There were a lot of questions surrounding the Arizona Coyotes going into this shortened season. Who was going to score, which players were going to take the next step, who was going to be on the taxi squad? But the biggest question may have been concerning who was going to play center.
The Coyotes' roster is still largely the same, except for their centers. The team chose not to re-sign Carl Söderberg and Brad Richardson and sent Derek Stepan to the Ottawa Senators for a second-round pick. To fill the space they left behind they signed Johan Larsson and Derick Brassard.
That still left a big hole as a top-line center, and Nick Schmaltz has been doing everything he can to show that he belongs at center.
For much of his time in the desert, the team elected to play Schmaltz on the wing, and the thinking was he wasn’t good enough at faceoffs or defensively to serve as a full-time center.
Thankfully, that narrative looks to be changing.
Schmaltz has been centering the Coyotes’ top line with Barrett Hayton, another player who was drafted as a center, and Conor Garland on his wings. Through three games Schmaltz has a goal and an assist and he was the lone Coyotes player to score on the shootout.
The Garland, Hayton, and Schmaltz line is drawing a lot of positive attention from fans and the media.
Garland is having a breakout season and is showing a completely different side of his game.
After looking out of place last season, Hayton is showing that he doesn’t need any more time in Tucson and is ready for the NHL.
And centering them Nick Schmaltz, showing that he has what it takes to be an NHL center.
To be clear Schmaltz had played center before. He was drafted as a center and has played center for both the Chicago Blackhawks and for the Coyotes when he was first acquired.
With Hayton and Garland, Schmaltz has two players who can shoot the puck. He also is benefiting from Garland's willingness to go into the dirty areas, and draw opponents to him. They don't have a lot of goals yet, but they have shown that they can be dominant in the offensive zone.
Through three games Schmaltz is also showing that he is much better at faceoffs this season. Last season Schmaltz won only 42.6% of his faceoffs the prior season only 32.3%.
This season he has won 56% of his faceoffs and is ranked second among the team's centers in faceoff win percentage, behind only Christian Dvorak who has won 69% of his faceoffs.
A majority of the faceoffs Schmaltz has taken were at even strength. Twenty-two of his twenty-five faceoffs have been at even strength, with the other three coming on the power play. He has won all three of his power play faceoffs though.
So far Schmaltz's faceoffs appear to be fairly evenly distributed. He has taken eight in the offensive zone, ten in the neutral zone, and seven in the defensive zone. He does the worst at defensive zone faceoffs, winning only 42.9% of defensive zone faceoffs while winning 62.5% of offensive zone faceoffs and 60.0% of neutral zone faceoffs.
Like the title says it is still way too early to draw any conclusions about Schmaltz's play this season. But he has played well, his line is great, and his faceoff numbers are much better. After three games a little bit of excitement and optimism when it comes to Schmaltz is justified.