the team to every game to ensure they are available to be called up in an emergency, can only benefit him and his chances of taking over from Raanta in the long-term.
Hill has shown plenty of potential between the pipes, holding a 10-12-3 record with a .907 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.81 across his young professional career.
Now 24, Hill clearly believes in himself and could have opportunities throughout the shortened season to step in for either Raanta or Darcy Kuemper, should injuries creep in.
Even if the shorter campaign allows the Coyotes’ tandem to play completely healthy, Hill will still benefit from being around the major-league setup and push him towards making the jump up on a full-time basis from the 2021/22 season.
Brayden Burke, Hudson Fasching, and Michael Bunting
These three players have been some of the top performers for the Roadrunners over the past couple of seasons, particularly Burke and Bunting.
Fasching might need to battle it out with Lane Pederson, who has also been an exceptional minor leaguer in the Coyotes system, but it seems fairly likely that the three players mentioned will be brought into the taxi squad.
Their AHL quality has already been established and they are on the older spectrum, being 23, 25, and 25 respectively, so they are some of the more NHL-ready prospects the Coyotes could call upon should injuries cause problems.
Fasching and Bunting have NHL experience, though largely just a few games and none of them coming last season. With the season being cut down to just 56 games, the Coyotes will need to ensure that the players they have at their immediate disposal can step up and produce adequately.
There are a number of promising young players in the Coyotes system, but the desire to win is likely to benefit these three Roadrunners stalwarts and see them make NHL appearances throughout 2021.
While the majority of Coyotes prospects will be allowed to play in either Europe or the AHL this season, whenever it is allowed to commence, one player that is likely to be brought into the taxi squad is Victor Söderström.
Söderström is easily the Coyotes’ best prospect not already in the NHL and having him around the team for a season, especially with captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson acting as a mentor, can help his development accelerate beyond its already impressive level.
The 19-year-old is waiver exempt, meaning he would be the easiest player to call up and send down during the season, without the risk of other teams claiming him.
He came close to making the NHL roster out of camp last season and, with plenty of aging players currently in the team’s top six, there’s every chance that Söderström will be given a chance to claim NHL minutes by the end of the regular season.
The team will have six games to assess Söderström’s ability to play in the NHL at this young age, before eating a year on his entry-level contract, so while he isn’t likely to make many appearances this season, a smattering of call-ups could help the team see progress in their top prospect.