Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Arizona Coyotes.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes were not destined to do great things last year, everyone knew they were still undergoing their rebuilding process. But they did manage an impressive 30 wins, but that was still overshadowed by their 42 losses and 10 overtime losses, leaving the team with 70 points on the season and sitting 12th in the Western Conference.
However, there was a ton of excitement around this Arizona team since it was mostly filled with young depth players and promising prospects trying to make a splash in the NHL. And general manager John Chayka knew what he was getting himself into, building the team around the new Corsi system. Both head coach Dave Tippett and face of the franchise Shane Doan were the key mentors for this young Arizona team and they definitely surprised everyone when they could have very well ended up 30th in league standings.
With so much attention around 2015-16 standout Anthony Duclair and what the team was going to do with him, other players were not affected by all the chit-chat. Radim Vrbata carried the team offensively with 55 points (20 goals and 35 assists) in 81 games, 16 more than second place finisher Oliver Ekman-Larsson who finished the year with 39. Sophomore Max Domi was limited to 59 games and 38 points after sustaining a hand injury he got in a fight, while newcomer Alex Goligoski finished behind him with 36 points in a full 82-game season. And to round off the top five scorers for the team Tobias Rieder had himself a 34-point campaign in 80 games for the club.
Veteran goaltender Mike Smith had himself a very solid season despite the amount of inexperience in front of him. He played a total of 55 games for the team and put up a record of 19-26-9 with a 2.92 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage with three shutouts. This play by Smith saw him make an appearance during the All-Star Game.
Backup Louis Domingue had himself a very tough season, he didn’t just look shaky at times but looked out of place which caused the team to make some moves which we’ll get into down below.
Right after the playoffs started the Coyotes went to work, they signed goaltender Hunter Miska who played in the NCAA during the 2016-17 season. Nearly a month later in May the team went out and signed free agent winger Mario Kempe who put up a 34 point season in the KHL for Vityaz. And exactly a month after that they acquired forward Nick Cousins and goaltender Merrick Madsen from the Philadelphia Flyers for left winger Brendan Warren and a 2018 fifth round pick.
Chayka and the Coyotes were just getting started, next they moved veteran netminder Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames for goaltender Chad Johnson, defensive prospect Brandon Hickey, and a 2018 conditional third round draft choice. And on June 23rd the ‘Yotes made a series of deals with two different teams. First, they acquired number one center Derek Stepan as well as backup goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 first round pick. And lastly, they acquired one of the best defensive defensemen in Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for Laurent Dauphin and defenseman Connor Murphy.
Quite a few shakeups in such little time, but that was still just the beginning. On July 1st, the first day of free agency in the NHL, the Coyotes made a series of signings. They added defenseman Adam Clendening from the New York Rangers, defenseman Joel Hanley from the Montreal Canadiens, defenseman Andrew Campbell from the Toronto Maple Leafs, winger Mike Sislo from the Colorado Avalanche, and finally winger Zac Rinaldo from the Boston Bruins.
Three days later the team signed forward Michael Latta from the Chicago Blackhawks and then picking up Emerson Etem from the Anaheim Ducks the following day. Their final move would come July 11th when Rick Tocchet was named the new head coach in place of Dave Tippett who had resigned from the team on June 22nd. The ‘Yotes had a busy off-season, to say the least, shaking up the core and adding in some key pieces that will help give the kids an extra boost. And by kids, we mean the countless top prospects Arizona currently holds in their arsenal.
2017-18 Line Combinations
With Derek Stepan now in the fold who can create plays from nothing and Max Domi healthy and now entering his third year in the NHL, you can expect these two to light the lamp a lot. Also, with Dylan Strome ready to make his NHL debut as a regular on the team, if he and Clayton Keller, who is a natural goal scorer, can form some chemistry, that’s another line to watch out for.
In all, the team has three solid scoring lines and a fourth line that will hit with the best of them. Both Lawson Crouse and Nick Cousins are known for that type of play and will bring nothing but energy to an already very young Arizona team.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson may very well become the new captain of the Coyotes come season start now that longtime NHLer Shane Doan is gone. His offensive abilities are outstanding as he is often compared to Nicklas Lidstrom. His partner Niklas Hjalmarsson, who plays more of a defensive-style game will give the Coyotes a very solid mix of rushing the puck and stopping it in their own end. This will allow the team to use a very effective 3-1-1 zone attack where three forwards rush the zone with Ekman-Larsson carrying the puck and Hjalmarsson back behind in case of any turnovers.
Second-year defenseman Jakob Chychrun is already becoming a very solid piece to this Arizona team. Last year as a rookie he ate up a bunch of ice time and showed a lot of poise and potential. Now in his second year, he’ll be ready for a much bigger role forming another mix of offensive and defensive play with his partner Alex Goligoski who likes to play and move the puck as much as Ekman-Larsson does.
