The Starting Six series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Arizona Coyotes all-time lineup.
Starting Six: Arizona Coyotes All-Time Lineup
The Coyotes franchise as it is today is relatively young. The team’s current tag as the Arizona Coyotes just saw its third season of use. From 1996-2014, the team was known as the Phoenix Coyotes. But the franchise began as the Winnipeg Jets in 1971 as a part of the World Hockey Association. The Jets joined the NHL in the 1979-80 season. Then, after 17 seasons in Winnipeg, the franchise relocated to Phoenix and became known as the Coyotes.
None of the team’s iterations have ever won a Stanley Cup or even been to the final. Often in financial turmoil, surrounded even today by rumors of relocation, the team has struggled to plant deep roots and find the ultimate success. Even so, the franchise has seen its fair share of big name players. These six are the best among them at each position.
Center: Dale Hawerchuk (1981-1990)
Dale Hawerchuk was the standout selection for the center position within the Jets/Coyotes organization. The Jets selected Hawerchuk first overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. He made his impact on the league just a year later. Playing in an era dominated by the best players the game has ever known, Hawerchuk may have been overshadowed. Even so, he was the Jets best player for nine years before being traded to Buffalo in 1990.
The accolades came early for Hawerchuk. His performance in his rookie season earned him the Calder Memorial Trophy. He finished the season having played 80 games, scoring 45 goals and 103 points. Throughout his time in Winnipeg, Hawerchuk broke the 100-point mark six times, scoring as many as 130 points in 1984-85. This season earned him a second place finish for the Hart trophy, shamelessly falling short of Wayne Gretzky.
Hawerchuk led the team in scoring every year he played for Winnipeg. The team valued his contribution on and off the ice enough to name him captain from 1984-90. Under his leadership, the Jets made the playoffs eight times. Hawerchuk’s longevity and ability to stay healthy were outstanding. He played a total of 1,188 career NHL games, scoring 1,409 points along the way. Hawerchuk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, and in 2007 the Jets/Coyotes franchise retired his number.
Left Wing: Keith Tkachuk (1991-2001)
Keith Tkachuk takes the honor as the Jets/Coyotes best left wing. He beats out all-time great Bobby Hull simply for the fact that while Hull played for the Jets, the team was a part of the WHA and not the NHL. Hull is known for his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Tkachuk, therefore, takes the left wing spot on the all-time lineup.
Tkachuk’s importance to the Jets/Coyotes should not be understated, though. Tkachuk is one of two players on this list to have suited up for both the Winnipeg and Phoenix versions of the franchise. Transitioning a team to a new location is a difficult process, but Tkachuk gave Phoenix fans something to cheer for. In 1996-97, the team’s first season in the desert, Tkachuk scored 52 goals, good for first in the league. What’s more amazing is that he did so and spent 228 minutes in the penalty box. Tkachuk was a version of hockey player that blended goal-scoring prowess with a mean streak, endearing him to Phoenix fans.
The 1996-97 season marks the pinnacle of Tkachuk’s career, but his entire body of work with the Jets/Coyotes is impressive. In 10 seasons with the franchise, Tkachuk racked up 623 points and 1,508 penalty minutes. He served as team captain from 1993-1995 and from 1996-2001. Tkachuk helped transition the team to a new location and develop the game of hockey in Arizona.
Right Wing: Shane Doan (1995-2017)
Ask a hockey fan which name they most associate with the Coyotes, and there is a strong chance they will answer Shane Doan. Doan has been a cornerstone for the Coyotes since the team’s move from Winnipeg. He leads the franchise in category after category, including games played at 1,540, goals at 402, assists at 570, and points at 972. He has spent all of his 21 NHL seasons with the Jets/Coyotes franchise, trailing only Gordie Howe (1,687), Nicklas Lidstrom (,1564), and Alex Delvecchio (1,549) for most NHL games played in a career with a single franchise.
The Coyotes named Doan as team captain in 2003 and he served that role through last season. Throughout his career, Doan was vocal about his commitment to the Coyotes and his desire to bring a Stanley Cup to Arizona. The closest he got was in 2011-12 when the Coyotes lost in the Western Conference Finals. Doan is in part responsible for the Coyotes being able to remain in Arizona despite financial difficulties. Without his staunch advocacy, less people may have rallied to keep the team in Arizona.
This summer, the Coyotes parted ways with Doan, informing him he would not be brought back for the 2017-18 season. While this move helps the team clear space for young talent, it marks the end of an era in the desert. The Coyotes players, staff, and fans have never known life without Shane Doan. While he likely will not be the best Coyote ever, he is the most important Coyote so far.
Defenseman: Teppo Numminen (1988-2003)
The all-time right-handed defenseman for the Jets/Coyotes is the second player on the list to suit up in both jerseys. Although he may not be a household name, Teppo Numminen lands a spot on this list due to his longevity, consistency, and role in transitioning the team during its move. He is also the fourth captain on this list, wearing the “C” during two season from 2001-03.
After being drafted 29th overall by the Jets in 1986, Numminen spent 15 seasons with the franchise from 1988-2003. He was a staple on the blue-line, balancing defensive play with some offensive contribution. Playing 1,098 games with the franchise, he scored 534 points. He also took very few penalties, earning him Lady Bing votes on multiple occasions.
The Jets/Coyotes retired Numminen’s number in 2010. He played three straight 82-game seasons from 1996-1999, providing stability for a franchise in its first three seasons in a new city.
Defenseman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (2010-2017)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a left-handed defenseman, makes the list based on what he has done as well as his future potential. Ekman-Larsson is the only active Arizona Coyote to make the list. At just 25-years-old, he has already played seven seasons in the NHL. In a team struggling through a rebuild, Ekman-Larsson has been the model of leadership and performance for a team full of young talent.
Through 494 NHL games, all played with the Coyotes, the former sixth overall pick has scored 248 points. He received Norris Trophy votes for four straight seasons from 2012-2016, finishing as high as seventh. Ekman-Larsson is a smooth skating, cerebral defenseman perfect for the modern brand of hockey. His balance of defensive responsibility and offensive flair make him invaluable to his team.
With the departure of Shane Doan, Ekman-Larsson is the likely candidate to take over the captaincy in Arizona. He will be responsible for ushering in a new age of success in Arizona and mentoring a young group of talented players. As Ekman-Larsson enters the prime of his career, expect him to seriously contend for the Norris, especially as the team around him improves.
Goalie: Mike Smith (2011-2017)
The Jets/Coyotes franchise does not have a single standout goalie to take this spot. Nods go to Ilya Bryzgalov and Nikolai Khabibulin, but Mike Smith wins the spot for his impact during the franchise’s most successful season: 2011-2012. In this season, the Coyotes finished first in their division before losing in the Western Conference Finals.
Smith’s contribution and numbers were outstanding. He finished the regular season with a .930 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against-average. Smith managed all of this while starting in 67 games. During 16 playoff games, Smith was again fantastic, posting a .944 save percentage and a 1.99 goals-against-average. Without the transcendent play of Smith, it is unlikely the Coyotes would have advanced as far as they did.
Smith was traded to the Calgary Flames this off-season. He never again achieved numbers even close to those above, and the team decided it was time to move on from the now 35-year-old. While he will not go down in history as one of the greats, his play for one season gave the Jets/Coyotes franchise the taste of success they had not achieved prior and have not achieved since.