Finally, the combination of Connauton and Schenn is going to be a scary one, these two are big guys that love to play in their own end and deliver those massive hits in the corners. This provides the ‘Yotes with a strict defensive style of play when these two are on the ice. And if they’re both on top of their games this season, will help the team keep a lot of pucks out of the net.
Even though the team acquired Chad Johnson from the Flames, they ultimately lost him in free agency to the Buffalo Sabres. This leaves the team with backup Antti Raanta as the new starter. Some are worried, seeing as he has just been a backup in both Chicago and with the Rangers. But he possesses the talent as a starter to carry a team, he’s just been waiting for the opportunity, and with Arizona he’s getting just that.
Now onto Louis Domingue, who had a 2016-17 campaign he would love to leave in the past. He could very well turn things completely around, and with another young goalie on the team this sets up a great duel between netminders which often brings out the best in them. So heading into the 2017-18 season you can look at Raanta as 1A and Domingue as 1B.
Players to Watch
It’s no surprise Dylan Strome is going to be one of the main players to watch this season. After the ‘Yotes decided to send him down for one more year of play in the OHL for growth, he absolutely dominated the league and the CHL despite falling to Windsor in the Memorial Cup Final. Toronto did the same thing with Mitch Marner and look how well that paid off. If that is any indication of what may happen with Strome this season in the NHL, he’s definitely going to have break out season.
Known as a pure goal scorer, Clayton Keller is ready to breakout in the NHL, especially if he’s paired with Strome. Keller has the scorers touch while Strome has the passing skills of an elite center. Keller had a dominant NCAA season in 2016-17 with Boston University where he put up 21 goals and 24 assists in 31 games, four of those goals came on the powerplay while another four came shorthanded.
He also played for Team U.S.A. at the World Championships last season, putting up seven points in eight games, five of which were goals. This is a clear indication that Keller knows how to put the puck in the back of the net, so he’s definitely one to watch.
Chychrun stood out big-time last year averaging over 16 minutes of ice time while putting up 20 points, seven goals, in 68 games. He plays a physical game and loves to take shots from the point. Now that he is more acclimated to the pace and style of the NHL he should be seeing upwards of 20 minutes per game next season which means he could very well hit the 30-40 point mark as a sophomore defenseman.
Players On The Rise
While he’s not as good a fighter as his father, he will still drop the gloves. But after breaking his hand in one last season he would be better served to keep them on. He has incredible durability, which means if need be he can jump from the wing over to the center position. He can also put pucks in the back of the net as well as set up his teammates, which makes him a great two-way player.
In his rookie season, he put up 52 points in an 81-game season, 34 of which were assists. Last year since he was limited due to injury, only managing 38 points in 59 games. Now if he keeps himself healthy and plays top line minutes he could very well hit 60 points.
Max Domi’s teammate in London, Christian Dvorak had a solid rookie campaign last season where he put up 33 points, 15 goals and 18 assists, in 78 games. He did that while averaging just over 15 minutes of ice time. If he plays anywhere from 17-18 minutes this season he could hit the 40-point plateau, especially with Perlini and McGinn on both sides of him.
Players On The Decline
Schenn isn’t what he used to be when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He went from 20-plus point seasons in Toronto to barely being able to hit 15 in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. What’s even worse is last season he averaged 18 minutes of ice time, but only scored eight points in 78 games. So it’s obvious his production is going way down and it could get even worse, meaning a potential waiver drop to the Tucson Roadrunners if no one claims him.
Another player on the decline is Brad Richardson, he’s been a fourth line player for the ‘Yotes for the last two years now. And with the upsurge in prospects down the middle, this means Richardson’s time could very well be done in Arizona. He could potentially land in Tucson if the team wants to keep him as an extra in case of injury, or they could move him before the season starts for a late round pick.
2017-18 Arizona Coyotes Season Prediction
It’s obviously clear which route the Coyotes are taking, they are building a young team that can grow with each other that in three to five years could be playoff contenders. They have all of the necessary pieces already in place, they just need to let the team learn now.
The goaltending duel that will break out between Raanta and Domingue is sure to push these guys respectable skill sets to new heights and cause a new number one starter to emerge. Who will it be? we’ll have to wait and see.
If Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Jakob Chychrun, and Derek Stepan do what they need to and what is expected of them, the Coyotes could have a very scary offense that could surprise a lot of teams in the Western Conference.
The Coyotes won’t finish atop the Western Conference standings, but what will happen is they could very well challenge for the last wild card spot and make the playoffs with a very fast and skilled core of young men ready to win now.